The Essentials You Need for an Estate Plan

You can reduce stress and expenses for yourself and your family if you develop an estate plan that includes these important documents.

A couple chats with an estate planner.
(Image credit: Getty Images)

If you’ve been putting off your estate plan, you aren’t alone. Only 47.9% of Americans age 55 or older reported having any estate-planning documents in a 2020 survey by Caring.com (opens in new tab).

No one wants to think about getting seriously ill or dying, but these things happen. That’s when having the right documents makes a big difference. “This isn’t the kind of planning you want to be doing in the hospital or the nursing home,” says Patrick Simasko, elder law attorney and wealth preservation specialist at Simasko Law in Mount Clemens, Mich.

Not having estate-planning documents can rack up the estate’s cost—including taxes—and delay the transfer of assets to heirs. A stressful situation is made even worse for loved ones, and the courts may step in to make decisions on the deceased person’s behalf. So make the most of the tools in your estate-planning toolbox.

Here’s a primer on what those tools are and how to use them, including a new one you may not have considered.

David Rodeck
Contributing Writer, Kiplinger's Retirement Report