It is common for people to mix up the term “last will” with the phrase “estate plan.” While a last will is part of an estate plan, the two terms are not interchangeable.
A last will is a specific document that talks about what happens to your personal property when you die, and an estate plan is a more comprehensive collection of documents meant to voice your opinion on topics you won’t be able to address directly, such as your wishes for your property when you die.
Your estate plan will also address circumstances in which you are alive but lack the medical or legal ability to act on your own behalf. What documents should you consider adding to your estate plan beyond just a last will?
Think about different kinds of power of attorney documents
When you create a power of attorney, you give someone else authority to take action if you can’t act on your own behalf. A financial power of attorney can authorize someone to pay your bills or manage your business. A medical power of attorney empowers someone to make decisions about your health care.
If you worry about long-term incapacitation or degenerative conditions like Alzheimer’s, a durable power of attorney that continues to hold legal authority even if you become incapable of making your own legal decisions may also be a good choice.
Put your health care preferences in writing
Creating an advance medical directive will give people instructions about what decisions to make on your behalf if you need care but can’t speak up for yourself. You might want to consider your feelings on life support, organ donation and other medical procedures carefully so that you can provide in-depth guidance for the people who make choices on your behalf.
There are other documents that you might want to include, such as beneficiary designations for major accounts, a letter of intent to guide your executor and possibly even trust documents if you have complicated family situations to worry about. Discussing your circumstances and hopes with a lawyer can give you a better idea about what documents are necessary and how to tailor them to your specific needs.