The Only Estate Planning Documents You Really Need

Estate planning is an incredibly important process that everyone should undertake. At its core, estate planning involves determining what will happen to your assets and belongings after you pass away.

This includes making decisions about who will receive your property, who will care for any minor children you have, and who will handle your affairs if you become incapacitated.

While no one likes to think about their own mortality, proper estate planning gives you control, even when you cannot make decisions for yourself. It also helps avoid family disputes down the road.

There are several core estate planning documents that we recommend all clients have in place. These documents make up the foundation of a complete estate plan.

Last Will and Testament

A last will and testament is arguably the most important document in your estate plan. It outlines exactly how you want your assets distributed after you pass away. This includes bank accounts, investment accounts, real estate, vehicles, and personal possessions. If you have minor children, your will should designate guardians to care for them.

Without a will, you have no control over who inherits your property. The state intestacy laws will determine who gets what. This could lead to assets going to distant relatives that you are not close with rather than someone you would have preferred.

Wills also allow you to name an executor to carry out your wishes. The executor handles submitting the will to probate court, inventorying assets, paying any outstanding debts, and distributing property to beneficiaries. Having a legally binding will makes the probate process smoother and less prone to disputes.

Living Will

A living will, also called an advance healthcare directive, outlines your preferences for end-of-life medical care if you can no longer communicate them yourself. This important document states whether you want interventions like CPR, breathing machines, feeding tubes, dialysis, and organ donation.

Specifying your wishes ahead of time via a living will helps guide doctors and your loved ones when making difficult decisions about keeping you alive using artificial means. Without these instructions, disagreements could arise between family members about ending or continuing care.

Healthcare Power of Attorney

A healthcare power of attorney appoints a reliable person to handle medical decisions in the event of your incapacitation. This is an essential estate planning document that gives your designee authority to access medical records, consult with doctors, and consent to treatment options when you are unable to do so.

Choosing the right agent is obviously very important. It should be someone who understands your values and wishes and who can handle the responsibility of making healthcare choices for you. Always name a backup agent as well.

Durable Financial Power of Attorney

Similar to a healthcare POA, a durable financial power of attorney allows you to authorize someone to handle your financial affairs if you become incapacitated. Your designated agent can pay bills, manage investments, file taxes, and conduct other business activities.

Without this document, your family would have to go to court to establish guardianship or conservatorship to gain control of your finances. This process takes time and money. Naming an agent upfront avoids the court appointment of a guardian who may not be your first choice.

When to Create or Update Estate Planning Documents

Crafting your core estate planning documents provides tremendous peace of mind. However, your plan is only effective if kept up-to-date. Here are some key times when your documents should be reviewed and revised:

  • After major life events – marriage, divorce, birth of a child, death of a beneficiary
  • When your financial circumstances change significantly
  • If you buy real estate in another state
  • When tax laws impacting estates change
  • Every 3-5 years, even without major changes

Laws and priorities shift over time. Review your estate plan every few years to ensure it still accomplishes its goals.

Working with an Estate Planning Attorney

While there are do-it-yourself options for creating basic estate planning documents, we highly recommend retaining an experienced estate planning attorney. DIY websites and document services cannot provide the personalized advice and expertise needed for peace of mind.

An estate attorney considers your unique assets, family dynamics, tax situation, and state laws when drafting your plan. They also help ensure your documents adhere to your state’s requirements to avoid any issues down the road. Estate laws can be complex, so having a legal professional on your side is invaluable.

The estate planning lawyers at The Browne Firm have the skills and insight needed to create customized plans for New York residents that check all the boxes on this estate planning checklist. We make the process simple and convenient for you.

We simplify the complex legal details so you can gain peace of mind. Visit them online at today to discuss your needs.