The 5 Legal Documents Every Adult Must Have

Last will and testament in text
Photo by Melinda Gimpel on Unsplash

Recently, a letter from a reader reminded me that everyone needs to make sure they have certain legal documents in place and updated. My husband and I have our important papers in our safe, but they may be out of date. They are definitely “out of state,” due to our relocation to Colorado. Thankfully, we now have an option to do this ourselves – legally and properly – for a whole lot less than it cost us decades ago.

The reader, “Jenny,” is 50 years old, married, and has two adult children. “Our financial life is not complicated. I do not have a will and know that I should,” she wrote. Can I put faith in a simple will done by one of the large online companies, or is it in my family’s best interest that I hire a lawyer?”

There are five legal documents every adult must have, each one signed, dated, notarized as necessary, and kept in a safe place that someone else knows about and can retrieve on a moment’s notice.

  1. Will. If you have minor children, your will is where you name guardians for those children. Your will also names your executor — the person who will oversee and protect your interests if your estate needs to go to probate. Your will handles the assets you hold in your name alone.
  2. Health Care Power Of Attorney. If you are unable to make medical decisions yourself, you need to name someone else to make those decisions on your behalf. I highly recommend that you name up to five people in successive order to make sure there is someone there who is authorized to make these decisions for you.
  3. Durable Power Of Attorney. This is the document where you are designating one or more people to handle the financial aspects of your life should you become temporarily or permanently unable to do so due to mental or physical incapacitation — things like picking up your mail, filing your income tax return, moving money from one account to another or filing for Medicaid, Medicare or Social Security.
  4. Living Will. Also called an advance directive, this states what you want to have happen with respect to extraordinary measures to keep you alive, should you be terminal or permanently unconscious.
  5. Revocable Trust. This is the document that avoids the probate court process when someone becomes incapacitated or dies. This document does other things as well, but that is the most important.

Resource

I want to recommend Quicken WillMaker and Trust 2020 from Nolo Press, a highly regarded and reputable online legal organization specializing in helping ordinary folks like you and me handle our own basic legal needs. Quicken WillMaker and Trust 2020 includes dozens of forms, including the big five documents mentioned above, and also practical forms you can use every day to help run your home and keep your family safe, including authorizations and agreements, promissory notes, limited powers of attorney, child and elder care forms, and lots more.

Will this preclude the need to hire an attorney? It could, but I cannot advise you on that because every situation is different. What I can tell you is that you can do this yourself and be well protected once all of your information and desires are written down in proper legal order. You can always take that to an attorney, if or when you find it necessary.

To learn more, go to https://www.everydaycheapskate.com/will.

(Article written by Mary Hunt)