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Ways to make wills and trusts work together

Readers may not realize that wills and trusts are not mutually exclusive estate planning documents. To the contrary, an attorney that focuses on estate planning knows that making a will can be a good idea even for individuals that have a revocable living trust. 

For example, transferring property to a revocable living trust can be a good strategy for minimizing probate delays and expenses. However, a revocable living trust generally governs only that property which an individual has specifically transferred to it -- in writing. To the extent that an individual subsequently acquires property not listed in the trust, a will can be a good way to handle the disposition of any leftover property. In fact, a will might even specify that any remaining property should go into a living trust.

Not surprisingly, wills made the cut in an article that listed four estate-planning documents that everyone should have. The other three documents -- a durable power of attorney, a medical power of attorney and a living will -- can cover decision-making duties in the event an individual becomes incapacitated.

Although the names of these different documents may seem similar, an attorney that focuses on estate planning will have insights into their specific applications. A durable power of attorney, for example, generally applies to financial and legal decision-making authority. A living will, or advanced health-care directive, can clarify an individual’s wishes for certain end-of-life medical care options, such as artificial respiration and/or resuscitation. Finally, it may be difficult to anticipate the full spectrum of medical decisions that may become necessary in the event an individual becomes incapacitated. Consequently, a medical power of attorney can designate an adult to make those decisions on another’s behalf.

Source: The Wall Street Journal, “Four Estate-Planning Documents Everyone Should Have,” Tom Lauricella, April 20, 2014

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