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Understanding common estate documents

When dealing with the administration of an estate, you need to understand some basics about the various types of estate documents. Even if you aren't formally administering an estate, if you are a potential heir, it can help to know what types of documents might be in play.

Perhaps the first document that comes to mind with regard to an estate is the will. There are actually a number of will types; the type of will involved in an estate depends on what the person was trying to accomplish, the legal requirements in his or her location at the time the will was created and the person's personal and financial situation. Often, a will spells out some of the decedent's wishes for asset distribution. Wills can also provide instructions for someone's funeral and burial arrangements and end-of-life care.

Trusts are another common estate vehicle. Trusts help protect assets from creditors and taxes as they are passed from the estate to a person, business or charity. Trusts can also be used to distribute assets to heirs in a controlled manner -- they often come into play when someone is leaving a sizable sum to minors, for example.

Estates might also include documents such as powers of attorney, living wills and advance medical directives. When administering an estate, it can help to work with a professional who can research and assist with locating all possible documents related to the decedent and his or her assets. In some cases, you might be able to work with the legal professional who prepared the documents, which can streamline this process even more.

Source: Bankrate, "Estate Planning for Everyone," Cheryl Allebrand, accessed Nov. 18, 2015

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