Definition and Purpose of Simple Estate Planning Documents

The type of documentation in our basic estate plan options can include:


  • A legal document filed with probate court
  • Instructs the court where to distribute all of your assets, including to a previously established trust 
  • Only includes assets in your name without a beneficiary 
  • Names a guardian if there are minor children 
  • Executor/Personal Representative – The individual or corporation administering estate

Durable power of attorney

  • A document that appoints an individual to act on your behalf, allowing that person to make financial decisions for you 
  • A durable power of attorney for finance can help plan for medical emergencies and declines in mental functioning and can ensure the care of your finances  
  • Effective immediately, incapacity is not required 

Medical directives 

  • Medical directives are legal documents that contain instructions regarding a person’s health care decisions should they become incapacitated, including end of life decisions
  • If a person becomes incapacitated, they may not be able to make medical decisions at that moment. Therefore, medical directives help prepare the person for such situations by naming a representative who will make decisions on behalf of the incapacitated person
  • Medical directives provide a written record of the person’s intentions, which can help prevent legal disputes over health care issues

Deed or transfer instrument

  • A deed is a legal document that transfers the title of real property to another. If there is an encumbrance, the transfer is subject to the encumbrance
  • A Transfer on Death Instrument – depending on your state, this may be used to transfer your home on your death either to your trust or family members outside of probate

Revocable living trust 

  • A document created by an individual (grantor) appointing the trustee (generally the same as the grantor) to handle trust assets
  • Outlines how your assets should be handled during your life, if you transfer assets into your trust, i.e. brokerage accounts, home, savings
  • Outlines how assets are held and distributed upon death, whether the assets remain in trust or are distributed outright
  • When there are children under 23, the trust holds assets for the benefit of the children if parents are deceased
  • Assets are distributed outright in equal shares to children 23 and over
    • Please contact an estate planning attorney at McDonald Hopkins for other plan options if you prefer assets remain in a trust
  • For married couples, both spouses will serve as co-trustees, either spouse can make decisions
  • Often the trust is named a beneficiary of various assets and accounts and the trust receives the assets on the death of the owner of the assets