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A will is not enough

Drafting a will is only one part of effective estate planning in Arizona. Other essential estate documents may avoid costly litigation or having other unintended or unwanted individuals appointed by courts to make important decisions.

There is no time like the present to execute documents such as a power of attorney and advanced medical directive. These allow others to step in and make decisions on assets or medical care when a person is unable to because of health problems.

Delay has major consequences. It is too late to have these documents executed if a person suffers a serious accident or health crisis such as a stroke.

Where a person has a steady mental or physical decline, they may not acknowledge or be aware of their diminishing capacity to make decisions. When others are eventually ready to help, there may be irreversible damage to the person's estate or the person may lack the capacity to execute important documents.

Also, many assets transfer to beneficiaries without a will or going through probate. These include annuities, life insurance, jointly-owned property and retirement accounts such as a 401(k) or individual retirement account.

According to court decisions and Internal Revenue Service rulings, the owner's intentions and statements in wills do not govern who inherit these assets. The persons named as beneficiaries in the latest designation documents are conclusive and govern.

Accordingly, it is important to review beneficiary designation forms from time to time to assure that they are current and reflect the person's intent on who will receive assets after they die. Otherwise, these assets may be unwillingly passed onto other individuals such as divorced spouses.

Trusts can also take care of other matters that a will cannot address. A trust allows assets to avoid the sometimes costly and lengthy probate process, maintains privacy and protects an inheritance from the person's and their heirs' creditors.

An attorney can help draft these documents that comply with Arizona's legal requirements and meet a person's estate planning needs. They can also provide options for wealth protection, long-term planning and distributing assets.

Source: Forbes, "7 big estate planning mistakes-relying only on a will," By Bob Carlson, Feb. 21, 2018

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