6 Essential Estate Planning Documents

December 16, 2020
father and daughter on porch swing with coffee cups

Figuring out what would happen to your loved ones if something happened to you may seem stressful and time-consuming. But if you want a say in who gets what — and most importantly who cares for your kids (or your pets) — then you need an estate plan.

You may think you don’t need one because you don’t have a big enough “estate” or because you’re too young, but the fact is that most people should have an estate plan. That doesn’t mean it has to be complicated, though.

We’re here to simplify the topic and provide you with a checklist to help get this very important item crossed off of your to-do list.

What is an estate plan?

An estate plan is an umbrella term that covers many different documents, all designed to:

  • Distribute your assets and property after you’re gone
  • Make your wishes known
  • Facilitate your care in your later years

What’s included in an estate plan?

This estate planning document checklist outlines what you should consider having in your plan:

  1. Will (last will and testament)  — This is where you clearly define who you want to care for your kids and pets, as well as what you’d like to have happen to your personal property (e.g., cars, jewelry, collectibles or photos)
  2. Life insurance — Pays money to the people you designate when you pass away
  3. Medical POA (power of attorney), aka health care proxy — Designates the person you’d like to make health care decisions for you if you are temporarily unable to make them yourself (e.g., severely injured and unconscious)
  4. Financial POA — Names the person you want to make financial transactions and decisions for you if you can’t do it yourself
  5. Living will — Defines your wishes for end-of-life treatment if you’re terminally ill, such as whether (and if so, when) you’d like to be removed from life support
  6. Beneficiary designations — Determine how money in accounts that you own (e.g., brokerage or retirement accounts) will be transferred

Why you should have a will in your estate plan

A key component in any estate plan is the will.

While the beneficiaries you name on insurance policies and financial accounts will determine who gets most of your assets, only a will can define who will care for your children and/or pets and who gets your other physical assets.

If you don’t create a will, the state you live in has created one for you. Most of what you own will be transferred according to state law, regardless of what you want.

Luckily, there are services available online that can make creating a will fast and easy. And our personal info organizer is a great tool to help you gather what you’ll need to get started.

Get your will done for free

Nationwide® has partnered with FreeWill to offer you a fast, easy way to get a will that’s 100% free and 100% legal.


  • Estate Planning