As soon as you own more than a bicycle and a stamp collection, having a will is a good idea. Once you have dependents, a will is a necessity.

But estate planning doesn’t need to be complicated. Knowing what to expect will put you in a stronger position and make the planning process go more smoothly.

Your first step is to find a good lawyer. And if you’re nearing retirement age, you should really consult an elder-care lawyer. These professionals are versed in the intensely complicated permutations of financial planning for the later years, including health care, long-term care, and guardianship.

Once you’ve chosen a lawyer, it’s important to discuss the following six documents:


This is where you list and allocate your assets to your named beneficiaries. Your will should include plans for guardianship of minors as well as any trusts you intend to set up.

2.Durable power of attorney

Your power of attorney should be someone you trust completely because by creating a durable power of attorney (POA), you are giving your agent the right to sign on your behalf in almost all matters legal and financial.

This POA comes into effect once signed and is still in effect after your death, which can make things like selling real estate or handling trusts substantially easier.

3.Health-care power of attorney

The HPOA invests your agent with the power to make health-care decisions on your behalf. The document itself is fairly straightforward, so it’s important to discuss your views and desires with the person you choose.

This, combined with a living will (see below), means that you can determine the ways you would like your family to handle your dying process—and that is a true gift to those you love.

4.Living will

This document allows you to stipulate your intentions about how to use life-sustaining medical treatment. You can direct your agents to allow you to die without unnecessarily prolonging a life that is essentially complete.

Even in states where such documents are not legally binding, the clear statement of your desires can alleviate the need for your closest family to make stressful end-of-life decisions.

5.Letter of intent

LOIs have a wide variety of useful functions. They can communicate desires or attitudes that don’t need to be encoded in the will, such as how to care for minor beneficiaries.

A typical LOI is called an HEMS: health, education, maintenance, and support. Your funeral preferences can be included in an LOI, or you can write an LOI that asks your beneficiaries to allow friends and family to choose mementos from among your belongings.

6.Provisions for digital assets

Not something our parents had to give much thought to, this is becoming an increasingly vital part of an estate plan.

In addition to determining what should happen to your hard drive, digital photographs, and cloud storage, create a list of sites where you maintain a presence, including your usernames and passwords, and then specify how you would like your data to be managed after your death.

The bottom line

Thorough estate planning not only makes things substantially easier for your beneficiaries—it also gives you peace of mind.

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