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Four basic tools you need in your estate planning toolbox

Many people are put off by the idea of executing a complex and expensive estate plan, but the good news is that most people don't need one. Instead, a basic estate plan will suffice for the majority of Massachusetts residents.

If you meet with an estate planning attorney, chances are that he or she will go over the following estate planning tools with you and explain how they could each protect your rights and interests upon death, but also upon sickness or old age.

The first estate planning tool is a will. A will lets the probate court know what to do with your estate upon your death. It should also address important issues such as guardianship for minor children and who should serve as executor of your estate.

Without a will, state law will determine what happens to your estate and the court will decide who should have custody of your children if the other parent is not an option.

While there are many websites that offer to create a will for cheap, simple mistakes can result in a will being invalidated, so having even a basic will drafted by an attorney is worth your time and money.

The next estate planning tool that will likely be discussed is the durable power of attorney. This document gives another person the power to make legal and financial decisions for you if you should become incapacitated.

Next is the health-care proxy or medical power of attorney. This person is allowed to make medical decisions on your behalf if you are unable to make them on your own. Because this person will likely be called upon in a time of great stress, it's important to choose someone who will remain calm.

Finally, a living will or advanced health-care directive allows you to write out directions for end of life care such as whether you want to be resuscitated if your heart stops.

When considering this and your medical power of attorney, it's important to sit down with loved ones and discuss your wishes so that they are clearly understood.

An experienced estate planning lawyer in your area can go over these four basic tools with you in greater detail.

Source: The Wall Street Journal, "Four Estate-Planning Documents Everyone Should Have," Tom Lauricella, April 20, 2014

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