Having various estate planning documents established enables a person to step in and make decisions on your behalf if you are unable to do so. Given that you could become incapacitated or could pass away suddenly, it is important to ensure that all of your estate planning documents are in line.

Far too many people fall for the myth of assuming that because their spouse is legally married to them, that they don’t need to engage in further estate planning.

Even though your will can dictate how your assets will be passed down and it is likely that the assets will go to your spouse if you pass away suddenly, it is equally important to review the beneficiary designations on the life insurance policies, annuities, 401(k)s and certain brokerage accounts.

These supersede anything that is listed in your will and by law, will pass to the beneficiary listed on the forms even if it is outdated. One common example where this can cause significant estate planning problems has to do with getting a divorce and failing to remove your former spouse from the beneficiary designation form. You should have different powers of attorney established for health care decisions and financial decisions. the person that you empower with a power of attorney can make decisions when you don’t have the ability to do so. Typically, hospitals will cooperate with instructions for your spouse during an emergency, but this can become extremely confusing when children are making the decisions, particularly when not all family members can agree on how to proceed. The power of attorney identifies who you want to have chief decision-making authority when you are unable to do so.

Furthermore, having a financial power of attorney in place for your spouse enables him or her to get access to things that you own separately like a 401(k) or an IRA. Even if he or she is the beneficiary, if your spouse needs this money to live on while you are currently in an incapacitated state like a coma, he or she may be forced to go to court if you don’t have this outlined in the power of attorney.

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