What are some typical estate planning documents?

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jul 15, 2021

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Several of the following documents are typically used as part of the estate planning process:

(1) A will, sometimes called a Last Will and Testament, to transfer property you hold in your name to the person(s) and/or organization(s) you want to have it. A will also typically names someone you select to be your Personal Representative (or Executor/Executrix) to carry out your instructions and names a Guardian if you have minor children. A will only becomes effective upon your death, and after it is admitted to probate

(2) A Durable Power of Attorney for health care (also called a Health Care Proxy and an Advance Health Care Directive) appoints a person you designate to make decisions regarding your health care treatment in the event that you are unable to provide informed consent (understand the pros and cons of treatment and choose the appropriate one). 

(3) A living will or Directive to Physicians is an advance directive which gives doctors and hospitals your instructions regarding the nature and extent of the care you want should you suffer permanent incapacity, such as an irreversible coma. This concerns life support services of various kinds, from respiratory assistance to feeding tubes. 

(4) A Durable Power of Attorney for property appoints a person you designate to act for you and handle financial matters should you be unable or perhaps unavailable to do so.

(5) A living trust can be used to hold legal title to and provide a mechanism to manage your property. You can select the person or persons you want—often yourself—as the trustee(s) to carry out the instructions you have set out in the trust. You can name one or more successor trustee(s) to take over if you can no longer act.

Unlike a will, a trust usually becomes effective immediately, continues in force during your lifetime, even in the event of your incapacity, and continues after your death. Most trusts are revocable, which allows the person who creates the trust to make future changes, modifications, and even to terminate it. (If the trust is irrevocable, changes, modifications, and termination are very difficult – and sometime impossible – although such trusts often carry some tax benefits.) Trusts also help you avoid or minimize the expenses, delays and publicity of probate.

(6) A Family Limited Partnership can be used to own and manage your property, in a similar manner to a trust, but allows additional tax planning techniques to be employed. Family Limited Partnerships are typically used for those who have large estates and thus have a need for specialized estate planning in order to minimize federal and state estate/death/inheritance taxes as well as provide elements of asset protection.

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