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9 Essential Estate Planning Documents

9 Essential Estate Planning Documents

| September 21, 2016

Dying intestate (will-less) leaves your heirs with a potential mess. And yet, 61% of Americans pass away without one, says a recent Harris Interactive poll for RocketLawyer, a legal website. In fact, 28% of us would rather do anything besides make a will.

Without a will, a probate court decides where your property goes; it can take months - sometimes years. Money you intended for heirs and good causes may go to pay lawyers.

Do you have young children? If your will doesn’t name their guardians, a court will do it. And what about Fido and the kitties? Their future is up for grabs if your will doesn’t spell it out.

To truly sort out your estate planning, prepare these nine documents and your heirs will thank you eternally:

1) Will

A will gives you a voice when you’re gone. Use it to appoint, make requests, and wishes. Keep it updated as life changes occur.

2) Trust

A revocable living trust can help you pass assets to heirs, sidestep probate, reduce estate tax and minimize potential lawsuits. Your trustee manages your estate when you’re gone.

3) Healthcare Power of Attorney + Living Will

Name someone to make medical decisions in case you cannot, and to enforce your wishes about treatments you do and do not want.

4) Dependable Power of Attorney

Appoint someone you trust unquestioningly to make legal decisions if you can’t.

5) Beneficiary Designations

When you open bank accounts or buy financial products, you name beneficiaries to inherit the assets. These simple forms even trump a will. Update them as life changes occur.

6) Life Insurance*

If your death would financially devastate loved ones, you should consider buying life insurance.

7) Provision for Digital Assets

What do you want done with your computer’s hard drive, electronic photos, data stored in the cloud, and online account? Include your passwords.

8) Letter of Intent

A letter has no legal force, but you can use it to convey private requests, thoughts, wishes, or perhaps information you didn’t share in life.

9) List of Documents

List the important stuff: life insurance policies, deeds, pensions, retirement accounts, bank accounts—all of it. Include account numbers, passwords and tell where they’re stored.

In need of additional guidance? We are here to help you get these documents and feel prepared as you go through life!


*Keep in mind that life insurance policies contain exclusions, limitations, reductions of benefits, and terms for keeping them in force. Your financial professional can provide you with costs and complete details.

This information is not intended to be a substitute for specific individualized tax or legal advice. We suggest that you discuss your specific situation with a qualified tax or legal advisor.