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5 Estate Planning Must-Haves

When it comes time to plan an estate, most people recognize the importance of drafting a will. However, while a will is a great place to start, successful estate planning involves far more than this.

If you want to flawlessly preserve, protect, and perpetuate your wealth, you must incorporate these five must-haves into your estate plan: a will, trust, beneficiary designations, power of attorney, and healthcare directives. Without these elements, a probate court could distribute your assets against your wishes.

Do your loved ones a favor, and get your affairs in order now so you don’t leave them to sort out a financial and legal mess once you’re gone. Here’s more information about the five estate planning must-haves so you can start preparing for your future today.


A last will and testament or testamentary will—also simply called a will—is a fundamental component of any estate plan. Wills typically name an executor—the person in charge of carrying out the instructions in the will.

Whether you have substantial assets or not, you should draft a will to ensure your property is distributed according to your wishes. Otherwise, the state will serve as the executor of your estate when you pass away and distribute your assets as it deems fit. When drafting a will with the help of an estate planning lawyer, make sure you answer the following questions:

  • Who do you want to inherit certain possessions, property, and investments with monetary or sentimental value?
  • Who do you name as guardians for minor children and pets under your care?
  • How do you want your funeral carried out?


Wills and trusts are similar estate-planning tools, but they differ in important ways. For instance, a will becomes active only after you pass away, but a trust takes effect the day you create it. In this way, you can use a trust to distribute property now or after your death.

There are many types of estate planning trusts, but one of the most common is a revocable living trust. The person who creates the trust is known as a trustor, settlor, or grantor. Creating a trust involves naming a trustee—such as a spouse, adult child, or attorney—to manage and distribute your assets according to your wishes.

You may decide to only draft a will, only create a trust, or have both a trust and a will as part of your estate plan. Be aware that, unlike wills, trusts don’t go through probate and are not usually matters of public record. And if your estate has significant value, a trust can offer tax advantages.

Beneficiary Designations

A beneficiary is the person you want to inherit your wealth, possessions, or life insurance proceeds after you pass away. Beneficiaries for retirement plans and bank accounts should be over age 21 and mentally competent. You can name these people without a will. In fact, any specific designations override the instructions in a will.

If you don’t name a beneficiary when opening a financial account, or the beneficiary passes away before inheriting the funds, those assets will be included in your probate estate, subject to creditors, court costs and attorney’s fees. That’s why you should select beneficiaries carefully and update them as your life changes.

Power of Attorney

A power of attorney (POA) is a legal document where you give a person, known as an agent, the authority to make decisions regarding your property, finances, or legal affairs as if they were you. There are several types of POAs, but the most common and necessary is a “durable” power of attorney.

A durable power of attorney remains in force at all times, enabling the agent to manage your affairs for as long as you want. Still, you can revoke the POA at any time simply by writing a letter to your agent.

Advance Healthcare Directive

An advance healthcare directive, also known as a healthcare power of attorney, is a legal document that designates an agent (typically a spouse or other family member) to make important healthcare decisions if you become unable to make those decisions yourself. You may detail specific instructions within this document.

For instance, you may direct the agent to forego any life-saving measures if you lose the ability to breathe on your own. You can also provide more general insights into your religious beliefs, morals, and ethics to help the agent use their best judgment when attempting to follow your wishes.

When considering an agent for your healthcare directive, be sure to select someone you trust, who shares your values, and who is likely to recommend a course of action you would agree with. After all, this person could have your life in their hands. Identify a backup agent as well, in case the primary agent is unavailable or unable to act when needed.

Begin Planning Your Estate Today

If you have children, grandchildren, or charities you’re passionate about, don’t wait another day to begin estate planning. Generational Strategies Group can help you on your journey toward leaving a legacy your family can enjoy for generations to come. To speak with our estate planning experts, please call us at (239) 352-4111. We have served families in Naples and Fort Myers, FL for over 30 years.