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What legal documents do I need?

What legal documents do I need?

August 04, 2022

Getting your legal documents in order is one part of your total estate plan. There are four main documents you will need.

  1. The first document that comes to most people’s minds is a will. Your will details your final wishes regarding how to distribute your assets, which do not have beneficiaries listed on them, at your death. It is important to remember that any beneficiaries you have listed on assets like retirement accounts or annuities will supersede what is in your will. In your will, you will appoint an executor who will manage the distribution of your estate as outlined in the will. You can list things in the will like bank accounts, your house, care for your pets or even special mementos and heirlooms. This is also where parents will appoint guardians of their children.
  2. A living will, also called an advanced medical directive or healthcare directive, details your health care wishes. It tells medical professionals and family what treatments you want if you are dying, permanently unconscious, or not able to make decisions for yourself about your care. In this document you outline what procedures you want and do not want administered.
  3. In a durable healthcare power of attorney you appoint a health care decision maker or representative. This document allows them to talk to your doctors and make medical decisions on your behalf. They may determine which hospital, medical facility, nursing home or hospice center you go to should you need care.
  4. A durable financial power of attorney is where you appoint a financial decision maker or representative. This document allows this person to act in financial matters on your behalf - pay your bills, deposit checks, handle banking, filing your taxes, filing for Medicare, Medicaid or Social Security, make investment and insurance decisions. The durable power of attorney manages your money on your behalf.

These are four legal documents everyone should have. Another legal document that many people have is a trust. A trust can come in multiple varieties - revocable, irrevocable and can be used to accomplish multiple things such as control, protection, taxes, charitable giving, life insurance ownership, and special needs planning.

We recommend having an attorney who specializes in estate planning in your state of residence draft a will, advanced medical directive and durable healthcare and financial powers of attorney as well as trusts customized to your wishes. 

We also recommend succession in order to make sure there is someone who is authorized to make decisions for you. This means having a backup and even a backup for your back up for your special people - executor, power of attorney and trustee. If one of your representatives predecease you or not be able to fulfill their role you have proactively decided who should act in those roles through succession.