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Low Cost Wills

Many people can get by with a pretty Basic Estate Plan, also known as a Will-Based Estate Plan.  Here are the three minimum legal documents that I recommend for everyone 18 or over.


1. A Last Will & Testament:  usually leaves instructions about what should happen to your property after you die, names someone to handle your post-death affairs (called a Personal Representative in Arizona, an executor in most other states), and if you have minor children, it names a guardian to care for children and their property.  You can also provide for pets and decide how taxes and debts are to paid. The will can be changed or revoked during your life, and only goes into effect once you die.


2. Health Care Power of Attorney & Living Will:  designates a person (or persons) to make health care decisions for you should you become incapacitated and unable to communicate your own decisions; the living will portion guides your family and health care providers about your end of life treatment preferences.  This is especially important if you prefer a natural death with no or limited life sustaining measures, because the default in the U.S. is to use life-sustaining procedures and try to keep you alive and extend your life unless you clearly tell not to do so.


3. Power of Attorney for Finances: is a document that names a person to take care of your financial affairs should you be unable to do so on your own.  This allows your bills to be paid and your money to be monitored and used on your behalf. (Even if you have a joint bank account, it is important to have this document too because it goes beyond just your bank account, it enables the person you name to call Medicare, your pension, retirement fund, brokerage house or other entity on your behalf if you can’t do so for yourself).

More about Powers of Attorney & Living Wills

Does the name Terry Schiavo ring a bell?  Her story was publicized in the news in the mid 1990s  because of her heartbreaking medical situation. Terry Schiavo  was only 25 years old when she experienced a full cardiac arrest. She survived resuscitation, but was left severely brain-damaged and was kept alive with tube feedings for 15 years. Unfortunately, she did not have a medical power of attorney that named someone specific to make healthcare decisions for her if she could not speak for herself, nor did she have a living will that indicated how she would like to be treated in this situation. Her husband and parents could not agree about what to do, so the matter wound through the legal and political system until a court order authorized the removal of the life support measures keeping her alive.  


If Terry Schiavo had done some incapacity planning, the matter probably

would have resolved without court or public involvement.

Do I need a Living Trust?

A living trust is often used in addition to a will and becomes the basis for the Estate Plan instead of the will.  The people who are most likely to benefit from a trust are:

  • Married persons with children from a prior relationship;

  • Those concerned about their children’s ability to handle money responsibly;

  • Persons owning real property outside Arizona;

  • Anyone who needs more flexibility in distributing possessions after death;

  • Small business owners, especially if the business will continue after death;

  • Other than the above, very wealthy people can often benefit from a living trust.


A trust does have certain advantages over a will, but not everyone needs one.   In general:

  • a living trust can avoid probate (but there are other simple ways to avoid or minimize probate);

  • a living trust sometimes saves you money in the long run depending on your financial situation;

  • a living trust is more flexible and private than a will;

  • for the very wealthy, a trust can help save estate taxes.


The Living Trust-based Estate Plan consists of:

  • A Living Trust;

  • A “Pour Over Will” (which pours assets over into the will);

  • Power of Attorney for Finances;

  • Health Care Power of Attorney;

  • Living Will.