- Proper titling of assets. It's important that all our assets -- your house, property, bank accounts, retirement plans, stocks and bonds -- be properly titled, in terms of legal ownership. You may want these assets listed in your individual name, in joint tenancy, or in the name of your living trust.
- Beneficiary designations. You need to make sure that your beneficiary designations are always updated and consistent with your overall estate plan. For example, if you name a spouse as a beneficiary on your life insurance, and you later divorce and remarry, you'll need to change the beneficiary on your policy.
- Will. A will spells out how you want your assets distributed. If you don't have a will, your assets may be distributed according to state law. If that happens, your heirs may not get what you have intended for them to receive. A will is also the document in which you can name a guardian for small children.
- Living trust. For many people, a simple will, by itself, may not be sufficient. For one thing, if you only have a will, your assets may still have to go through the time-consuming and potentially expensive process of probate. A well-designed living trust, though, can bypass probate and give you more control over how and when your assets will be distributed.
- Durable power of attorney. When you set up a durable power of attorney, you name someone to act for you if you become mentally or physically unable to make financial and legal decisions.
- Health care directive. By drawing up a health care directive, you authorize, in advance, the kinds of health care you would or would not want if, for whatever reason, you cannot communicate for yourself. In your health care directive, you can name someone to make health care decisions for you, leave written instructions to help others in making those decisions or even do both.