Answers to 5 Common Questions about Estate Planning

1. What are the most basic components of an estate plan? 

The most basic components of an estate plan are a Last Will and Testament, a Healthcare Power of Attorney (including an Advance Directive for Healthcare – also known as a Living Will), and a Financial Power of Attorney. Each of these documents are vital to ensuring that wishes can be effectively communicated to and acted upon by others.  

2. Who should have an estate plan? 

Having an estate plan is recommended for everyone so that they can control who should act for them during times when they cannot act for themselves. Powers of attorney allow others to act during a person’s lifetime, whereas a will takes effect after a person’s death and allows people to appoint a guardian for their children and control who inherits money and other assets from them.

3. What happens if someone passes away without a will? Who will get their assets?

When a person passes away without a will, they are said to have died “intestate.” The law of the state where they resided at the time they passed away will control what happens next and who will inherit their assets (if there is anything left after their debts are paid). The individuals who inherit assets when someone dies without a will are called “heirs”.  While generally they are the closest family members of the person who passed away, the rules about who can inherit (and how much they can inherit) vary from state to state and depend on factors such as whether the person is married, has children, or even if their spouse has children from a prior relationship. Creating a will empowers people to choose where their money should go instead of having it directed by law. 

4. What should be done to prepare for a meeting about my estate plan?

Completing an intake form in advance of a consultation is essential to efficiently communicating information about your situation to the attorney working on your case, as the advice they provide can only be as accurate as their understanding of your unique situation. Intake forms can be requested by emailing or by calling the firm to request that one be mailed to you. 

5. Can you change a Will or Power of Attorney after it is signed?

Typically yes. Most estate planning documents are designed to be revocable, meaning that they can be amended, replaced, or eliminated in the future. We strongly recommend reviewing your estate plan with an attorney at least once every three to five years to ensure that it is still the best fit for you, as changes in the law and your family situation may affect your plan.

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