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Life Changes Fast: The Importance of Estate Planning and Health Care Directives

Years ago, I interviewed an estate-planning attorney who said putting off creating a will or trust leaves nothing but headaches for your heirs and relatives. And with over 177,000 deaths due to Covid-19 in the U.S. alone, we are reminded of how quickly our lives can change.

We are also reminded that it is important to make sure we have current estate planning decisions and end-of-life decisions in place.

"Planning for unfortunate events is particularly critical in the era of Covid-19," said Linda Sherry of Consumer-Action.org, which offers a detailed guide to estate planning with a focus on making critical decisions for uncertain times.

"Advance estate planning is not just about growing old or what you have to leave,” Sherry says. “It's also about letting your loved ones know about your wishes should you become too ill to make critical medical decisions."

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Here is a general overview of some important areas of estate and health care planning you should consider looking into:

Money and More: Assets and Belongings

An attorney can help you decide whether a will or a trust would best take care of your desires and needs. There are big differences between these documents. 

Some people prefer a living trust instead of a will, because it avoids the publicity and cost of probate, but each person is different. There are also irrevocable and revocable trusts. Understanding the pros and cons to each will help you in making the decision as to what is best for you and your family.

>> Learn More:  What Is a Trust? A Guide to Different Types and Their Uses

You will need to name an executor who will be in charge of making sure your requests are carried out, including the division of assets. Separate from your will or trust, make sure the beneficiaries on your life insurance and accounts such as your bank and retirement accounts are up to date. Check on how the title is held on any real estate property you own. This is very important because ownership titles matter.

Health Care and Your Body

Make sure it is very clear and in writing what your final wishes are regarding your medical treatment and final arrangements. You want your documents to address what type of medical treatment you want if you are not able to make those decisions for yourself. Additionally, make sure it is clear as to any specific life-preserving measures you would want taken.

>> Plus, from Robert Powell's Retirement Daily on TheStreet: The Four Ingredients to Living Well in the New Retirement

A power of attorney for health care allows you to choose an agent and an alternate who would make health related decisions for you should you be unable to. Some states combine both the power of attorney for health care and a living will into one document, an advance directive. If you want to be an organ donor, make sure this is recorded and your wishes are known. You should make sure your hospital is aware of your wishes and they have copies of any necessary documents.

Guidance and Financial Help

Always consult with an attorney to make sure your wishes are properly spelled out. Keep in mind, laws vary depending on where you live. There are legal resources available for people with moderate income such as the American Bar Association’s Affordable Legal Services. LawHelp.org also offers help to people through taking on pro bono and sliding scale cases. The complete Consumer Action Guide offers a range of additional resources to help you learn more about this important topic. 

Jeanette Pavini is an Emmy Award winning journalist specializing in consumer news and protection. She is a regular contributor to The Street’s Retirement Daily. Her work includes reporting for CBS, MarketWatch, WSJ Sunday and USA Today. Jeanette has contributed to "The Today Show" and a variety of other media outlets. Always check with your own financial planner, accountant or attorney for advice. You can follow her moneysaving tips on Facebook: Jeanette Pavini: Better Ways to Save Community or go to JeanettePavini.com.