Estate Planning Documents & Contracts

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Estate Planning Documents & Contracts

What is an Estate Plan and Why You Need One?

An estate plan refers to the legal documents and arrangements that determine what happens to your assets and care when you pass away or if you become incapacitated.

Having an estate plan in place lets you decide who inherits your possessions, who will handle your finances and healthcare if you can’t, and how you wish to be cared for at end of life.

Estate planning brings peace of mind that your wishes will be honored. Even if your assets are few, an estate plan can prevent confusion and conflict for loved ones later.

Creating a Last Will and Testament

A last will, also called a will, is a legal document that dictates how your possessions and assets should be distributed after your death.

It legally names the beneficiaries who will inherit your property and in what proportions. Having a will prevents the state from deciding who gets your assets if you die intestate (without a will).

It also lets you name a legal guardian for minor children. Your will should name an executor to oversee carrying out your wishes.

Appointing an Executor in Your Will

An executor is the person you name in your will to carry out its instructions. As executor, they will notify beneficiaries, inventory assets, pay debts and taxes from the estate, and distribute inheritances.

Choose a reliable, organized person who can handle administrative details in a timely way. Many people name their spouse, an adult child, or a trusted friend as executor in their will.

Setting Up a Living Will

A living will, or advance healthcare directive, lets you share your preferences for end-of-life medical care ahead of time.

It communicates whether you want treatments like CPR, breathing tube, dialysis, etc. if you become terminally ill or fall into an irreversible coma.

Having a living will on file with your doctor ensures your wishes are honored if you can’t speak for yourself. It reduces stress for loved ones who otherwise must make difficult medical decisions unaided.

Choosing a Healthcare Proxy

A healthcare proxy, also called a medical power of attorney, designates someone you authorize to make medical decisions for you if you are unable.

Pick someone who knows your values and wishes well. Consider naming an alternate proxy too in case your first choice is unavailable.

Give copies to your proxies, doctors, and family. A healthcare proxy and living will work hand in hand to guide your care when you can’t speak for yourself.

Granting Power of Attorney

Power of attorney grants someone you choose authority to handle financial/legal matters in your stead if you become incapacitated.

You can limit what powers they have and when they take effect. For example, you may only want them to step in if you are declared mentally incompetent by doctors.

A durable power of attorney stays in effect if you become disabled. Choose your agent wisely as they will have access to your accounts and assets.

Using Trusts in Estate Planning

Trusts are useful estate planning tools, especially for those with substantial assets. A revocable living trust lets you place property into a trust while alive and retain control as trustee.

On death, the trust assets bypass probate and transfer directly to beneficiaries per the trust terms, saving time and money.

Irrevocable trusts can minimize estate taxes but cannot be changed or revoked once set up. Trusts provide privacy and management continuity if you become incapacitated.

Avoiding Probate with Good Planning

Probate is the long, public legal process for distributing property after someone dies based on their will or state law if no will exists.

Assets like trusts, life insurance, and joint property that pass directly to beneficiaries avoid probate. With good planning, you can minimize assets requiring probate, saving time and money for your heirs.

Speak to an estate planning attorney to discuss probate avoidance strategies.

Planning for Minor Children

If you have minor children, your estate plan should name a legal guardian to care for them if you and your spouse both pass away.

Guardianship grants someone you trust custody of your kids until adulthood. Be sure to get their consent before naming them.

Your will should detail how assets, like life insurance, should be managed for your children’s care and education. Estate planning ensures your kids are provided for.

Keeping Your Estate Plan Updated

Life brings changes that can impact your estate plan – births, deaths, divorces, moves, etc. Review your will, trusts, and other documents every few years to keep them current.

Update beneficiary designations as needed. Consult an attorney about revisions to powers of attorney or wills. Keeping your estate plan up-to-date ensures it works as intended when needed.

Downloadable Estate Planning Documents


A will specifies how a person’s assets should be distributed after their death. It is used to direct property, assets, and belongings to beneficiaries.

Download Agreement


A codicil is a legal supplement or amendment to an existing will. It is used to make minor changes or additions without rewriting the entire will.

Download Agreement

Last Will and Testament

A last will is the main legal document detailing a person’s wishes for their assets and loved ones after death. It names beneficiaries, executors, and outlines distribution instructions.

Download Agreement

Last Will and Testament – with Trusts

A will can create trusts that come into effect upon death to manage asset distribution for beneficiaries. Trusts provide more control over inherited assets.

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Pour Over Will

A pour over will works with a living trust, leaving any remaining assets to the trust upon death for distribution. It “pours” leftover assets into the trust.

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Joint Revocable Living Trust

Spouses can make a joint living trust to manage assets while alive and transfer them more efficiently at the second spouse’s death, avoiding probate.

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Power of Attorney

A power of attorney appoints someone to manage finances/property if you become incapacitated. It grants legal authority to an “agent” to act on your behalf.

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Revocable Living Trust

A living trust manages assets while you’re alive. It avoids probate at death and lets you change/revoke terms. Transfers property to beneficiaries.

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Revocation of Power of Attorney

Revokes a previously designated power of attorney. It terminates the agent’s legal authority to act on your behalf as granted in the original POA document.

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Affidavit of Domicile

An affidavit of domicile establishes the legal residence of a deceased person. It’s used for tax and probate purposes to determine “domicile” based on documented facts.

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Affidavit of Heirship

An affidavit of heirship identifies a deceased person’s legal heirs and their rights to inherit property. It’s used to transfer assets when there is no will or formal probate.

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Healthcare Power of Attorney

Appoints someone to make medical decisions as your agent if you’re unable to do so. Outlines your wishes for medical treatments you want or don’t want.

Download Agreement

Living Will

Specifies healthcare preferences for end-of-life treatment if you become incapacitated and unable to communicate. Outlines when to continue or withdraw life support.

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Advance Directive/Living Will

Combines a living will and healthcare power of attorney. Outlines end-of-life medical wishes and appoints someone to act on your behalf.

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Durable Power of Attorney

Names someone to manage your finances/property as your agent if you become incapacitated. The POA “endures” if you become incompetent.

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Will Trust

A trust created in a will takes effect at death providing instructions for asset management/distribution. It avoids probate and provides controlled inheritance.

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Trust Agreement

The document that creates and governs a trust. It establishes the trust’s terms like trustees, beneficiaries, asset transfers, and distribution instructions.

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Letter of Instruction

Provides helpful information to heirs for settling the estate like contacts, account info, final wishes. Not legally binding but useful guidance.

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Beneficiary Deed

Upon death, transfers specified real estate like a house to a designated beneficiary without needing probate. Provides an efficient property transfer.

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Final Arrangements Document

Outlines wishes for funeral, burial, cremation to share with loved ones. States preferences so your plans are followed.

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Anatomical Gift Document

Specifies donation wishes for organs or whole body donation for medical research after death. Contains legal consent for donation.

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Appointment of Guardian

Names a guardian for minor children in case both parents die. Nominates someone to take over legal care of your children.

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Assignment of Life Insurance

Transfers ownership of a life insurance policy to new beneficiaries. Changes who will receive the death benefit payout.

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Ethical Will

Shares your values, wisdom, life lessons, and family history with loved ones in a meaningful, non-binding letter.

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