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financial literacy
Estate planning for everyone

You don't have to be Thurston Howell III to require an estate plan, says Ed Gjertsen, Illinois chapter president of the Financial Planning Association.

Vice president of Mack Investment Securities, Gjertsen says most of his clients are anxious to jump right into investing, but he tries to get them to slow down and cover the fundamentals first. "The estate plan is the foundation for any financial plan," he says.

To prepare for all contingencies, you need to put in place a handful of documents. Together they comprise an estate plan, and getting these pieces in place can save you and your loved ones a lot of time, money and heartache.

Components of an estate plan
Different documents of an estate plan serve different purposes.

1. Living wills
Just as the castaways had no idea what they were getting into when heading out for that infamous three-hour tour, you never quite know when an accident or unexpected health crisis might leave you incapacitated with no hope of return.

The living will details your wishes regarding the extent to which you want medical science to keep your body alive. If you don't think this through and decide for yourself, you leave it up to family members to make this excruciatingly painful decision for you.

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Living wills work in conjunction with other advance medical directives, such as medical powers of attorney, which authorize someone to make medical decisions on your behalf if you're not capable of doing so.

The living will usually takes precedence over medical powers of attorney, says Gjertsen. "A person holding the power of attorney may want to keep the individual alive at all costs, but the living will says if there's no hope, just pull the plug."

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