Documents That Should Be Part of Your Estate Plan

People believe that having an estate plan is simply having a will or your assets in a trust. However, there is much more to an estate plan to ensure that your assets are transferred to your heirs upon your death. There are specific estate planning documents that every estate plan should have, and there are documents that you might not need, depending on your situation and assets. We provided a brief outline of what every estate plan needs, how the documents work, and additional documents you might want to consider.


Everyone should have the following basic documents:




A will is the foundation of any estate plan. It dictates your wishes in the event of your death. The legal definition of a will is “by which an owner of property disposes of his or her assets in the event of his or her death.” Without a will as part of your estate plan, you will cede control of your estate to the state where you live. The state’s laws will determine who the executor of your estate will be and who your heirs will be. While each state has different inheritance laws, they generally favor spouses, domestic partners, and blood relatives as heirs, but this should not be left to chance, as your will can ensure that your final wishes are followed.


There are different wills, and some assets can be included in your choice, while others cannot. Therefore, it is essential to talk to someone with experience and expertise to help determine which will and what assets should go into your will and not be left up to chance.


Durable Power of Attorney


Who do you want to make decisions for yourself when you cannot make critical decisions for yourself? If you know the answer to that questions and they are not your Durable Power of Attorney, you need to act fast to ensure that important decisions are in their trusted hands.


If you are unsure where having a Durable Power of Attorney would be helpful, here are a few reasons you might want to create a Durable Power of Attorney.


  • Prepare for a situation when you might be incapacitated (for example, if you were in a car accident and fell into a coma)
  • Put someone you trust in control of your healthcare and finances if you were unable to manage them yourself
  • Preparing for a medical procedure, especially a procedure involving anesthesia
  • Response to degenerative disease diagnosis, like dementia or Parkinson’s


Health Care Power of Attorney


A Health Care Power of Attorney is a legal name for the document that names one person, the health care agent, or the person responsible for another person. The Health Care Power of Attorney can make health care decisions and have the responsibility to ensure that doctors and other healthcare personnel provide the appropriate and necessary care that aligns with the patient’s wishes, including end-of-life care.


End-of-life care is a topic that is uncomfortable for some people, and having the advanced planning for medical care can help alieve the burden and eases pressure on family members and friends who would otherwise have to make the decisions. This can also eliminate conflict between family members when they disagree on what medical measures to take or extend the patient’s life.


Living Will (Directive to Physicians)


A living will is an advanced directive that includes written, legal instructions regarding your preferences for medical care that you would like to receive when you are unable to make the decisions for yourself. Having a living will is a document that can help alieve the burden and ease pressure on your Health Care Power of Attorney if they have written instructions to ensure they are followed by medical personnel.


Some additional documents to consider depending on your specific family and financial circumstances:


*Premarital/Unmarried Partner Agreements

*Revocable Living Trust

*Memorandum Disposing of Personal Property (if not in your Will)

*Irrevocable Life Insurance Trust

*Irrevocable Trust for benefit of minors, support of parents or adult children

*Split-interest trust for charitable giving (charitable lead or charitable remainder trust)

*Personal Residence Grantor Retained Income Trust (GRIT)

*Grantor Retained Annuity Trust (GRAT)

*Grantor Retained Unitrust (GRUT)

*Family Limited Partnership

*Guardianship Appointment

*Buy/Sell Agreements

*Marital Deduction Trust

*Life Insurance Policies

*Prior Year Gift Tax Returns

*Loan Documents (e.g., jointly liable, separate liability, community debt)


Once the documents that are right for your family situation are in place you cannot forget to review on a regular basis to make sure they still match your current wishes and circumstances.


A review should consist of at least the following:


*Beneficiary Designations on life insurance policies, annuities and retirement plan documents

*Review of signature cards on joint accounts (i.e., tenants in common, joint tenancy with or

without a right of survivorship, etc.)

*Your entire estate plan upon the following events in your family:

  • Marriage
  • Divorce
  • Tax law changes
  • Births or deaths in the family
  • Changes in family relationships


If you have been thinking about your goals and planning for your family and would like to put the planning process in motion, please reach out to Elaine Dougherty, CPA in our Morgantown office at 304-554-3371.  You may also email Elaine at