Estate Planning

Estate & Asset Planning

Wills

A will or testament is a legal declaration by which a person, the testator, names one or more persons to manage his or her estate and provides for the transfer of his or her property at death. For the devolution of property not disposed of by will, see inheritance and intestacy. In the strictest sense, a "will" has historically been limited to real property, while "testament" applies only to dispositions of personal property, though this distinction is seldom observed today. A will may also create a testamentary trust that is effective only after the death of the testator.

Trusts

In common law legal systems, a trust is an arrangement whereby property (including real, tangible and intangible) is managed by one person (or persons, or organizations) for the benefit of another. A trust is created by a settlor, who entrusts some or all of his or her property to people of his choice (the trustees). The trustees hold legal title to the trust property (or trust corpus), but they are obliged to hold the property for the benefit of one or more individuals or organizations (the beneficiary, a.k.a. cestui que use or cestui que trust), usually specified by the settlor, who hold equitable title. The trustees owe a fiduciary duty to the beneficiaries, who are the "beneficial" owners of the trust property.

The trust is governed by the terms of the trust document, which is usually written and occasionally set out in deed form. It is also governed by local law. The trustee is obliged to administer the trust in accordance with both the terms of the trust document and the governing law.

Powers of Attorney

A power of attorney (POA) is an authorization to act on someone else's behalf in a legal or business matter. The person authorizing the other to act is the principal, granter or donor (of the power), and the one authorized to act is the agent, the attorney-in-fact.

Types of powers of attorney

A power of attorney may be special or limited to one specified act or type of act, or it may be general, and whatever it defines as its scope is what a court will enforce as being its scope. (It may also be limited as to time.) Under the common law, a power of attorney becomes ineffective if its grantor dies or becomes "incapacitated," meaning unable to grant such a power, because of physical injury or mental illness, for example, unless the grantor (or principal) specifies that the power of attorney will continue to be effective even if the grantor becomes incapacitated (but any such power ends when the grantor dies). This type of power of attorney is called a durable power of attorney.

In some jurisdictions, a durable power of attorney can also be a "Health Care Power of Attorney", an advance directive which empowers the attorney-in-fact (proxy) to make health-care decisions for the grantor, up to and including terminating care and "pulling the plug" on machines keeping a critically and terminally ill patient alive. Health care decisions include the power to consent, refuse consent or withdraw consent to any type of medical care, treatment, service or procedure. A living will is a written statement of a person's health care and medical wishes but does not appoint another person to make health care decisions.

In some U.S. states and other jurisdictions it is possible to grant a springing power of attorney; i.e., a power that only takes effect after the incapacity of the grantor or some other definite future act or circumstance. After such incapacitation the power is identical to a durable power, but cannot be invoked before the incapacity. This may be used to allow a spouse or family member to manage the grantor's affairs in case illness or injury makes the grantor unable to act, while retaining the power for without an attorney-in-fact before the incapacity occurs. If a springing power is used, care should be given to specifying exactly how and when the power springs into effect. As the result of privacy legislation in the U.S., medical doctors will often not reveal information relating to capacity of the principal unless the power of attorney specifically authorizes them to do so.

Determining whether or not the principal is "disabled" enough for the power of attorney to "spring" into action is a formal process. Springing powers of attorney are not automatic, and institutions may refuse to work with the attorney-in-fact. Disputes are then resolved in court, which is of course a costly, and usually unwanted, procedure. Unless the power of attorney has been made irrevocable (by its own terms or by some legal principle), the grantor may revoke the power of attorney by telling the attorney-in-fact it is revoked; however, if the principal does not inform third parties and it is reasonable for the third parties to rely upon the power of attorney being in force, the principal may still be bound by the acts of the agent, though the agent may also be liable for such unauthorized acts.

Power of attorney in finance

In financial situations wherein a principal requests a securities broker to perform extensive investment functions on the principal's behalf, independent of the principal's advice, power of attorney must be formally granted to the broker to trade in the principal's account. This rule also applies to principals who instruct their brokers to perform certain specific trades and principals who trust their brokers to perform certain trades in the principal's best interest.