Estate Planning: Wills, Trusts and a Death File

Estate Planning: Wills, Trusts and a Death File

Wills and trusts are essential estate planning and transfer documents. They not only ensure the wishes of the asset/estate owner’s wishes after death are fulfilled, but will also save the beneficiaries a great deal of money, time and frustration in probate court. Wills and trusts are not just for the wealthy. They are tools that can and should be used by most people to make sure their “estates” are properly bequeathed to the next generation. A person’s estate is comprised of everything they own. This includes property, cash, assets, investments, and personal effects.

A person who dies without a will or trust is classified as “intestate”. Their family is then subject to a lengthy and involved probate court process to decide how the estate will be settled for the family. A person who dies with a will or trust in place can avoid or minimize the need for probate court. Thus, ensuring that the disposition of their assets is specifically laid out and executed to their wishes.

Depending on the circumstances and assets of the individual, a will or a trust may be appropriate. In addition, a combination of both could also be correct. Regardless, a person should seek to avoid the costs, stress, and lengthy time it takes for a family to navigate probate court when a person dies intestate without a will and/or a trust in place. Similarly, having a living will in place and specific medical directives will help prevent confusion and conflict during a health crisis. These documents are inexpensive and easy to get in place. They will ensure that the wishes of the individual are clearly communicated and acted upon.

Once the correct estate planning documents have been put in place, creating a “Death File” is a smart planning tool. This contains everything the family would need to execute someone’s wishes and tend to their financial duties while under duress or make sure their estate is handled without problems.


  • Contact information for doctors, attorneys, financial advisors, and accountant.

  • Will and/or trust documents and any special instructions for personal effects and property (include info on vehicle ownership, storage units, or specialty assets).

  • Retirement account and/or pension statements.

  • Mortgage statements and/or deeds for real estate owned.

  • Bank statements for all accounts including information on any safety deposit boxes.

  • Credit Card statements and records of any loans/debts (given or taken).

  • Medical Power of Attorney naming a person to manage healthcare, doctor’s contact info, and medical directives such as DNR or DNI.

  • Written instructions around any specific requests for care such as preference for type, location, or caregiver.

  • Financial Power of Attorney naming a person to handle financial matters.

  • Health insurance policy information, Medicare coverage information, or Veteran’s Benefits information.

  • Life, LTC, DI insurance policies, and/or annuities.

  • Funeral trusts, pre-paid plans, and/or final expense policies.

  • Written directions for funeral arrangements.

Organizing and clearly communicating what a person wants and what they have to work with will eliminate the uncertainty. It will also eliminate mistakes when it comes to fulfilling the wishes of someone unable to clearly articulate for themselves.

Do you want to learn more about estate planning and how to prepare for retirement? Discover my podcast where you will learn practical strategies that have worked for others in a conversational style that destigmatizes aging and insists the best is yet to come!