Retirement, Investments, & Insurance for Individuals Build your knowledge 10 essential documents for estate planning success

10 essential documents for estate planning success

When you organize your estate planning documents, think beyond a will and life insurance.

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4 min read |

Have an estate plan? If not, you’re not alone: Nearly 70% of people don’t have the most basic estate plan document—a will.1

This list of estate documents helps you assemble everything you need to accomplish the job, including pieces related to your assets, insurance, accounts, and most importantly, your wishes. Each is essential to help you, and your loved ones, navigate the unknowns and unexpected events.

5 legal documents in an estate plan

Last will and testament: Outlines your wishes for property distribution and care of minor children; names beneficiaries, an executor, and guardians for children.

Trust: Controls property while you’re living and after you die; the most common is the Revocable Living Trust.

Health care power of attorney: Appoints someone to make decisions if you’re unable to; best if the person understands your values and wishes.

Living will/advanced directive: Used by health care professionals as a guide to your wishes for end-of-life medical care.

Financial power of attorney: Names someone to make financial and legal decisions if you are unable to; choose someone you fully trust.

5 contracts to include in your estate plan

Unlike legal documents—which you choose to create and which may have specific requirements based on the state you live in—contracts are agreements you’ve entered into with value and, perhaps, beneficiaries. They include:

  • Life insurance policies
  • Other insurance plans: Health, dental, homeowners or renters, auto
  • Investments: Retirement accounts (IRAs, 401(k)s), bonds, mutual funds, pension plan, annuities
  • Deeds or loans to large assets: Cars, homes, boats
  • Business details: Buy-sell agreement, transition plans, key roles, other information

Other accounts and information to include in your estate plan

  • Copy of net worth and budget: Assets, liabilities, income, expenses
  • Social Security number
  • Bank accounts and safe deposit box information: Checking and savings accounts, safe deposit keys location
  • Credit cards: Latest credit report with all credit card accounts
  • Key professional contact information: Financial professional, insurance agent, estate attorney, accountant, executor, beneficiaries, trustee, others
  • Computer and social media: User IDs, passwords
  • Professional or personal memberships: Member numbers, websites, mailing addresses
  • Final arrangement wishes

Where should you store your estate plan documents?

Some people keep a binder with all the documents and contracts in their legacy plan in a safe spot, such as a locked file cabinet. Others prefer a digital copy. Your executor, spouse, partner, or other designated, trusted individual should have access to these documents.

How to keep your estate plan up to date

Review key details, account transfer specifics, ownership designations, and beneficiaries annually, and when you experience a big life event. Ready to get started on your own estate plan? This estate planning workbook (PDF) can help.

What's next?

One key element of your estate plan is your retirement accounts. Log in to to ensure you’ve updated beneficiaries. Don’t have an employer-sponsored retirement account or want to save even more? We can help you set up your retirement savings with an individual retirement account (IRA). Ready to learn more ways you can build your financial foundation? Our learning library can help.