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9 essential estate planning documents

Estate planning can feel overwhelming. Start with this checklist of essential documents

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No one wants to think about dying, but planning for the inevitable is essential, especially if you have loved ones who will be impacted both emotionally and financially by your passing.

It can be overwhelming to figure out where to start with estate planning. Consider this list of documents a helpful checklist. It might not make estate planning fun, but it should help you do it a little more easily.

In this article:

1. A will

Wills are vital estate planning documents that nearly everyone should have. They serve as a written record of your wishes regarding the distribution of your assets after your death.

By creating a will, you create a record of how your property, finances, and personal belongings will be handled once you’re no longer here. It allows you to designate specific beneficiaries who will inherit your assets according to your instructions. Without a will, your assets may be distributed according to the laws of intestacy — essentially, the government will take its best guess at how you’d want your assets distributed — which might not align with your wishes.

Having a will in place provides peace of mind. You can make provisions for distributing your hard-earned assets to family members, friends, charities, and any other individuals or organizations that are important to you.

Not only does a will address asset distribution, but it also allows you to name an executor. The executor is the person responsible for carrying out your wishes as outlined in the will. They will handle tasks such as paying off any debt, managing your estate, and distributing assets to the designated beneficiaries.

Updating your will regularly is crucial. As your life circumstances change, you may need to revise your will to reflect new beneficiaries, changes in your assets, or changes in your family situation. Reviewing your will periodically is recommended, especially after major life events such as marriage, divorce, the birth of a child, or the acquisition of significant assets.

2. A life insurance policy

A life insurance policy is another important item that everyone should have in their estate planning kit. Life insurance is a type of protection that provides you with peace of mind while you’re still alive by ensuring that your loved ones will be able to pay their bills should you suddenly and unexpectedly die.

One of the primary reasons for having life insurance is to provide financial protection for your loved ones in the event of your death. It serves as a safety net, replacing your income and helping your family maintain their standard of living, cover daily expenses, pay off debt, and pursue their goals and aspirations.

There are multiple types of life insurance, including term life insurance and permanent life insurance. To determine the right life insurance policy for your situation, consider factors such as your age, finances, health, and the needs of your beneficiaries. Periodically review and reassess your life insurance coverage, especially when significant life events occur, such as marriage, the birth of a child, or a change in financial circumstances.

3. Power of attorney

There may come a time when you’re unable to manage your own affairs due to factors such as illness, disability, or absence. In such situations, power of attorney ensures that someone you designate, known as your attorney-in-fact or agent, can step in and make decisions on your behalf. This legal document grants someone you trust the authority to act on your behalf in financial or legal matters if you become unable to do so yourself.

Power of attorney is particularly important for estate planning because it allows your agent to handle financial transactions, pay bills, manage investments, and make legal decisions related to your assets and property. Without it, your loved ones may encounter significant challenges in managing your affairs, which can lead to delays, complications, and even financial hardship.

Choosing the right person for this designation can be a tough job. Some candidates you may want to consider may include:

By appointing a trusted individual as your agent, you maintain control and ensure that your financial and legal matters are handled according to your wishes. Choose someone responsible, capable, and understanding of your values and preferences.

4. Advance health care directive

An advance health care directive is a legal document that allows you to specify your medical wishes in the event that you become unable to communicate them yourself. A sudden injury or traumatic accident can occur at any moment, rendering you unable to communicate your preferences regarding medical treatments, life-sustaining measures, and end-of-life care.

Also known as a health care proxy or health care surrogate, the trusted individual you designate as your agent can make healthcare decisions on your behalf. This person will advocate for your wishes, communicate with medical professionals, and ensure that your medical care aligns with your preferences.

Having an advance health care directive is crucial because it provides clarity and peace of mind for you and your loved ones. It relieves your family and friends from the burden of making difficult medical decisions on your behalf without clear guidance. It also helps prevent potential disputes from arising among family members who may have differing opinions about your medical treatment.

To create an advance health care directive, consult an attorney or health care professional who can guide you through the process. They can help ensure that your document meets the legal requirements of your jurisdiction and accurately reflects your wishes. Discuss your advance health care directive with your loved ones, including your designated health care agent. Open communication helps ensure that everyone understands your wishes and can act accordingly if the need arises.

5. Proof of identity

Having valid proof-of-identity documents, like a valid passport and driver’s license, is essential when you’re planning your estate considerations. These documents serve as official identification and are required in various situations, such as traveling, opening bank accounts, applying for jobs, and conducting legal transactions. They provide credibility, establish your identity, and protect you from identity theft.

