Ask one hundred people what documents should be included in an estate plan and you will likely get about that many different answers. Most answers will probably include documents like a will and maybe a living will. But the elements of an estate plan extend far beyond what one would consider to be the “typical” documents.
While the number and type of documents you need will vary according to your individual circumstances, there are a number of “typical” documents that provide a good starting point. This is the first post of a three-part series that will break down these documents by category and explain the reasons why they are important.
Why so many documents?
The number of documents recommended to be part of your estate plan may surprise you. But without this information, at the very least, your survivors will have a hard time locating information that they need when you are incapacitated or after your death. At the very worst, some of your assets may fall into the abyss of unclaimed money and property held by state treasurers’ offices across the country. Those offices currently hold about $33 billion in unclaimed bank accounts, insurance proceeds and other assets that have yet to be found by people who own them (or their heirs).
Another complicating factor became apparent in a recent lawsuit with several insurance companies that had failed to pay beneficiaries when the insured died. The insurance companies say that they don’t have to pay until the beneficiary makes the claim for the proceeds because this has been the practice in the industry for years. So if you are the beneficiary and either don’t know about or can’t find an insurance policy, you may never get the proceeds. While the lawsuit is trying to change this practice and refund money to beneficiaries, it would certainly be easier to avoid the problem altogether by knowing where these documents are.
Where to start?
Once you have the list of documents that will be provided in the next two posts, find whatever documents you already have and then sit down with an estate planning attorney and discuss which other ones are important for you. An estate planning attorney can also tell you whether any documents you already have are valid, up-to-date, or need revisions. Having this framework as you put together your complete estate plan will make it easier for you and your survivors.