What Estate Planning Documents Should I Get?

What Estate Planning Documents Do I Need

A good estate plan consists of many different components, including what happens to your assets and who should act on your behalf if you are unable to. At a bare minimum, there should be two main components: a last will and testament and a durable power of attorney. In addition to these parts, you can add things such as a trust and even medical directions.

Last will and testament

A will gives you the power to decide what is in the best interests of your children and pets after you’re gone. It also can help you determine what will happen to possessions with financial or sentimental value. It typically names an executor someone who will be in charge of following your directions. Finally, you can include any funeral provisions. Use your will to name guardians for those under your care, including minor children and pets. Designate any assets you are leaving for their care. In the absence of a last will and testament, a probate court will name an executor typically a spouse or grown child for your estate. Probate proceedings are a matter of public record. So keep private information passwords, for example — out of your will, as that information could become part of a public document.

Revocable living trust

A living trust is another tool for passing assets to heirs while avoiding potentially expensive and time-consuming probate court proceedings. You name a trustee perhaps a spouse, family member or attorney to manage your property. Unlike a will, a trust can be used to distribute property now or after your death. If you have substantial property or wealth, a trust can provide tax savings.

Beneficiary Designations

When you purchase life insurance or open a retirement plan or bank account, you’re often asked to name a beneficiary, which is the person you want to inherit the proceeds when you die. These designations are powerful, and they take precedence over instructions in a will. Keep beneficiary designation papers with your estate planning documents. Review and update them as your life changes.

Durable Power Of Attorney

A durable power of attorney allows you to choose someone to act on your behalf, financially and legally, in the event that you can’t make decisions. Don’t put off this chore. You must be legally competent to assign this role to someone. Older people worried about relinquishing control sometimes put off the task until they are no longer legally competent to do it.

Health Care Power Of Attorney And Living Will

To ensure that someone can make medical decisions for you in the event you become incapacitated, establish a health care power of attorney also called a durable health care power of attorney. This is different from the previously mentioned durable power of attorney for financial and legal affairs. A living will lets you explain in advance of your death what types of care you do and do not want, in case you can’t communicate that in the future. It’s strictly a place to spell out your health care preferences and has no relation to a conventional will or living trust, which deals with property. You can use your living will to say as much or as little as you wish about the kind of health care you want to receive.

Digital Asset Trust

You can use a digital asset trust to decide what to do with your electronic property, including your computer hard drive, digital photos, information stored in the cloud and online accounts such as Facebook, Yahoo, Google and Twitter. Create a separate list of your passwords.

Letter Of Intent

For instructions, requests and important personal or financial information that don’t belong in your will, write a letter. Use it to convey your wishes for things you hope will be done. For example, you may have detailed instructions about how you want your funeral or memorial service to be performed. No attorney is needed. The letter won’t carry the legal weight of a will.

List Of Important Documents

Make certain your family knows where to find everything you’ve prepared. Make a list of documents, including where each is stored. Include papers for:
• Life insurance policies
• Annuities
• Pension or retirement accounts
• Bank accounts
• Divorce records
• Birth and adoption certificates
• Real estate deeds
• Stocks, bonds and mutual funds

Make a will

In a will, you state who you want to inherit your property and name a guardian to care for your young children should something happen to you and the other parent.

Consider a trust

If you hold your property in a living trust, your survivors won’t have to go through probate court, a time-consuming and expensive process.

Make health care directives

Writing out your wishes for health care can protect you if you become unable to make medical decisions for yourself. Health care directives include a health care declaration (“living will”) and a power of attorney for health care, which gives someone you choose the power to make decisions if you can’t. (In some states, these documents are combined into one, called an advance health care directive.)

Make a financial power of attorney

With a durable power of attorney for finances, you can give a trusted person authority to handle your finances and property if you become incapacitated and unable to handle your own affairs. The person you name to handle your finances is called your agent or attorney-in-fact (but doesn’t have to be an attorney).