These documents ensure you can prove who you are and access the rights and privileges associated with your identity. Keeping your documents up to date and readily available is crucial for navigating day-to-day activities and protecting your personal information.

6. Property deeds and documentation

Property deeds, whether they’re for your car or home, hold significant importance for your estate. They serve as legal documents that establish ownership and provide proof of your rights to the property. Car deeds, or vehicle titles, are necessary for transferring ownership and ensuring legal recognition of the vehicle’s rightful owner. Home deeds, or property titles, provide evidence of ownership and are essential for buying, selling, or refinancing a property.

Possessing these deeds helps protect your property rights, enables smooth transactions, and ensures that you can assert your ownership interests. Safeguard and maintain these documents, making sure that your designated agent knows how to access them.

7. Digital log-in information and passwords

In today’s digital age, log-in information and passwords are a must-add for your estate planning folder. Having strong and unique passwords for each account helps protect your data from unauthorized access and potential identity theft.

Digital log-in information allows you to manage your finances, communicate with others, access important documents, and utilize various online services. Create strong passwords, update them regularly, and securely store them to ensure the integrity of your online accounts.

8. A trust

For some people, a trust can be a valuable alternative to a will. By creating a trust, you transfer your assets to a legal entity managed by a trustee for the benefit of your chosen beneficiaries. Unlike a will, a trust avoids the probate process, allowing for the efficient distribution of assets and maintaining privacy.

Trusts offer flexibility in managing and distributing assets, can provide ongoing support for beneficiaries, and may offer tax benefits. They also enable you to plan for incapacity by appointing a successor trustee to manage your affairs. Utilizing a trust in your estate planning can provide greater control, privacy, and peace of mind for you and your loved ones, so be sure to consider one if you have a number of assets to divide.

9. Funeral planning instructions

Finally, be sure to include your preferences for your funeral or cremation ceremony in your estate planning documentation. Funerals are important considerations in terms of both cost and content. Record any religious or personal preferences you have for your remains so your loved ones can follow your directions.

Preparing to start estate planning

At Haven Life, we offer life insurance that makes life less hard. One of the ways we do that is by providing something for eligible Haven Term policyholders while they’re still living: The Haven Life Plus bonus rider.

It includes no-cost access to end-of-life planning services from Lantern, along with no-cost trust and will services from the appropriately named Trust & Will. Finally, it also includes no-cost access to LifeSite, a secure online vault with military-grade encryption for all your most important files, including those used in estate planning.

Begin your journey with a free online life insurance quote today.

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About Sarah Horvath

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Our editorial policy

Haven Life is a customer-centric life insurance agency that’s backed and wholly owned by Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (MassMutual). We believe navigating decisions about life insurance, your personal finances and overall wellness can be refreshingly simple.

Our editorial policy

Haven Life is a customer centric life insurance agency that’s backed and wholly owned by Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (MassMutual). We believe navigating decisions about life insurance, your personal finances and overall wellness can be refreshingly simple.

Our content is created for educational purposes only. Haven Life does not endorse the companies, products, services or strategies discussed here, but we hope they can make your life a little less hard if they are a fit for your situation.

Haven Life is not authorized to give tax, legal or investment advice. This material is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for tax, legal, or investment advice. Individuals are encouraged to seed advice from their own tax or legal counsel.

Our disclosures

Haven Term is a Term Life Insurance Policy (DTC and ICC17DTC in certain states, including NC) issued by Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (MassMutual), Springfield, MA 01111-0001 and offered exclusively through Haven Life Insurance Agency, LLC. In NY, Haven Term is DTC-NY 1017. In CA, Haven Term is DTC-CA 042017. Haven Term Simplified is a Simplified Issue Term Life Insurance Policy (ICC19PCM-SI 0819 in certain states, including NC) issued by the C.M. Life Insurance Company, Enfield, CT 06082. Policy and rider form numbers and features may vary by state and may not be available in all states. Our Agency license number in California is OK71922 and in Arkansas 100139527.

MassMutual is rated by A.M. Best Company as A++ (Superior; Top category of 15). The rating is as of Aril 1, 2020 and is subject to change. MassMutual has received different ratings from other rating agencies.

Haven Life Plus (Plus) is the marketing name for the Plus rider, which is included as part of the Haven Term policy and offers access to additional services and benefits at no cost or at a discount. The rider is not available in every state and is subject to change at any time. Neither Haven Life nor MassMutual are responsible for the provision of the benefits and services made accessible under the Plus Rider, which are provided by third party vendors (partners). For more information about Haven Life Plus, please visit:

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