What Documents Are in a Georgia Estate Plan?

Estate planning documents organized with tabs for Will Power of Attorney and Trust

An estate plan is as unique as the individual who creates it, because the plan reflects the person’s personal and financial circumstances. Even so, certain specific legal documents belong in every Georgia estate plan. Your estate planning lawyer tailors those documents to your situation to ensure that they accomplish your goals and address your needs. But the overall goal of each essential document is the same for every estate plan.

Last Will and Testament

A last will and testament — commonly called a will — is part of virtually every estate plan. Your will accomplishes a number of important goals, including designation of the executor of your estate, who administers and distributes your estate after you pass away. Choosing a suitable executor is extremely important.

Your will also may make distributions of estate property (money and other property held solely in your name) to beneficiaries of your choosing. Gifts of property in a will may have substantial value, or they may be treasured items with primarily sentimental value that you wish to give to special loved ones. No matter what the nature or value of the property, a gift made in a will transfers entirely and directly to the named beneficiary after the will is probated.

If you die without a will, the State of Georgia decides who administers and distributes your estate and who receives your property under the laws of intestate succession. A judge applies the laws and makes those decisions, which may be completely inconsistent with your wishes. Documenting your own wishes and decisions for your estate — instead of giving a court that authority — is an extremely important reason why a last will and testament is an essential part of every estate plan.

Durable Power of Attorney

In addition to distributing your property after you pass away, your estate plan also protects you during your lifetime. It accomplishes that goal through documents that designate specific individuals to make decisions on your behalf in the event you become incapacitated temporarily or permanently.

A critical document that belongs in every estate plan is a durable power of attorney for financial matters, sometimes referred to simply as a POA. In your POA, you designate a trusted person to manage your finances if you become incapacitated. The designation ensures that your agent will be able to pay your bills, manage your bank accounts, make repairs to your home, hire people to assist you, and perform other essential financial tasks, if you become unable to perform those tasks yourself.

If you do not have a durable power of attorney in your estate plan, no one can take care of your finances if you suffer from a sudden accident or illness that prohibits you from tending to your finances yourself. Your loved ones will have to go to court to ask for appointment of a conservator, which can cause unnecessary delays and expenses and other issues in getting you the help you need.

Powers of attorney are governed by Georgia laws. To make certain your POA complies with all current requirements, you should get help from a lawyer when you add a POA to your estate plan.

Advance Directive

An advance directive for health care is similar to a durable POA for financial matters, except that your advance directive designates a person to make personal and medical decisions (including end-of-life decisions) for you if you become incapacitated and cannot make and communicate those decisions yourself. Like a POA, your advance directive must meet specific requirements in Georgia law. Getting help from your estate planning attorney ensures that your advance directive conforms to state law and accomplishes everything you want it to accomplish.


A trust is a legal document that is part of some estate plans. But not every estate plan benefits from a trust. The only way to determine whether your estate plan should include a trust is to set up your estate plan with help from an experienced estate planning lawyer. You should never attempt to set up a trust without help from a knowledgeable attorney. In fact, trying to establish any part of an estate plan without a lawyer creates substantial risks.

Like a will, a trust can be used to distribute property after you pass away. However, wills and trusts accomplish property distribution in very different ways. With a trust, you can control how property is distributed to beneficiaries, even after you pass away. In contrast, distributions made in a will transfer outright during the probate process, so there is no way to control the distribution and protect the assets for your beneficiaries.

Trusts can be used to accomplish many specific estate planning goals as well, such as avoiding probate. To learn more about trusts and benefits they can provide, please refer to our separate article, What Is the Role of a Trust in an Estate Plan?

Talk With an Experienced Georgia Estate Planning Attorney

Our Cartersville estate planning practice at Asset Protection & Elder Law of Georgia focuses on helping clients determine their estate planning goals and using the best approach to address all their concerns relating to their assets, families, and estates. We assist clients with all important estate planning documents, including wills, trusts, durable powers of attorney, and advance directives for health care.

We serve clients throughout the communities northwest of Atlanta, including in Bartow County, Cobb County, Cherokee County, Gordon County, Floyd County, and Paulding County. To schedule a consultation, call us at (770) 382-0984 or contact us through our online form.

Categories: Estate Planning