First, congratulations! Not only have you made an extremely important decision, but you are following through by starting your estate plan.
Estate planning is not just something you can jump into and immediately come up with a plan that meets the needs of you and your loved ones.
Thinking About Goals
What you hope to achieve with your estate plan varies depending on things like:
- Your age and health,
- The size of your estate,
- What assets you own and how they are titled,
- Family relationships.
Where you are in life usually determines what you are most concerned about. As a young parent, you may have been concerned about your family’s financial security if you didn’t make it home one night. Choosing a guardian for your children will also be a big concern. Senior citizens, on the other hand, may be looking at reducing tax burdens, paying for long-term care, and leaving a little something for their descendants. The estate planning strategies you use will change through the years.
So, where are you now? An empty nester? Baby boomer? Married for the second time? Once you figure out your goals, it’s time to go a little deeper.
Whether you write your own estate plan or use an attorney, you will need some important information about:
- Family. You’ll need names and contact information for your beneficiaries, executors, and agents. Include information for anyone else who will be involved with your estate.
- Finances. Know how your accounts are titled: sole ownership, joint ownership with or without right of survivorship, and so on. Also, find out if you completed any beneficiary designations for your accounts.
- Insurance. What type of insurance policies do you have? Who are the beneficiaries? What coverage is provided?
- Assets: Real Estate. Make a list of any real property you own. Include the location, the market value, and any outstanding mortgage or line of credit. It’s very important to know how the property is titled. For example, any property owned jointly with another person may not become part of your estate if the other owner has rights of survivorship.
- Assets: Your Stuff. Where do you want your personal possessions to go after you’re gone? If you’re married, you may want most of it to go to your spouse, with some gifts to friends or family members. Start figuring this out now because it may affect how you write your estate plan.
- Retirement. How do you plan to pay for retirement? Do you have retirement accounts or pensions? Know what assets will be used and where accounts are kept. It’s very important to know the beneficiary status here, too.
Talking to Family Members
As you work on your plans, you may want to discuss them with family members. It really depends on how your family gets along, how they communicate. Your family may provide some much-needed support as you go through this process.
One of the best things you can do to make a complete estate plan? Contact a qualified Arizona estate planning attorney. If you decide to go it alone, though, there are ways to write a Will by yourself.
Writing Your Will
Okay, you’ve done your homework – getting all your information together and thinking about it. Now it’s time to start writing the document that is the foundation of your estate plan.
A Last Will and Testament is the way that you provide for an orderly distribution of your things after you’re gone. If you have minor children, you can also provide for them by picking a guardian.
One of the most important things you need to know about writing a Will? It must comply with Arizona law.
What’s Required by Law?
- Well, first, you must be 18 years of age or older and of sound mind.
- Your Will must be in writing – typed or holographic (handwritten). However, the parts of the Will that name gifts and beneficiaries in a holographic Will must be in your handwriting only.
- You must sign your Will or direct someone to sign it on your behalf.
- Two witnesses must observe you sign the Will or ask someone to sign for you. Then, the witnesses must also sign the Will.
There’s an additional part to a Will – the self-proved affidavit. The testator (you) and the witnesses may sign a self-proving affidavit before a notary public. The affidavit states that you and the witnesses signed the Will in the presence of each other and before the notary public. When your Will is probated, having the self-proved affidavit will speed things up.
Find an Arizona Will form online.
- Fill in the blanks completely.
- Gather two witnesses.
- Sign your Will before two witnesses and a notary public.
- Make at least one copy of your Will. It’s also a good idea to scan a copy.
- Keep the original Will in a safe place. Also, once the Will is stapled, don’t unstaple it.
- Make sure someone knows where the Will is stored.
Great! You’ve finished your Will.
But you want a complete estate plan.
A Will is a great start, but it’s not the only document you will need. It’s highly recommended you write and sign a durable power of attorney.
Writing Your Durable Power of Attorney
This legal document grants powers to an agent allowing them to make legal decisions for you. The power can be very broad or very limited. For example, you can state that your agent can make any legal decisions for you starting immediately. You could also give the agent the authority to act in a specific transaction at a specific time.
