Types of Estate Planning Documents

By: Greg Artim

You may have heard some of the terms, Last Will and Testament, Living Will, Power of Attorney, but are not exactly sure what they are or whether you need them. From an Estate Planning perspective, these documents are essential to ensure that your assets are distributed properly and your legal interests are protected.

A Last Will and Testament is a document that sets forth the distribution of your assets at the time of your passing. A common misnomer that people have about Wills is that you have to divulge all of your bank accounts and financial information to the Attorney who is drafting the Will. This is simply not true. Usually, the Testator (the person with the Will) just sets forth the names of the heirs and how much of his/her estate each heir will receive, i.e. 50% to my son, Joe, and 50% to my daughter, Jill. Typically, only special assets are specifically named in the Will, i.e. my 5 carat diamond ring to my friend, Lucy, or my home in Palm Springs to my friend, Jack.

After that, a simple Will requires only a few other things.

You must name an Executor of your Will. The Executor is the person who will handle the Estate affairs after your passing. He/She will open an Estate, determine all of the your assets and liabilities, and make distribution of those assets as per the guidelines set forth in your Will. You will also have to name a Trustee if you plan on leaving any assets to a minor. There are a few other minor legal requirements that your local attorney can assist you with in drafting your Last Will and Testament.

A Living Will is a document that sets forth your wishes as to certain types of medical treatment in the event that you suffer a permanent disability that renders you incapacitated with no hope of recovery. The instance that we are talking about here is the person in a coma or permanent vegetative state. In order for a Living Will to take effect in Pennsylvania, two physicians must certify that you have no real hope of recovery. At that point, your Surrogate (this person is named in the Living Will) will meet with your physician and advise him as to your wishes regarding treatment.

A Power of Attorney is another important document. I usually recommend the General Durable Power of Attorney. This document gives your Agent the ability to act on your behalf in almost any type of situation that you could think of. The Agent has the ability to sign checks, transfer real estate, make medical decisions and much more. As you can see, this document is VERY powerful, and as such, the authority bestowed with it should only be granted to an individual that you trust beyond reproach. This document becomes important in the instance where you can no longer act for yourself, or have difficulty doing so. However, you should be advised that this document takes effect immediately upon signing. Most of my clients are under the impression that this document only takes effect if they become incapacitated. That simply is not true. Again, at least in PennsylvaniaFeature Articles, this document gives your Agent the ability to act on your behalf immediately.

Estate Planning
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