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What exactly should be considered in an estate planning strategy?

Our Michigan readers have seen in plenty of our previous posts how having the right estate plan can lead to smooth transfers of assets and personal property, and how bad estate planning can lead to litigation and family strife amongst relatives. However, many of our readers may still wonder, what exactly does a comprehensive estate plan consist of?

An estate plan is about more than just spelling out your wishes to designate property distribution upon death. Although that is the primary purpose of an estate plan's bedrock document, a will, there are other documents that also need to be included. It is important that Michigan residents know that the state does not formally recognize what is widely known as a "living will." In Michigan, two documents are needed to cover the legal aspects of that type of document. A health care power of attorney is needed to designate a representative to make medical decisions on the estate planner's behalf, if that person is incapacitated or otherwise unable to make those types of decision for themselves. A durable power of attorney is needed as well, to again designate a representative, but in this case the representative is empowered with making financial decisions for the planner - again, this is in case the estate planner is unable to make decisions on their own.

It is also important to remember that a will can do much more than just lay out the desired distribution of property and assets. A will can also include a designation of a guardian for minor children. For an individual or couple who may not have significant assets, but do have minor children, the designation of a guardian in a worst case scenario can be the most important reason to put together a comprehensive estate plan. Failure to do so can result in contentious probate litigation between family members, all trying to vie for the right to raise the minor children.

Regardless of a person's station in life, having a will and other important estate planning documents draw up and properly executed could save a great deal of problems for the one time the documents are needed.

Source:, "Why estate planning is critical for your family," Sept. 7, 2012

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