A surprising number of people do not think ahead when it comes to their estate planning. Many people believe that because they don’t consider themselves to be wealthy, such planning is unnecessary. However, everyone has an estate, no matter how large or small. In the end, this false belief can cost their loved ones much: both in terms of financial and emotional cost.

At the very least, every person needs the following:

A will or a trust. These documents say where your assets will go upon your death and who has the power and responsibility to finalize your estate. They also can provide for the guardianship of your minor children. Properly written and executed documents can save your estate time and money.

A durable power of attorney. This document allows for someone that you trust to make financial decisions on your behalf if you become incapacitated and cannot make these decisions for yourself. Without a durable power of attorney, a court may appoint a guardian for you to make such decisions in the event of either medical or mental incapacity, at a significant cost to your estate.

A medical power of attorney. This document provides for someone you have chosen to make medical decisions for you in case you are unable to do so for yourself. Without this document, someone you don’t even know or trust can end up making these decisions for you.

The Directive to Physicians. Also known as a living will, this document provides your preferences when you are in either a terminal or irreversible condition. This document can give clear direction regarding your care, saving your loved ones from having to make such tough end-of- life decisions on your behalf.

Lastly, everyone needs to check their beneficiary designations for life insurance, 401(k) accounts and any other accounts that pass directly to beneficiaries. This should be done on an annual basis, as these will override any provision in a will or trust.

An experienced estate planning attorney can lead you through the planning process, and design a plan with your family’s needs in mind. In addition, an attorney will be able to suggest other estate planning options for your unique needs.