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September 04, 2023

What Documents Are Needed for Estate Planning?

As leading estate planning lawyers in St. Louis, we’ve helped countless clients secure their legacies and protect their financial futures. If you don’t know what will happen to your estate when you pass away, it’s time to correct that—contact us online to schedule a consultation.

We get it: It’s uncomfortable to think about your end-of-life wishes. But the reality is that failing to plan for the future won’t delay the inevitable—it will just pass the buck on to loved ones.

Estate planning is an essential part of being a responsible, financially secure individual, but many people avoid it for various reasons. They assume it will be stressful, boring or even a waste of time. But when it’s done right and with the assistance of a knowledgeable legal expert, estate planning isn’t any of those things. 

In fact, many people find that creating a comprehensive estate plan gives them peace of mind. They no longer have to worry about how their estate will be divided, whether family members will argue over inheritance or if their legacy will be protected. They have the security of knowing they’ve planned for every contingency. 

At The Law Office of David S. Schleiffarth, LLC, we know that establishing a rock-solid estate plan can feel like a daunting task, but it doesn’t have to be. Our estate planning lawyers are here to make the process go as smoothly as possible, and it all starts with choosing which legal documents to include.

Don’t worry—this blog will explain everything you need to know about estate planning documents, which ones you need and how we can help you secure your future like a pro.

No two estate plans are exactly the same, which is why the best attorneys customize their offerings to fit their clients’ specific needs. When you’re ready to create a top-quality estate plan that meets your individual goals, we’re here for you. Call us at (314) 448-0527 to learn more. 

Estate Planning Documents

In the world of estate planning, there is a document to account for practically every contingency. The documents you choose will depend on your specific financial circumstances, goals and wishes for your legacy. Below we will cover a handful of the most frequently utilized documents in our estate planning practice. 

Last Will & Testament

If you’ve only ever heard of one estate planning tool, it’s almost certainly a last will and testament. A will is an essential estate planning document that specifies who you’d like to inherit certain assets after you pass away, but contrary to popular belief, it’s not the only document you’ll need if you want to ensure your wishes are carried out.

Although a will is a great way to communicate your wishes, it isn’t the most effective way to protect certain assets, especially if you have a large estate. You will probably want to establish a number of other documents, such as trusts, in order to leave your family in the best financial situation and help them avoid the potentially lengthy and expensive probate process.

Revocable Living Trust

Trusts are entities that safeguard assets for beneficiaries. They come in a variety of forms and typically offer significant tax advantages and other benefits, such as avoiding probate. In contrast to irrevocable trusts, a revocable trust can be changed and canceled while you’re still alive, much like a living will.

These types of trusts can prove invaluable for a variety of reasons. In addition to circumventing probate, they offer you greater control over beneficiary distributions and can help you retain certain government assets. They can also provide a vehicle for business succession planning. 

Other Types of Trusts

There are several different types of trusts you may want to include in your estate plan, depending on your specific circumstances. For example, if you want to help your beneficiaries avoid double taxation on their inheritance, you may want to explore generation-skipping trusts. =

Similarly, if you have significant savings in a retirement account or other financial accounts and want to ensure the remainder is shielded from estate taxes, creditors or excessive spending by minor children, you may want to establish a retirement plan trust. A skilled estate planning lawyer will take time to understand your goals and needs in order to help you select the best tools and beneficiary designations for you. 

Advance Health Care Directive (AHCD)

Estate planning isn’t just about asset protection or ensuring your legacy. It’s also about making sure your wishes are carried out in terms of health care decisions and medical care.

An Advance Health Care Directive (AHCD) can help you plan for important medical decisions, including your preferences for end-of-life care and what to do in the event of your incapacitation. Questions about anything not explicitly addressed in this document will be deferred to your Health Care Attorney-in-Fact as appointed in your Health Care Power of Attorney.

The tools detailed above are just a few of the many important documents you’ll want to consider for your estate plan. You may also want to address areas like business formation, high net worth planning, durable power of attorney preparation, real estate deeds and more.

Estate Planning Documents: Frequently Asked Questions

The field of estate planning is complex and expansive. It’s normal to have questions about which documents you require or the implications of certain tools. The best way to get clarity is by speaking with an experienced estate planning attorney. In the meantime, check out the answers to some of our most frequently asked questions.

• What is the most common estate planning document?

The most common estate planning documents are wills and living trusts, which makes sense—they are among the most foundational tools and can establish your basic wishes in a number of ways. However, they’re only a starting point. To achieve comprehensive protection, you’ll need to take advantage of more detailed and complex instruments.

• What are the benefits of having an estate plan?

There are countless benefits to establishing an estate plan, depending on what you’re trying to achieve. Perhaps the most notable benefit, however, is the peace of mind that comes from knowing all of your hard work in life won’t go to waste. Your family will continue to enjoy financial security, your wishes will be carried out insofar as health care wishes and your legacy will remain intact.

• Should I try to avoid probate court?

As a court-supervised process, probate is necessary (and beneficial) in situations where someone fails to establish an estate plan. The downside, however, is that it is potentially time consuming and may delay distribution of inheritance. As a public process, it also leaves your assets vulnerable to taxes, creditors and lawsuits, meaning your beneficiaries may ultimately receive less inheritance. Luckily, there are many viable ways to avoid probate

The Law Office of David S. Schleiffarth, LLC: Premier Estate Planning Attorneys in Missouri

At the end of the day, almost everyone can benefit from an estate plan, regardless of the size of their estate. The only real question is which documents and tools you should utilize in your strategy, but that answer is well within the purview of an experienced estate planning attorney. 

When you’re ready to stop wondering what the future will hold and how your family’s finances will be affected by your passing, we’re here for you. Getting started is simple: Contact us online or call our law firm at (314) 448-0527 to schedule a case evaluation today.

This article represents the opinion of the author and is intended for educational purposes. This article does not constitute legal advice, nor does it create an attorney-client relationship. One should always consult with an experienced attorney before making estate planning decisions.

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