Las Vegas Sun

October 19, 2017

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How to get your affairs in order


Funeral homes will not cremate someone unless his or her wishes are written in a will.

Couples should draft funeral directives in addition to their wills. A funeral directive outlines a person’s preferences for funeral arrangements and designates a representative to make funeral-related decisions.

Setting one’s affairs in order may have an ominous ring, but a handful of legal documents should be all it takes for most adults to see that their wishes are honored if they get seriously ill or die.

“Think of it this way: All of these documents are a way to communicate who we are to the person who is going to help us solve problems,” said Robert Cerceo of the Abrams Law Firm.


It may seem obvious, but every adult needs a copy of his or her birth certificate, passport and Social Security card or immigration documents, Cerceo said.

“It runs across all income levels not to have identity documents,” he said.

Attorneys can help clients track down paperwork, but for a price.

“If they’re able to get these documents, a lot of our work drops away,” Cerceo said.

• Cost: Social Security cards are free. Passports cost from $55 to $165. Birth certificates cost $20 in Nevada.


• What it is: Health care power of attorney designates a person to make health care decisions for you if you are incapacitated. It can outline whether you want surgery, for example, or artificial feeding. It is a signed, dated and witnessed document that can be revoked orally or in writing.

A living will, also known as a declaration, is more limited and directs doctors to withhold or withdraw life-sustaining treatment. It goes into effect if you have an incurable or irreversible condition and aren’t able to communicate your wishes.

• Why you need it: Advanced directives can make hard decisions easier on your loved ones by making your wishes known. Unless directed otherwise by a living will or health care power of attorney, “doctors are bound by their oath to do what they can to extend life,” Cerceo said.

Same-sex couples also should obtain visitation directives to ensure they are allowed to visit one another in medical facilities.

• Cost: Free health care power of attorney forms are available at Living will forms that can be filled out online are available at, sponsored by the Nevada Center for Ethics and Health Policy.

Advanced directives can, but don’t have to be, stored electronically with the Nevada Secretary of State’s Living Will Lockbox. Visit for more information.

Cerceo recommends keeping a copy of advanced directives and a list of medications, health care providers and emergency contacts alongside basic toiletries and pajamas in a duffle bag that can be grabbed in an emergency.



To draft a will or trust, list:

• Your family members, including spouse, children, siblings and parents

• Your creditors

• Your prized possessions and the people you’d like to receive them

• Your burial or cremation preference

Find a trusted — preferably younger — family member or friend to act as your representative, or executor. Parents also should designate a guardian for minor children.

• What it is: A will is a legal declaration in which a person names someone to manage his or her estate and outlines how property should be distributed. It states “bury me or cremate me, pay the debts, pay the creditors, and distribute the rest to people I love,” Cerceo said.

Property is given to heirs once it passes through probate, the legal process that happens after death to establish the validity of a will.

A trust creates a relationship in which property is held by one person for the benefit of another. It places restrictions on an inheritance — for example, setting money aside until a child reaches a certain age.

• Why you need it: A will or trust is necessary for anyone who wants control over who inherits what.

The assets of Nevadans who die without a will or trust automatically go to surviving spouses and children in pre-set amounts. If a woman dies and leaves behind a husband and two children, for example, each of her survivors would inherit one third of her estate.

In some cases, parents, siblings and other next-of-kin also stand to inherit.

A will or trust can spare loved ones from enduring a long period of probate.

“Almost everyone can get by with a simple will, even sizeable estates,” Cerceo said.

• Cost: People can write their own will for free. Handwritten wills are legally binding in Nevada. Attorneys typically charge $100 to $200 for a will if the client has few assets and up to $2,000 if the client has a large estate.


Nevadans who are at least 18 years old don’t need an attorney to draft a legally binding will. The state considers handwritten wills valid, even without a witness.

Websites such as are another option. They offer fill-in-the-blank questionnaires to help customers draft wills.

Hiring a lawyer still might be a good investment.

“Something is always better than nothing,” said Katherine Provost, an attorney with the Dickerson Law Group, but given how complicated personal finances can be and the tax consequences of a misstep, most people would be wise to seek an attorney’s advice. Cerceo agreed.

“Would you perform your own dentistry?” he said.

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