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.

That meeting together with nearly $2,500 made us the proud owners of a Family Trust and Estate Plan, which includes the important legal documents that every adult needs.

Recently, a letter from Jenny reminded me that we need to update the documents in our Estate Plan because they may now be out of date.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 decades ago.

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 need a Will plus four other documents as well. I have an online source to recommend to you which will help you do this yourself—a reputable legal help organization you can trust and 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 needs—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.

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 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.

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.

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.

I want to recommend Quicken WillMaker Plus 2019 from Nolo Press, a highly regarded and reputable online legal organization (Nolo Press) specializing in helping ordinary folks like you and me handle our own basic legal needs.


Quicken WillMaker Plus 2019 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.

Bonus: A sixth optional document, Quicken’s Living Trust, is included this year in the WillMaker bundle, a $59.99 value!

Quicken WillMaker Plus 2019 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 $80. Then, in the privacy of your own home, customize the five documents mentioned above—all before tomorrow morning. And 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.

More good news:  Quicken WillMaker Plus 2019 is compatible with both Windows and Mac.

*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 Will maker 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.

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4 replies
  1. Sandra says:

    In some states, including the Commonwealth of Virginia, a handwritten will, called a holographic will, is legal. It must be entirely handwritten, signed, dated but doesn’t need witnesses or be notarized. It’s better than nothing and will stand up in court. Having said that, it’s possible disgruntled folks could still take others to court but the same is true with any other will. I strongly suggest finding an attorney who specializes in Wills and Trust; one who takes accreditation courses annually. Wills and Trusts need to be reviewed every few/3 years for changes to be noted and corrected.
    The first lawyer writing my Will and Trust merely downloaded, filled in the blanks and laughed all the way to the bank. Thank God I eventually found a lawyer who specializes in Wills and Trusts, it’s the only thing he does, and he was able to make needed and necessary corrections in order to make both legal. The first lawyer is one whom probate lawyers LOVE; the second lawyer performed his job in order to protect me.

  2. Kathleen French says:

    Thank you Mary. This is so helpful. My husband has been bugging me to do this for years but I didn’t know what to do and was terrified of the price. I immediately purchased the fabulous deal on the Quicken WlllMaker Plus 2019 and am getting right to work.

    • Spice Weasel says:

      I think it might be the Big Three in Canada: Will, POA for Personal Care and POA for Property. (terms used in Ontario)

      As I understand it, from a totally layperson’s understanding, our tax structure means that a Revocable Trust isn’t as tax effective as it is in the States and therefore not as worthwhile. Your advance directives should be in your Power of Attorney for Personal Care so that your attorney has your directives and the legal right to make decisions on your behalf. In Ontario, the POA for Personal Care kicks in only when you are incompetent, which could be as simple as you’ve been knocked out right up to dementia. As long as you’re competent, you make the decisions. The POA for Property can be structured to only kick in when you’ve been declared incompetent or it can be effective immediately. Here’s the link to POA in Ontario: I’ve also seen suggestions that you should have advance directives for death, e.g., what kind of funeral you want for example. I’m not sure if these are legally binding but would certainly give your Executor some clarity as to your wishes especially when someone is suggesting that the $20,000 casket would show that people really loved you.


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