The Purpose of Probate and Estate Planning
Probate and estates law affects the most private, personal parts of our lives and meets our essential needs in three main areas:
- Providing legal vehicles to help us plan for our own future medical problems and incapacity
- Helping us to care for vulnerable loved ones like children, family members with disabilities and elders
- Creating procedures for passing ownership of our property and money to those we wish to support both before and after our deaths
- Living wills (also called medical powers of attorney, health care powers of attorney, medical directives, health care proxies and advance directives, depending on the state) are binding legal documents wherein we can provide instructions for our doctors and relatives about what medical treatment, especially life-sustaining procedures, we want if we become incapacitated or otherwise unable to communicate our wishes. Living wills or similar documents also usually allow us to designate health care agents such as spouses, partners, children or other trusted persons to make medical decisions for us under emergency circumstances.
- Powers of attorney allow us to designate people to act for us in financial matters now or in the future should we become medically incapable of doing so ourselves.
Protection of Vulnerable Loved Ones
- Special-needs trusts (also called supplemental-needs trusts) are vehicles that let us put money or assets into trusts to benefit loved ones with special needs without compromising their eligibility for governmental benefits.
- Spendthrift trusts can provide support for beneficiaries who are not necessarily incompetent, but who have trouble with money management. Generally, these trusts cannot be reached by the beneficiaries’ creditors and the beneficiaries’ interests are protected from transfer.
- Guardians and conservators are people given power and responsibility by courts to meet the personal and financial needs of incompetent people. You can petition the court for your own appointment or for that of someone else to look after your incompetent loved one.
- Special will provisions can be made to appoint guardians for our children and to help them manage their inheritances should we die while they are still minors. Particular planning tools can also protect our bequests to loved ones with disabilities.
- Life insurance can provide proceeds to our chosen beneficiaries upon our deaths.
- Gifts, trusts and joint ownership of assets can be accomplished for the benefit of our loved ones during our lifetimes with careful tax and Medicaid planning.
- Wills are creative tools for distributing our wealth at death as we direct.
Get the Legal Guidance You Need
In estate planning and probate, federal law can come into play, especially in the area of taxation, but most legal issues are governed by state law. It is important to consult with a knowledgeable attorney in your state to understand your options. You owe it to yourself and your loved ones to use probate and estate planning tools to provide a safety net for the future in case of incapacity or upon your death.
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