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By Lane V. Erickson, Idaho Estate Planning Attorney

It happened again this weekend.  I attended a block party for the members of our Home Owner’s Association and met several new people that had recently moved into our neighborhood. Inevitably, after introductions were done “the” question was asked: “What do you do for a living?” I answered that I am an attorney.  “What kind of law do you practice?” My basic answer is almost always the same: “I have the best job in the world. I get to help people do their estate planning.”

Once I have opened that door the discussion usually goes one of two directions.  First, the other person usually says that they need to get their estate planning done and that they have been thinking about it for years.  Second, the other person will tell me a story about what happened in their family or with a close friend who did not have their estate planning done. It is usually a vivid description of the all out war that followed the death of their loved one.

Sometimes the person will ask me questions about the types of estate planning documents that should get. This is my favorite question because it gives me an opportunity to describe for them the basic estate planning documents that everybody needs as part of their estate plan. So the purpose of today’s blog, is to go back to the basics and talked about the documents that exist in a basic estate plan.

Contrary to popular belief, the last will and testament is not the most important document in your estate plan. We will talk about that document later in this blog but I first like to start by discussing the documents that are the most important ones for every person to have. These are the durable power of attorney, and the power of attorney for health care. The reason these documents are the most important is because they are used to provide protection for the individual while they are alive. For this reason, these documents could be applicable during many years of a person’s life.

The durable power of attorney, which is also known as the global power of attorney, is the document that gives authority to another individual to help you with all of your property and finances. This includes bank accounts, Social Security, other governmental benefits, annuities, life insurance, retirement monies, and so forth. Essentially, this person gets to step into your shoes and help you do everything that you would normally do for yourself.

The power of attorney for health care is similar. However this power is much more narrow in scope. It is designed to give another person authority to make medical and healthcare decisions for you if you lose the ability to make these decisions for yourself. This would include deciding what doctors to visit, what medicines to take, and what medical procedures you might need to receive.

The next most important document for you as your living will. In some jurisdictions this is known as a healthcare directive. Regardless of what it is called, the purpose of this document is to give you the ability to provide specific instructions to your doctors if you were in a situation where you ended up on life support and could not communicate with your doctors about what you would like them to do or not to do. In other words, you have the ability to make the decisions for yourself about whether you are or are not going to be kept on life support. But having a living will, you get to keep the decision-making authority for yourself, rather than placing it on the shoulders of your family members.

This brings us to the document that most people are familiar with, which is the last will and testament. This document only becomes effective after you die. Again, this is not to say that this document is not important, but it really has no impact on you individually while you are alive. Rather, its sole purpose is to give you the ability to decide who to give your money, property, and assets to after you have passed away.

Other basic documents might include some sort of trust, your letter of instructions, as well as a document that compiles all of your important information such as bank account information, information about digital assets such as social media, online banking, and other financial matters.

Usually at the end of the conversation I have with individuals such as the community party I described above, I talk about the fact that everybody needs at least the basic estate planning documents. I especially emphasized the fact that you do not need to be rich, or own a lot of property, to benefit from estate planning.

So there you have it. If you do not yet have your own estate planning done you should seriously consider getting it completed. I have helped numerous clients in the drafting and completing their own estate plans, and I’m confident that I can help you too.


If you have any questions about your estate or how to simplify your plans for your family and loved ones, we can help.  Call us toll free at 877-232-6101 or 208-232-6101 for a consultation with Lane Erickson and the Racine Olson team of Estate Planning attorneys in Idaho. You can also email Lane Erickson directly at We will answer your questions and will help you solve your Idaho Estate Planning problems. I have helped numerous clients create their own customized estate plans and I’m confident that I can help you too.

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