Estate Plans, Trusts & Wills For Seniors - What To Consider

“Make a will!” You know you need to do it. But what does an estate plan, trust or will need to cover? Learn the 12 key must-haves to be ready for action.
Wooden blocks spell out the words estate planning

“Get it in writing.” “Make a Will.” “Get an estate plan.”

If you're like most people, the thought of sitting down and planning an estate, will, and trusts for seniors is probably not at the top of your list of fun things to do. But the truth is, it's one of the most important things you can do for yourself and your family. By taking the time to plan ahead, you can help ensure that your final wishes are carried out exactly as you intended and that your loved ones are taken care of after you're gone.

One of the biggest advantages of planning estates, will, and trusts for seniors is that it gives you the opportunity to make all of the important decisions about how you want things to be handled before anything happens. This means that you won't have to leave these decisions up to your loved ones during a time when they're grieving and may not be able to think clearly.

By making these decisions ahead of time, you can help ensure that everything is taken care of exactly as you want it to be.

Another advantage of estate and will planning for seniors is that it can save your family a lot of time and money in the long run. If you don't have a plan in place, your loved ones will likely have to go through the court system in order to settle your estate. This can be a lengthy and expensive process, but if you have everything planned out ahead of time, it can be much simpler and less costly for your family.

Now that you know WHY you need seniors need to plan their estate, will, and trust, let’s take a closer look at HOW you can do it.

Estate, Will, and Trust Tips for Seniors

1. Making a Will

A will is a legal document that outlines your wishes on how to divide your assets after you die. This includes everything from your home and other property to your personal belongings and even your pets. Without a will, state law will dictate how your assets are distributed, which may not be in line with your wishes.

2. Considering A Living Trust

A living trust, also known as a revocable trust, is a legal document that allows you to transfer ownership of your assets to a trust while you are still alive. This can be helpful for managing your finances and property, as well as ensuring that your assets are distributed according to your wishes after your death.

Unlike a will, a living trust does not have to go through probate, which can save both time and money for your loved ones. It also offers more privacy, as the details of the trust do not have to be made public in court proceedings.

Making a living trust can be overwhelming. Luckily, there are a lot of places where you can find legal help for seniors to make the process easier.

3. Making Health Directives

This usually includes a health care declaration, also known as a living will. It also includes assigning power of attorney for health care. This enables someone to make decisions about your medical care in the event that you can’t. In some states, these are combined into one, called an advance health care directive.

4. Assigning a Financial Power of Attorney

This assigns authority to a trusted person, to handle your finances and property if you become incapacitated and unable to handle your own affairs. This is called ‘power of attorney.’ This person is someone you trust and does not have to be an attorney.

By answering a few simple questions, and downloading a free Power of Attorney document, you can create a Power of Attorney in a matter of minutes.

An older couple signs documents

5. Protecting Your Children’s Property

You can assign an adult to manage any property or money your minor children may inherit from you. This can be the same or different from the personal guardian named in your will.

6. Filing Beneficiary Forms

You can name a beneficiary for bank accounts, retirement accounts, and most brokerage accounts. This allows the funds to be released and helps your heirs skip the probate process. The account becomes automatically available, as indicated by, “payable on death.” Talking to your estate planner or attorney may help you decide if this is a good move for you.

7. Evaluating Life Insurance

If you owe significant debts, estate taxes, own a house, or have young children—life insurance may be something to consider. Evaluate your options to decide if this would be useful for your situation.

8. Exploring Estate Taxes & Gifts

If your taxable estate is worth more than $11.58 million, the federal government will impose an estate tax, for deaths in 2020. Approximately 99.9% of Americans won’t owe federal estate taxes. Assets left to a surviving spouse, who is a U.S. citizen, pass free of the estate tax.

Estate taxes also vary from state to state. For example, in Oregon estates worth more than $1 million may owe state estate tax. Property left to a surviving spouse is exempt. The Tax Foundation has a complete listing and charts detailing inheritance tax laws on a state-by-state basis.

In addition, a few states impose a separate tax, inheritance tax, on a deceased person’s property. Six states imposing inheritance tax have included: Iowa, Maryland, New Jersey, Kentucky, Nebraska, and Pennsylvania.

This is a good time to also look at the best ways to give gifts to your heirs. There are many issues regarding gifts, and for large items, there can be significant tax implications. Talking to your estate planner or tax attorney can be a useful way to determine what’s best for your situation.

A senior couple meets a lawyer helping them prepare their will and trust

9. Taking Charge of Funeral Expenses

You can set up a “payable-on-death” account at your bank. This type of account allows you to designate beneficiaries who will receive the funds upon your passing, and they can then use it to cover funeral costs. It offers more flexibility and control than prepayment plans, which often come with hidden costs and may not be reliable in the long term. Plus, you can add or remove beneficiaries at any time, giving you peace of mind that your wishes will be carried out.

10. Clarifying Final Wishes

Estate and will planning for seniors should also include your final choices and wishes. This covers issues such as organ and body donation. It also is a time to clarify your final wishes for what to do with your body, after your death, including burial or cremation. If you have a specific place where you’d like to have a funeral, a burial ceremony, or a place where you’d like to have your ashes scattered—this is the time to express your wishes.

11. Protecting Your Business

As a business owner, it's important to have a succession plan in place for the future. This means identifying who will inherit or take over the business in the event of your retirement or death. If you are the sole owner, you will need to clearly designate my chosen successor and make sure all necessary documents and instructions are in place. If you co-own the business, you will want to establish a buy-out agreement for any future ownership changes. This helps to ensure that our business continues to thrive and provides clarity for all involved parties.

12. Storing Your Documents

Keeping your documents easily accessible, organized, and up-to-date is a huge help for your survivors. Your executor or agent will need to access your will, trust, insurance policies, real estate documents, stock certificates. Additionally, all information on bank accounts, mutual funds, safe deposit boxes, retirement plans, debts, and funeral instructions will need to be easily available.

If you’re ready to make an estate plan, will, and trust, it can be helpful to discuss your options with a lawyer who is used to working with seniors, as well as your accountant or tax advisor.

Assistance Club Summary

The Big Idea: Making an estate plan, will, and trust provides seniors with peace of mind. It helps you know that your wishes are clear and can be easily implemented. With a little planning, your survivors will be able to get the inheritance you’ve worked for—without additional hassle.

If you’ve been putting off making a will, now is a good time to act. Should you need more help on estate and will planning for seniors, be sure to check our other guides on Senior Assistance Club!