Five legal documents every adult needs


Dear Mary: I’m 50 years old. I’m married and have two adult children. I do not have a will, and know that I should. Our financial life is not complicated. Can I put faith in a simple will done by one of the large online companies, or is it in my family’s best interest to hire a lawyer? I have read your work for many years, and I appreciate your advice. Thank you. — Jenny

Dear Jenny: Thank you for putting your trust in me. That’s something I value highly. My quick answer is, you absolutely need a will, and yes, there are online sources in which you can put your faith because they offer reliable information and direction. Does that preclude the need to hire an attorney? I cannot advise you on that because every situation is different. What I can tell you is the online source I recommend is an excellent option that will protect you in the interim — the time between today and when you actually meet with an attorney, if you elect to do that. Either way, this will help you get all of your information and desires down on paper and in order.

There are five legal documents every adult needs to have. Each one needs to be signed, dated, notarized as necessary and kept in a safe place that someone else knows about and can retrieve on a moment’s notice. This is not optional. If you have read this far, don’t stop now.

No. 1. Living Will. Also called an Advanced Directive, this states what you want to happen with respect to extraordinary measures to keep you alive should you become terminal or permanently unconscious.

No. 2. Healthcare Power of Attorney. You need to name someone who would make medical decisions on your behalf if you cannot make them yourself. Name up to five people, in successive order, so there is someone there who can make these decisions for you.

No. 3. Durable Power of Attorney. This is the document in which you designate one or more people to handle the financial aspects of your life should you become temporarily or permanently unable to do so due to mental or physical incapacitation. Simple tasks include getting your mail, filing your income tax return, filing for Medicare or Social Security or changing the beneficiary information on a life insurance policy.

No. 4. Will. If you have minor children, this is where you will name their guardians should you pass. Your will regards the assets you hold in your name only and names the person who will handle those assets in your stead should you pass away (such as if your estate were to go to probate), also known as your executor.

No. 5. Revocable Trust. This document avoids the probate court process when someone becomes incapacitated or dies. It does other things as well, but that is the most important aspect.

Some states recognize what is called a “holographic will,” if you want to just scribble something on a napkin and call it done. But I would not recommend that! What a nightmare you would leave for your family that could lead to horrendous costs. Instead, I recommend Quicken WillMaker Plus 2016 from Nolo Press, a highly regarded and reputable online legal site specializing in helping ordinary folks like you and me handle our own basic legal needs.