The 5 Essential Documents of Estate Planning

There are five essential documents you need to have in place to ensure that your family and assets are taken care of if you become incapacitated or when you pass. These documents are part of your legacy. They are the means to making your intentions clear and to ease the process of how your family will receive your assets.  By having these five documents in place, you will have peace of mind knowing you’ve taken the right steps to plan for tomorrow.


A last Will and Testament is probably the first thing that comes to mind when you start thinking about estate planning. This is the document that describes who you want to give your assets to when you pass and helps ensure that your assets are distributed correctly when the time comes. One thing to note is that a will is public information that is filed at the County Clerk’s office and only comes into effect when you pass. Typically, is not enough on its own.


A Trust is more than just a document. It is a legal entity created to hold assets on behalf of those who you want to have your assets, also called beneficiaries. You decide how and when beneficiaries receive the assets.  Also with a Trust, you can appoint Guardians for your children. A Guardian is a person that you choose to take care of your children should something happen to you. Without appointing a Guardian, the court could nominate someone you would never consider to care for your children.

There are two primary types of Trusts:

Revocable Trusts, also known as living trusts, legally distribute your assets to your beneficiaries. Having a trust in place will help your estate avoid probate. Probate is a lengthy, expensive and public process where the courts distribute your assets regardless of your wishes or intent.

Irrevocable Trusts can help limit your exposure to estate taxes. Once assets have been placed in the trust, they can’t be removed or altered. In essence, assets have been taken out of your estate and therefore are not subject to estate taxes.

Power of Attorney

A Power of Attorney allows you to designate someone to step in and manage your finances if you are unable to do it yourself.

General Power of Attorney designates an individual to act on your behalf on all matters, including medical, legal, financial, etc.

Limited Power of Attorney designates someone to act on your behalf only in specific matters or events.

Health Care Directive

A Health Care Directive is a written statement that provides instructions regarding your medical wishes and decisions. These types of decisions can include: do you want to stay on life support? do you want extreme measures taken? do you want pain medication or nutrition withheld? do you want to donate organs? etc.

There are two primary types of Health Care Directives:

An Advance Health Care Directive is documented instructions for your health care should you become incapacitated, and someone needs to make end of life decisions for you.

Medical Power of Attorney, also known as a Health Care Proxy, designates a person to makes medical decisions on your behalf if you become incapacitated. This document is important if your family members are unaware of your true wishes or disagree about your care. It ensures you are cared for exactly as you intend.

In addition, you’ll want to include HIPAA Authorization. HIPAA is a federal law that protects the privacy of all your medical information. Doctors are only allowed to share your medical information with those people listed on your HIPAA Authorization if you become incapacitated or ill.

Beneficiary Designations

Beneficiary designations are found on many types of life insurance or retirement accounts such as 401(k)s, 403(b)s, IRAs and more. These designations are filed with the financial institution that is holding your account, and they dictate who will receive the benefits in the account when you pass away. The important thing to note about beneficiary designations is that they supersede what is written in your Will or Trust.  That’s why it’s important to review your designations on a regular basis.

The Soto Law Group can help you prepare the 5 essential estate planning documents. We specialize in Estate Planning by providing tailor-made legal solutions that protect the assets and wishes of our clients. Our Estate Planning Law Offices are located in Newport Beach, Orange County and Indian Wells, Coachella Valley and serve all of Southern California.