Essential Estate Planning Documents Beyond a Will and Trust: Covering All Bases


Everyone has an estate – whether large or small – that includes their money, property, belongings, businesses, and other assets.

Estate planning is about ensuring that your assets are managed, protected and distributed in line with your wishes – both upon your death and in the event you are incapacitated and cannot do it yourself. Incapacity is a significant issue to consider as our population ages and more people experience health problems, such as temporary or permanent disability.

Without the proper documents in place when those events occur, a court may decide on the control and distribution of your assets and appoint a guardian or conservator to make decisions about your health care.

While many people recognize the value of having a Will and Trust, there are other key documents that are too often overlooked. MAI works with clients to ensure that these essential documents are in place to allow your family and trusted advisors to make decisions for you if you are incapacitated, including:

Financial Power of Attorney

  • A financial power of attorney lets someone else handle your property and assets on your behalf. The specific powers of an agent under a financial power of attorney are typically spelled out in the document itself.
  • A “durable” financial power of attorney goes into effect as soon as it is executed, while a “springing” power of attorney only goes into effect after you become incapacitated.
  • A financial power of attorney can help to avoid the necessity of a guardianship or conservatorship after incapacity, since an agent may already have the necessary powers to act on your behalf.
  • It is important to note that your agent’s powers under a financial power of attorney expire upon your death, therefore it cannot be relied on to handle your affairs after you are gone.

Advance Medical Directive

  • An advance medical directive, sometimes known as a designation of healthcare surrogate or healthcare power of attorney, is a legal document which allows you to appoint another person to make medical decisions for you.
  • The document is only effective if you are temporarily or permanently unable to make your own health care decisions. Discussing your health care wishes, values and beliefs with the person you appoint to serve in this role is important.
  • As with the financial power of attorney, an advance medical directive can be an effective tool to avoid guardianship or conservatorship upon incapacity.

Living Will

  • Not to be confused with a Last Will and Testament, a Living Will allows you to state your preferences with respect to end-of-life medical care.
  • A typical Living Will gives you the opportunity to decide if you would like to receive artificial life prolonging medical procedures if it has been determined that you are in a condition where there is no reasonable medical probability of your recovery.

Other Important Considerations

  • These essential documents are state specific. Should you relocate, be sure to have your estate plan evaluated to ensure it complies with local law.
  • Have your documents reviewed and possibly restated on a regular basis. While your seven-year-old financial power of attorney may still be legally valid, some financial institutions may reject it based solely on the age of the document.
  • Give copies of your documents to the people you have named.

Estate planning is essential to controlling what happens while you are living and upon your death. As a fiduciary committed to protecting your best interests, MAI can help you simplify the complexities of estate planning and achieve your goals by aligning the right strategy, establishing a complete set of documents, and making sure everything is updated on a regular basis. Contact us to learn more.

Source: Ivan & Daugustinis Estate and Tax Attorneys – information updated as of January 24, 2024. The opinions and analyses expressed herein are subject to change at any time. Any suggestions contained herein are general, and do not take into account an individual’s or entity’s specific circumstances or applicable governing law, which may vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction and be subject to change. Distribution hereof does not constitute legal, tax, accounting, investment, or other professional advice. Recipients should consult their professional advisors prior to acting on the information set forth herein. In accordance with certain Treasury Regulations, we inform you that any federal tax conclusions set forth in this communication, were not intended or written to be used, and cannot be used by any taxpayer, for the purposes of avoiding penalties that may be imposed by the Internal Revenue Service.

We look forward to learning about your financial goals.