facebook twitter instagram linkedin google youtube vimeo tumblr yelp rss email podcast phone blog search brokercheck brokercheck Play Pause

Four Essential Estate Planning Documents

You’ve saved, invested, and planned for a retirement of financial freedom. You’ve even taken the uncomfortable but necessary step of writing a will with your significant other. Your plan is set, right? Not so fast. A will is necessary, but by itself is insufficient. Estate planning is the process of managing and preserving your assets while you’re alive as well as planning for the distribution of your estate after you die. Here, we highlight four key estate planning documents almost everyone should have: a durable power of attorney, advance medical directive(s), a will, and a letter of instruction. Various types of trusts may be a valuable part of an estate plan, but the discussion of trusts goes beyond the scope of this article. For more information, please consult your HCM Advisor.  

Durable Power of Attorney  

Incapacity can happen to anyone at any time, but your risk generally increases as you grow older. Without proper planning, if you were unable to make decisions or conduct your own affairs, a court may be forced to appoint a guardian who could make decisions that go against your wishes. 

A durable power of attorney (DPOA) enables you to select and authorize an individual or organization to make financial decisions or transact business on your behalf. The designated individual can do things like pay expenses, collect benefits, manage investments, and file taxes.  

Advanced Medical Directives 

An advance medical directive lets others know what forms of medical treatment you prefer and enables you to designate someone to make medical decisions for you if you’re unable to do so.  

There are three types of advance medical directives. The directives available vary from state to state, and you may employ multiple directives to carry out your wishes for medical treatment. 

  • A living will is a document that specifies the types of medical treatment you would want, or not want, to keep you alive. In most states, a living will takes effect only under certain circumstances such as a terminal illness or injury. Generally, a living will can be used solely to decline medical treatment that "serves only to postpone the moment of death."
  • A health-care proxy lets one or more trusted individuals make medical decisions for you. You decide how much power your representative will have. This will help avoid unwanted medical treatments that would go against your wishes.  
  • A do-not-resuscitate (DNR) order is a legal form, signed by both you and your doctor, that gives healthcare professionals permission to carry out your wishes.  


A will is the cornerstone of an estate plan. It is a formal legal document that directs how your property will be distributed when you die. Without a will, the fruits of your life’s work will be distributed according to state law rather than your wishes. Importantly, a will allows you to name an executor to carry out your directives and a guardian for your minor children. 

Most wills must be filed with the probate court. Probate is a public process that can be time consuming and complicated. Planning actions taken with your HCM Advisor and estate attorney, including properly recording beneficiary designations and establishing trust(s), can minimize or even avoid the probate process. 

Letter of Instruction 

A letter of instruction is an informal, nonlegal document that accompanies a will and expresses your personal thoughts and directions regarding the contents of the will. A letter of instruction remains private, making it an opportunity to say personal things to your family you’d rather not make public. This is not a substitute for a will. Any directions in the letter are non-binding suggestions that may be followed or disregarded.  

Take Steps Now 

Life is unpredictable. The HCM Wealth Planning Team strongly suggests that everyone have a comprehensive estate plan in place and up to date. We also recommend updating plans every five years or when there are any significant changes in your family’s circumstances. The HCM Wealth Planning Team can help with questions, and if necessary, connect you with an independent estate attorney who can assist with any required drafting of documents.  

Return to Newsletter Articles

Talk to an Advisor