An estate planning lawyer sitting down with a client to discuss their situation needs to think about a handful of basic tools. These are the mechanisms used to transfer assets to beneficiaries, settle outstanding debts, and reduce the risk that a probate proceeding might follow. Clients can benefit from knowing what these tools are and how an estate planning attorney is likely to use them.
The core of all estate planning work is the will. It's a document that outlines what a person wants to be done with their assets if they die, disappear, or become incapacitated for a long time.
Likewise, it determines who has what powers. There should be an executor, which is a person who administers a will upon the grantor's passing. Likewise, there may be powers of attorney assigned to different people for medical and financial decisions.
The goal of a will is to provide a framework for understanding what you want to be done with your legacy. It should name beneficiaries, and it also should outline what they each get from the estate.
Another commonly used tool is a trust. These are asset-transfer vehicles that operate outside of the estate. It's common for people to establish trusts and transfer assets into them before they pass. This may be done to provide enjoyment of the assets now, or it might be done simply to have everything in place for a transfer under the terms of the will.
A testamentary trust is one that doesn't come into existence until the time of the grantor's passing. It has to be in the will, and then the death of the grantor triggers it. Generally, this is a compromise between transferring assets during one's lifetime and not having a trust in place at passing.
Many kinds of accounts don't have to go through probate if there is paperwork at a financial institution transferring the assets upon the account holder's death. For example, it's common to name a spouse as a payable-on-death beneficiary of a checking account. This means the account and all of its money become the beneficiary's property.
Notably, the institution holding the account will want proof of the previous owner's death before doing the transfer. Typically, a death certificate from the county will serve as sufficient evidence. The institution will also want evidence that the beneficiary is who they say they are, usually in the form of government-issued identification cards or papers.
For more information about working with an estate planning attorney, contact a local law firm or visit a website like https://www.linskylaw.com.