female hands signing legal documents

The 5 Legal Documents Every Adult Needs and How to Get Them

Every adult must have five legal documents—each one signed, dated, notarized as necessary, and kept in a safe place that someone else knows about and can retrieve at a moment’s notice.

female hands signing legal documents

It’s been years since my husband and I sat for hours with an attorney specializing in estate planning. That was not the most pleasant thing I’ve ever done. We were young, and the idea of being old and planning for our respective deaths seemed ludicrous.

That meeting, together with nearly $2,500, made us the proud owners of a Family Trust and Estate Plan, which includes our individual five important legal documents that every adult must have—absolutely. I’m grateful to have gone through that ordeal, but in hindsight, I’m certain we could have avoided much of the stress and cut the cost, too.

Even if you’re sure you have all of your essential legal documents in order, please be certain about that. Did you get married? Have a baby? Buy a house? Life changes, laws change, and regulations get upgraded without notice. It’s possible your documents could use an update.

Wake-up Message

Recently, a letter from Jenny reminded me that we need to update the documents in our Estate Plan—our lives have in so many ways over the years. For starters, we moved to a new state.

Thankfully, we now have an option to do this ourselves—legally and properly—for a whole lot less than it cost us decades ago. More about that in a bit. But first, the letter that popped up in my virtual mailbag:

Dear Mary: I’m 50, married, and have two adult children. Our financial life is not complicated. I do not have a Will and know that I should. Can I put faith in a simple Will done by one of the large online companies or is it in my family’s best interest that I hire a lawyer? I have read your work for many years and appreciate your advice. Thank you. Jenny

Thank you for the trust you put in me, Jenny. That is something I highly value. My quick answer is that absolutely you and your husband need individual Wills plus four other legal documents each, too.

I have a resource to recommend to you, which will help you do this yourself—a reputable legal help organization I believe you can trust without reservation.

Will this preclude the need to hire an attorney? It could, but I cannot advise you on that because every situation is different.

I can tell you that you can do this yourself and you be well protected now with all of your information and desires written down in proper legal order—and have that to take to an attorney if or when you find that necessary.

The Big Five

There are legal documents every adult must have—each one signed, dated, notarized as necessary, and kept in a safe place that someone else knows about and can retrieve at a moment’s notice:

  • Will
  • Advanced Directive
  • Healthcare Power of Attorney
  • Durable Power of Attorney
  • Revocable or Family Trust

1. Will

A will is a legal document that designates who should receive your assets after death. It is not just for the elderly. Everyone, especially those with dependent children, must have a will. This allows you to name guardians for any dependent children. Without a will, the courts decide what happens to the assets and who is responsible for the kids. Your Will also names your executor—the person overseeing and protecting your interests if your estate needs to go to probate. Generally, your Will distributes the assets you hold and names an executor—the person who will handle the distribution and other affairs involved upon your death.

Some states recognize a “holographic will” if you just want to scribble something on a napkin and call it done. I do not recommend that, however. What a nightmare you would leave for your family that could lead to horrendous costs. Having no Will at all is even worse.

2. Advanced Directive

Also known as a Medical or Healthcare Directive,  this states what you want to have happen concerning extraordinary measures to keep you alive should you be terminal or permanently unconscious. Your Advanced Directive states whether you want artificial support for breathing and eating, such as a ventilator and feeding tube. The Advanced (Medical) Directive ensures your wishes will be respected at the end of life and provides clarity and guidance to family members.

3. Healthcare Power of Attorney

Your Healthcare Power of Attorney steps in if you cannot make medical decisions yourself. It names the person you want to make those decisions on your behalf. I highly recommend that you name up to five people in successive order to make sure there is someone there who is authorized to make these decisions for you.

4. Durable Power of Attorney

Sometimes referred to as Power of Attorney for Finances, this is the document by which you designate one or more persons to handle the financial aspects of your life, should you become temporarily or permanently unable to do so because you are mentally or physically incapacitated. We’re talking about simple things you might not think of but could become very problematic if you are unable to communicate—things like picking up your mail, paying your bills, filing your taxes, moving money from one account to another, filing for Medicaid, Medicare, or Social Security; or any number of other issues pertaining to your finances.

5. Revocable Trust

This document gives your designated heir(s) immediate access and control of the assets you wish to pass to them upon your death, without the need to transfer ownership. You don’t have to be rich or have vast assets to benefit greatly with a Revocable or Family Trust. A life insurance policy, checking account, house, or any asset of value merits establishing a revocable trust. In this document, for which you will likely name yourselves as Trustee(s), you also name the successive Trustee upon your death.

There are other important advantages to this type of trust. For one thing, unlike a Will that becomes a matter of public record, a Trust is private. You may have an issue in your family that you don’t want to disclose to the public at large.

Without a trust, an estate must go through probate, a costly and lengthy process in which the court administers the distribution of the estate (your assets). And if the estate holds property in multiple states, it will have to go through probate in each state. Having all of your assets in a trust avoids probate. This document does other things as well, but this may be the most important.

How to Get the 5 Docs

Hire an attorney

Locate an attorney in your area that specializes in wills and estate planning. Make the appointment. You will likely be given a list of information and specific items you will need to bring with you to your appointment. This attorney will be prepared to create these documents based on all of the information you have gathered, together with your state’s best practices and laws.

DIY

Wait. Hear me out. With the right resources, you may be able to do this work yourself in a way that is legal, thorough, and quite possibly much easier (and cheaper) than the attorney option above. And with that, I have more than likely caused some in my audience to pull their hair out while shrieking in terror.

Let me be clear: I am not suggesting you open up a blank page in Word and just start typing out what you think will (pun intended) be suitable. NO! You must have the proper legal documents for your state. You need legal counsel. You need basically all that in a reliable format where you simply fill in the blanks.