Protect your children’s property.

You should name an adult to manage any money and property your minor children may inherit from you. This can be the same person as the personal guardian you name in your will.

File beneficiary forms

Naming a beneficiary for bank accounts and retirement plans makes the account automatically payable on death to your beneficiary and allows the funds to skip the probate process. Likewise, in almost all states, you can register your stocks, bonds, or brokerage accounts to transfer to your beneficiary upon your death.

Consider life insurance

If you have young children or own a house, or you may owe significant debts or estate tax when you die, life insurance may be a good idea.

Understand estate taxes

Most estates more than 99.7% won’t owe federal estate taxes. Also, married couples can transfer up to twice the exempt amount tax-free, and all assets left to a spouse (as long as the spouse is a U.S. citizen) or tax-exempt charity is exempt from the tax.

Cover funeral expenses.

Rather than a funeral prepayment plan, which may be unreliable, you can set up a payable-on-death account at your bank and deposit funds into it to pay for your funeral and related expenses.

Make final arrangements.

Make your end-of-life wishes known regarding organ and body donation and disposition of your body burial or cremation.

Protect your business.

If you’re the sole owner of a business, you should have a succession plan. If you own a business with others, you should have a buyout agreement.

Store your documents.

Your attorney-in-fact and/or your executor (the person you choose in your will to administer your property after you die) may need access to the following documents:
• Will
• Trusts
• insurance policies
• real estate deeds
• certificates for stocks, bonds, annuities
• information on bank accounts, mutual funds, and safe deposit boxes
• information on retirement plans, 401(k) accounts, or IRAs
• information on debts: credit cards, mortgages and loans, utilities, and unpaid taxes
• information on funeral prepayment plans, and any final arrangements instructions you have made.

If you die without a will, the state law (e.g. probate court) dictates how your property is distributed. The court will also decide who will be your executor and who will be named the guardian for your children. Without a will, depending on how complex your estate is, the probate process could take a long time, often years. Which just creates an additional challenge for your family when they’re grieving? A will makes this process go faster. The bills can add up quickly court costs, probate expenses, fees for attorney, accounting, and appraisal. These can take a chunk of your estate. Having a will in place, especially combined with a trust, often significantly reduces probate expenses. Figuring out where to put your estate planning documents is critical. Why? Because you want it to be easy for someone to find them after you die. Wherever you put them, a trusted relative or friend should be made aware of their location.
Potential places for storage of estate planning documents include:
• Fireproof and waterproof at-home safe.
• Safe deposit box at a bank. Keep in mind, though, that a surviving loved one or friend might have a hard time retrieving documents stored in your safe deposit box. That’s because the bank might require a court order to open the box after you die.
• Probate court or court administrator’s office in your community. This can be done at no charge or a small fee.
• Office of the attorney who prepared the documents.
• Online document storage service.
How Do You Store Important Files Digitally?
Thanks to technology, you can store estate planning documents and other important records digitally. Among the options for digital storage:
• Cloud-based platform like Dropbox, Google Drive or Microsoft OneDrive.
• A portable storage device like a USB drive or external hard drive store in a safe location.
• Document management system, which is software that stores and organizes your records.

If you decide to store estate planning documents on your computer, be sure to encrypt the files where they’re kept. Encryption lets you lock out people who aren’t authorized to access the documents. Usually, a special password will be needed to access encrypted files. You’ll want to share the password with the executor of your estate. It may be wise to also share it with a trusted loved one or a friend in case your executor cannot carry out their duties. Estate planning can give you peace of mind by specifying how you want your wishes to be carried out after you die, such as who you want to have your assets. But to preserve that peace of mind, you should store your estate planning documents in a safe place. In addition, you should make sure it is known where these documents are stored and how to access them. You won’t be able to provide that help after you’re gone, and an estate plan does no good if it’s lost.

