A great deal of what I do as an Estate Planning and Elder Law attorney is to provide my clients with as much control over their futures as possible. While we’d like to think that we will always enjoy the control we have today, we must acknowledge that there is a possibility (even a certainty) that, one day, we will have far less control over A LOT of things. If your competency begins to wane, who do you trust to help you? When you pass away, who do you trust to settle your financial affairs and distribute your assets? Who do you want benefiting from your assets and when? These are all questions that an Estate Planning and Elder Law attorney can help you address. The following is a general review of the two (2) most common legal documents I draft for my clients and the two (2) most common roles created by those documents for your trusted friends or family members.
A Power of Attorney is a legal document in which you designate a trusted individual (or series of individuals) to help you manage your legal and financial affairs during your lifetime, if you are unable to do so. The individual you name to help you is your Attorney-in-Fact. The authority of your named Attorney-in-Fact to help you manage such matters terminates upon your death.
A Last Will and Testament (usually referred to as a Will) is a legal document which specifies how you want your assets distributed and to whom. In your Will, you also designate an individual (or a series of individuals) that you trust to gather your assets, find and pay your creditors, if any, and ultimately, follow your instructions when distributing your remaining assets among your beneficiaries. The individual you select to carry out your wishes and settle your financial affairs after your death is referred to as your Executor (or Executrix). The individual you name as your Executor has no control over your financial affairs during your lifetime, because your Will has no effect at all until your death. Only upon your death and only upon being sworn-in by the Clerk of Court, does your Executor have the authority to settle your financial affairs according to your Will.
It is important to look ahead and plan ahead for the unexpected turns your life may take. In such times, it is never more important for you to have trusted friends and family members by your side, helping you every step of the way.