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Eight Estate Planning Essentials

By Christie L. Martin

Martin & Richards, PLLC


1. Last Will and Testament. A will allows for the orderly administration of your estate after your death. A will should be reviewed every five years and updated accordingly. A will is not appropriate for “non-probate” assets such as bank accounts, life insurance policies and IRAs. A will sometimes works hand-in-hand with a trust to avoid probate.


2. Revocable Living Trust. A trust allows a trustee to manage your property. Unlike a will, a trust can be used to distribute property before and after your death. Putting property into a trust can have significant tax savings and, when combined with a will, can avoid probate and ease estate administration.


3. Durable Power of Attorney. A durable power of attorney appoints someone to make financial and legal decisions on your behalf should you become incapacitated.  This document, along with a healthcare power of attorney or advance directive, is the single most important estate planning tool for young people.

4. Healthcare Power of Attorney / Advance Directive. A healthcare power of attorney / advance directive appoints someone to make medical decisions on your behalf should you become incapacitated. This document allows you to explain what type of care you do and do not want.

5. List of Important Documents. It’s essential that your family members know where to find important documents and information including life insurance policies, annuities, IRAs, bank accounts, family records, legal papers, birth and adoption certificates, real estate deeds, and stocks/bonds/mutual funds.

6. Letter of Intent. This letter contains burial, cremation and memorial service instructions as well as other requests that are not appropriate for a will or trust.

7. Provision for Digital Assets. In an ever-increasing electronic world, our digital footprints remain past our deaths. This provision sets forth your wishes as to how your digital information (computer hard drive, cloud storage, social media) will be handled.

8. Beneficiary Designations. When you purchase life insurance or open a retirement plan or bank account, you’re asked to name a beneficiary who will inherit the proceeds. These designations take precedence over instructions in a will. Beneficiary designations should be periodically reviewed and updated. 

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