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Heritage Tree LogoWhat Are the Most Important Documents in an Estate Plan?

There are a number of critical components to an estate plan. Reach out to our legal team to speak with skilled Butler County estate planning & probate attorneys. Here are some of the most important documents:

What are some essential documents needed in an estate plan?

1. Last will and testament
An individual can define who he or she wants to inherit specific assets and property once they pass away. This includes your physical assets, including real estate and personal possessions, in addition to intangible assets, like bank and investment accounts. The recipients of your assets are named your beneficiaries. They can be your family members, friends, or even nonprofits that are important to you. In your will, you can also appoint guardians for your minor children and your pets, and choose an executor to carry out the wishes.

2. Revocable living trust
Similar to a will, a revocable living trust is a legal instrument that lets you spread your assets after you die. A revocable living trust is a legal entity that “owns” the property you put into it while still permitting you to use and control that property while you are living. A revocable living trust needs more maintenance than a will, but it permits your assets to avoid the time and expense of probate. Once you pass away, assets in a revocable living trust can be dispersed to your heirs quickly and privately.

3. Beneficiary designations
Specific assets can skip probate (the court-supervised legal process of distributing your assets) and instead transfer straight to a beneficiary after you die. These types of assets are known as non-probate assets and include 401(k) accounts, pensions, and life insurance policies. For these assets to skip probate, you have to reach out to each institution where you have a non-probate asset (for instance, your bank or life insurance provider) and name a beneficiary for it.

4. Advance healthcare directive (AHCD) / living will
An advanced healthcare directive permits you to illustrate how decisions should be made about your medical care if you are ever unable to make those decisions on your own. There are typically two parts to an AHCD document, a living will and a medical power of attorney. A living will allows you to outline your medical care choices in the event you are unable to communicate them. These choices can be about medication, treatment options, surgical procedures, end-of-life care, and more. With a medical power of attorney, you choose someone, known as your healthcare agent, to make healthcare decisions for you if you are unable to.

6. Proof of identity documents
It helps your executor if you have all your identity documents in one accessible place. This includes your Social Security card; birth, marriage, and divorce certificates; prenuptial agreements; divorce settlements; and any Armed Forces discharge papers.

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