Skip to Content
Grandparents with grandchildren symbolizing how planning your wills and estate can benefit the next generation.
Wills and estate planning

Essential estate planning documents

Preparing for estate planning helps you to avoid any delays or confusion by having crucial documents such as your will and power of attorney at hand.

Estate plans are an important part of planning for the future. They help ensure that your desires regarding critical matters are clear and legal, hence minimizing conflicts and confusion when you're gone. To help you better understand what goes into creating an estate plan, we've put together a list of six key documents that are typically used in estate planning.


A last will and testament is used to transfer property that's in your name, to the person(s) and/or organization(s) that you wish to have when you die. Dying without a will is to die intestate. This means that instead of you appointing someone to distribute your assets according to your wishes, a court-appointed executor will compile your assets, pay any liabilities (such as debts and taxes), and distribute what's left to individuals who are considered to be beneficiaries.

Living will or directive

A living will or directive is a document that gives hospitals, physicians, and other medical care givers specific instructions regarding the type and extent of the care you desire should you become incapacitated and unable to communicate due to an accident, serious illness, dementia or coma.

Living trust

Much like a will, a living trust spells out your wishes regarding your assets, dependents, and your heirs. The primary difference between a will and a living trust is that a will becomes effective only after you die, whereas living trust typically goes into effect immediately and remains in force your entire lifetime and even after you die. Most living trusts are revocable, which allow you to make future changes, modifications, or even terminate the document at any time - if you so desire.

Durable power of attorney for property

If you are unable or unavailable to manage your financial matters, this document appoints a person of your choosing to handle them for you.

Durable power of attorney for health care or health care proxy

With a durable power of attorney, you to appoint a health care agent who makes decisions regarding your medical care. With a health care proxy, you empower the agent to act on your behalf. The health care agent and proxy do not become effective until your doctor declares you medically unable to understand the consequences of your care or unable to communicate.

Family limited partnership

This document works much like a trust, but allows for some additional tax planning strategies. If you have a large estate and feel that you need specialized estate planning, a family limited partnership may be used to help minimize federal/state estate, death, and inheritance taxes.

Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is meant to provide a high-level overview of the typical documents that are generally used in creating an estate plan. It is not all inclusive. Note that the laws in your state and/or city may deviate significantly from those described here. If you have specific questions related to your situation, consult with an attorney.



Arrows linking indicating relationship

Related Articles

Wife shows husband information on her tablet while they sit on a dock.

The benefits of life insurance trust(s) in estate planning

Learn more
A young professional smiling as she speaks to a male colleague in the workplace.

Why you should consider an estate plan

Learn more
A couple discussing the IRS federal form 712 while researching on the Internet.

Filing form 712

Learn more

All Learning Center articles are general summaries that can be used when considering your financial future at various life stages. The information presented is for educational purposes and is meant to supplement other information specific to your situation. It is not intended as investment advice and does not necessarily represent the opinion of Protective Life or its subsidiaries.

Learning Center articles may describe services and financial products not offered by Protective Life or its subsidiaries. Descriptions of financial products contained in Learning Center articles are not intended to represent those offered by Protective Life or its subsidiaries.

Neither Protective Life nor its representatives offer legal or tax advice. We encourage you to consult with your financial adviser and legal or tax adviser regarding your individual situations before making investment, social security, retirement planning, and tax-related decisions. For information about Protective Life and its products and services, visit

Companies and organizations linked from Learning Center articles have no affiliation with Protective Life or its subsidiaries.