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DIY documents no substitute for Kent estate planning

Some Kent residents may be familiar with certain free or low-cost estate planning tools and wondering if those tools are adequate to meet their individual estate planning needs. One popular example is the "Five Wishes" package that may be offered as a form of living will to participants in certain Medicare supplemental insurance programs. This particular document package may meet the legal requirements for a valid living will in many states, but financial planning experts warn seniors against believing that similar free tools provide a comprehensive solution to long-term care planning.

Many free or low-cost estate planning tools provide a good framework from which people can organize their thoughts about important questions relating to how they would like to be treated at the end of life. Washington law allows for simple advance directives, such as a living will, to be effective with only a few strict legal requirements.

As such, a do-it-yourself version of a living will or health care directive may meet all the technical requirements of a valid legal instrument. However, many of these documents leave certain questions unaddressed. For example, many off-the-shelf living wills fail to address personal care issues in the event of debilitating mental illness, such as dementia.

Even when a prefabricated estate planning document effectively covers all of one's important concerns related to medical and long-term care decisions, such a document does not replace critical items like a will. Although a living will can serve the useful function of explaining one's end-of-life wishes to loved ones and caretakers, only a testamentary will can act as a legal instrument directing the manner in which one's assets are to be distributed upon death.

Without a valid will, estate assets will be distributed according to the default rules of state law.

For many Kent residents, individual circumstances will make more advanced estate planning instruments a good idea. Cookie-cutter estate documents may provide a good starting point for long-term care planning, but they cannot replace the personalized service of a dedicated estate planning professional.

Source: newsobserver.com, "Booklet a suitable replacement for living will, not estate plan," Holly Nicholson, Dec. 29, 2012

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