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A Guide To Getting Starting With Your Estate Plan

By Myka Landry

Many people put off estate planning because the concept overwhelms them and they have no idea where to start. As hard as it is to think about these things, let me suggest two documents to get the process started.

The first is an Estate Planning Worksheet, which can be found in the “Getting Started” section on my website – ( This downloadable document outlines the key information you need to create the basic estate planning documents. These include a Will or Revocable Trust, a Medical Durable (health-care) Power of Attorney, General Durable (financial) Power of Attorney and a Living Will.

The worksheet asks you to answer some important questions, such as how you want your assets distributed and who you want to handle your estate in the event of your death. It also asks who you would want to make your medical and financial decisions for you if you are alive but cannot make them for yourself.

In completing the worksheet, you’ll also outline some basic information, such as who you want notified in the event of your death, your funeral or burial plans and the value of your assets.

The second document is the Five Wishes, which can be found at ( It includes:

The kind of medical treatment you want or don’t want in a variety of medical situations, including a coma or severe brain damage.How you want people to treat you.What you want your loved ones to know.

While this document is often used as a medical power of attorney, I do not recommend it for that purpose. Instead, I recommend it as a starting place for thinking about personal matters that may be important to you when facing a health crisis.

The problem with using the Five Wishes alone as a medical power of attorney is that it is not as comprehensive medically as it needs to be, and often the questions are answered incompletely or inconsistently. I recommend you look at it, find out what is important to you and then incorporate those things into your more comprehensive estate planning documents.

If you look at the Five Wishes, here are two things to keep in mind:

If you have other medical powers of attorney or other health care documents in place and you sign a Five Wishes document, it will invalidate those pre-existing documents.Make sure Five Wishes is consistent with your other documents. Whether signed or not, if the directions in your documents are in conflict, your family’s feelings as to what you want will be too.

If you are ready to get started on your estate plan or want to update an existing one, these two documents may give you ideas that you didn’t think about. Just filling these documents out and letting your family know your wishes will not result in an enforceable estate plan. Please contact a qualified estate planning attorney to put those plans in place. As hard as it may be to do, getting a plan in place will be a great gift to your family and friends.

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