Estate Planning: Last Will and Testament

The last will and testament designates who will manage the estate and sets out how to transfer property after death. The document is also commonly referred to as a ‘will.’

Common terms:

  • The testator is the person who owns the property and has the will made.
  • A beneficiary is a person who will receive any part of the property.
  • The testator will appoint an executor (or more than one), who is responsible for carrying out the directions in the will. This responsibility includes probating your will, filing tax returns, making any discretionary decisions, and handling the paperwork for your estate.
  • The term ‘issue’ refers to the testator’s children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, including those legally adopted, unless the will expressly excludes them.
  • The term ‘per stirpes’ describes how a bequest is divided among the issue. Most people divide the bequest equally, and if one child is deceased, his share would be divided equally among his children or the remaining issue.

Objectives/Goals of the Will:

  • Establish executors, trustee and successor fiduciaries.
  • Provide clear instructions on the disposition of property according to your wishes in order to overcome intestate (no will) situation (intestate automatically transfers      property half to spouse and half split evenly among children).
  • Protect assets left to beneficiaries from creditors (e.g. Medicaid planning for long-term care expenses).
  • Authorize gifts made to other family members for Medicaid or other estate planning strategies.
  • Reduction of estate taxes.
  • Arrange for care of family members and family members with a mental or physical handicap, including selecting a guardian.
  • Arrange for retention of family home for surviving spouse and children.
  • Arrange for disposition of any professional practice or business assets (business succession planning).
  • Authorize gifts to any charity.
  • Set forth how you wish non-adopted stepchildren to be treated (as your children or not).