WHAT IS ESTATE PLANNING

For the most part, estate planning focuses on how property will be handled after an individual dies. However, planning an estate can also address how property is dealt with during an individual’s lifetime. Attorneys who assist in estate planning can draft and finalize documents pertaining to an individual’s property. There are numerous aspects of planning an estate, such as wills, trusts, and healthcare wishes and proxies. A lawyer can explain in detail the ramifications of each estate planning instrument and provide you with advice on how best to proceed.

The Last Will and Testament

The foundation of many estate plans is the last will and testament. This legal document details how individuals want their property managed, distributed, or inherited after they pass away. The individual who owns the will is called the testator. In most states, testators are required to be at least 18 years of age and of sound mind, at the time they create their will. An estate planning lawyer listens to the testator’s wishes and preferences and drafts a last will and testament according to those instructions.

Trusts

Estate planning attorneys can also create a trust. A trust is an instrument that allows another individual, called the trustee, to hold assets. Those assets are put into the trust by the owner of the trust (the grantor) for a beneficiary or beneficiaries. A trust is sometimes used alone or in conjunction with a will. The trust document dictates when disbursements should be made to each of the beneficiaries. Some states allow for a testamentary trust, which only goes into effect upon the testator’s death. However, living trusts can be created, as well. These provide periodic distributions or distributions at pre-appointed times, such as when a beneficiary reaches a specific age or graduates from university.

Power of Attorney

A power of attorney (POA) allows an individual, the agent, to act for another individual, the principal. This legal document allows the agent to handle the legal and financial affairs of the principal. It can be broad in scope or can provide for only very specific powers.

Healthcare Documents

A number of wills and estates documents concern to medical information and directives. A POA for healthcare or health care proxy allows an individual to appoint another person to make necessary healthcare decisions for them, if and when the principal is not able to make the decisions for themselves. This document details the scope of the POA’s power. A living will is a legal document that can supplement the POA document. It allows the principal to instruct which (if any) life-sustaining treatments they should receive if they are unconscious or incapacitated. 

Find Help from an Experienced Attorney 

An attorney with a focus on estate planning law can address your unique legal needs, explain the law, and advocate for you in court. Contact a lawyer with estate planning knowledge and experience to discuss your specific legal matters.
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