According to a 2020 study1 by Caring.com, the number of people with a
will in the U.S. has decreased 24% since 2017. While you might think
that you don't need a will for various reasons, a will is just one of the
important estate planning documents you should consider creating to
protect yourself, your family, and your wishes.
The four documents below will help you easily shore-up any gaps in your
Durable Power of Attorney
A durable power of attorney lets you designate a person to make
decisions in your place. If you become unable to make your own
financial decisions, your loved ones might find that they lack the legal
ability to access your finances on your behalf.
You can have a medical power of attorney that specifically addresses
healthcare decisions and medical directives. Each state has its own
requirements for medical powers of attorney and advance medical
You should be aware that most powers of attorney are effective
immediately upon execution and can be used by your chosen attorneyin-fact unless you specifically provide that the power of attorney only
becomes effective at the time you become incapacitated and unable to
make decisions for yourself.
Advance Medical Directive
Advance medical directives state your instructions for how your medical
care should be handled when you're no longer capable of making those
decisions and make clear who can make medical decisions on your
behalf. You can designate whether you want your life to be prolonged by
artificial means, pain medication administered, and if you want to
donate your organs. While you're under medical care, if you do not wish
to be resuscitated, this is called a Do Not Resuscitate or DNR order.2
Each state has its own requirements for advance medical directives. The
AARP website has free, state-specific forms3 you can download and
While the documents above give instructions about what's to be done
while you're alive, a will handles how you want your assets to be
handled after you die. You may think you don't have enough assets to
worry about making a will. However, anyone with minor children
(regardless of their assets) should consider making a will, since you can
use a will to specify who will care for your children in the event of your
When you create a will, you'll name an executor who will be legally in
charge of distributing your assets according to the terms of the will
during the probate process. You can also include a "letter of instruction"
with your will, which state your preferences for things like your funeral
or other specifics about your estate. A letter of instruction isn't legally
binding, but it can help your executor and family know your intentions
and wishes beyond how your assets will be distributed.
Wills must be probated by the appropriate court (depending on where
you live). Your property will be distributed according to the provisions of
your will and any applicable probate laws.
A revocable trust, sometimes called a grantor trust or living trust, is an
alternative to having your assets distributed at death. The trust is
created while you're still living and it's called a "revocable" trust because you're able to revoke and amend it during your lifetime.
When you create a revocable trust, you transfer ownership of the assets
to your trust so that the trust is the owner and when you die the trust
controls the ownership of the assets and not your will or your state's
rules of descent and distribution. The trustee manages the assets,
including distribution of income and principal during your life and
handles distribution of assets to the beneficiaries named in the trust
after your death. You can be the trustee of your revocable trust while
you are alive and nominate successors who may take over if you
become unable to serve as trustee and to serve after your death. A
revocable trust also serves to hold down probate expenses and offers
privacy because the trust is not probated and therefore not part of the
A consultation with an estate planning professional can help you decide
if your estate would be better served by a will or living trust. Call us at 1-
888-SYNOVUS (1-888-796-6887) to connect with a trust expert who can
assist you in navigating this important life stage.
Important disclosure information
This content is general in nature and does not constitute legal, tax, accounting, financial or investment advice. You are encouraged to consult with competent legal, tax, accounting, financial or investment professionals based on your specific circumstances. We do not make any warranties as to accuracy or completeness of this information, do not endorse any third-party companies, products, or services described here, and take no liability for your use of this information.
Caring.com, "2020 Estate Planning and Wills Survey,"
accessed August 17, 2020.
FamilyDoctor.org, "Advance Directives and Do Not Resuscitate
Orders," https://familydoctor.org/advance-directives-and-do-notresuscitate-orders/, accessed August 18, 2020.
AARP, "Advance Directive Forms,"
advance-directives/, accessed August 17, 2020.
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