Thursday, July 9, 2009

Basic Estate Planning for Seniors


Will vs. Revocable Living Trust

A will is a legal document, which distributes your property upon your death. A will is simple and inexpensive. A Revocable Living Trust is a legal document, which acts similar to a Will in distributing your property with minimal hassle. Generally, a Will involves hassle.

Probate Court: Why Wills Do Not Avoid Probate Court?

A Will is public information and must be filed with a court. For example, Sam Smith aged 70 years old is deceased and left a Will. Sam Smith’s heirs must file Sam’s Will with Probate Court in the County where Sam lived. Unlike a Will, a Revocable Living Trust (hereinafter referred to as “Trust”) if planned correctly involves no court involvement and passes one’s assets quickly and easily upon death or incapacity. The second difference between a Will and a Trust is that a Trust plans for incapacity such as Alzheimers, dementia, and strokes. Seniors must be concerned about long-term care issues and incapacity planning is more vital now than planning for one’s transfer of assets upon death. An estimated fifty (50) percent or more Seniors are facing long-term care issues.
Unlike a Will, a Trust plans for incapacity and death. For instance, Sam Smith has a stroke and is unable to manage his healthcare concerns and finances. In this example, Sam Smith’s family members must either have a valid power of attorney (healthcare and property) or face Guardianship Court. Additionally, your loved one’s must undergo a probate or court procedure in every state where you own real estate. This creates a burden upon your family and is expensive and time consuming. Generally, a probate proceeding takes a minimum of nine (9) months to several years. More importantly, court involvement creates family conflict because of Will contests. Attorneys and Executors must mail notices to potential heirs involving Probate Court unlike a Trust. A Trust is private and is typically a secret document with only beneficiaries knowing the Trust’s contents and assets.

Guardianship Court & Incapacity Planning

Guardianship Court is a type of court that determines whether disabled adults are incapacitated and administers a process in choosing a Guardian to manage their financial matters and healthcare concerns. With a Trust, one’s assets such as their primary home, checking/savings accounts, certificate of deposits and any other assets are titled in their Trust’s name. Many people add relatives to their accounts or house deed, but this is ineffective because their relatives may have lawsuits and other legal matters that could jeopardize a senior’s assets. In this financial crisis, lawsuits, judgments, and bankruptcy are major concerns. Second, relatives and friends die and complicate a senior’s life.

Powers of Attorney for Property & Healthcare

There are two types of Powers of Attorney: Property & Healthcare. A Power of Attorney for Property appoints an agent or successor agent(s) to manage one’s finances in case of incapacity. It is highly recommended to have multiple agents in case your original agent is unavailable, deceased, or incapacitated. An Agent is empowered to make financial decisions for the incapacitated adult. The second type of Power of Attorney is a Power of Attorney for Healthcare. In a Power of Attorney for Healthcare, you state your wishes in case you are unable to make healthcare decisions.


A living will is an advanced healthcare directive informing your doctor how you want them to proceed in case of an emergency. A Power of Attorney is much broader than a Living Will and it instructs your physician how to proceed in a medical emergency and appoints an Agent (your loved one) to make healthcare decisions for you. Thus, unlike a living will, you appoint an Agent to consult with your physicians and family members and make healthcare decisions as you have instructed them to do.


In general, a will is sufficient for somebody that does not own any real estate and have limited assets. In contrasts, a Revocable Living Trust is generally better for Seniors with a house and modest to large assets. At a minimum, Seniors should have a Power of Attorney for Property & Healthcare in combination with a Will and/or Revocable Living Trust.

Sean Robertson is Principal of Robertson Law Group, LLC and he concentrates in Elder, Wills & Trusts, Probate & Guardianship, and Asset Protection for Seniors & Adult Disabled persons. Sean can be reached at 312-498-6080 or Sean has a nationwide Elder law, Estate Planning, & Asset Protection law practice. Sean has his website at

1 comment:

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