FAQ Estate Planning

What is Probate?

Probate is a Court proceeding in which the Court oversees how your assets are distributed after your death and how your final debts are paid. Probate can in some situations be a lengthy and costly procedure and in others an expedited procedure depending on the value of your assets which must be probated. One of the goals of estate planning is to minimize the amount of your assets that need to go through the Probate process and to maximize the amount of assets you can pass to your beneficiaries outside of Probate.

What is a Will?

A Will is a written document with instructions how you want your property to be distributed when you pass away. A Will can also name the guardian for a your minor children. A Will can be a very simple document or, depending on your wishes, complicated. You can use a Will to leave property to individuals outright and also set up trusts which will control how the assets are to be used and distributed (such as trusts for the care and benefit of minor children). A Will must be probated, but the Probate proceeding can be expedited in some situations. If you die without a Will, then the Court in a Probate proceeding will decide which of  your relatives receive your property and you will have no say in who inherits your property.

What is a Living Trust?

A Living Trust is a written document which allows you to leave your property to others after your death without the need for a Probate proceeding. You create the trust, state in it how you want your property to be distributed when you pass away, and act as the trustee. You maintain control over the property in the trust while you are alive and can revoke the trust at any time. When you pass away, your property is distributed without the need of a Probate proceeding. A Living Trust can be rather straightforward or, depending on your unique circumstances, complicated.

What is a Guardian?

A Guardian is the person the Court appoints to care for a minor child when both of the child’s parents are deceased. The Court must act in the best interests of the child in deciding who the Guardian should be. Parents can name who they wish to be the Guardian in their Wills. Many parents, however, are shocked to learn that the judge is not required to appoint the person named in the Will to be the Guardian. This is because the judge must make her or his own assessment of what is in the child’s best interests. In deciding what is in the best interests of the child, the judge will usually honor the parent’s wish and appoint the person named in the Will as the Guardian.

What is a Health Care Directive and Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care?

A Health Care Directive is a legal document which tells your doctors and medical providers what your wishes are for medical treatment and life support if you are unable to communicate with them. A Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care is a legal document in which you give a person legal permission to make medical care decisions for you if you cannot make them for yourself.

What is a Power of Attorney for Finances?

A Power of Attorney for Finances is a legal document in which you grant a person the power to handle your financial affairs on your behalf.  The Power of Attorney is generally created so your financial matters may be handled for you should you become incapacitated and unable to handle them.