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It also is important to designate a person to handle the business affairs of the estate. This person, known as the executor, is responsible for preserving and protecting the estate's assets, paying any outstanding debts and distributing the assets according to the will. Needless to say, this person should have common sense, good judgment and a good sense of fairness. The job of executor carries with it significant responsibilities, and requires serious time and effort. There are difficult, important decisions to make and tedious paperwork to complete.
One of the executor's first responsibilities is to make an inventory of all the estate's assets. There is no legal requirement to keep a list of accounts, investments and other important financial records, but doing so will be a big favor for the executor. I was fortunate in that both my mother (a librarian) and mother-in-law had well-maintained financial records, which saved countless hours and headaches.
In addition to preparing a will, it is important to make decisions about medical care in case of a grave illness or critical injury. Every state recognizes that patients have a right to make fundamental choices about the care and treatment they will or will not receive at that time. A "living will" (or "health care power of attorney" in some states) is the document that both expresses those wishes and gives others the legal power to execute them. Additionally, the living will should address matters such as organ donation and any religious views that should be honored.
Further, it is important to enable others to take care of our business affairs in the event that we become disabled or legally incompetent. This is best done through a "durable power of attorney," which authorizes another person to make financial and other decisions upon an individual's disability.
In my case, power of attorney documents were invaluable tools in dealing with nursing homes, banks, insurance companies and other financial institutions. It is important to think through these situations, decide in advance what we want to be done and give someone the authority to carry out our wishes.
We in the fire service regularly confront the death and incapacity of others. We should recognize better than anyone else the need to prepare for such situations. Estate planning is not just for the rich. It is important that we all prepare a complete estate plan.