What documents are part of an Estate Plan?

January 19th, 2022


An estate plan is important because it can (1) protects your family from overpaying taxes, (2) protect your heirs from themselves and from creditors, and (3) protect young children in the event of a tragedy.

Some of the documents that we use to create your custom estate plan include:

  • Wills
  • Revocable trusts
  • Spousal lifetime trusts
  • Family bypass trusts
  • Durable statutory powers of attorney
  • Medical power of attorney
  • Directives to physicians
  • Declarations of guardians in event of later need
  • Declarations of guardians for children

Your Last Will & Testament

Your last will and testament is just one part of a comprehensive estate plan. If a person dies without a Will they are said to have died “intestate” and state laws will determine how and to whom the person’s assets will be distributed. A will allows a person to specify how they would like their assets to be distributed, and protects those assets from unnecessary taxes or claims.

Some things you should know about wills:

    • A will has no legal authority until after death. So, a will does not help manage a person’s affairs when they are incapacitated, whether by illness or injury.
    • It does not help an estate avoid probate. A will is the legal document submitted to the court for probate, so it can create an efficient probate process.
    • A will is a good place to nominate the guardians (or back-up parents) of your minor children in the event of a tragedy. All parents of minor children should document their choice of guardians. If you leave this to chance, you could be setting up a family battle, and your children could end up with guardians you would not have chosen.

Trusts: Revocable Living Trusts, Irrevocable Trusts, Testamentary Trusts, Special Needs Trusts.

There are many types of trusts, and they can be simple or complex. Trusts serve a variety of legal, personal, investment or tax planning purposes. At the most basic level, a trust is a legal entity with at least three parties involved: the person who creates the trust (a trust-maker), the trustee (trust manager), and the beneficiary of the trust. Frequently, all three parties are represented by one person or a married couple. In the case of a revocable living trust, for example, a person may create a trust (the trust-maker) and name themselves the current trustees (trust managers) who manage the trust assets for their own benefit (trust beneficiary).

Trusts possess several advantages, including the potential to avoid probate court. In most cases, assets owned in a revocable living trust will pass to the trust beneficiaries (or heirs) immediately upon the death of the trust-maker(s) with no probate required. Certain trusts also may result in tax advantages both for the person who created the trust, and the beneficiary. Or, a trust may may be used to protect property from creditors. If well drafted, another advantage of trusts is their continuing effectiveness even if the trust-maker dies or becomes incapacitated.

Powers of Attorney

A power of attorney is a legal document giving another person (the attorney-in-fact) the legal right (powers) to do certain things for you. What those powers are depends on the terms of the document. A power of attorney may be very broad or very limited and specific.

The powers granted by a plain “power of attorney” will terminate upon the death of the person who signed (made) the document. In most instances, these powers may also terminate when the maker becomes incapacitated or otherwise unable to make or communicate decisions.

If you would like to designate a back-up decision-maker in the event of incapacity, such as due to age or disease, then a document called a Durable Power of Attorney should be used.

Durable Powers of Attorney should be frequently updated because banks and other financial institutions may hesitate to honor a power of attorney that is more than one year old.

Health Care Documents (or Advanced Medical Directives)

An advance medical directive is a document that specifies the type of medical and personal care you would want should you lose the ability to make and communicate your own decisions. Anyone over the age of 18 may execute an advance directive. Your advance directive can specify who will make and communicate decisions for you, and it can set out the circumstances under which you would not like your life to be prolonged if, for example, you were in a coma with no reasonable chance of recovery.

A document that goes hand-in-hand with your advance directive is an authorization to your medical providers to allow specified individuals to access your medical information. Without this authorization, your doctor may refuse to communicate with your hand-picked decision maker.

Do you have questions about planning your estate?  Contact the Heights Law Group  to get your questions answered today.  Call 713-931-1111 or send an email to

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