A person’s estate consists of all of their property, including:

  • Personal items;
  • Bank accounts;
  • Real estate;
  • Stocks and securities; and
  • Other such assets.

When you die, an estate plan provides information and instructions regarding how you wish for your property to be managed and distributed. Although you may generally associate estate planning with the wealthy or the elderly, nearly everyone can benefit from having a comprehensive estate plan in place for when they die.

A well-developed estate plan can have multiple benefits. An example of this would be how a clear plan can minimize your loved one’s tax burden, as well as the need for probate court proceedings. Most people associate estate planning with wills and trusts; however, estate planning can also address other issues, such as:

  • How you are to receive medical treatment if you become incapacitated;
  • Organ donation preferences;
  • Who can make legal and financial decisions on your behalf, should you become incapacitated;
  • Who will care for your minor children when you die, or become incapicitated;
  • Who will take over your business interests, should you have any; and
  • Your funeral arrangements and preferences, including information regarding any prepaid arrangements you have made during your lifetime.

If you do not create an estate plan for yourself, your estate will be distributed according to your state’s specific intestate succession laws. These laws can vary widely from state to state, and can sometimes result in property distributions that are not in line with what you may have wanted. This is one of the many reasons why it is important to provide an estate plan for yourself.

Your estate planning lawyer can help you draft a will, trust, power of attorney, or other necessary documents. These will all work together to help protect your assets, as well as distribute them according to your wishes.

While all estate plans will be different according to the needs of the estate’s owner, here are some of the general elements of a successful plan:

  • Your Family Understands Your Wishes: You should always inform your family and other stakeholders of your estate plan, as well as any recent changes that have been made to it. This will help minimize legal disputes, as well as help ensure that your plan is executed according to your wishes;
  • Your Estate Plan Clearly States Your Wishes: One of the biggest disputes associated with a person’s estate is that the documents contain vague or unclear language, causing the beneficiaries and executor to debate over the estate owner’s true intentions. If your will or other estate documents are vague, they may cause unnecessary disputes that could require court intervention to resolve;
  • You Have A Will: A will is a fundamental element of any strong estate plan because it transfers your property to your named beneficiaries, and also appoints a legal guardian for your minor children. Many people begin their estate planning with a will;
  • You Have Healthcare Directives: It is important for you to have a document which addresses your end-of-life medical treatment, as well as other important medical decisions; and
  • You Have A Financial Power Of Attorney: If you become incapacitated, a trusted family member or friend will make your important legal and financial decisions for you. If you do not appoint a specific person to this role through your estate planning documents, someone that you do not want may be placed in the role.

An attorney can help you organize your estate, which can make it easier for your loved ones to identify your holdings and distribute them according to your wishes. Above all else, an attorney can answer any of your questions and help you determine what is important for your specific estate plan.

What Is A Final Disposition Document?

A final disposition document is what details a person’s funeral arrangements, as well as what they wish to have done with their body when they die. This is an essential estate planning tool that can be provided to loved ones, who may be facing complicated choices.

It is important to note that a final disposition document should not be put in a will document, as a will document may not always be readily available. Rather, the final disposition document should be given to someone, or placed where it can be easily and quickly accessed.

What Should Be Included In A Final Disposition Document? What Happens If There Is No Final Disposition Document?

In a final disposition document, you should detail all of the necessary items that would help your loved ones meet your wishes. Some general examples of such information include, but may not be limited to:

  • Name of the funeral home you have previously arranged with, or would prefer, if applicable;
  • Type of casket you have chosen or prepaid for, if applicable;
  • Desire to be embalmed, or other means of alternative burial, such as natural burial or open air cremation when allowed by the state;
  • Details of the funeral ceremony, such as what songs should be played or avoided;
  • Whether remains should be buried, scattered, or divided amongst named loved ones; and/or
  • How the remains should be transported, if applicable.

In the absence of a final disposition document, state law will determine who decides how the remains will be handled. In general, the order is as follows:

  • Spouse;
  • Child;
  • Parent;
  • Next of kin; or
  • Public administrator.

What Are Some Of The Factors To Consider When Choosing An Estate Plan?

Your specific estate plan will vary, depending on various factors. Examples of such factors include:

  • Your state’s estate laws;
  • Your life stage;
  • Your financial assets;
  • Your family situation; and
  • Long-term goals.

An example of this would be how your estate plan may depend on whether you are:

  • A Young, Single Person: You might not need an estate plan unless you are considerably wealthy, or have a serious illness;
  • Unmarried, But Have A Committed Partner: Estate planning is a necessity as without a will or trust, your unmarried partner will not receive any of your property when you die;
  • A Couple With A Small Child: You should choose an estate plan that appoints a legal guardian for your child. This plan should ensure their physical, emotional, and financial welfare. Additionally, you might consider purchasing a life insurance plan in order to protect your spouse and child;
  • Middle-Aged: As your income and assets grow over time, you will want an estate plan that helps your survivors avoid probate. An example of this would be how you might consider placing certain property items in a revocable trust, or converting your bank accounts to payable on death;
  • The Parent Of A Disabled Child: Your estate plan should contain a special needs trust, which can provide for your disabled child without disrupting their other benefits; or
  • Elderly Or Ill: Your estate plan should focus on issues such as the division of your property, avoiding probate, and minimizing estate taxes. You also should consider designating a health care proxy which allows someone to make your health care decisions for you if you become incapacitated.

As your circumstances evolve over time, you may need to modify your estate plan. An example of this would be how you might need to make changes to your will if you move to a state that has different legal requirements. Otherwise, it might be considered invalid. Additionally, you should update your estate plan if you have another child, divorce, or marry.

Do I Need An Attorney For Help With Final Disposition Documents?

If you are creating your estate plan and wish to include a final disposition document, you should consult with an experienced and local estate lawyer.

An attorney can help you determine what your needs are and how to address those needs according to your state’s specific estate laws. Additionally, an estate attorney can also represent you in court, as needed, should any disputes arise regarding your estate while you are alive.