A Last Will and Testament lists your beneficiaries and how you want your estate distributed after your passing. Anyone over the age of 18 and of sound mind, may make or change their will as many times as they wish. An Executor is appointed in the will. The Executor is like a manager of an estate. Typically, after a person passes away, their Executor submits the will to the court for probate and receives the “letters testamentary” from the court. Having the letters testamentary, the Execute is authorized to gather all the decedent’s assets, pay the estate’s debts and expenses, and distribute the estate to the beneficiaries.
Probate is the process by which a will is validated by the Surrogate’s Court before an Executor gains access to the decedent’s assets. A petition is submitted along with the original will, notice must be given to all necessary parties, and there is a filing fee. There are several stages in the probate processes and the court may require additional documentation depending on the particular estate details. The probate process can be time consuming, costly, and aggravating at times. Some people place most of their assets in a trust they create during their lifetime to avoid probate and ensure smooth transition to their beneficiaries.
There are many types of trusts. All trusts have three participants: The Grantor, the Trustee and the Beneficiary. Generally a trust is used to hold assets placed in the trust by the Gantor, to be managed by the Trustee, for the benefit of the Beneficiary. Lifetime trusts are created by a grantor during his/her lifetime. Testamentary trusts are created by a Last Will and Testament, for example when there is a special needs beneficiary or a minor beneficiary. There are also charitable trusts set up for philanthopic purposes. Trusts may be revocable or irrevocable. Speak to an elder lawyer to find out if a trust is useful for your family.