Do It Now: 8 Essential Documents for Estate Planning

Do your loved ones a big favor: Get your affairs in order so you don't leave them a legal mess.

5. Health care power of attorney and living will

To ensure that someone can make medical decisions for you in the event you become incapacitated, establish a health care power of attorney — also called a durable health care power of attorney. This is different from the durable power of attorney for financial and legal affairs.

A living will lets you explain in advance of your death what types of care you do and do not want, in case you can’t communicate that in the future.

“You can use your living will to say as much or as little as you wish about the kind of health care you want to receive,” says legal site Nolo in a detailed article.

In some states, the living will and health care power of attorney forms are combined in one “advance directive” form.

These decisions require discussion and weighing of values and wishes. The American Bar Association has a free toolkit for health care advance planning.

States differ in their requirements. Obtain forms and instructions that are valid in your state.

6. Provision for digital assets

Decide what to do with your digital assets, including your computer hard drive, digital photos, information stored in the cloud, and online accounts like Facebook, Yahoo, Google and Twitter. Be sure to include a list of your passwords.

How to Manage Your Data After Death” explains how to make these decisions.

7. Letter of intent

For instructions, requests and important personal or financial information that don’t belong in your will, write a letter. Use it to convey your wishes for things you hope, but don’t require, to be done. For example, you may have detailed instructions about how you want your funeral or memorial service performed.

No attorney is needed. The letter won’t carry the legal weight of a will.

8. List of important documents

Make certain your family knows where to find everything you’ve prepared. Make a list of documents, including where each is stored. Include papers for:

  • Life insurance policies
  • Annuities
  • Pension or retirement accounts
  • Bank accounts
  • Divorce records
  • Birth and adoption certificates
  • Real estate deeds
  • Stocks, bonds and mutual funds

Another item helpful for your heirs is a list of bills and accounts, including contact information and account numbers for each, so your representative can settle and close these accounts.

AARP suggests using a safe for storage. Your lawyer’s office could be another possibility. AARP adds:

“Before you decide to store the will in a bank safe deposit box, consider state and local probate law. Many laws require that a bank safe deposit box be automatically sealed upon your death. This can result in messy complications.”

Let us know what estate planning experience or tips you have by commenting below or on our Facebook page.

Marilyn Lewis
Marilyn Lewis
After a career in daily newspapers I moved to the world of online news in 2001. I specialize in writing about personal finance, real estate and retirement. I love how the Internet ... More

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