The 5 Essential Legal Documents Everyone Needs

The 5 Essential Legal Documents Everyone Needs


A will is a legal document that lets you tell the world who should receive which of your assets after your death. It also allows you to name guardians for any dependent children. Without a will, the courts decide what happens to your assets and who is responsible for your kids.

Living Will

Living Will states your wishes regarding life support in the event that you cannot communicate your end-of-life wishes yourself. Your Living Will only comes into effect if you are in a persistent vegetative state or irreversible coma and can no longer make and communicate your own wishes. A Living Will spares your family the anguish of making life-support decisions without your input. A Living Will also ensures that your doctor understands your end-of-life wishes and treats you accordingly.

Any person over age 18 may (and should) create a Living Will. Common reasons that individuals create a Living Will include:

  • Declining health
  • The possibility of surgery or hospitalization
  • Desire to state your wishes so that it is more likely that they will be carried out
  • Diagnosis of a terminal condition with no hope of recovery

Living Wills can be very specific or very general. Living Wills that are too general may not provide sufficient direction and serve only to create confusion and conflict between medical personnel, your health care agent, and your loved ones. More specific Living Wills are preferred. These are shown to be most successful when they include informed, thoughtful reflection on your wishes and values supported by personal communication between you and your health care agent before a medical crisis occurs.

Designation of a Health Care Surrogate

What is a Health Care Surrogate?

Any competent adult may also designate authority to a Health Care Surrogate to make all health care decisions during any period of incapacity. During the maker’s incapacity, the Health Care Surrogate has the duty to consult expeditiously, with appropriate health care providers. The Surrogate also provides informed consent and makes only health care decisions for the maker, which he or she believes the maker would have made under the circumstances if the maker were capable of making such decisions. If there is no indication of what the maker would have chosen, the Surrogate may consider the maker’s best interest in deciding on a course of treatment. The Living Will can incorporate  Health Care Surrogate in one document.

Durable Power of Attorney

 This is a basic all-purpose document to name someone to manage your financial affairs should you become unable to yourself. Financial affairs, like banking matters, retirement matters, insurance matters, and social security matters are anything related to your finances. It is very important to have this in place in case you are not able to manage your financial affairs either temporarily or permanently, and can give your family almost immediate access to your finances if they need it.

Revocable Living Trust.

A Revocable Living Trust allows your loved ones to retain control over their estate while making transfers of assets to beneficiaries. They designate what property (home, investments, jewelry, and so on) goes into the trust and to whom it will be granted. During their lifetimes, they act as executors of their own living trust. A revocable living trust has an important advantage: it allows their estate to avoid probate at the time of their deaths.