Below, you will find the only DIY option that, in my opinion, meets the criteria mentioned, plus a lot more. And all of that for one flat rate that’s less these days than a single meal in a nice restaurant.

Resources

I recommend Quicken WillMaker & Trust 2024 from Nolo Press, a highly regarded and reputable online legal organization specializing in helping ordinary folks like you and me handle our basic legal needs. Quicken WillMaker & Trust 2024 is available to you in two ways: Direct download from Nolo or you can purchase the actual software to install on your home computer from Amazon. Both options below. Please read the following, carefully.

Direct Download  from Nolo

Quicken WillMaker & Trust 2024 Plus Bundle includes dozens of forms starting with the big five documents mentioned above and also practical forms you can use every day to help run your home and keep your family safe, including authorizations and agreements, promissory notes, limited powers of attorney, and child and elder care forms, final arrangements, and lots more.

Quicken WillMaker & Trust 2024 Plus Bundle is compatible with the laws in every U.S. state (except for Louisiana*, U.S. Territories; not compatible with Canada). And boy is it easy to use—just fill in the blanks. And you can revise it in the future as necessary, without another big legal bill.

You can purchase this program, which is a download from Nolo Press. Please read the options carefully as things change so quickly these days! You want the option that includes the 5 documents listed above, which, as I update, is the  $139 PLUS option.


END OF YEAR FLASH SALE!

**Use promo code FLASH25 at checkout to save 25% off the standard price.

(This promo is valid thru 12-30-23.)


To be clear, once you make the purchase, you will not receive anything by mail. Nolo Press will email you the authorization link to download the entire Quicken WillMaker & Trust  bundle onto your computer’s hard drive.

(Prefer to have this as software on a CD-ROM? See below availability on Amazon).

Then, in the privacy of your own home, you will be able to customize the five documents mentioned above—all before tomorrow morning or at your own pace. When the time comes, you can depend on those documents to be correctly prepared, completely legal, and simple for those you will designate to be in charge of your finances, health, and possessions. The forms can be used multiple times for one year from purchase, so that other adults in your household can also create their legal documents.

Quicken WillMaker & Trust 2024 is compatible with Windows 11,10,8.1 and Mac OS Sierra 10.13 and higher and requires 1 GHz or higher, 54 MB free hard disk space, a minimum of 2GB memory, PDF viewer, and an Internet connection.

As Software from Amazon

Quicken WillMaker & Trust 2024 is also available on Amazon as software on CD-ROM, delivered to your door.

Don’t miss the $30 off coupon.

*Because of Louisiana’s strict requirements, relying on a generic “Last Will and Testament” form is not wise. Failure to get the form right will result in an invalid document or lead to estate litigation due to Louisiana’s unique civil law system.

Nolo does offer this simple Willmaker for Louisiana residents that has been prepared and vetted by a team of attorneys. If you live in Louisiana and also wish to create your Durable Power of Attorney and Health Care Directive, see a Louisiana lawyer for help.

**This promo is valid through 12-30-23. This offer cannot be used by 1) trade library or academic sales accounts, 2) other resellers. Not valid for Nolo’s Online LLC, Online Corporation or PPA. Limit one coupon per transaction. All products are covered by Quicken’s “No Hassle” return policy.

Updated: 12-29-23


 

Everyday Cheapskate participates in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn from qualifying purchases, at no cost to you.

 

 

 

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Last update on 2024-05-24 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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15 replies
  1. Emma says:

    Can this software be shared with loved ones who also need to create these documents? Or is it license only for one individual’s use? Thank you!

    Reply
    • Mary Hunt says:

      Yes, however I would point you to Managing Your WillMaker File in the WillMaker FAQs. One of the points in that paragraph:

      “If your family is sharing one version of WillMaker, we recommend that each person creates a separate WillMaker File, to avoid confusion about whose documents are in what file.”

      Hope that helps ..

      Reply
    • Mary Hunt says:

      When you’re satisfied with your document, print and sign it, following the signing instructions that WillMaker provides for every document. These instructions tell you how to finalize your document and make it legal; for instance, signing your will in front of two witnesses or having a power of attorney notarized.

      Reply
  2. Chris Bynum says:

    Do I need a will & trust? I have an outdated revocable trust that needs changed. Can I use the quicken to change?

    Reply
    • Mary Hunt says:

      Yes, you need a WILL. A Trust is optional (but in many situations, highly useful). I cannot recommend you attempt to use the Quicken Willmaker and Trust 2023 to amend your current Trust. You could however, use it to create a new Trust to supersede.

      Reply
  3. Gin says:

    Can you purchase a hard copy of will maker? I don’t have a computer.Check with your local library. Most have computers for library cardholders to use for no charge. You could quite possibly print the blank forms to get what you need.

    Reply
  4. Ellen Johnson says:

    What needs to be announced from the rooftops is that EVERYONE ALREADY HAS A WILL! It’s just a question of whether you’re going to write it yourself or you’re going to let your STATE Make the decisions for you.

    Reply
  5. Nichol Mattson says:

    I am not that smart and don’t have the money to hire a lawyer. Is this software (Quicken WillMaker & Trust 2023 from Nolo Press,) easy enough that it can walk me through everything?

    Reply
    • Mary Hunt says:

      I believe it is, and that you are smarter than you think.

      Questions are normal and expected when making your will and other estate planning documents.

      Fortunately, WillMaker has answers. As you’re making your documents, you can read on-screen help topics that answer questions related to that screen. If you need to know more, it will be easy to consult the WillMaker Legal Manual, which provides in-depth information about each document.

      You’ll also always have access to WillMaker Support. There you’ll find the answers to commonly asked legal, practical, and technical questions and contact information for Nolo Technical Support.

      Reply

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