Developing an estate plan is important for adults of all ages. For younger adults, an effective estate plan can often be accomplished with a simple Last Will & Testament. For married couples or single individuals that have minor children, more extensive planning is necessary to insure the assets are protected until the minor children reach a specific age. Estate planning for retired individuals can range from a simple Will to an advanced Revocable Trust. After creating your estate plan, it is important to periodically review and, if necessary, update your documents. Having a knowledgeable estate planning attorney representing you is critical as to how your affairs are handled long term while you are living and after you are gone.
A Last Will & Testament is a valuable and flexible legal document that allows you to preserve your wishes regarding the distribution of your assets after your death. A Last Will & Testament also allows you to designate who you want to handle your affairs after you die. This designated person is known as the personal representative. If you have minor children, a Last Will & Testament allows you to designate who you want to be the legal guardian of your children. Even for small estates, having a simple will can take all the guess work out of the process and it prevents unnecessary frustration and angst on behalf of your surviving family members. All states have strict requirements as to who can execute a Last Will & Testament.
A Revocable Living Trust is another valuable estate planning tool which holds legal title to property that is transferred into the name of the trust. The individual that creates a revocable living trust is often referred to as the “Grantor” and is typically the initial “Trustee” as well. As the Grantor/Trustee, an individual has complete control over the assets in the trust while still living and competent. In the event of incapacity of the Grantor/Trustee, the trust provides a mechanism for an alternate trustee to step in and take over the management of your assets, thus avoiding the need for a guardianship. Similar to a Last Will & Testament, a revocable living trust will include specific instructions as to the distribution of the assets held by the trust in the event the Grantor/Trustee passes. Upon his or her passing, the trust becomes irrevocable and a named alternate trustee will step in to manage and distribute the trust assets according to the provisions of the trust. One of the main benefits of having a revocable living trust is that, if properly established and funded, your assets will pass to your loved ones without the expense and time delays often involved in probate proceedings.
A “Pour-Over” Will serves as a safety net for your Revocable Living Trust. If some of your assets are not properly titled in the name of your trust, these assets will have to be administered through the probate proceeding just like any other case. However, a “Pour Over” Will designates your Revocable Living Trust as the beneficiary of the Will. Thus, the assets pass through the Will and are “poured” back in to your trust. The “Pour-Over Will” insures that your wishes and desires spelled out in your Revocable Living Trust still control the disposition of your assets.
A Separate Writing is a flexible and efficient legal document that allows you to transfer your personal property by attaching a written statement to your Last Will & Testament. The written statement merely designates where or to whom you want specific items of personal property to pass too. Examples of personal property include a car, furniture, jewelry, paintings, antiques, and heirlooms. This document can be amended as often as you want without the necessity of changing your entire Last Will & Testament.
A Codicil is short legal document that is used to make simple changes or amendments to a Last Will & Testament. For example, if all you need to change is the name of the designated personal representative, a codicil would be the best option. A codicil must be signed in accordance with the same requirements of a Last Will & Testament.
A Power of Attorney is a legal document that grants another person the legal authority to act on your behalf. The person granting the power is the “principal” and the person to whom the power is given is known as the “attorney-in-fact” or “agent”. There are three types of powers of attorneys, a standard Power of Attorney, a Durable Power of Attorney and a Springing Power of Attorney. The most common is the Durable Power of Attorney, which continues to be in effect if the principal becomes incapacitated. A power of attorney is an effective way of allowing another individual manage your financial affairs and it can also help avoid a guardianship. However, caution must always be taken before signing a power of attorney as the principal is giving broad powers to the agent.
A Health Care Surrogate is a person that can make medical decisions for you in the event you have become incapacitated and are unable to make your own decisions. The term Health Care Surrogate is also commonly referred to as a Health Care Power of Attorney or Medical Power of Attorney. It is an important legal document that can ease the decision making process for loved ones during what is sure to be a very stressful time.
A Living Will is a witnessed written declaration stating your wishes regarding the use of any life-prolonging medical treatment. It is also referred to as a Health Care Directive or Advance Directive. It is important to have a living will as it informs your health care providers and your family about your desires for life-prolonging medical treatment in the event you are not able to speak for yourself. It is an important legal document that can ease the decision making process for loved ones during what is sure to be a very stressful time.