Estate Planning Forms/Documents

What is Estate Planning?

Estate planning makes sure that individuals are able to provide income and other assets to their heirs, while at the same time guaranteeing that individual’s end of life requests and wishes are both followed and respected.

Many people often think of a “last will and testament”, when it comes to deciding how their assets will be disbursed upon their death. However, estate planning provides many more options than this, including a variety of living trusts (both revocable and irrevocable), which can help to guide beneficiaries in the proper division and usage of one’s assets.

Simply put, a will is the listing of assets and the beneficiaries of those assets. It does not have the same capabilities as that of a trust. Estate planning often makes use of trusts in place of wills in order to create a greater barrier to outside eyes (more privacy) and the potential for lawsuits and taxes (fewer financial burdens).

Generally speaking, an estate plan has more power than a will. In addition to detailing one’s wishes, estate plans also do the job of protecting an individual’s privacy after death, which can be particularly helpful against the open-book nature of probate court. Estate planning can also help to mitigate taxes, attorney fees, and other costly burdens, which in many cases a last will and testament may not be fully capable of providing.

Finally, it should be mentioned that proper and robust estate planning assists in the prevention of fighting over assets amongst spouses, children, and other family members and relatives. After someone dies (especially in the case of those with great wealth and personal property), it is unfortunately common for siblings and spouses to argue over assets. Estate planning can help to prevent this from occurring, while a will might not reach the same level of protection.

The Purpose of Estate Planning

At some point in all people’s lives, they will need, at a bare minimum, to decide on what will happen to all of their assets upon their death. In fact, this is the exact purpose and goal of estate planning when properly executed.

Why would someone start an estate plan?

The primary reason for starting an estate plan is to provide direction, protection, and assistance with regard to a person’s wealth, assets, property, etc., especially as it relates to their beneficiaries.

What are the benefits of an estate plan?

Given the goal of carefully maintaining and guiding the discretionary use and dispersal of one’s assets at the time of their death, the benefits of an estate plan are multifold.

Here are a few of the crucial benefits of estate planning:

  • Providing income for dependents responsibly
  • Selecting a responsible adult guardian for dependents (minors)
  • Protecting and providing for ill, disabled, or special needs family members
  • Offering privacy to shield the family from public scrutiny
  • Mitigate taxes and other financial burdens
  • Preventing family infighting
  • Avoiding probate court

How to start Estate Planning

To get ready for estate planning, individuals should consider the following steps to prepare for the process.

  1. Select a medical agent by means of a living will, medical power of attorney, or caregiver agreement.
  2. Select a financial agent. It is recommended that this individual be the same as the medical agent.
  3. Draw up a list of all assets and property.
  4. Choose the beneficiaries. Most often, these are spouses and/or children.
  5. Decide on whether to use a last will and testament or a living trust.
  6. Sign all necessary documentation. This will require two witnesses and a notary.
  7. Safeguard the documents with an attorney and share official copies with close, trusted friends or members of the family.

Essential Estate Planning Documents

The process of planning for the direction of one’s estate after death consists of a series of crucial decisions. It is also a process that requires a number of very important documents.

In fact, there are four must-have estate planning documents: last will and testament, living will, financial power of attorney, and living trust. These are the absolutely essential estate planning forms to understand when it comes time to begin actual estate planning.

Including the four essential estate planning documents above, here is the full list of essential estate planning forms:

  • Last Will and Testament
  • Revocable Living Trust
  • Durable Power of Attorney
  • Healthcare Power of Attorney
  • Living Will
  • Provision for Digital Assets
  • Letter of Intent
  • Beneficiary Designations
  • Life Insurance Policies
  • Annuities
  • Pension and/or Retirement Accounts
  • Banking Accounts (Checking / Savings)
  • Divorce Records
  • Certificates of Birth / Adoption
  • Real Estate Deeds
  • Stocks, Bonds and Mutual Funds

Estate Planning — Frequently Asked Questions

How do I prepare an estate planning document? In order to prepare an estate plan, you need to go over the proper estate planning documents with an attorney. Do not attempt to go through the process of estate planning on your own. Find a lawyer that you can trust to help guide you through the process.

Can you do estate planning yourself? As mentioned above, this is a very bad idea in virtually every conceivable way. You might save a little money, but at great personal and financial risk. An estate planning attorney will assist you in deciding on what works best for you and your family’s needs. They can also draft all the important documents that are necessary for a robust estate plan, one which will provide ease and accuracy regarding the disbursement of one’s property and assets after their death.

What is the difference between a will and estate planning? Some people may conflate the terms “will planning” and “estate planning” into one process. While they have a similar purpose, they do in fact have quite different methods and capabilities. Both wills and estate plans offer guidance about how particular assets and properties ought to be dispersed and managed after one’s death. However, estate planning goes quite a bit further: estate plans literally detail an individual’s exact desires about their personal health, money and other assets, and other very important matters, even while the person is still alive. A will cannot do this.