Importance Of Original Estate Planning Documents

A decedent’s original will is required to commence probate. Without the original it may be difficult to impossible to probate the decedent’s estate according to the terms of the missing will. When the terms of a missing will can be established, such as through a copy or a duplicate original, then one may try to probate the will that was lost in a fire. However, there is a presumption that if the original was last in the possession of a deceased testator who was competent until the time of death that the missing was revoked by the testator. Preserving an original will is, therefore, very important. Keeping the original in a bank safe deposit box is a good approach, provided someone has a key to the box or is named as a co-owner or co-signatory. With a key to the decedent’s bank deposit box and the decedent’s death certificate, the key holder, upon identification, can access the safe deposit and take possession of any original will. When the original will is retrieved, a copy of the will must be left in the safe deposit box (along with the rest of the contents), the original will must be lodged with the superior court in the county where the decedent resided at death. A copy must be mailed to the person named in the will as executor. Unlike a will, a decedent’s original trust document (with amendments) is neither required to be recorded with any county nor required to be submitted to the court where the decedent resided at death. Nonetheless, it is still best to safeguard the original trust. Normally, a trust and will are kept together. The same applies to any original Trustee Affidavits and Trustee Resignations documents. The original Power of Attorney to manage property, financial, and legal affairs must be maintained. The original is required to be presented at the proper county recorder’s office if the Agent seeks to transfer real property using the Power of Attorney. Other recipients may accept a certified copy of the original, but that process still requires presenting the original document to a notary public or a licensed attorney for copying and certification. Except for the county recorder’s office, the necessity to always present the original power of attorney can be greatly reduced by the power of attorney providing that an unverified photocopy is as good as the original. If the Power of Attorney provides that it is immediately effective when signed, the original document should be kept safe against abuse until such time as its proper use is needed. Some people keep the original Power of Attorney with a trusted person other than the agent with instructions that Custodian to provide the Agent with the Power of Attorney in the event of their incapacity.

Estate Planning Lawyer

When you need a Utah Estate Planning Lawyer, please call Ascent Law LLC for your free consultation (801) 676-5506. We want to help you.

Michael R. Anderson, JD

Ascent Law LLC
8833 S. Redwood Road, Suite C
West Jordan, Utah
84088 United States

Telephone: (801) 676-5506

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What Estate Planning Documents Do I Need?

What Estate Planning Documents Do I Need

Estate Planning is an integral aspect of life. It is not something to be left for the chosen few, but instead should be done by each and every individual. Knowing that no one in this world will escape the hand of death, we should all purpose to exit comfortably by ensuring that those whom we leave behind are fully aware of all possessions we had in our name.

You may wonder whether you really have any asset or estate. The truth is, we all have something we can claim to be ours. It may not be a row of apartments in one of Los Angeles’s leafy suburbs or a fleet of lamborghinis. Even the clothes well arranged in your closet serve as assets.

In case you were to die today, it is in order for you to have planned how your clothes should be disposed of, whether to donate to your favorite charity or pass them down to your sibling. A simple fact is that no one will take their possessions with them to the grave. That is why planning in advance on how they should be handled after your demise is essential.

Estate planning can therefore be described as thorough guidelines outlined by an individual which state who is to receive which possessions and how their assets ought to be distributed upon their demise. Estate planning is a gradual and thoughtful process which takes into consideration several aspects.

Why Is Estate Planning Important?

