The 10 Estate Planning Documents You Shouldn’t Overlook

estate planning documents

Planning for your eventual passing is not something any of us like to think about. But ensuring your assets and affairs are in order when that difficult day comes is one of the most thoughtful gifts you can leave your loved ones.

However, with so many legal documents involved in estate planning, it can be overwhelming trying to determine which ones you actually need. Do you need a simple will? Or is a trust better? What about a power of attorney form – is this essential, too?

As estate planning lawyers, we know just how confusing navigating this landscape can be. To help simplify things, we’ve put together this comprehensive guide covering the 10 most critical estate planning documents you shouldn’t overlook.

1. Last Will and Testament

A last will and testament is what most people think of when they think of an estate plan. This legal document outlines exactly how you want your assets distributed after you pass away. It also allows you to name an executor who will handle the administration of your estate and ensure your wishes are followed.

Without a will in place, your estate is subject to New York’s intestate succession laws. This means the state gets to decide who inherits your property, and your assets may not go to the loved ones you intended.

A customized will avoids this uncertainty. We can include provisions like creating trusts for minor children or donating to a charity. Your will can also outline funeral arrangements and other requests to make things easier for your family.

2. Revocable Living Trust

A revocable living trust is another essential estate planning tool. This legal arrangement allows you to transfer assets like your home, investments, and bank accounts into a trust while you’re still alive.

The primary benefits of a living trust are avoiding probate and maintaining privacy. The probate process can be time-consuming and costly, but property in a living trust doesn’t need to go through probate. The trust also remains private, unlike a will, which becomes public record.

You can create different types of living trusts depending on your goals. A few examples include:

  • An AB trust lets you provide for your spouse while preserving your lifetime estate tax exemption.
  • A special needs trust can provide for a beneficiary with disabilities without affecting government benefits.
  • A charitable trust allows you to leave assets to a charity while retaining an income stream or naming non-charity beneficiaries.

You designate a trusted person as successor trustee to manage the trust if you become incapacitated or pass away. This provides continuity, ensuring someone can step in to handle your financial affairs. A trust lawyer can help determine the best type of trust for your situation.

3. Durable Power of Attorney

No one likes to think about becoming incapacitated, but creating a durable power of attorney prepares you for that possibility. This legal document allows you to appoint someone you trust to manage your finances should you become unable to do so yourself.

Your designated agent can pay bills, manage retirement accounts, file taxes, and handle other important financial matters on your behalf. Without a power of attorney, your family would have to go to court to gain authority over your affairs.

The requirements for powers of attorney vary by state. In New York, the document must include specific legal wording to remain valid if you become incapacitated. An estate planning attorney familiar with New York’s statutes can draft a customized power of attorney tailored to your needs that will withstand legal scrutiny.

4. Health Care Proxy

Similar to a power of attorney, a Health Care Proxy allows you to name someone to make medical decisions for you should you become unable to make them on your own. This is also referred to as a Health Care Agent.

This critical document authorizes your designated agent to access your medical information and communicate with your doctors on your behalf. You can provide instructions about your specific medical wishes or leave some decisions to your agent’s discretion.

5. Living Will

A living will is your written instructions for end-of-life medical care should you become terminally ill or permanently unconscious. This legal document allows you to state precisely what life-sustaining treatments you do or don’t want.

For example, your living will can outline whether you want CPR, mechanical ventilation, feeding tubes, pain medication, and other interventions. It lets doctors and loved ones know your wishes so they don’t have to make difficult healthcare decisions during an already stressful time.

6. HIPAA Authorization

The HIPAA Privacy Rule restricts access to your medical information. This can make it difficult for your chosen Health Care Proxy to communicate with healthcare providers and make informed decisions about your care.

A HIPAA authorization solves this issue. This legal form allows your designated agent to access your health records and speak with your doctors under HIPAA. Hospitals and doctors’ offices will ask for this authorization along with your Health Care Proxy.

7. Beneficiary Designations

One of the easiest ways to avoid probate is to set beneficiaries on assets like retirement accounts, life insurance policies, payable on death (POD) bank accounts, and stocks. On your passing, these assets transfer directly to the named beneficiaries.

Review all your major assets and update beneficiary designations as needed. Make sure to name contingent beneficiaries in case your primary beneficiary predeceases you. This simple step keeps assets out of probate and ensures they go to the intended recipients.

8. Appointment of Agent to Control Disposition of Remains

An Appointment of Agent to Control Disposition of Remains is a written document that provides guidance to your loved ones about your final wishes.

It allows you to choose one or more agents to handle burial or cremation details per your wishes. For example, it can specify gravestone wording, burial locations, funeral service specifics, and other end-of-life decisions. Ultimately, it eases the administrative burden on your family.

9. Guardianship Designation

If you have minor children or other dependents, you should designate legal guardians in case of your death or incapacity. For minor children, the court will look to your preferences in appointing a guardian.

You can name a couple or individual as guardian and a contingent guardian as backup. Consider who would care for your dependents as you would. Discuss your wishes with them before making the designation official.

10. Business Succession Plan

For business owners, a succession plan is critical to protect your company’s future. This outlines a transition strategy for transferring ownership, management roles, and leadership responsibilities should you retire, become incapacitated, or pass away.

Well-thought-out succession planning ensures continuity for customers and employees. It also helps maximize the value of your life’s work. An estate planning lawyer can suggest different structures and strategies based on your business’s needs.

How a New York Estate Planning Lawyer Can Guide You

Creating a comprehensive estate plan is about more than just filling out legal forms. It requires an in-depth understanding of New York’s probate laws and how different strategies and documents fit together in the context of your unique goals.

An experienced estate planning lawyer takes a holistic approach, getting to know you and your family so we can provide tailored guidance at every step:

  • We educate you on key estate planning concepts so you can make informed decisions.
  • We help you thoughtfully consider issues like guardianship, asset distribution, taxes, and more based on your circumstances.
  • We draft customized documents that accurately capture your wishes and conform to legal requirements.
  • We advise you on how to properly fund your trust, coordinate titling and beneficiaries, and execute the plan legally.
  • We periodically review your plan to catch any necessary updates as laws and your life evolve.

At The Browne Firm, estate planning is an ongoing relationship backed by experience you can trust. Contact us to get started securing your legacy today.

Protect Your Family’s Future With The Browne Firm

Our New York estate planning attorneys have guided countless clients like you in crafting customized plans to secure their futures. We go beyond just paperwork to have in-depth conversations about your wishes, family dynamics, assets, and goals.

From there, we develop a comprehensive estate plan tailored specifically for you. We walk you through every step of the process with care, from document drafting to execution and funding. Ongoing review and adaptation is part of our service.

Don’t leave your legacy to chance – contact The Browne Firm today to schedule a free consultation. Our team looks forward to helping you gain the clarity and peace of mind that comes with having a plan in place.

Author Bio

Danielle Browne is the founder and managing attorney of The Browne Firm, a New York-based estate planning and business law firm. Danielle leverages her background, serving as general counsel for a Fortune 500 company and working with startups to represent clients in entity formation, intellectual property protection, contract drafting, estate planning, and more.

With more than ten years of experience as an attorney and business executive, she has represented clients ranging from entrepreneurs and small businesses to artists and Fortune 500 companies. Danielle received her Juris Doctor cum laude from the University of Miami School of Law and is licensed to practice in New York. She has received numerous honors for her work, including being named a 2015 Future Leader by the WNBA President while serving as general counsel for the Atlanta Dream.

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