While there are several types of power of attorney forms, you need to find a form for a durable power of attorney. The authority granted in this power of attorney continues even if you become incapacitated. In fact, some are set up to become effective only when the principal (you) are unable to make decisions for yourself.
Because a power of attorney grants very powerful authority to another person, it’s recommended that you be very careful. Choose an agent and successor agent that you trust. Limit the powers to those you consider absolutely necessary. Decide when the authority should start – immediately or upon your incapacity.
Also, just like with your Will, your durable power of attorney must comply with Arizona law.
You must be 18 years of age or older and of sound mind when you sign the power of attorney. In addition, you must be an Arizona resident. Finally, you need to understand that you are giving another adult authority to make decisions for you.
For the power of attorney to be durable, you’ll need to state that it is durable. On some forms, there’s a box to check where you choose either general or durable. Even if the title of the form is “General Power of Attorney,” you should have the option to choose durable. If not, find another form.
Form powers of attorney can be found online. For example, the Maricopa Superior Court website has forms and instructions located at: http://www.superiorcourt.maricopa.gov/superiorcourt/LawLibraryResourceCenter/forms/powerofattorney/gn_poa1.asp.
Sections 1 and 2. Once you have checked “durable”, you’ll fill in information about the principal (you!) and your agent. All that contact info you gathered to write your Will should come in handy here.
Section 3. Then you’ll choose the “scope” of your power of attorney. This section describes the authority you are giving your agent. For example, you might want your agent to have authority over your personal finances, but not your real property or business transactions. There’s also an option that covers everything: “To do and perform every an all acts required…” This selection gives very broad power to your agent.
Section 4. This section is also about whether you want a general or durable power of attorney. Since you want durable, you’ll choose that option. Then, and this is important, you’ll choose an effective date. This is the date your agent’s power becomes effective.
Sign your completed form before a witness and a notary public.
Your power of attorney terminates upon your death. You may also revoke the powers in writing by giving a copy to any interested parties (like banks or other financial institutions).
Record your signed power of attorney with the County Clerk for the county you live in. It’s only required to record this if you have given your agent power over real estate transactions. However, it’s a good idea to have it on record in case the original is destroyed or lost.
Store your signed durable power of attorney in a safe place with your Will and other important documents.
But your estate plan is not complete yet.
Writing Your Advance Directives
You have the right to make decisions about your medical treatment. But what happens if you are not able to communicate?
Your estate planning documents are the key.
With a Durable Health Care Power of Attorney, you can appoint an agent to communicate your wishes to your medical providers. That means if you can no longer make your wishes known, your agent will talk to your doctors and make decisions about your care. However, and this is important – your mental health care is not covered by this power of attorney. Instead, you will need a Durable Mental Health Care Power of Attorney. This document specifically authorizes your agent to direct your treatment for mental health related conditions.
A Living Will states your preferences regarding end-of-life treatments. There are limits to its effectiveness, though. For example, it does not allow your agent to stop tube feedings. Instead, that decision will be made by the agent named in your Durable Health Care Power of Attorney or a guardian if you have not signed a Living Will.
It’s best to talk to an attorney about your advance health care directives. However, forms are available if you decide to prepare the documents yourself. As with your other estate planning documents, it’s fairly easy to find forms online. In fact, The Arizona Attorney General provides a Life Care Planning Packet that contains forms and instructions for completing them. Even if you decide to go with an online form, you may have questions that can only be answered by an attorney.
As you complete each form, you’ll have important decisions to make. For example, you’ll be given the opportunity to state:
- health care decisions you do not want your agent to make.
- your feelings about autopsies and organ donations.
- who you want to have access to your medical records.
- which end-of-life treatments should be withheld or withdrawn.
In addition, each of the advance health care directives discussed above must be signed before a notary public.
You may also register your advance health care directives with the Arizona Advance Directive Registry.
Writing Your Estate Plan Is Not Easy. We Can Help.
The attorneys at Keystone Law help people like you create an estate plan that meets their needs. Check out our videos at keystonelawfirm.com. To schedule an appointment, call us at (480) 418-8448. Serving Arizona communities like Chandler, Ahwatukee, Sun Lakes, Tempe and more.