What happens to your house or the money in your bank account when you die, or become incapacitated? Well, that depends…If you have a valid will, trust or other estate planning document in place, your assets will be distributed according to your wishes. If you don’t, the state gets to allocate your property…perhaps to your loved ones, but maybe not.

Our summaries of the laws related to wills, trusts and estates help you understand the rules and the tools for ensuring the orderly distribution of your property upon death or disability, so that you can make sure your coveted sports car goes to your grandson, not to your almost ex-wife.

Wills

A valid will sets forth the intentions of the deceased with respect to the distribution of assets, the payment of debts and taxes, and the care of minor children or wards.

Trusts

A trust creates a separate legal entity, allowing you to avoid the transfer of property upon death. This can be an effective method for avoiding the time and expense of probate.

Estate Planning

Estate planning involves setting up mechanisms such as wills and trusts that provide specific instructions for the distribution and management of property passing to a person’s designated beneficiaries.

Heirship and Intestacy

If a person dies without a will or other estate plan, they are considered to have died “intestate.” In such a case, property will generally be distributed under state “laws of intestacy.”

The Probate Process

The probate process is designed to ensure the orderly distribution of an estate in accordance with the decedent’s wishes.

Powers of Attorney

A power of attorney conveys legal authority to the designated person to make certain decisions on behalf of the person granting the power. That authority may be general, addressing all types of issues, or it may be limited to financial, medical, legal or other decisions.

Living Wills

Living wills allow people to specify the type of treatment and care they wish (or don’t wish) to receive in the event of incapacity, including artificial life support.

Elder Law

Elder law covers issues encountered by the elderly, including long-term care, government benefits and end-of-life decisions.