A will is the legal instrument that permits a person, the testator, to make decisions on how his estate will be managed and distributed after his death. At Common Law, an instrument disposing of Personal Property was called a “testament,” whereas a will disposed of real property. Over time the distinction has disappeared so that a will, sometimes called a “last will and testament,” disposes of both real and personal property.
Powers of Attorney
A power of attorney is an instrument containing an authorization for one to act as the agent of the principal that terminates at some point in the future either by its terms or by operation of law such as death of the principal or agent. They are also called letters of attorney. The person appointed is usually called an Attorney-in-Fact. A power of attorney which doesn’t provide for a successor attorney-in-fact to be appointed will terminate at the death of the attorney-in-fact. The person making the power of attorney appointment is called the principal. A power of attorney can be either general, durable or limited. Some states have adopted a statutory power of attorney. Other specific types of power of attorneys include: Health Care Power of Attorney, Power of Attorney for Care and Custody of Children, Power of Attorney for Real Estate matters and Power of Attorney for the Sale of a Motor Vehicle. Power of attorney requirements vary by state, but typically are signed by the principal and need to be witnessed and notarized.
Health Care Powers of Attorney
A durable power of attorney for health care is a power of attorney where the principal appoints an agent to make health care decisions for the principal and it remains effective even after the incompetence of the principal. It is often used as a form of advance health care directive. Compare this to a living will where the person states his or her wishes in case of medical treatment.
Living Wills (Declaration of Physicians)
A Living Will is a document that allows a person to explain in writing which medical treatment he or she does or does not want during a terminal illness. A terminal illness is a fatal illness that leads ultimately to death. A Living Will takes effect only when the patient is incapacitated and can no longer express his or her wishes. The will states which medical treatments may be used and which may not be used to die naturally and without the patient’s life being artificially prolonged by various medical procedures. Although the term Living Will may indicate that it is a Will, in reality, it is more similar to a Power of Attorney than a Will. Therefore, don’t be confused by the title of the document. The purpose of a living will is to allow you to make decisions about life support and direct others to implement your desires in that regard.
A Trust is an entity which owns assets for the benefit of a third person (beneficiary). A Living Trust is an effective way to provide lifetime and after-death property management and estate planning. When you set up a Living Trust, you are the Grantor; anyone you name within the Trust who will benefit from the assets in the Trust is a beneficiary. In addition to being the Grantor, you can also serve as your own Trustee (Original Trustee). As the Original Trustee, you can transfer legal ownership of your property to the Trust. This can save your estate from estate taxes when you die. Just remember that it does not alleviate your current income tax obligations.