No matter what your age or net worth, you need an estate plan to protect yourself, your loved ones, and your assets — during your lifetime, as well as after your death. It’s helpful to have a basic understanding of the documents recommended for an estate plan — here is a list and description of items every estate plan should include:
A will or trust is one of the main components of every estate plan, even if you don't have
substantial assets. The Will’s job is to ensure property is distributed according to your wishes (as long as it’s drafted according to state laws). Trusts can also help limit estate taxes or legal
✔︎ Durable Power of Attorney
A power of attorney is a legal document in which you name another person to act on your behalf. This means they can sign checks, pay bills for you, transact real estate, and the like all while you’re alive and well. A durable power of attorney grants the same kinds of capabilities but extends to a time in the future when you may not be able to speak for or advocate for yourself. If a power of attorney document does not explicitly say that the power is durable, it ends if you become incapacitated.
✔︎ Healthcare Power of Attorney
This is a legal document that appoints you a healthcare agent in the event that you can no longer make healthcare decisions on your own. This is a very important designation and should be given much thought as your healthcare power of attorney could someday be deciding if life support measures are in your best interest or interpreting any religious factors that come into play during your medical treatment(s).
✔︎ Revocable Living Trust
A revocable living trust helps manage your affairs while you're alive and well. It also serves to
maintain the status quo while you're alive but not so well, and at your death. Your successor
trustee will disperse the trust's assets to the beneficiaries named in your trust documents when you die, or they might keep the trust up and running according to your wishes if that's what you've chosen. The biggest difference between this and a will is that the will only goes into effect after you’ve died, while the revocable living trust becomes active upon signature.
✔︎ Beneficiary Designations
A designated beneficiary is a person who inherits an asset such as the balance of a 401k, IRA, or life insurance policy after the death of the asset's owner. Be sure to also list a secondary /
contingent beneficiary in the event the primary beneficiary can no longer accept the asset. If there is no designated beneficiary for your financial assets, you run the risk of letting the courts decide the fate of your funds.