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5 Must-Have Documents in an Estate Plan

What are the necessary documents in an estate plan? Estate plans vary, and depending on the size of your estate, you could have either a very simple estate plan or a very complex one.

But if we go back to basics, most estate plans have a few general things in common, whether they are for small estates or multimillion-dollar ones.

Here is a list of the five must-have documents for a basic estate plan:

  1. The will. The will is the cornerstone of an estate plan. It's a document that expresses the wishes of the decedent. Important clauses in the will include naming the executor, naming the guardian for the children, and disposing of property not otherwise disposed of.

  2. The revocable trust. A trust is a document that allows much of your estate to skip probate. It names a trustee and a successor trustee. These people are charged with administering the assets in the trust outside of court. A trust can be 10 pages long or it can be 50 pages long -- a lot depends on what provisions you put in there and whether the trust creates sub-trusts.

  3. The health care directive. This is a document that talks about when it's OK to pull the plug if you're ever on life support. But that's not all it talks about. It also discusses other health care decisions, in the event that you are unable to speak for yourself.

  4. The HIPAA form. What's the point in having health care directives or naming successor trustees if you can't even give out your health information? A successor trustee is named when you are deemed incapacitated, in many cases. In order to be declared incapacitated, the decision-makers need to have your medical records. So the HIPAA form authorizes them to get access, if and when the need arises.

  5. The financial power of attorney. Again, if you are incapacitated, someone has to be able to run your finances on your behalf. This POA names and authorizes the person to do so.

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