We know that estate planning is a delicate process – it can be slightly uncomfortable for you, and it can be even more uncomfortable for your family members who aren’t ready for such a difficult conversation. Fortunately, you can make that conversation easier if you know what estate planning documents are needed to manage your family’s financial future.

Whether you’re putting together a list so your family knows where to find the right information or you’re getting documents together for your estate planning attorney, there are a few financial documents you absolutely need to have.

What Estate Planning Documents Are Needed: Estate Planning Basics for Every Family

what estate planning documents are needed

While the full list of estate planning documents someone needs will vary, there are a few essential documents that every family should have in place. The most important estate planning documents you need are:

  • Will: Your will designates who receives your assets, as well as who will be responsible for your children if you have minors.
  • Power of attorney A power of attorney gives someone else the ability to act on your behalf in financial, legal, and medical situations, among others.
  • Medical proxy: Your medical proxy gives someone else the authority to make healthcare decisions for you if you are unable to do so.
  • Trust(s): Depending on the size of your estate and tax situation, you may have either a revocable or irrevocable trust.
  • Do not resuscitate order: In the event that you have a serious medical emergency, a DNR order is an option that you should consider.

You can put together these documents on your own if you have a simple estate plan, but a more complex estate planning process will include a more robust set of documents. For this, you may want to look into an estate planning attorney.

What Estate Planning Documents Are Needed: A Comprehensive Estate Planning Documents Checklist

Depending on your unique financial situation, you want to have access to documents for every financial account you have. That includes accounts you have money invested in as well as accounts you may make payments from.

Estate Planning Documents: List of Accounts

You should have all of these documents in an easy-to-access file for appropriate members of your family. If you have an estate planning attorney, you’ll want them to have access to these documents as well.

  • Checking and savings accounts
  • Bank brokerage accounts
  • 401(k) accounts
  • IRA and Roth IRA accounts
  • Auto-pay accounts
  • Other expense accounts
  • Pension documents
  • Social Security documents
  • Annuity contracts
  • Savings bonds
  • Life insurance policies
  • Long-term care (LTC) insurance policies
  • Safe-deposit box accounts and keys

If you have online access to these accounts, it’s a good idea to put together a list of login information so the right people can manage the accounts during the estate planning process. This includes income accounts, as well as expense accounts that may need to be stopped.

Estate Planning Documents: Miscellaneous Documents

Whoever is responsible for managing your estate will have a lot on their hands. You can make the estate planning process a little bit easier for them by putting together a list of documents related to your assets. Critical estate planning documents include:

  • Tax returns for the last three years
  • Housing and land deeds
  • Cemetery deeds
  • Mortgage accounts
  • Vehicle title(s)
  • Proof of loans made
  • Partnership and corporate operating agreements
  • Business or self-employment directives
  • Marriage license
  • Divorce papers and agreement
  • Military discharge information
  • List of important contacts

Some of these documents are sensitive and should be in a safe location, like a firebox or a safety deposit box. Your estate executor needs to have access to this. If you own a business, you should also have a plan in place for managing that in the estate planning process.

How an Estate Planning Attorney Can Secure Your Family’s Future

For even the experienced financial planner, managing the estate planning process is tedious and complicated. Estate laws vary by state, and taxes may be due at local, state, and federal levels.

While a will is a practical estate planning tool, almost half of Americans over the age of 55 don’t have one. An estate planning attorney offers benefits beyond creating a will such as:

  • Document creation: If you need trust documents, medical proxies, or a power of attorney, an estate planning attorney can create them for you.
  • Tax optimization: Estate taxes may be due to the state or federal government, and inheritance taxes may be due to state governments, but an attorney can help you optimize your tax strategy.
  • Legal protection: An estate planning attorney can craft the right documents that afford your estate protection from a lengthy probate process.

The most important step to ensuring your family’s financial future is to put together your estate planning documents.

Need help with your estate planning process? Contact Mooney Lyons to review your document checklist and get started on your financial plan today.