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Terms to be familiar with

Advance Health Care Directives (Health-care Power of Attorney) are written instructions that tell others how you want your health care managed when you are not able to do so yourself. Advance health care directives generally include an "Appointment of Health Care Representative." You appoint someone to make health care decisions for you in the event you are unable to do so yourself.

Living Will is a written document where you state how you want your end of life medical care handled.  You also give instruction should you decide to donate any of your body parts upon your death (  Anatomical Donations).

Durable Power of Attorney (Property and Financial Power of Attorney) allows you to appoint someone to manage your assets if you become incapacitated. The person you appoint can have broad powers to act but should at a minimum have the powers to (a) manage and transfer your assets, (b) create or amend trusts on your behalf, (c) pay taxes and deal with the IRS, and (d) make gifts.

Last Will and Testament is instructions to the court and your legal representative.  It is a written document that names the proposed guardians for your minor children and states how you would like your assets distributed at your death, and names an executor to facilitate the management of your will during the probate process.  If you die without a valid will (known as dying intestate) your assets will be divided up according to State statute. 

Trusts are legal constructs that allows you to create a separate legal entity to hold your assets.  They are very flexible and are of many different types. The type of trust used is dependent on your specific goals and circumstances

Trustee is a person or institution named to manage the assets for the benefit of you and your beneficiaries

Revocable Living Trust is a trust created and funded during your lifetime and you often name yourself as trustee to maintain control of the assets until your death or incapacity

Testamentary Trust is a trust created after your death by a provision in your will. 

Probate is the public process of filing and validating a 'will" in court.  It allows claimants to come forward and ask for payment of debts owed by the estate. The probate court  oversees the distribution of the assets in the estate either according to the terms of a valid will or under state law if there is no will. Some assets that avoid probate are life insurance and annuity contracts with a valid beneficiary designation, valid gifts made prior to death, assets held in joint tenancy with rights of survivorship, retirement plans and IRA’s with valid beneficiaries, and assets held in living trusts.