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Now is the Time to Update Estate Plans

During the holiday season, we often spend more time with family and get a chance to catch up on everything that has happened over the last year. It's typically a joyous time and the prospect of talking about something like estate planning might seem odd at first; however, this is also a great moment to take advantage of the family being together to discuss the future.

Estate planning doesn't have to be a depressing talk about death and taxes. Consider the subject to be about taking care of your loved ones and protecting the things the family has worked so hard to build. Taking advantage of the family being together gives everyone an opportunity to contribute and let his or her feelings be known. In the end, it may help avoid disagreements later, which can only make a difficult time even harder.

If you think this might be a good time to have a discussion with your family about future plans, you may want to talk to an attorney to get some basic information to start the conversation. Here are a few common estate planning documents you might want to discuss with your family:

Will: A will is the most basic estate planning tool. It allows you to appoint an executor of your estate and direct the manner in which your assets will be distributed. It can also be used to designate an individual as guardian for any minor children you might have.

Powers of attorney: There are several types of powers of attorney, but the two most common types are a durable power of attorney and a health care power of attorney. The first represents a legal document empowering someone else to manage your finances and legal affairs. The second authorizes someone to make health-related decisions for you if you cannot make them for yourself.

Living will: A living will is used to make your end-of-life wishes known. It generally doesn't authorize anyone to make decisions for you, so it often used in conjunction with a health care power of attorney.

This is just a very limited explanation of some estate planning basics. When you decide it is time to start making plans, it is generally best to reach out for advice from an experienced estate planner.

Source: Virginia Pilot and Ledger-Star, Family gatherings are good time to update estate plans, Charles Nash 11/28/10

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