General Estate Planning:
Everyone should have the 3 “basic” document: Wills (for those with minor children, especially important to name guardians for minor child/children), along with the 2 “lifetime documents” - a Power of Attorney (naming someone for lifetime general/financial decisions), and a Health Care Proxy (naming for lifetime medical decisions if you’re unable to make them yourself).
Please note that the Will only passes assets in your name alone. Anything owned jointly or naming a beneficiary would pass directly to those people without passing through your Will. Therefore, it is important to check (and possibly change) beneficiary designations on assets such as life insurance, IRA’s, etc.
In addition to the 3 basic documents, you might consider 1 or more Trusts depending on your particular situation:
A single trust would allow you to provide for your children to receive their inheritance at more mature ages (i.e. later than 18), and name a trustee who can use or distribute for their needs prior to the ages of outright distribution. A single Trust can also be used to avoid the 1+ year probate process at death, by re-titling assets (real estate, financial accounts) into the Trust while you're living (no loss of control and everything stays under your SS#).
2 Revocable Trusts would allow a married couple with an estate over $1 million to reduce the MA estate tax that would be due at the 2nd spouse’s death by $80k - $160k. These Trusts would also give you what the single Trust does, in providing for later ages of distribution to your child/children and/or avoiding probate.
ILIT (“Irrevocable Life Insurance Trust") would eliminate estate taxes on the entire value of the life insurance, saving additional MA estate taxes (can be used for non-married individuals as well, to save estate taxes at death).
The Homestead gives you up to $500,000 ($1 million for married couples who are both over age 62) of creditor protection on your principal residence.
Documents for adult children:
If you have children over 18, and not yet in their own families, each should have a Power of Attorney and Health Care Proxy, naming the parent(s) as their “agents” to be able to make medical and financial type decisions for them if they are unable to do so. This is important because once they turned 18, you, the parent(s) no longer have the authority to act for them or access their information. Here is a link to a good article on this topic. http://www.forbes.com/sites/deborahljacobs/2014/08/15/two-documents-every-18-year-old-should-sign/