The Basics of Estate Planning Documents

We’ve all heard people say, “You need to have a Will,” or, “You should set up an estate plan,” but what does that actually mean? A typical estate plan goes beyond just making a Will and usually includes several other planning documents.

While most people think of a Will when they think about making an estate plan, several other documents are typically included in an estate planning package. Those documents usually include two separate Power of Attorney instruments (one for health care decisions and one for financial affairs), a Health Care Directive, and an Instructions Regarding Disposition of Remains document. Below is a summary of what each of those documents usually includes.

Estate Planning Documents


It’s common knowledge that the main purpose of a Will is to say “who gets what” at your death. However, Wills also include several other important provisions, including who you name as the guardian of your minor children if neither parent is living, and who will serve as your Personal Representative (i.e., Executor) to handle the administration of your estate. For some clients, a Will-substitute called a Revocable Living Trust may be a more appropriate primary estate planning document, and it would govern both the lifetime use and distribution at death of the trust property. The complexity of your Will (or Revocable Living Trust) depends on several factors, including the size of your estate, the type of assets you own, and your particular family situation. Depending on these factors, your Will might establish trusts for the benefit of your spouse or other beneficiaries, or include state and/or federal tax planning provisions.

Durable Powers of Attorney

Durable Power of Attorney documents name who you would like to serve as your agent to manage your affairs if you are unable to do so yourself, like if you become seriously ill. We typically prepare two Durable Power of Attorney documents for our clients, one for financial matters that names a financial agent to manage your assets and make financial decisions, and a separate document for health care purposes that names a health care agent to makes decisions regarding your health care. These documents can also appoint a guardian for your minor children if both parents are incapacitated or otherwise unable to care for them.

Health Care Directive

A Health Care Directive reflects your wishes regarding the administration of life support in the unlikely case of your permanent brain death or a terminal condition, if the life support is artificially delaying the unavoidable dying process. This document indicates whether you would like to receive artificial nutrition and/or hydration under these circumstances, and also whether you would like to receive pain-relieving medication in situations of extreme pain, even if receiving such medication might speed up the timing of your death.

Instructions Regarding Disposition of Remains

In Washington you also have the right to execute a document memorializing your wishes regarding the disposition of your remains after death. Such a document could indicate your wishes regarding your cremation, burial, or other available method of disposition (like natural organic reduction [a.k.a. “human composting”] or liquid cremation). This document can also state any preferences you have regarding a memorial service.

Other Estate Planning Documents

Some other estate planning documents might be appropriate for certain clients depending on their circumstances, like an Irrevocable Trust or a Property Status/Community Property Agreement.

Which documents are appropriate for you will depend on your specific situation and wishes. If you would like assistance with preparing your estate planning documents, please reach out to Allison Int-Hout, Ryan Montgomery, or any of the estate planning attorneys at Montgomery Purdue.

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