couple reviewing estate planning documents

The ABCs of Estate Planning Documents

In Estate Planning by Brad Stark

couple reviewing estate planning documents

By Brad Stark MS, CFP®, AAMS®, CMFC℠
Founder and Chief Compliance Officer

Estate documents are generally created once or twice during a person’s life and then they are put in a drawer, and largely not reviewed thereafter. They are then referenced heavily when an “event” happens such as death or disability. At that time, sometimes they are reflective of a person’s goals and sometimes they are not.


The following is a list of estate documents that everyone should consider having and the people involved. Mission Wealth recommends having a review meeting about estate documents and structure at least every other year to ensure they still represent your wishes.


Trust: Provides “instructions” for those who follow in the case of incapacity or death. This document avoids the probate courts as the primary benefit. A trust outlines who gets what, when and how as it pertains to your assets held “in” the trust. These documents can be heavily customized to reflect your specific wishes and can come in many different structures (usually dictated by the size of the estate and tax strategies).


Trustee: This is person(s) responsible for carrying out the duties outlined in the trust document.


Will: This covers all the assets not held in trust or in beneficiary designated accounts (TOD, annuity, life insurance, and retirement plan). Generally speaking, when coupled with a trust document, these are often referred to as “pour over wills” because they designate the trust as the final recipient of anything that is not covered elsewhere. Most often, you see all assets of one spouse will go to the other and then to the trust referenced. Assets of a Will are subject to probate so this document is really there as a last line of defense for things not covered by the trust or by beneficiary designation.


Executor: This is the person(s) who are in charge of the Will.


Durable Powers of:

    • Finance: Gives authority to oversee and make decisions on assets NOT held in trust (IRA is often the biggest asset) if a person becomes incapacitated or elects to grant control to another person. At death, these power cease and the Trustee / Executor takes over (often times the same designated person) or the heir in the case of a beneficiary designated account (i.e. IRA, annuity, life insurance).
    • Health: Gives authority to oversee health care decisions if the person is unable to act on their own behalf. Sometimes this document also covers the Living Will/Health Care Directive too.&nbsp

Living Will/Health Care Directive:

This document nominates the person who will make final health care decisions and it outlines to doctors the level of care one desires and when to stop providing life extending efforts.


The above are the cornerstones for estate planning documents and should be reviewed and further discussed with your advisory group proactively. The “best” plans reflect your current day wishes and they can always be amended in the future. Not having these documents in place can place a substantial burden on those who follow you.


How Mission Wealth Can Help

We help you create a plan so your loved ones will be well cared for – maximizing the impact of your charitable gifts. From basic to advanced strategies, we believe estate planning is critically important, and often overlooked.


Many clients create plans and then put them on a shelf. However, as your financial status and family dynamics change, not to mention estate and income tax laws, it’s important to review your plan periodically to ensure it still fits your needs.


Whether your goal is to create a lasting legacy by leaving your estate to heirs or charity, to minimize taxes or to maximize lifetime giving, we are here to provide clarity and direction. We have the knowledge to guide you through all phases of your estate plan to ensure that your wealth is directed as you intend.


00357171 1/20/2020