Who needs an estate plan?

You do. Estate planning allows you to make decisions about what happens to you and your property before the needs arise. These decisions include who will take care of your financial, health and personal care choices if you become unable to care for yourself. If you have minor children, it will allow you to designate those you wish to care for them when you are not able to do so. Estate planning also allows you to determine what happens to your property when you die.

What documents are included in an estate plan?

Traditionally, an estate plan would include:

  1. A Living Trust
  2. A “Pour-Over” Will
  3. A Certificate of Trust
  4. A General Power of Attorney
  5. An Advance Health Care Directive (includes “Living Will”)
  6. Supporting documents

What is a Living Trust?

A Living Trust or Revocable Trust is a legal document that allows you to place your property and assets into a “Trust” for your benefit during your lifetime and will act like a Will when you die. You may revoke or change the Trust during your lifetime. You retain control of all your property and assets during your lifetime but will designate someone to manage the Trust, for your benefit, if you are not able to do so. Placing your property and assets into a trust allows your estate to avoid being probated court.

What is a Will?

A Will is a legal document that allows you to direct what happens to your property after you die. A Will is submitted to the court, after your death, for a process called probate. A judge supervises the execution of your will. The probate process can be lengthy and expensive.

If I have a Trust, do I still need a Will?

Yes. When you create a trust, you will also create a “pour-over” will. Its purpose is to take all the property that is not titled in the Trust and pour it into the Trust upon your death. Properly titling your property into the Trust will allow your estate to avoid the probate process.

What is a General Power of Attorney?

A Power of Attorney is a legal document that authorizes another person to act on your behalf. A General Power of Attorney authorizes another to act on your behalf, while you are living, in a broad range of financial affairs. This may include buying and selling property and managing your bank accounts. For estate planning purposes, it allows someone you designate to handle your financial affairs in the event you are not able to do so. Care should be taken to ensure that the person you choose is trustworthy.

What is an Advance Health Care Directive?

An Advance Health Care Directive is a legal document that allows you to make and record medical decisions, in advance, about how you wish to be cared for in the event you are incapacitated. It also allows you to designate someone you trust to act on your behalf and to make decisions for you, in keeping with your desires, when you are not able to make those decisions.


My mother has placed my name, along with hers, on the deed to her home. What will happen to the house when she dies?

What happens to the house after your mom’s death will depend on how you and Mom are listed on the deed. Most commonly, in this situation, you would be listed as joint tenants, with rights of survivorship. In this case, upon the death of either party, the ownership of the property would pass to the survivor. If, however, you took title as tenants in common, the deceased person’s share would pass to their estate and the survivor would retain their share.

My brother is living with my elderly mother and I think he is stealing her money. Is there anything I can do?

If you suspect that your mother is being abused, neglected or exploited, you should call Adult Protective Services. After insuring your mother’s safety, you may decide to seek an attorney’s help to appoint someone to administer your mother’s personal and financial affairs, if she is not able to manage them herself. Each situation is unique and can be fairly complex.  You may wish to seek an attorney’s advice on how to proceed.