Estate Planning - Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ’s) and Tips


Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is a Living Trust?

    A living trust is a legal agreement which designates a first successor trustee who you wish to distribute your assets after your passing. The living trust also specifies who you want your estate distributed to and specifies the conditions (if any) by which these assets will be distributed. Many trusts are revocable meaning that you can change the living trust during your lifetime.

  • What is Probate?

    When someone passes away and owns property which is valued over the probate limit, then his or her estate will be subject to a probate proceeding. Probate proceedings are supervised by the court, are expensive, and every probate filed is part of the public record.

  • What is a Will?

    A Will or otherwise known as a Last Will and Testament is a legal document where an individual states how they wish for their assets to be distributed and names an executor to take care of the distribution. If you own assets that are valued over the probate limit - $50,000 for real property and $150,000 for all other property which does not have a named beneficiary, then the estate will be subject to a probate proceeding, which is expensive, time consuming, and a public proceeding.

  • Why do I need a Living Trust and a Will?

    If you have a living trust, you will also need a pour-over will. A pour-over will is a back-up to the living trust and it is designed to transfer assets to the living trust that were not transferred to the living trust during an individual’s lifetime.

  • What does it mean to fund the living trust?

    Funding the living trust means that you will re-title appropriate assets into the name of the living trust. The most common item that is transferred to the name of the living trust are any parcels of real property that you own. Other items may include bank accounts and brokerage accounts.

  • What is an Advance Health Care Directive?

    The main purpose of an Advance Health Care Directive is to plan for future healthcare treatment, if you are incapacitated and unable to communicate your wishes.  This document contains of four distinctive parts.  The first one names an agent or a proxy who is designated to authorize medical treatments, if you are unable to communicate your wishes. The next section includes instructions which outline the types of medical treatment that you would like to receive, and more importantly, the type of medical treatment that you would not want. In your Advance Health Care Directive, you can also specify if you wish to donate your organs. The last part of the Advance Health Care Directive should contain a HIPPA Release which will allow your agents to obtain information from medical personnel.

  • What is a Durable Power of Attorney?

    A Durable Power of Attorney for finances allows your agent to pay your bills, deposit checks, and file your tax return, in the event that you are unable to take care of these items yourself. Your named agent steps into this role, only if you lack capacity and your doctor has provided a letter stating that you are unable to handle your own financial affairs.

  • Why do they call documents springing?

    The Advance Health Care Directive and Durable Power of Attorney are both known as “springing” documents because they only go into effect, if and when you become incapacitated. Up and until incapacity, you make your own health care decisions.


  • Before naming successor trustees and agents in your estate planning documents, you will want to check with these individuals and confirm that he or she is comfortable and willing to serve in this role.

  • It is a good to keep a list of all your current beneficiaries (including individuals and named charities) of your living trust or will. This list should include the name, address, phone number, email address and any other identifying information that will be helpful for your successor trustee.

  • On a yearly basis, it is advisable to review all of your named primary and contingent beneficiaries for your IRA’s, 401(k)’s, life insurance and annuities and verify that these choices reflect your estate planning objectives.

  • Once your estate planning documents have been completed, it is advisable to review the documents once a year to ascertain whether you wish to change your named trustees, executors, agents or distribution.

  • Maintaining a current list of your assets and debts, including the name of the company, contact information, account number, value of the asset (if applicable), amount of the debt (if applicable), and account information.

  • If you want certain tangible items to be distributed to certain individuals upon your death, you may want to create a list with a description of the item, who it should be given to, and you may want to add pictures of the items to make it more clear.

  • Once your Advance Health Care Directive is completed, you should give a copy of this document to your primary care physician.