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Four Estate Planning Documents Everyone Should Have

Gerald W. Hall, WMS


Estate planning is the process of managing and preserving your assets while you’re alive and conserving and controlling their distribution after your death. There are four key estate-planning documents that almost everyone should have, regardless of age, health, or wealth:

  • A durable power of attorney authorizes someone to act on your behalf to handle your financial matters in the event you become physically or mentally unable to do so. The person you choose can do things like pay everyday expenses, watch over your investments and file taxes.
  • An advance medical directive lets others know what medical treatment you want—or do not want—in the event you can’t express your wishes yourself. If you don’t have an advance medical directive, medical care providers must prolong your life using artificial means when such a situation arises, even if you do not want such procedures.

There are three types of advance medical directives:

  • A living will allows you to decline certain types of medical care, even if you will die as a result of that choice. In most states, living wills take effect only under certain circumstances, such as terminal illness.
  • A health care proxy allows you to appoint someone to make medical decisions for you in the event you’re unable to do so yourself.
  • A “Do Not Resuscitate”order, or DNR, is your directive to medical personnel not to perform CPR if you go into cardiac arrest.

Some states do not allow all three types of medical directives, so make sure you understand what’s offered in your state.

  • A will ensures your property is distributed to your heirs after your death according to your wishes. In your will, you can name an executor to manage and settle your estate, and legal guardian to care for your minor children. A will is a formal, legal document filed with the court that eventually becomes part of a public record in a process know as “probate.”
  • A letter of instruction is an informal, non-legal document that generally accompanies your will and expresses the intentions of your will, or other things such as your personal thoughts, your burial wishes, or the location of other important documents. A letter of instruction can be the most helpful document you leave your family members. Unlike your will, it remains private. Life is unpredictable. So take steps now, while you can, to have the proper document in place to ensure your wishes are carried out.


The information included in this document is for general, informational purposes only. It does not contain any investment advice and does not address any individual facts and circumstances. As such, it cannot be relied on as providing any investment advice. If you would like investment advice regarding your specific facts and circumstances, please contact a qualified financial advisor.

Any investment involves some degree of risk, and different types of investments involve varying degrees of risk, including loss of principal. It should not be assumed that future performance of any specific investment, strategy or allocation (including those recommended by HBKS® Wealth Advisors) will be profitable or equal the corresponding indicated or intended results or performance level(s). Past performance of any security, indices, strategy or allocation may not be indicative of future results.

The historical and current information as to rules, laws, guidelines or benefits contained in this document is a summary of information obtained from or prepared by other sources. It has not been independently verified, but was obtained from sources believed to be reliable. HBKS® Wealth Advisors does not guarantee the accuracy of this information and does not assume liability for any errors in information obtained from or prepared by these other sources.

HBKS® Wealth Advisors is not a legal or accounting firm, and does not render legal, accounting or tax advice. You should contact an attorney or CPA if you wish to receive legal, accounting or tax advice.

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