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I don't have kids, so why do I need an estate plan?

One of the biggest misconceptions about estate planning is that unless you have children or other heirs, you don't need to worry about your estate. But even if your estate is relatively modest, consisting only of personal items and a couple bank accounts, you still want that to go to the person or organization of your choice rather than the state, don't you?

The primary estate planning documents to address are powers of attorney and health care directives, which should be part of any estate plan, along with a last will and testament. With small, simple estates, this may be all that you will need.

Health care directives are sometimes referred to as living wills, and spell out the type of heroic measures and life-sustaining treatments you would like medical professionals to take and perform on you in the event of a life-threatening crisis. Would you want to be kept alive on a ventilator and fed through a gastric tube if you were in a vegetative state? If not, unless you specify that you don't in a signed and notarized document that's on file with your doctor and hospital, you could wind up that way.

A power of attorney is important because people of all ages can be incapacitated suddenly by an illness or accident. Who would you want making decisions for you? Taking the time now to appoint a trusted friend can provide you with a great deal of peace of mind that your needs will be adequately met and your intentions carried out.

Powers of attorney can be limited to medical decisions, and are sometimes called health care proxies in those instances. Your medical POA will also have to be authorized by you, under the terms of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, to act on your behalf during medical crises when you are unable to make decisions for yourself.

If all this information has left your head swimming, that's okay. You've just taken the first step in learning about estate planning. When you are ready, an estate planning professional can guide you through the rest of the process.

Source: U.S. News & World Report, "No Kids? You Still Need an Estate Plan," Molly McCluskey, accessed Nov. 04, 2016

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