We begin with an overview of terms that you may hear during your meeting with an estate planning attorney in order to provide you with comfort in the process.
A will is a revocable written instrument that is effective only upon a person’s death. It provides the means for a person to dispose of his or her property or (just as importantly) state how such property should not be disposed of, appoints an executor or personal representative to handle his or her estate and guardians for his or her minor children, and even allows a person to set forth his or her funeral arrangements. When a person dies with a will, he or she is said to have died testate. When a person dies without a will, he or she is said to have died intestate. In each jurisdiction of the United States, there are particular formalities for the signing of a will that, if not met, may render a person’s will unenforceable. Thus, it is important that you work with an estate planning attorney familiar with the laws of the jurisdiction where you live. The DG©M intends to provide contact information on its website to help you reach a proper estate planning attorney for each jurisdiction.
A trust is a written agreement or instrument, which creates a fiduciary relationship concerning particular property where one party to the agreement, who is known as the trustee, holds legal title to the property for the benefit of another party, who is known as the beneficiary. The person who creates the trust is called a settlor, grantor, trustor, or donor (depending upon the particular jurisdiction). A trust may be revocable or irrevocable with each having different legal and tax consequences. A trust that a grantor creates during his or her lifetime is called an inter vivos trust. A trust that a grantor includes under his or her will is called a testamentary trust. While, generally speaking, trust agreements will ‘look the same’ from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, every state has its own ‘trust law’ and many states have adopted the Uniform Trust Code. Your estate planning attorney will be able to explain the specifics of your jurisdiction.
Power of Attorney
A power of attorney is a written document by which a person called a principal designates another person to act as his or her agent for a range of matters, including real estate transactions, banking matters, business operations, insurance, litigation, taxes, and retirement benefits, and, of course, your rights and works as an artist. A power of attorney may be durable in the event of your incapacity. It may come into effect immediately or may be springing, in that it only comes into effect because of your incapacity.
Estate Planning Tools
In addition to the foregoing documents, each of which can include provisions to ensure your legacy is protected by the DG©M, there are other estate planning tools, which are just as important to you in ensuring that you control the roadmap of your personal life, such as health care proxies, living wills and designation of an agent to handle your funeral arrangements. A health care proxy is a written document by which a person called a principal designates another person to act as his or her agent to make health care decisions, when the person is incapacitated. A living will is a written document by which a person sets forth his or her desires about being kept alive by artificial means or extraordinary measures. Lastly, many jurisdictions now allow a person to execute a separate written document designating an agent to handle funeral arrangements and the disposition of remains. You should converse with your estate planning attorney about these documents, as well.
The foregoing estate planning documents allow you to define what you wish to happen in the event of your death or incapacity, rather than allowing the state or others to define everything for you.