Five Must-Have Estate Planning Documents

It doesn’t matter what your net worth or marital status is, or whether or not you have dependent children. If you want to protect your assets and your loved ones’ financial and emotional wellness, you need each of the estate plan documents listed below.

1.    A Will
You use a will to determine who will receive your assets upon your death. In the event of your death, you can name a guardian to care for your minor children, if they are left without a surviving parent.

estateplanningYour will is also where you name your executor, the person responsible for making sure any taxes or debts you leave behind get paid out of your estate. After taxes and debts have been taken care of, the executor oversees the distribution of any remaining estate, according to your wishes.

You can use a revocable trust to supplement a will. You transfer assets to the trust and specify in writing how the assets will be distributed after your death. Although the trust takes legal ownership of the assets, you can use the assets as you wish, and you can cancel or amend the trust at any time. A revocable trust is generally more difficult to contest than a will. Also, unlike a will, a revocable trust doesn’t become part of the public record, so it keeps your affairs private.

2.    Beneficiary Designations
Certain assets, such as life insurance proceeds, retirement plan survivor benefits, and IRAs, aren’t covered by your will. Instead, you name heirs for these assets by filing a beneficiary designation with the insurance company, plan sponsor, or IRA provider. Keep your designations up to date. You may need to make changes from time to time — for example, if you get married or divorced, or add a child to your family.

3.    Powers of Attorney
A power of attorney is a legal document you use to authorize someone to make medical or financial decisions on your behalf in the event you become incapacitated and unable to make such decisions yourself.

4.    A Living Will
A living will states whether you wish to accept life-sustaining treatment in the event you become seriously ill or injured and unable to communicate.

5.    A Letter of Instruction
A letter of instruction is a supplement to, but not a substitute for, your will. It tells your survivors whom to contact in the event of your death. You can also use the letter to say where your other estate plan documents can be found. You may choose to include information of a more personal nature in your letter than you would normally put in a will. For example, you can outline the type of funeral or memorial service you want.

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This article is used with permission of Ernst & Young LLP.