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Don't avoid difficult questions in your estate plan

Estate planning is often looked at as being somewhat dull. Wills, trusts, powers of attorney can all seem unexciting. For one, much of these instruments are concerned with the future. Some, like a will, only becomes effective upon one's death and no one really wants to spend much time thinking on that subject. It also can be changed at any time by an individual and may seem both fixed and transitory. But an estate plan should not be seen as a stack of static documents gathering dust in an attorney's office.

You never know what the future will hold, but if you fail to plan, something will eventually occur. And therein lies the problem. By indecision and inaction, you give up the one thing most people prize: control. While an estate plan cannot guarantee an outcome in the future, a well-designed plan can be equipped to deal with many contingencies.

For instance, no one wants to suffer from a terrible illness, such as cancer. But it does happen, and your contingency planning can help see to it that your wishes are carried out and that your experience and that of your family and caregivers is improved.

A recent study of patients who used hospice care reported greater quality of life for patients and fewer bereavement-related issues for caregivers. Unfortunately, some families know nothing of palliative care or hospice care prior to needing to find a hospice. This simply adds to the stress of an already painful situation.

Advance planning, including healthcare power of attorney and living wills can help prevent these last minute demands on the family members, forcing them to decide, often without clear guidance. Worse, in some cases, the family is left with conflicting, anecdotal indications of the individual's wishes, that only add to the stress.

Creating a comprehensive estate plan requires you examine many of these issues and can prevent exacerbating stress and creating conflict among your family and caregivers.


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