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4 most basic estate planning documents

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4 most basic estate planning documents

Your individual needs determine what goes into your estate plan. If you have few assets, your plan is probably simple, while if you have many assets, investments, etc., your plan is more likely to be proportionately complex.

U.S. News and World Report describes a few estate planning documents that are the most basic. This does not mean that your estate plan needs to include all of them, nor does it mean that your estate plan cannot include other documents. It only means that these are the documents that most people consider first when creating an estate plan and are likely to serve you well.

1. Health care directive

Your estate plan should take what may happen before your death, as well as after, into account. You may become incapacitated and unable to make health care decisions for yourself. A health care directive provides instructions to your doctor and your family informing them which treatments you want to receive in this scenario and which you do not.

2. Powers of attorney

A power of attorney gives someone else the authority to make decisions on your behalf if you are unable to do so. There are health care powers of attorney and financial powers of attorney, and your estate plan may include either or both.

Note that a power of attorney does not give your designated agent the authority to override your health care directive. Your own expressed wishes always take precedence.

3. Will

A will is the estate planning document that you may be most familiar with. It states your wishes for your possessions and your dependents and names an executor who must carry these out after your death. A will has to go through a process called probate that proves its validity.

4. Trust

A trust provides a way to distribute assets to beneficiaries without having to go through probate. When you create a trust, you name a trustee who is in charge of it and handles all the disbursements according to your instructions. A trust offers many benefits in addition to probate avoidance. It gives you more control over your bequests and keeps your financial matters private.

Each estate plan is unique to the person who creates it. Yours reflects your situation and your personal values.