Frequently Asked Questions
- What is elder law?
- What is estate planning?
- What does an estate plan include?
- What is probate?
- What are the advantages of avoiding probate?
- What is a will?
- What does intestacy mean?
- What is a trust?
- What is a power of attorney?
What is elder law?
Elder law is an area of legal practice that encompasses a wide range of legal matters impacting the senior population.
As the elderly population has grown, more attorneys have identified the specific needs of seniors that are more specialized than younger adults.
Generally, elder law issues fall into three major categories: financial, home, and health care.
An elder law attorney is qualified to provide guidance in a number of areas, including:
- Estate planning
- Social Security
- Veterans benefits
- Health and personal care
- Powers of attorney
- Elder and abuse fraud
- Wills and trusts
What is estate planning?
At its core, estate planning is the process of deciding how you want your assets distributed and managed after you die. A sound estate plan also can accomplish a number of important objectives, including:
- Determining the heirs to your estate
- Reducing the tax burden on your estate
- Determining the personal guardianship of your children
- Ensuring the timely passing of your assets to your designated beneficiaries
What does an estate plan include?
What your estate plan includes will vary depending on your individual needs and goals, but proper estate plans should include:
- An adequate will or trust
- A durable power of attorney
- Medical directives to appoint someone to make medical decisions on your behalf
- A written agreement concerning the distribution of your assets
What is probate?
Probate is the legal process a court takes to conclude an individual’s legal and financial matters upon death.
The court ensures that all outstanding debts, legal fees, and taxes are paid and that all assets have been catalogued and appraised before being distributed.
Probate usually involves paperwork and court appearances by attorneys. Attorney and court fees are paid from the estate, which would otherwise go to the beneficiaries who inherited the deceased person’s property.
What are the advantages of avoiding probate?
The probate process tends to be very time consuming. Since it is controlled by the courts, it can end up taking more than a year to complete.
Although it varies by state, probate also is very costly. Probate fees are taken from the estate and typically costs between 5 to 10 percent of the total value of the estate.
Probate is a public process. All documents and information used during the process are part of the public record, which can be a problem if you would prefer the details of your estate be left private.
What is a will?
A will is a legal document dictating your final wishes regarding the distribution of your assets upon death, as well as the care of any minor children.
Wills must go through probate before its provisions can be implemented.
A will can be modified or revoked at any time during your life
What does intestacy mean?
Intestacy is when an individual dies without a valid will. In that case, the estate is distributed according to the state’s intestacy law.
What is a trust?
A trust is a fiduciary arrangement that involves the transfer of property to a third party trustee to hold and use assets for the benefit of a beneficiary.
Unlike wills, trusts typically avoid probate, so the beneficiaries may receive assets quicker than they would through a will.
What is a power of attorney?
A power of attorney is a written document that grants an individual the authority to manage your affairs. This document makes the individual granted authority an attorney-in-fact, acting on your behalf if you are unable to do so. Typically, this is in regards to financial or medical matters.
A power of attorney may be terminated when its purpose is fulfilled or at your death or incapacity. However, a durable power of attorney remains in effect even if you are incapacitated.