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The Five Legal Documents Every Adult Must Have

It’s been at least 30 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.

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That meeting together with nearly $2,500 made us the proud owners of a Family Trust and Estate Plan, which includes the five important legal documents that every adult must have—absolutely!

Even if you’re certain you have these documents all in order, please take a little time to 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Recently, a letter from Jenny reminded me that we need to update the documents in our Estate Plan because they may be out of date.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.

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 value highly. My quick answer is that absolutely you and your husband need individual Wills plus four other legal documents as well. 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 on a moment’s notice.

1. Living Will

Also called an Advanced 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.

2. Healthcare Power of Attorney

If you are unable to make medical decisions yourself, you need to name someone else 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.

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3. Durable Power of Attorney

This is the document where 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. Simple things you might not think of but could become very problematic if you are unable to communicate, things like picking up your mail, filing your income tax return, moving money from one account to another, filing for Medicaid, Medicare or Social Security; or any number of other issues pertaining to your finances.

4. Will

If you have minor children your Will is where you name guardians for those children. Your Will also names your executor—the person who will oversee and protect your interests if your estate needs to go to probate. Your Will handles the assets you hold in your name alone and names an executor—the person who will handle the assets in your estate, 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.

5. Revocable Trust

This is the document that avoids the probate court process when someone becomes incapacitated or dies. This document does other things as well, but that is the most important.


I want to recommend Quicken WillMaker & Trust 2020 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.

computer program

Quicken WillMaker & Trust 2020 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, and lots more.

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

Quicken WillMaker & Trust 2020 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 for $89.99—and for a limited time, get 30% Off when you use Promo Code: NOLO20 **. 

Quicken WillMaker & Trust 2020 also available on Amazon.

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 2020 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.

More good news: Quicken WillMaker & Trust 2020 is compatible with Windows or Mac (OS X 10.12 or later).

*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 4-26-2020. 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. Nolo Press products are covered by its No Hassle return policy

Updated 4-1-20 to add OS X 10.12 or later required for Mac. Also available at Amazon.




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9 replies
  1. Dick Ivey says:

    I’d add this to the list: Plan your funeral and memorial service in advance. Consider finding a ‘willed body’ program or a cremation service. Write letters or do videos to your loved ones with blessings and anecdotal stories.

    When doing the other documents answer this question: “who do you want to speak for you if you cannot speak for yourself?” A great resource is Stan Craig’s book, ForeTalk: The 7 Critical Conversations for Living in the Season of Now

  2. Laura Terry says:

    Thanks for all the helpful advice and money-saving tips through the years. You have been my go to source and so appreciated. Always look forward to seeing your link in my inbox. And I have shared your advice to friends and family.

    May God continue blessing your ministry and keep your family safe during these trying times.

  3. Betty Thomas says:

    This is so important and timely. Do not wait until your family is in a dire situation and then have to scramble to get things done. We lived that and it is so stressful at a time when you are usually grieving someone. My father in law passed away after a battle with cancer which left my mother in law to make hard decisions during her grief after 60+ years of marriage. Of course we helped her and that included making a move to a smaller, easier for her to care for, home. Soon after she began to live on her own we started to notice some problems with her memory. By the time we realized we were losing her to dementia it was a rush to get her wishes in writing and all the proper documents in place. Please, do this ahead of time for you, and the ones that you will be in charge of in case they can’t care for those decisions for themselves.

  4. Faith says:

    This is awesome! Thank you for the heads up on this software. I will be purchasing for sure. Hubby and I have been discussing this very thing since my mom passed in Dec. As always Mary, thanks for all your great advice!

  5. Sandra says:

    If one decides to write a Revocable Trust, it should be noted the will should have a “Pour Over Clause” wherein all assets pour over into the trust. Then, as much as possible, all assets should be assigned ownership to the Revocable Trust. One final note: if a lawyer is hired, it’s a horrible mistake to use a one that’s a general lawyer. Find one who specializes in Wills and Trust and who takes certification classes annually to stay updated.

    • Mary Hunt says:

      Dear Readers: Sandra’s information has not been verified. Please make sure you independently verify any and all legal advice with your own legal professional. The Nolo Quicken WillMaker & Trust has been prepared, vetted and verified to be sound. All of that information plus details on what a Revocable Trust is, and the circumstances under which you may need that comes in the WillMaker Kit, along with resources for where and how to find affordable legal help near you.

      • Sandra says:

        Perhaps I should have added…this is exactly what my lawyer (specializing only in wills and trusts with annual certification) wrote for me. I used WillMaker and Trust but my estate is complicated so I sought the advice of a professional.

  6. Rhonda Hairston says:

    If you are a member of a Credit Union check to see if they offer estate planning services. North Carolina State Employees’ Credit Union offers very affordable Estate Planning services to members using area lawyers. Other credit unions may do likewise at a huge savings as well. It pays to explore this option!


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