8 Essential Documents for Your Estate Plan

April 5, 2021

Estate planning is more than just creating a will. Here’s a look at the different documents you may need to prepare for yourself and your family.

1. Last will and testament

A legal document used to distribute property to heirs, specify last wishes, name guardians for minors and identify who is responsible for managing the estate and implementing your wishes. Every adult needs one. If you don’t decide who will take care of your children and who gets your possessions, the state will.

2. Durable financial power of attorney

A durable power of attorney gives someone you trust authority to handle your financial and legal decisions if you’re unable to do so yourself. Of course, the person selected needs to be someone who will represent your best interests. This role also has particular importance for individual retirement accounts – if you become incapacitated, your power of attorney assumes management of those assets, not the beneficiary listed to receive them in the event of your death.

3. Durable medical power of attorney

You assign a healthcare proxy or durable power of attorney to make medical decisions for you when you are incapable to do so for some reason. This person will need relevant health information, so be sure to include a HIPAA provision that gives your physicians permission to disclose your medical information.

4. Living will and medical directives

A living will lets you specify what types of medical treatment you want to sustain your life, if you’re terminally ill or are in a vegetative state. Medical directives apply if you become incapacitated and are unable to communicate your wishes for treatment.

5. Revocable or living trust

In many states, a living trust can be used to distribute property a little more privately than a will. It also can help avoid a costly and stressful probate court process and may offer substantial tax benefits. Living trusts can also be used to transfer assets in an orderly, and private, manner. You can even stipulate provisions for the bequests, if you wish.

6. Beneficiary forms

For insurance policies, retirement accounts and some other assets, the beneficiary form prevails over the will. So whomever you’ve named will receive those assets unless you update the form. It’s a good idea to keep current copies, as well.

7. Letters of instruction

A way to share any wishes not covered by a will, such as preferences for your funeral, how to care for your pets or whether you want to donate your organs. You may also want to document how you’d like your digital assets to be handled – if so, be sure to include instructions for accessing the relevant accounts and files.

8. List of contacts

A detailed list of people to contact in certain circumstances, including family, friends and the professionals who oversee your legal, financial, insurance and health matters. Consider signing a contact authorization form to authorize a third person (such as an advisor or attorney) to communicate with a designated contact person if there are questions or concerns regarding your health status, including mental capacity.

Source: Raymond James.

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