What Estate Documents Do I Need?

Drafting an estate plan can seem daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. Understanding what estate planning documents you need can make the process much easier. There may be some things you never thought of or realized that you need to include in your estate plan.

Here’s a look at some of the most important documents you should consider to help get you started with your estate plan.

Will and Trust

The most basic documents you need in an estate plan is a will and likely a trust. Some people mistakenly assume that wills and trusts are necessary only for those who have a lot of assets. That is not true at all. Every estate plan should have a will at the very minimum and likely a trust as well. The language included in your will and trust is very important. It should be drafted following state law and should not conflict with how you have already determined some assets should pass outside of your will. For example, life insurance policies have named beneficiaries, and their distribution is governed by the terms of the insurance policy. You can’t leave the policy’s proceeds to someone else in your will. Instead, you should make sure that you name the person you want to leave the insurance proceeds to as the beneficiary on the policy.

Durable Power of Attorney

Another critical aspect of any estate plan is a durable power of attorney. This document gives someone else the authority to act on your behalf if you are unable to. That authority can extend to having someone handle legal and financial decisions on your behalf if you become incapacitated.

Healthcare Power of Attorney

As the name suggests, a healthcare power of attorney will designate someone to handle medical decisions should you become incapacitated. You can ensure that your healthcare power of attorney knows what your wishes are ahead of time by leaving clear written instructions in a living will. Having a clear plan can cut down on possible disputes if you become ill or are injured in an accident.

Letter of Intent

Leaving a letter of intent to your intended executor can also be beneficial. Here, you can leave information, instructions, or requests that don’t necessarily belong in the will. Some people choose to express how they hope their estate will be handled and their wishes on a funeral or memorial service. You don’t necessarily need an estate planning attorney to complete this because it doesn’t carry the same legal authority as a will or trust. A letter of intent is more of an informal way to share your hopes regarding your estate. A probate court judge may look at it in some cases if your will is deemed invalid, but it is not a replacement for your formal estate planning documents.

Speak With an Attorney

Rather than doing an online search for “what documents do I need for estate planning,” it’s best to reach out to a local estate planning attorney who can help you. An experienced attorney will make sure all your documents are drafted per applicable laws so that your assets will be distributed according to your wishes.