Some of us have grown up thinking that estate planning is only done by the elderly population who are in their sunset years. However, that is considered a great misconception. No one is guaranteed of tomorrow, therefore estate planning ought to begin as soon as you become an adult. We can blame this misconception on a lack of awareness on our part as citizens. That is okay. Nevertheless, times have changed and we thrive in an information era. Knowledge has immensely become accessible. It is therefore imperative for us to educate ourselves on life matters such as estate planning. Importance of estate planning can be summarized as follows:

  • A thorough estate planning process ensures that all your hard-earned assets are protected from any unforeseen incidences such as creditors who may forcefully use your assets as collateral.
  • Estate planning also gives you authority to enlist all the beneficiaries you wish to give your possessions to. Certain estate planning documents give you a wider scope when it comes to including the beneficiaries. For instance, a last will and testament enables you to include beneficiaries outside your immediate family circle. Some people may even include friends or colleagues who have played a crucial roll in their lives.
  • Estate planning prevents the treacherous judicial process known as a probate which occurs when the court gets involved in deciding how your estate should be divided and the validity of your assets in the first place. This is usually a long and tiring process since your family or attorney have to provide all the necessary documents as evidence. Estate planning therefore keeps all your matters in order.

Estate Planning Documents

Estate planning is a continuous process which requires various avenues for making the entire journey easier for you. There are necessary paper works which are normally involved in estate planning. You may have come across some of them at one point in your life. Even if you are unfamiliar with these documents, feel free to read about them below.

Power Of Attorney

In legal matters, a power of attorney is a lawful authority that is handed to someone (agent) to handle any legal matters on behalf of the person (principal). The agent performs any legal duties given by the principal on effect that the principal has been rendered incapable through death, a mental illness or old age. However, a power of attorney is restricted to carry out various tasks. Depending on the state you live in, the power of attorney cannot alter or create your will without your consent. It is important to note that there are several types of power of attorney. Each type serves a different purpose based on the prevailing circumstance.

In estate planning, there are two commonly used powers of attorney; the financial power of attorney and the healthcare power of attorney.

Financial Power Of Attorney

This legal document gives an agent the right to oversee your finances. You can nominate an individual or an institution such as a bank to have the financial power of attorney. Each state in the United States has an official financial power of attorney.

As such, your power of attorney should be customized around the laws of that particular state you have obtained it from. This document can either come as a durable financial power of attorney or springing financial power of attorney. The durable one simply means that once the two parties append their signatures on the document, it immediately becomes effective.

The agent is now able to oversee your financial matters even if you are still mentally capable. This may occur in instances where you are out of the country or your spouse is also unavailable. On the other hand, the springing financial power of attorney only comes into effect after the occurrence of an unfortunate event that renders you incapable.

An agent can oversee financial issues such as: transacting with your financial institution; collecting revenue from your business; verifying your tax payments; collecting any debts owed to you; opening of accounts; following up on any state benefits like social security and ensuring that payments on mortgage, car or property is paid on time.

Healthcare Power Of Attorney

As we have seen above, a power of attorney is necessary due to an uncertain future. Incapacitation may occur as a result of medical causes. Common cases include mental illness, debilitating diseases such as Alhziemer’s or dementia or a permanent brain injury.

Such ailments can render you mentally incompetent to make any sound decisions regarding your estate division. A healthcare power of attorney comes in handy in case of such events. This document is effective as it allows the principal’s wishes to be carried out. It gives guidelines on how you would want your medical concerns to be handled. Maybe you do not desire a dialysis or physiotherapy and instead wish to be allowed to die. This information is normally indicated on the healthcare power of attorney.

This document also indicates any consent you give. You may give, withdraw or refuse consent on a particular medical regimen you are undertaking.

Importance Of Having A Power Of Attorney

  • It is crucial in curbing conflicts arising from heirs who contest the asset distribution. It is normal for the heirs to feel that assets were unfairly distributed and may seek to contest in court. A power of attorney will come in handy during such instances.
  • A power of attorney is useful for following up on certain benefits, such as the state’s social security fund or retirement benefits if you need assistance due to old age.
  • It reveals the extent of estate or asset ownership. This is useful in taxation planning, as it ensures that there is no tax evasion on your part.


Trusts serve as a crucial aspect of estate planning. A trust is best described as an association formed by a trustor or someone who entrusts their assets to a second party called a trustee to manage them. The trustee is given legal rights to the assets in play. This is done while the trustor is still alive.

