female hands signing legal documents

The Five Legal Documents Every Adult Needs

It’s been years since my husband and I sat for hours with an attorney who specializes 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.

female hands signing legal documents

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 quite certain we could have avoided a lot of the stress and cut the cost, too.

Even if you’re certain you have all of your important legal documents in order, please make sure about that. Laws change, regulations can 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Recently, a letter from Jenny reminded me that we need to update the documents in our Estate Plan because they may be out of date. For sure they are “out of state,” due to our relocation to Colorado.

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, a 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, 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. What I can tell you is that you can do this yourself and 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 five 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.

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 should 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 who will oversee and protect 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 what is called a “holographic will” if you want to just 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 with respect to 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 are unable to 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 are designating 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.


I want to recommend Quicken WillMaker & Trust 2022 from Nolo Press, a highly regarded and reputable online legal organization specializing in helping ordinary folks like you and me handle our own basic legal needs.

Quicken WillMaker

Quicken WillMaker & Trust 2022 includes dozens of forms including 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.

Bonus: Quicken’s Living Trust, is included with the 2020 WillMaker.

Quicken WillMaker & Trust 2022 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 starting as low as $89—and for a limited time through 9-10-21, get 25% Off when you use Promo Code: LD25**. 

Quicken WillMaker & Trust 2022 will be available at Amazon on Oct. 26, 2021.

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 2022 bundle onto your computer’s hard drive.

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. You can depend on those documents to be properly prepared, completely legal, and simple for those whom you will designate to be in charge of your finances, health, and possessions—when the time comes. The forms can be used multiple times so that other adults in your household can create their legal documents as well.

Quicken WillMaker & Trust 2022 is compatible with Windows 8.1/10 or macOS 10.13 and higher.

*Because of Louisiana’s strict requirements, it is not wise to rely on a generic “Last Will and Testament” form. Failure to get the form exactly right will result in an invalid document or perhaps worse, 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 wish to also create your Durable Power of Attorney and Health Care Directive, see a Louisiana lawyer for help.

**This promo is valid through 9-10-21. 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.

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.

There are affiliate links in this post. If you click through and make a purchase, we may receive a small commission at no additional cost to you. Thanks! Read more here


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7 replies
  1. Nancy says:

    I’m so glad you added that information about Louisiana. My dear father-in-law used forms “as seen on TV, legal in other states” and caused expensive problems when he unexpectedly passed away.

  2. Ellen Johnson says:

    i went to a seminar decades ago about this very topic. what i remember most is the statement that “EVERYONE ALREADY HAS A WILL”. IT’S YOUR DECISION WHETHER YOU WRITE IT YOURSELF OR FOLLOW YOUR STATE’S DECISIONS.

  3. Candy says:

    Mary, I always thought if you have Revocable Trust, you didn’t need a will. Is that true? Thank you for putting this important information out there!


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