Everyone hates going to the dentist. However, if you don’t go, bad things can happen that may have been prevented if you had gone. The same is true with having legal documents created. You may say to yourself, “Well, I see your point, but I can go on the internet and create documents for myself using one of the do-it-yourself legal websites that are a lot less expensive (and don’t require an appointment) than what a lawyer will charge me.

Ok. But would you do your own dental work?

Now that this is out of the way, there are 10 legal documents that all adults (people over the age of 18) need.

Drum Roll Please:

  1. Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care. This document allows you to name who you want to make health care decisions for you when you are unable to do so for yourself. (During surgery, if you have an incapacitating illness, are unconscious from an accident or traumatic incident)
  2. Living Will. This documents stands on its own, in that it expresses your end-of-life treatment wishes to whatever health care provider (hospital, doctor, etc) reads it. You can state that you want all, some or no artificial means of maintaining your life (i.e., ventilator, CPR, dialysis, surgery, etc) when you are at the end of your life.
  3. Financial Durable Power of Attorney. This documents allows you to appoint who you want to make financial decisions for you (pay bills, enter into contracts for goods and services for you, handle your insurance and all assets you own) if you are determined by your doctor to be unable to handle your financial decisions yourself. VERY IMPORTANT NOTE: Choose a person who is financially secure and responsible to serve in this role. It is very tempting to someone who is not financially stable to dip into your money (“I am just borrowing this money – I’ll pay it back) at a time when every cent should be used for your care.
  4. Beneficiary Deed. If you own real estate, you should have this type of deed created to name who you want to inherit your real estate (home, timeshare, vacation home, empty lot) when you die. If you do not have a beneficiary deed (or your property is not held in a trust), it will end up in probate.
  5. Beneficiary designations. ON EVERYTHING – life insurance, money market accounts, IRAs, 401K and other retirement accounts, stocks, bonds, etc.
  6. HIPAA authorization. This is the form allows you to name who you want to be able to contact your doctor, hospital, any health care provider to obtain information and discuss your care when you are still making your own health care decisions (for example, if you have just had a root canal, if your adult child wants to call your dentist to request a prescription for pain medication)
  7. POD and TOD designations. Banks allow you to make Pay Upon Death designations on your checking and savings accounts with a Pay Upon Death (POD) card naming who you want to inherit the account balance when you die; The Department of Motor Vehicles has a Transfer Upon Death form (TOD) to enable you to name who you want to inherit your vehicle when you die.
  8. Digital Asset Inventory. You should create and keep an up-to-date a list of ALL on-line accounts, reward programs, passwords, financial and bill pay sites, social media, professional organization profiles, etc. to enable your family to manage your on-line presence when you are incapacitated and die.
  9. Last Will and Testament. This is a document that allows you to name who you want to handle your affairs after you die (your “Personal Representative”) and to explain how you want your assets distributed after you die. A WILL DOES NOT KEEP ASSETS OUT OF PROBATE – YOU MUST MAKE BENEFICIARY, TOD AND POD DESIGNATIONS ON EVERYTHING!
  10. Personal Property Memorandum. This is a legal document you CAN create yourself that lists personal, non-monetary, sentimental or family heirlooms you want to specifically pass to identified individuals when you die. This list should be attached to your Last Will and Testament.

(11. I know I said 10, but there is a #11 – a Trust. There are many different types of trusts with varying uses, but the most common type of trust is the Revocable Living Trust that allows you to title almost all of your assets in the name of your trust (other than IRAs, retirement accounts and bonds) so these assets will be handled by the person you name as Trustee according to the instructions in your trust. Not everyone needs a trust – so long as they make beneficiary designations on everything. However, when properly funded and handled, a trust keeps all of your assets out of probate and allows you to be as creative and detailed as you wish regarding when and how you want your property distributed after you die (for example, to delay when an 18-year-old can receive a large inheritance).

So, go see your dentist and a lawyer now to have these documents prepared to make sure you are ready if/when you need to use them.


This week’s article about Legal Documents was written by Debra K. Schuster, M.H.A., J.D., from St. Louis, Missouri.

Top 10 Legal Documents Everyone Needs was last modified: May 24th, 2018 by Debra Schuster