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Tough estate planning questions (and why they're important)

It's easy to put off estate planning. You want to focus on enjoying life now, not dwelling on the uncertainties of the future. Yet dealing with important estate planning issues now, before it's too late, will give you peace of mind in knowing you've thought through the possibilities.

What's more, tackling the tough issues will help you clarify your priorities, values and goals. That clarity can change how you live your life today - and help you avoid regrets down the road.

It's about more than just money

Many people think estate planning deals primarily with property. Although financial and property matters are certainly major components of an estate plan, they're not the only ones. Several other key concerns go into preparing for the future and ensuring that your loved ones are taken care of.

Some of the toughest issues to grapple with are also the most important:

1. Who should take care of your children if, heaven forbid, something happens to you and your spouse?

This isn't a decision you want to leave to chance. Nor is it an easy choice. There are countless factors to consider, including:

  • Who your children have solid relationships with
  • What their living situation and lifestyle would be like
  • What kind of resources they'd have access to
  • What schools they'd attend
  • Whether their guardians share the same values, culture and religious beliefs that you want your children brought up with
  • Whether the children would live in close proximity to friends and relatives
  • To what extent the children's lives would be uprooted

To make matters more complicated, you'll want to select alternate guardians in the event that your first choice doesn't work out. This means weighing these factors all over again.

Ultimately, however, it's well worth the time and effort to carefully think it through. Even though making these decisions can be difficult (which is also true of countless other parenting decisions), you can feel confident that you've provided for your children by putting their best interests first.

2. What if you become unable to make decisions for yourself?

Tragic accidents happen all the time - even to young, healthy people. A car crash could leave you in a coma. A stroke could impair your ability to speak. A brain injury could rob you of life as you know it.

It's hard enough for family members to deal with these catastrophic circumstances. The last thing they need is to guess at your wishes - or endure a bitter dispute about who should have the final say.

Two tools will make it easier for your loved ones to take care of you in the event that something happens:

  • A durable power of attorney grants authority to someone else to act on your behalf with regard to legal and financial matters.
  • An advance directive (also known as a living will) outlines your wishes regarding medical treatment, life-sustaining measures and end-of-life care. You can also designate a health care surrogate to make medical decisions on your behalf.

As you can see, estate planning is about much more than just doling out property. It's about making fundamental decisions that can affect your loved ones for a long time to come.

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