A trust can either be revocable or irrevocable. In a revocable trust, you as the grantor still has full control to your property. You can freely amend any component in it. On the other hand, the irrevocable trust grants the trustee all privileges of managing the assets. Incase an amendment is necessary, all involved parties have to agree first.

There are specific rules outlined in a trust document which must be followed by the trustee. Choosing an administrator can be daunting as you need to ensure that your trustee has your best interests while serving you. As such, as a grantor or trustor, you have the right to terminate the services of your administrator if they break the rules or have a conflict of interest.

A trust is a crucial document in estate planning as it can save the entire family the exhausting judicial process of seeking to establish whether the deceased had divided their estate before their demise.

Importance Of Having A Trust

  • A trust ensures that there is asset guardianship. Even while still alive, you may encounter financial setbacks that may place your assets at risk of being seized by debt collectors. Having a trust can prevent such measures because your trustee can offset any financial predicament.
  • Trusts serve families in asset division. Any complex procedure involving how you may want to distribute your assets can all be outlined in a trust.
  • A trust is used to prevent forced heirship. This is where assets are distributed as per the grantor’s cultural traditions to immediate family members which can put other beneficiaries outside the bracket. As such, a trust provides a wider scope of beneficiaries which minimizes conflicts among beneficiaries.
  • A trust ensures that all assets are preserved and protected. You may not wish to distribute each and every asset to your beneficiaries, but instead decide to leave some assets for future generations. A trust is useful in such a case.
  • A trust is also useful as it ensures that your family name is preserved. You may be running a business and desire to see it progress even after you are long gone. A trust will establish certain parameters which will protect your family name in the business world.

Last Will And Testament

As someone who has worked hard to secure a decent lifestyle over the course of your life, it is only fair to ensure that upon your demise, any form of asset you had acquired is left to keep your legacy alive.

Writing a will guarantees just that. Drafting a will is not rocket science as most of us believe. With the aid of simple guidelines, you can easily draft one on your own without having to hire an attorney.

A written last will and testament gives a clear overview of all your estate, assets or liabilities. It describes who should receive which asset. It also lists all your beneficiaries, from children, friends, charities and relatives.

One does not need to wait until old age sets in to draft one. It is advisable to always have one at hand. Even after accumulating more wealth later on in life, you can still make amendments to the original will.

Failure to write a will while you are alive leaves your beneficiaries at the mercy of the laws governing your country which will decide how to distribute your estate upon your death. This is known as dying intestate.

While writing a last will and testament, consider the following:

  • Enlist all the beneficiaries you have in mind. This is dispel any possible future conflicts.
  • Assign an executor who will oversee the management of your assets. The executor will also be there to read out your will to the beneficiaries when the time comes. In addition to having a main executor, it is important to have a back-up plan by appointing an alternative executor. This comes in handy in instances where the main executor is unable to carry out their duties.
  • Have a few witnesses who will confirm the contents of your will. Incase of any conflicts, such witnesses may be called to verify the validity of the will.

Importance Of Having A Last Will And Testament

  • As we have already seen, having a last will and testament prevents you from being at the mercy of the state who are mandated to distribute your assets in case you die intestate.
  • A last will and testament enables you to include other beneficiaries such as illegitimate children who may not have much authority in your family matters. Including them ensures that they have a right to your estate like others.

The above listed documents play a vital roll in all your estate planning procedures. It is advisable to contact a legal expert or you can ask for assistance in any issue you may not understand. No one has to die intestate as this is a recipe for conflicts and mess among thee loved ones involved.

Estate Planning Attorney Free Consultation

When you need your estate plan completed or updated, please call Ascent Law for your free consultation (801) 676-5506. We want to help you.

Michael R. Anderson, JD

Ascent Law LLC
8833 S. Redwood Road, Suite C
West Jordan, Utah
84088 United States

Telephone: (801) 676-5506

Ascent Law LLC

4.9 stars – based on 67 reviews

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