Five Documents Every Estate Plan Needs

By Jackie Bedard

When it comes to building estate plans to protect you and your family, no one strategy fits everyone’s needs. No family is the same. No person’s circumstances are exactly like another’s. That’s why we customize every estate plan that comes out of our office.

Although the provisions of the documents might vary from one client to the next, there are five documents that every good estate plan needs. Consider these documents as cornerstones or building blocks that strengthen your plan and enable your wishes to be carried out exactly as you had envisioned.

Living Will: One of the very first questions we pose to estate planning clients is how they want their end-of-life decisions to be handled. A living will declares your intent regarding artificial life support should you ever become incapacitated and unable to survive without the use of machines. Without a living will, immediate family members might not choose what you wanted.

Last Will and Testament: A will is critical. Even if a client does not own significant property or investments, a will indicates to a probate judge how you wish your assets to be divided. It also names an executor of your estate. A will is especially vital when you have minor children as it enables you to name a guardian for your children.

Health Care Power of Attorney: Should you become incapacitated and unable to care for yourself or make decisions regarding your medical care, a health care power of attorney is a safety net. By taking control now and choosing a trustworthy person, your health care wishes are much more likely to be followed. This document allows the titleholder to speak with medical staff involved in treating you and provides your agent with authority to make decisions regarding your care.

Durable Power of Attorney for Financial Matters: Much like the health care power of attorney, the durable power of attorney for financial issues comes into effect when you are incapacitated and unable to make decisions regarding your money or expenses. It allows your finances to be handled by a person you name and trust. The authority allows that person to pay your bills, manage investments, and sell assets to cover expenses.

Letter of Instruction: Finally, a letter of instruction is something we recommend to all of our clients. While it’s not a formal legal document, it often provides the most clarity to an executor of the deceased’s wishes for how certain assets should be bequeathed and how you wish a beneficiary to handle receiving them. This is also a great place for you to provide an inventory of personal belongings and who should receive them. In addition, a letter of instruction often addresses your burial or cremation wishes.