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Be sure to coordinate your estate planning documents

The instruments of a good estate plan may be interrelated in several different ways. Estate planning elements such as powers of attorney, living trusts and death beneficiary forms often contain conditions that affect one another. If these elements are not in harmony with each other, it may lead to confusion and possibly litigation after your passing.

For example, both a power of attorney and a living trust establish an agent that handles an incapacitated person's finances. The power of attorney often has a legal responsibility to handle necessary expenses for the incapacitated person, known as the principal. The power of attorney will likely have access to the principal's checking account in order to make payments. However, a trustee will often be responsible for managing the principal's savings accounts and investments. A trustee and a power of attorney are often the same person, but if they are not, the trust may need to be amended so that the power of attorney can use some of the trust money if needed. In the event that a principal's checking account cannot cover heath care and living expenses, the trust must contain a term allowing the power of attorney to get money from other sources.

A person's death beneficiary documents can also overlap with their will and power of attorney. The power of attorney may be allowed to authorize changes in the death benefits forms. However, a person's will may also authorize a surviving spouse to make changes to the same forms. If this authorization is not stated in the will, however, a surviving spouse may not have full control over the beneficiaries of annuities, life insurance and retirement accounts, despite these benefits being community property assets during the deceased person's life.

Other documents that may interrelate with powers of attorney, wills and trusts include advance health care directives and title documents. Residents of Colorado and all around the U.S. should seek help from an attorney if there's any question about how their estate planning documents will correlate.

Source:  lakeconews.com, "Estate Planning: Harmonizing the entire estate plan" Dennis Fordham, Dec. 28, 2013

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