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The 5 Essential Legal Documents Everyone Needs

Posted on November 13th, 2009 by Le + Pelletier, LLP. Filed under Estate Planning.

Many people think that Estate Planning is just for the old and rich—people planning for death, who have a lot to pass on to their family. That is a huge myth that we wish weren’t out there. EVERYONE needs Estate Planning, regardless of your assets or your family situation. And that means ALL of the essential legal documents, not just a will.


Everyone should have the following four documents and all parents need the fifth:


1. Health Care Directive — In California, this is the document that allows you put down your wishes in writing about medical decision making, naming an agent to make medical decisions on your behalf and making your preferences known for things like organ donation, burial/cremation, and autopsy among other related topics. This document replaces the “living will,” which is not a recognized legal term in California. Living wills are used in other States, but here we call this document the Advance Health Care Directive. Privacy laws make medical information private, so you need to include releases under federal and California law to ensure that your agents can see your medical files and related information. That means that if you are at least 18 years old, you need to legally authorize in writing who you want to make medical decisions for you. This is why this document is so important for everyone over the age of 18.


2. Durable Power of Attorney — This is a basic all purpose document to name someone to manage your financial affairs should you become unable to yourself. Financial affairs, like banking matters, retirement matters, insurance matters, and social security matters are anything related to your finances. It is very important to have this in place in case you are not able to manage your financial affairs either temporarily or permanently, and can give your family almost immediate access to your finances if they need it.


3. Living Trust – This document is essential for Californians who own real estate. You cannot purchase a house, land or other real estate and label a payable on death beneficiary for that property. It must go through probate unless you own it in a form of joint tenancy with someone or you have transferred it to a Living Trust. Living Trusts have many other benefits, but the most important benefit is to save your family the money and stress of having to go through 12-16 months of probate to access your assets.


4. Will — If you do not own real estate, but have any personal belongings you need a Will. Regardless of how wealthy you are, you need to make sure your money and personal belongings get to who need them and who you want to have them in the event of your death.


5. Children’s Emergency Protection Plan — If you have children, you need to have a plan in place that names guardians for the short-term and long-term, gives instructions to all of your caregivers as to what to do if you don’t come home, and tells your long-term guardians your wishes about how you want your children to be raised. Our plans also include an ID card to carry in your wallet that states that you have kids at home and lists the number of a guardian so that emergency personnel know who to call.


These five documents are the basics of Estate Planning and are essential for every adult to have. Of course, there is more to Estate Planning than just these 5 documents. Building a real relationship with an Estate Planning Attorney who can give you guidance about your family and your assets and can document your wishes and will be there for you and your family when you need it, is really what Estate Planning is about. It’s the best way to ensure the well-being and care of your family and save them stress and expense should anything happen to you.


We know that all of this may seem expensive in the short term, but planning for the future is substantially less costly than if you died with a plan that didn’t work or without a plan at all.


At Le + Pelletier, we don’t want a single family who wants to protect their loved ones to leave our offices because they can’t afford it. We offer creative payment options to our clients because we know that planning is a crucial key to building a family’s successful future. Please contact us for more information and to make an appointment.

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