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A will is just the beginning of estate planning

District of Columbia residents may already know that a will is essential in order to memorialize a person's wishes regarding the distribution of his or her property after death. In fact, some people are under the impression that the only function of estate planning is to transfer property. However, this function is only the beginning.

Other documents that play an integral part in an individual's estate plan have nothing to do with his or her death. For instance, a durable power of attorney and an advance medical directive come into play in the event that a person becomes incapacitated through some sort of medical crisis such as an illness or accident. Just like a will, these documents express a person's wishes, but this time, those wishes surround medical treatment and the management of financial issues.

A durable power of attorney allows a trusted person -- called an attorney-in-fact or agent -- to conduct an incapacitated person's financial affairs. This agent is obligated to operate in the best interest of the individual who can give the agent as much or as little power as desired. A durable power of attorney is most often structured to only be valid when a person is incapacitated. An advance medical directive outlines a person's wishes regarding medical treatment and life-saving measures and appoints someone to make health care decisions on his or her behalf.

Without these documents, family members are left to wonder what a District of Columbia resident may have wanted, which can cause confrontations to already distressed family members. Further, without these documents, it may be necessary for family to go to court to obtain authorization to act on a person's behalf. Properly drafting and executing a few simple estate planning documents could help eliminate these stressors for family members.

Source: insurancenewsnet.com, "Estate Planning: Get Ahead", Maj. Bradley Morris, May 30, 2014

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