Estate planning is never one-size-fits-all. Each individual who plans for the future will have unique needs and they will require a customizable approach to their estate plan. A comprehensive estate plan may include several types of documents, both legal and non-legal. In this article, we will discuss the types of non-estate planning documents that should be included along with your Will, Trust, and other estate planning documents. Keep reading to find out:
What are estate planning documents?
When you make an estate plan, you’re ensuring that your wishes will be carried out. Whether it’s the distribution of assets among heirs, planning for the financial future of dependents, or determining how medical decisions will be made, estate planning documents establish legal instructions for how these sorts of things will be handled. If there is no Will or other estate plan in place, assets can be tied up in court and families can be left in a state of uncertainty. A Will, Power of Attorney, Medical Power of Attorney, a Trust, and Guardianship documents may be included in an estate plan.
What are non-estate planning documents?
A Will and other legal documents are important, but so are other types of documents that you may want to include in your estate plan. While these documents do not have any legal power, non-estate planning documents are still a valid part of an estate plan and can directly affect how last wishes are handled. These types of documents can also be given to specific family members and loved ones in order to communicate wishes with them clearly and directly.
Examples of non-estate planning documents
Letter of instruction
When a person dies, grieving loved ones are left behind. A surviving spouse, children, parents, other relatives, friends, neighbors – and don’t forget about pets – will have to contend with the enormity of the loss as well as the handling of the deceased’s estate. When making an estate plan, it is wise to also include letters of instruction to certain loved ones. For example, an adult child or surviving spouse could be tasked with arranging a memorial service. A letter of instruction detailing the type of memorial service that the deceased wished for can be left to the adult child or surviving spouse. A letter that discusses who will take care of any pets can be added. Additionally, letters of instruction can be written in order to give a special message to a friend or family member.
Letters of instruction cannot override any of the legally-binding instructions that a Will, Trust, or other estate planning document will detail, but they can be a more immediate and personal way of getting a message through to survivors. Many people will read a letter of instruction first, before going over a Will or other document. And while these sorts of letters don’t deal with the financial accounts and other property that make up an Estate, they do cover other personal matters that were important to the deceased. If you’re making a Will or setting up a Trust, consider adding a letter of instruction.
Contract for a pre-paid funeral
There are people who plan ahead and there are people who really plan ahead. In the past, the family of a deceased person would go to a funeral home to plan and pay for a funeral. In recent years, however, some companies have offered prepaid funeral plans. If someone buys this type of plan, they can plan their own funeral service and pay for it in advance.
It can sometimes take a little time to settle an estate, and it can take a lot longer if there isn’t a Will. Since funerals often take place shortly after a death, having a prepaid plan means a family won’t worry about being able to pay for funeral expenses. Planning a funeral can be emotionally stressful during an already trying time. When funeral arrangements are taken care of ahead of time, it can make the process significantly less stressful for surviving family members and loved ones.
If a prepaid funeral policy is purchased, its contract and relevant documents should be included with the rest of an estate plan. These funeral documents should be kept with other estate planning documents so that there is no confusion when it’s needed.
A collection of important information
These documents will be different for everyone, but generally will include information on things like bank accounts and credit cards, investment accounts, regular and automatic payments, property taxes, bills, and debts. PayPal and Venmo account information may also apply here, as would email and social media account information. These documents can be a sort of catch-all for any of the information a surviving spouse, partner, or heir may need access to. This confidential information should be kept in a safe place and can be hand-written. If a Power of Attorney is assigned in your estate plan – a person who is authorized to pay your bills and handle your finances when you are unable to – this information will be useful to them. These documents don’t dictate who will receive what is in the accounts (money, investment funds, intellectual property, etc.) – you’ll need a Will or a Trust for that – but they can make accessing it easier.
Each estate plan will be unique to a person’s assets, family situation, and personal wishes. If you’re making an estate plan, make sure you’ve got everything covered. Get a Will and other legal documents that protect your assets and make your wishes clear, but don’t forget to include the non-estate planning documents too.
At Trust & Will, we make it easy to get a customizable estate plan to fit your needs. You can create a fully customizable, state-specific estate plan from the comfort of your own home in just 20 minutes. Take our free quiz to see where you should get started, or compare our different estate planning and settlement options today!
Is there a question here we didn’t answer? Browse more topics in our learn center or chat with a live member support representative!
Trust & Will is an online service providing legal forms and information. We are not a law firm and we do not provide legal advice.