Wills: The purpose of a will is to provide directions for the distribution and transfer of your assets upon after your death. If you have minor children, your will also provides you with the opportunity to nominate a guardian(s) for your children after your death. If you have not nominated a guardian for your children or provided directions for the transfer of your assets after your death, a court will determine who will serve as your children's guardian and your assets will be distributed to your heirs in accordance to state law.
Whether your will is relatively simple or somewhat complex will be dependant upon the composition of your family, the special needs of one or more heirs of your estate, the relative size of your estate at the time of your death and the applicability of the federal and state estate tax laws. Upon your death, the directions you leave in your will be implemented under court supervision in the probate process.
Revocable Trusts: As an alternative to a will, you could consider the use of a revocable trust. You achieve the same results for the transfer of your assets as you would if you used a will provided that your revocable trust is properly prepared, funded, and maintained during your lifetime. If the revocable trust is to be an effective estate-planning tool, typically you will transfer title of your assets from you individually to yourself as trustee of your trust. If you find that you would like to revoke the trust at some point in the future, the trust document permits you to dissolve the trust without any formal action other than title transfer.
It is critical that title to your assets remain in your name as trustee throughout your lifetime. Upon your death, your successor trustee will distribute your assets in accordance with the directions you provided in the trust document. If you have transferred all of your assets to the trust, there is generally no need for a probate proceeding after your death. If you fail to maintain title to your assets in your name as trustee of your trust, it is possible that a probate proceeding will be necessary to transfer title to the assets not held in trust.
Durable Powers of Attorney: You may find that as part of your estate plan you would like to prepare for a possible physical or mental impairment that limits or eliminates your ability to address your financial affairs in a timely fashion. A durable power of attorney provides another person with legal authority to act on your behalf in your financial affairs during your lifetime.
Powers of Attorney for Health Care Decisions: If you are injured or otherwise unable to make informed decisions concerning your medical treatment, a power of attorney for health care decisions will provide another person with legal authority to makes health care decisions on your behalf.
Directives to Physicians: In the event that you suffer from an incurable injury, disease, illness, or permanent unconscious condition where death is imminent or medical procedures will only serve to artificially prolong your life, a directive to your physicians provides you with an opportunity to limit or refuse medical or surgical procedures. Your directive to physicians also offers you an opportunity to specify the quality of life you prefer in the event of incurable injury, disease, illness, or permanent unconscious condition.
Special Needs Trusts: On occasion you may find it necessary to provide for the long-term needs of your spouse, a child, a parent, or another who has special needs. In these circumstances, an irrevocable special needs trust can be prepared and funded for the benefit of the individual.