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Smart estate planning, step by step

Preparations for the end of your life can be made easy with the help of an estate planner. CNBC’s Alexis Glick reports.
/ Source: TODAY

It’s a part of retirement that may be the most difficult to face — estate planning. CNBC's Alexis Glick reports on where to begin and the steps involved in creating a complete plan for the end of your life.

Estate planning can be emotionally difficult to deal with, but also is probably the most important aspect of retirement.  With the help of an experienced estate planner, getting your affairs in order can be a huge relief.

At 62, Robert Demert, a former teacher, is already settling nicely into retirement. His wife, Lucy, also 62, has not yet retired.

"I do work full-time,” she said. “When you sell real estate, it has to be full-time."

Although their two children are grown and raising families of their own, the Demerts wanted to make sure they were taken care of.  So they recently took on the emotional task of creating an estate plan.

"We kept putting it off because you have to face the fact that at some point you're going to die, and you have to make arrangements for all of this,” said Lucy.  “So it was difficult."

"I always say that the time to start thinking about doing an estate plan is when you have children,” said Paul Marchese, an attorney who specializes in estate law. “And it continues from that point on, until the time you pass away."

The first key step is drawing up a will, says Marchese.

"Within the will you can appoint guardians for your children, and also trusts for minor children," he said.

Next, appoint a power of attorney.

"A power of attorney is a document where you appoint someone as an agent for you to do a financial transaction on your behalf in the event you're unable to do them on your own,” he said.

Then, create a health care proxy.

"I also always recommend a health care proxy, which is very much like a power of attorney, because you're appointing someone else to do something for you. Instead of financial decisions, though, it’s to make medical decisions," said Marchese.

And finally, draft a living will to help make critical medical decisions.

"A living will is a statement that says my personal feelings on whether or not heroic measures should be taken to sustain my life if there is no reasonable hope for my recovery," Marchese said. "Once it's done, it does provide them with great comfort to just know that, yes, the planning process is behind me. I have a plan."

A plan, and for the Demerts, peace of mind.

"Just like a load off your shoulders," said Lucy. "Relief is probably the word."