American women live on average 4.8 years longer than American men.Because women typically outlive their spouses, their estate planning documents are usually the ones that actually determine what happens to the family assets. However, the longer life span of women also means that women are more likely to experience a period of time at the end of their lives when they are unable to make their own decisions because they are incapacitated due to some medical condition.

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A question I regularly hear regarding all types of estate planning documents is “how often should this be updated?” The answer depends, of course, on the individual circumstances. However, there are some general guidelines that can be helpful. Two questions to think about regarding updating your legal documents include – have there been any major life events since the documents were last updated, and have you looked through the documents in the past 2 years?

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I’m often asked if a person needs a Power of Attorney document if that person already has a Last Will and Testament (“Will”). It is a good question. The simple answer for almost everyone is yes – you should have both a Will and a Power of Attorney document. Let’s look at what purpose each serve and why both are necessary.

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Estate planning consist primarily in putting into place those legal documents that each of us need to deal with what happens if we become incapacitated and what happens when we die. If you have estate planning documents in place and have any doubt about whether those documents are complete or up to date, the best thing you could do is bring them to an estate planning attorney to review and discuss with you. Some law firms, like mine, may do this for you without charge as a complimentary consultation. Getting an expert’s advice on the status of your documents is very valuable.

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For those who want to avoid the court-controlled process that takes place after a person’s death (known as “probate”) – using a Revocable Living Trust is typically the best way to do so. This document allows a married couple or a single individual to direct what shall happen to their assets and possessions. It will also indicate who will be in charge of carrying out those instructions, without the need for the involvement of a probate court judge. 

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