Wills, Trusts, Estates
Every family wants to make sure that their money and assets gets passed down to the people of their choosing. Therefore it is an important issue which needs to be handled with an experienced attorney; if not the inheritance planned for surviving family members could all disappear.
A will is legal written document which gives direction over the disposition of property at death. The laws of each state are different. However, most jurisdictions require the following formal requirements for a will to be legal.
- You, the maker of the will (called the testator), must be at least 18 years old.
- You must be of sound mind at the time you sign your will.
- Your will must be written.
- Your will must be witnessed (and notarized) in the special manner provided by law for wills.
- It is necessary to follow exactly the formalities required for the execution of a will.
- To be effective, your will must be proved in and allowed by the probate court.
No will becomes final until the death of the testator, and it may be changed or added to by the testator by drawing a new will or by adding a “codicil,” which is simply an addition or amendment executed with the same formalities of a will. A will’s terms cannot be changed by writing something in or crossing something out after the will is executed. In fact, writing on the will after its execution may invalidate part of the will or all of it. If you want to change something in the will, it is probably better to consult an attorney to make sure your true wishes are carried out properly.
WHAT CAN BE ACCOMPLISHED BY A WILL?
- You decide who gets your property instead of the law making the choice for you.
- You may name the personal representative (executor) of your will as you choose, provided the one named can qualify under the law in your jurisdiction. A personal representative is one who manages an estate and may be either an individual, a bank or trust company, and is subject to certain limitations.
- A trust may be created in a will whereby the estate or a portion of the estate will be kept intact with income distributed or accumulated for the benefit of members of the family or others. Minors can be cared for without the expense of proceedings for guardianship of property.
- Real estate and other assets may be sold without court proceedings, if your will adequately authorizes it.
- You may make gifts, effective at or after your death, to charity.
- You decide who bears any tax burden, rather than the law making that decision.
- A guardian may be named for minor children.
WHAT IS A GUARDIANSHIP?
A guardianship is a legal proceeding where a guardian is appointed to exercise the legal rights of an incapacitated person.
WHAT IS A GUARDIAN?
A guardian is an individual or institution such as a bank trust department appointed by the court to care for an incapacitated person-called a “ward”-or for the ward’s assets.
Please see our Guardianship and Conservatorship page for more information.
A trust is a legal relationship between three parties: the settlor sets up the trust either by will or trust document, contributes assets to it, sets out instructions on who will benefit from the assets and how the assets are to be used, managed or invested. The person who is appointed to control and manage the assets in the trust is called the trustee. The person or people who benefit from the trusts’ assets are called the beneficiaries. A trust can be made as part of someone’s will and only takes effect upon the makers death, (called a “testamentary trust”), or a trust document made by a person that takes effect during their lifetime, (called an “inter-vivos” trust).
The trustee has the authority to control and manage the assets of the trust. The trustee’s obligations include making decisions about the investment of the trust assets and preparing and filing tax returns and annual filings on behalf of the trust. The trustee is a fiduciary, and has a duty to act in the best interests of the trust.
An estate is the net worth of a person at any point in time. It is the sum of a person’s assets – legal rights, interests and entitlements to property of any kind – less all liabilities at that time. The issue is of special legal significance on a question of bankruptcy and death of the person.
Depending on the context, the term is also used in reference to an estate in land or of a particular kind of property (such as real estate or personal estate). The term is also used to refer to the sum of a person’s assets only.
Please contact the Law Offices of Douglas C. Anton, Esq. for a case evaluation and to schedule an appointment.
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