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What are the most important documents for an estate plan?

When it comes to estate planning, there is one question that most people have first and foremost: Where do I start? For Pennsylvania residents who are thinking about starting their estate plan, it is important to know some of the key documents that should be included. So, what are the most important documents for an estate plan?

First, realize that an estate plan can address more than just "what happens to my stuff after I die." Comprehensive estate plans should cover situations that might arise while you are alive as well. That is why some of the most important documents in an estate plan are the power of attorney documents. There should usually be two of these documents: a power of attorney to authorize another person to make financial decisions on your behalf and another one to authorize someone to make medical decisions. In many cases, the appointed person will be the same for both documents.

Get organized to make estate planning easier

The important task of estate planning is put off by Pennsylvania residents for one simple reason: they think it is too difficult. While there may be some obstacles in the estate planning process, why not make it easier for yourself? As a recent article noted, getting organized can help make the estate planning process a bit easier and a bit more stress-free.

The article pointed out that one of the biggest hurdles to overcome in the estate planning process is a bit morbid: confronting your own mortality. However, if Pennsylvania residents can view the estate planning process as more about how you can help your heirs and beneficiaries by organizing your affairs and assets to make things easier for loved ones after you die, then they can make the whole process much less morbid.

The deceased may suffer from identity theft, too

It's been a trying and stressful few years as your family watched your fun-loving, intelligent and physically active father deteriorate to a shell of his former self after the onset of dementia. Now, he has died. You've made the funeral arrangements, probated his Will, held an estate sale, put the family home on the market, and distributed his assets. There are so many things a family must do in this situation, but there's one that often gets overlooked.

Millions of the dead have identities stolen each year

Protecting your deceased loved one from identity theft is a something that many families neglect and don't realize may actually happen. However, thieves are aware of the opportunities to pocket money and purchase items by using the identity of someone who has died.

Each year, the identities of nearly 2.5 million deceased Americans are misused, according to San Diego-based ID Analytics, a fraud prevention company. Criminals use these identities to open credit card accounts, apply for loans, buy smartphones, etc.

Understanding your options in a comprehensive estate plan

Most people probably know that they should have an estate plan, but many are reluctant to dive into this process because they believe it might be too complicated. But, while there may be complications to overcome and difficult decisions to make in the estate planning process, it is well worth the time and effort.

For starters, Pennsylvania residents should understand their options when it comes to putting together a comprehensive estate plan. As many of our readers know, the first option is usually a will. A will is a document that will spell out any number of wishes or desires that the planner has for what will happen when the plan is implemented, such as who will be the executor of the estate and how assets will be divided among family members. Everyone should have a will; it is not just for the wealthy. When a person passes away without a will, a court must make decisions about the estate and relatives must make decisions about family heirlooms and other sentimental items. The result is often very different from what the deceased would have wanted, and because court expenses come out of the estate, it almost always means less of the estate ultimately goes to the family.

One big mistake to avoid when it comes to estate planning

Several previous posts on estate planning have noted that, in general, it is better to have some estate planning documents in place than none. However, it isn't called estate "planning" for no reason. Pennsylvania residents should be sure to take a careful approach with their attorneys to determine which estate planning documents are right for them, their families and their financial assets. Leaving behind a mess can only make the process more complicated for those left behind who will benefit from the assets.

But, a mess isn't just a concern for financial and legal documents. Individuals and families should be concerned about the actual "stuff" that they leave behind. Consider this: what if someone had to come to your residence and sort through all of your possessions right now. Would that be a huge burden? Well, the fact is that, especially with children and parents, many heirs feel like they need to go through everything, just in case there is something that wasn't listed in an estate plan - something valuable. Avoiding such a mess is best, if at all possible.

Is long-term care insurance an option for your estate plan?

With regard to estate planning, several previous posts here have explored some of the options that Pennsylvania residents have when it comes to including long-term care planning. One option that is becoming increasingly popular - for those who can afford it - is long-term care insurance. So, is long-term care insurance an option for your estate plan?

The cost of long-term care insurance depends on a variety of factors, such as:

Your age when purchasing the insurance - younger is less expensive

Amount of the daily benefit - $150/day is less costly than $250/day

Length of insurance coverage - 3 years would cost less than 5 years

Elimination period - when does coverage start: day 1, day 31 or day 101 - the shorter the elimination period, the more expensive the premium might be

The "do nothing" approach to estate planning is a mistake

Estate planning - have you and your family members done it? Sometimes, Pennsylvania residents take the "bury your head in the sand" approach to problems - problems they know they need to deal with at some point. When it comes to estate planning, this could be called the "do nothing" approach.

Unfortunately, as a recent news article pointed out, the "do nothing" approach to estate planning can be a big mistake. Why? Well, because of something called "intestate" laws. Basically, if a person dies without a Will or other estate planning document, state law will determine what is to become of that person's assets and, for those with minor children, the guardianship of those children.

Elder financial abuse typically committed by family or friends

Financial fraud or exploitation of the elderly happens, and it's shameful. These crimes may range from the theft of an heirloom watch or a forged check to the bilking of thousands of dollars from investment or retirement accounts. What investigators have discovered - according to a 2014 study - is that 90 percent of the perpetrators are known by the victims.

The list includes trusted people such as family, friends, neighbors and home care providers. Such was the case when a former nursing home administrator from the Pittsburgh area stole $322,000 in 2015 from an elderly man. She had used the stolen money for shopping, taxes and gambling.

Maintain flexibility with your Medicare planning

Millions of Americans benefit from Medicare funding. This so-called "safety net" is invaluable to many people who otherwise would not be able to afford medical treatment in their older years. However, what many people do not understand is that planning for Medicare funding needs to be a part of your estate plan.

Unfortunately, there are two common factors that can keep Pennsylvania residents from including Medicare funding in their estate plans: the complex nature of the application process and the unique aspects of each individual's health situation. After all, how can a person really plan on what their health will be like in years to come?

What are your options for paying for long term care?

Should you consider long term care planning? Although no one can see the future, we can all plan for any number of eventualities. For many people, planning for the "what ifs" is a crucial part of estate planning, and involves considering how to pay for long term care. So, what are some considerations for Pennsylvania residents who want to make sure that they account for long term care?

It can be important to anticipate what level of long term care may be needed. Do you already have a health condition that may get worse as you get older? If so, it may make sense to plan for round-the-clock care at home or in a nursing home, where the residents usually have the access they need to medical treatment. If the condition is not as serious, a personal care home or assisted living facility may be sufficient.

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