While estate planning can be an awkward topic, the subject is vitally important. Proper planning can ensure that your assets are distributed as you intend and that your wishes are adhered to. While laws are similar throughout the United States, there are provisions unique to Arizona.

Writing a Will

A will outlines who will receive your assets after you die. It can establish custody if you have minor children. You should also name an executor — someone who is legally responsible for seeing that your wishes are adhered to. While you can write your own will, it is best to seek legal advice to make sure everything is in proper form. In Arizona wills must be witnessed by two people.

What Is Probate?

Even if you write a will, your heirs likely will wind up in probate court to officially settle matters. A will can help avoid long and costly legal procedures, as can mechanisms such as joint ownership, trusts, or transferring property while you are still alive. Estates in Arizona valued less than $50,000 can be settled under a greatly simplified procedure that lets your heirs or debtors file affidavits 30 days after the death.

Power of Attorney

Your estate planning should include a power of attorney document outlining who has the authority to handle your affairs should you become incapacitated. You also can decide which powers to grant: Will your designee be limited to paying your bills, or can he or she also sell property? A power of attorney can also name someone to make decisions about your children's care.

Health Care Instructions

Living wills and other advance directives spell out your health care wishes in the event you cannot make decisions for yourself. Do you want life support measures, such as a feeding tube? Do you wish to be resuscitated should your heart stop? The Arizona Attorney General's Office offers a life care planning packet. It includes forms you can complete.

Funeral Arrangements

At the very least, loved ones should know how you want your remains to be disposed of — burial, cremation, or donated for research. Certainly you can do this orally, but it is best to spell out the details either in a will or in a last letter of instruction. Many people register to donate their organs, but those who have not should let loved ones know their wishes. Many people buy burial plots or prepay funeral services. Prepaid services, however, often do not cover all costs and can fail to keep up with inflation. If you would rather make sure your costs are covered, the Funeral Consumers Alliance of Central Arizona offers planning guides and price comparisons.

Other Considerations

From businesses to pets, other estate planning issues crop up. Most people will not need to worry about estate taxes because the federal estate tax exemption stands at $5.25 million for 2013. To keep things running smoothly, even small business owners should create succession plans, and if loved ones depend on your income, consider a life insurance policy as well. Families with young children find such policies valuable if the death of a parent would mean additional child care costs for the survivor.

Estate planning is complicated, and this article is intended only as an overview. For specific advice, contact an Arizona estate planning lawyer.

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