Back to Basics: The Four Estate Planning Documents that Everyone Needs

Back to Basics: The Four Estate Planning Documents that Everyone Needs


Sometimes, posts on law blaws can get a little bit esoteric. Every now and then I think it's useful to go back to the beginning, and set forth the documents that comprise a basic estate plan. Every single adult should have these in place, regardless of age, marital status, wealth, and whether or not they have children. These documents are:

  1. Last Will and Testament - Your Last Will and Testament sets forth how and where your assets will be distributed, who will be nominated the personal representative of your estate, and if you have minor children, who will be nominated the guardians of your minor children. Without a proper Will, your assets may pass through intestacy, in which the law dictates who inherits your property instead of you.
  2. Durable Power of Attorney - In your Durable Power of Attorney, you nominate a person, who, in the event you become incapacitated, will have the power to make all non-medical decisions for you. They can open your mail, pay your bills, manage your bank accounts, run your business. Everything that you could have done, the appointed attorney can do for you. Of course, you can make the nomination as narrow or as broad as you choose.
  3. Designation of Health Care Surrogate - The designation of health care surrogate is like the power of attorney, except that it allows you to designate someone to make medical decisions for you in the event that you are incapacitated. This is not about "end of life" decisions, but the more basic medical decisions that you may be unable to make on your own. Without a Durable Power of Attorney and Designation of Health Care Surrogate, then if you become incapacitated, you might be subject to a "Guardianship." A Guardianship is a process in which the court appoints someone to make decisions for you. It can be extremely costly, and burdensome on you and your family.
  4. Living Will - The Living Will contains your instructions, so that in the event that you are in an "end stage" condition, or a permanent vegetative state, you let your loved ones and caregivers know whether or not you wish to be kept artificially alive by machines, or to be removed from the machines and able to die with dignity.

Some estate planning professionals will state that every single person should have a revocable trust. As I've written in the past, while they are good for some people, not everyone needs them. 


Visit South Florida Estate Planning Law for more commentary from Florida estate planning attorney David Shulman.  David Shulman is an attorney located in South Florida who focuses his practice on Wills, Trusts and Estates, and Tax Planning. He attended George Washington University Law School and Brandeis University, both of which he graduated with honors. In addition David received his LLM in Estate Planning from the University of Miami Law School. Prior to starting his own practice, David worked for the Internal Revenue Service and a large South Florida law firm.


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