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What makes up an estate plan?

The term "estate planning" probably brings to mind writing your last will and testament. The will always seems to be the focus in movies, books and other forms of media. However, wills are only one part of estate plans and have limitations on what they can include.

if you leave this life with only a will in place, you leave your estate and family without full protection. Make sure you have other documents in place for a complete estate plan that offers the most security.

Living will

A living will covers what care you do and do not want should you become incapacitated. Other names for it include advance healthcare directive, directive to physicians, healthcare declaration and medical directive. It addresses the following end-of-life topics:

  • CPR
  • Dialysis
  • Mechanical ventilation
  • Medication
  • Organ donation
  • Pain relief
  • Tube feeding

Deciding on these things ahead of time can do away with a lot of stress and conflict for your family.

Medical power of attorney

A living will does not cover every possible medical scenario, so it is also helpful to name someone your medical power of attorney (or healthcare agent/proxy). This person makes decisions regarding your care if you are unable to.

Power of attorney

A regular power of attorney is responsible for the financial aspects of your estate. For the person to be able to act on your behalf if you become incapacitated, the appointment must be durable instead of general.


If you have minor children or adult children with special needs, you need to find a legal guardian for them. Make sure the person is trustworthy, as he or she can make health, financial and other personal decisions for your children.


Trusts allow you to protect assets and avoid probate. A revocable (living) trust means you can make changes to the document while you are still alive. The terms of an irrevocable trust may not be amendable, but this trust still comes with advantages. Which to choose depends on your situation.

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  1. Charles W. Dobbins, Jr.

    Charles earned his J.D. degree from the University of Virginia in 1974

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