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Essential Documents Your Estate Plan Should Include

You’ve doubtless heard the term “estate plan” and you’ve probably read or been told that you need one.  You may have wondered what an estate plan actually consists of. Your estate plan determines what happens to your property (or estate) when you die and who manages your finances and makes decisions about your care if you are unable to do so. You may want to consult a Bronx wills and trusts lawyer to review your essential documents.

An estate plan is usually spelled out in various documents. Below our Bronx wills and trust lawyer explains the documents that should be part of every estate plan: a Last Will and Testament, a Living Will or advance health care directive, a financial power of attorney, and a healthcare power of attorney. In addition, some people may benefit from adding a living trust and everyone should remember to periodically review beneficiary designations for life insurance, bank accounts, and retirement plans.


A Last Will and Testament sets forth the details regarding how you would like your assets distributed to certain individuals or organizations upon your death. If you are a parent of minor children, you can designate a guardian in the Will to care for them in the event of your death or loss of capacity. A Will may also state who will handle your children’s assets, including those you bequeath to them. In addition, in a Last Will and Testament, you can designate your Executor, or the person you entrust to implement your wishes that are outlined in the will.

If you do not have a valid Will, your assets will be distributed in accordance with state laws of intestacy.

Living will or advance health care directive

A Living Will, or advance health care directive, allows you to prepare for events concerning your health that could occur due to illness, an accident or other reasons that render you incapable of making medical decisions. The directive may include your instructions as to the type and extent of medical care you wish to receive including life support. A Living Will may also contain your directions with respect to the administration of medications for pain or infections.

Powers of attorney

Powers of attorney are legal documents that permit you to designate a certain individual to manage your finances or make health care decisions for you in the event you become incapacitated. It’s advisable to get legal advice from a competent Bronx will and trusts lawyer in drafting such documents. Your health care power of attorney will be communicating with your physician, and carrying out your wishes with respect to different types of treatment. This person is also referred to as a health care proxy.

Your financial power of attorney will be responsible for paying your bills, and managing your investments and financial matters. These duties should be carried out by people you consider to be trustworthy. Make sure that you prepare them for the tasks you have given them in implementing your wishes.

Beneficiary designations

You should review your beneficiary designations in your retirement plans, including 401(k)s, 403(b)s, and IRAs, as well as your bank accounts and insurance policies. Make certain that they are in alignment with your wishes. Due to significant life events, such as marriage, divorce, re-marriage, or the birth of a child or grandchild, your previous beneficiary designations may be different from the persons you would currently wish to name. Therefore, it is best to check your designations to ensure that the persons you have named as your beneficiaries are still your preferred choices. Otherwise, you should change them as soon as possible. Be mindful of the fact that the beneficiaries you designate in such accounts have priority over those named in a will.

Digital accounts

A more recent concern is to make certain that your loved ones know how to access your information that is needed to open your online accounts, including your financial accounts, household accounts (such as energy, cell phone, and cable company), and your social media accounts.


While a Trust may not be considered an essential estate planning document, if your family or financial situation requires more sophisticated estate planning, then a Trust may be appropriate for you. A revocable living trust contains your instructions concerning three significant time periods in your life. They are:

  1. The time during which you are alive and well;
  2. The time at which you lose mental capacity (should that occur); and
  3. The time after your death.

Additionally, the assets that are held within your revocable living trust upon your death will not be subject to probate.

Pour-over will

If you decide to establish a Trust, then your Last Will and Testament will function as a pour-over will, which contains any assets that were not transferred into your Trust. A pour-over will states that any assets that were not placed into your revocable living trust should be moved there upon your death. It designates your trust as the beneficiary of any assets that it does not currently hold, and that do not go directly to a beneficiary through another method, such as a beneficiary designation on an investment account.

However, any of your assets that are not transferred to a Trust prior to your death will be subject to probate even if they are placed in trust after your death through a pour-over will. In the event you do not fund some assets into your Trust, and you neglect to establish a pour-over will, your assets will pass to your heirs in accordance with the laws of intestate succession. Therefore, your assets could go to someone from whom you have been estranged for years merely because you are closely related.

In order to prevent such a scenario, consult a wills and trust attorney who can create an estate plan for you that bequeaths your assets in accordance with your wishes.

If you have questions about estate planning or need to create or update your estate plan, contact the Bronx wills andtTrusts lawyers Rogers and Rogers at 718-994-1640.


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