Areas of Practice
Wills, Trusts and Powers of Attorney
Guardianship & Conservatorship
Guardian ad Litem
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Estate planning is the process of anticipating and arranging, during a person's life, for the management of that person's estate and health care during the person's life, in the event the person becomes incapacitated, and distribution of property after death. Instruments used include Wills, Trusts, Powers of Attorney, Health Care Directives, Status of Property Agreements, Pre-nuptial and Post-nuptial Agreements.
A Will is a legal document that expresses a person's wishes as to how their property (estate) is to be distributed after their death and as to which person (personal representative or "executor") is to manage the property, pay the debts and expenses, and make the final distribution. A competent adult (Trustor) may create a Trust to hold his or her property during life, managed by a Trustee (can be the Trustor), who manages and distributes the Trust assets after the death of the Trustor. The person who creates the Trust can be called the Trustor or Grantor or Settlor. A Power of Attorney is a legal document that grants the power to manage property or manage personal and health care, often intended to only take effect when the person signing the Power of Attorney when competent to do so has become incompetent or unable to make their own decisions.
Probate is the court process in which the estate of a deceased person is settled. The simpler probate is based on a valid Will which is an enforceable set of directions on how to settle the estate of the deceased. In cases where no valid Will is found, the probate of the estate is settled according to the laws of intestacy in the state of residence of the deceased at time of death. The court appoints a personal representative (executor or administrator) who resolves all debts and claims against the estate and distributes all its property that remains after the proper claims have been paid.
A Guardian is a person appointed by a court after a petition for guardianship is filed, to hold the legal authority and the corresponding duty to manage the personal and health care of another person.
A Conservator is a person appointed by a court after a petition for conservatorship is filed, to hold legal authority and corresponding duty to manage another person's finances and property.
If a person has executed well-written powers of attorney for health care and for finances it is unlikely that a Guardianship or Conservatorship will be necessary unless all the persons nominated in the powers of attorney to do this decision-making have become unavailable.
Guardians ad litem (GALs) are not the same as "Guardians" or "legal guardians", and are often appointed in cases where the interests of minor children or allegedly or actually incapacitated adults are at stake, to investigate and represent the best interests of the individual in court cases. Guardians ad litem are appointed by the court, and may be qualified attorneys or qualified mental health professionals.