Estate Planning—Contrary to popular belief estate planning is necessary for most people whether you own a lot or a little. The size of your estate is only one factor that is considered when you sit down with a lawyer for estate planning. Essentially estate planning is making a plan in advance for what happens to you and your assets when you cannot take care of them yourself and for when you die.
Intentionally developing an estate plan allows you to make the decisions on the who, what, when, and how of handling your affairs. A basic estate plan includes a financial power of attorney, a healthcare power of attorney, an authorization to release medical records, a healthcare directive (a “living will”), and a will.
Financial Power of Attorney— A financial power of attorney (also known as durable power of attorney) is a legal document in which you appoint someone as your attorney-in-fact, which means they can make the same decisions you can make. The types of activities the person operating under your power of attorney can do vary from speaking to financial institutions about your accounts to signing legal documents such as contracts and deeds.
Healthcare Power of Attorney— A healthcare power of attorney is a legal document in which you appoint someone to speak with healthcare providers including your doctor and make healthcare decisions on your behalf when you are unable to do so.
Both types of power of attorney documents can be a very powerful. In a customized power of attorney you can set the conditions under which the attorney-in-fact can act as well as limit the types of things they can do.
Living Will— A living will is also known as an advanced directive and it is a document in which you give the medical personnel instructions for your end-of-life medical care. It comes into to play when your death is certain and gives instructions on things such as palliative care (easing pain and suffering), extraordinary measures, and nourishment. The decisions you have to make in a living will are very difficult to think about but imagine if your spouse, child, or parent had to make those decisions for you. Having a living will is also a key part of your estate plan.
Last Will and Testament— A will is a document that states your final wishes. In a will you appoint someone to settle your affairs, an executor. You state who gets your property, what property they get, and how much of it. You can even state when they get your property. You can nominate guardians for your minor children to be considered by the court. You can even provide instructions on paying your debts and on your funeral. A will is a critical document that can save relationships and save money. Dying without a will can leave your assets and your legacy in limbo while also leaving those you loved dealing with a lot of stress on top of their grieving.
Probate and Estate Administration— Probate is the legal process of proving a deceased person’s will. The will is taken to the clerk of court in the county where the person lived and presented for approval by the clerk. Estate administration is the process of gathering the deceased’s persons assets, paying any debts and taxes, and distributing the remaining property are essentially processes that settle your affairs. Someone has to be appointed to administer the estate either through the person’s will or according to the law if there is no will.
While the descriptions of probate and estate administration are simple, the process of settling one’s affairs is often not so simple. A personal representative appointed to settle a deceased person’s affairs, whether it is an executor (will appointed) or administrator (court appointed), can ensure they meet the requirements of the law and satisfy the deceased person’s wishes as fully as possible when they are counseled by an attorney specializing in estate administration.
Heirs’ Property— Essentially, heirs’ property is a form of collective land ownership involving family members and a piece of land that has been in the family for many years. Usually the land involved is the first piece of land owned by original owners and it has been passed down to their family members. Historically, collective ownership of family land was valued as a way to ensure family wealth and stability. While this is often true, complex legal challenges often arise in this form of ownership that can compromise the goals of family wealth and stability.
The Gragg Law Firm, PLLC works with families who own heirs’ property to untangle and resolve legal issues that impact the ownership of the property in addition helping the families develop a strategy for optimizing the economic and social values of the property.