Every adult needs an estate plan. An “estate plan” consists of several important documents. Estate planning documents including a Last Will and Testament, Powers of Attorney (for financial and medical decision-making), and, possibly, a Trust. While each of these documents operates differently, some effective during your lifetime or upon your death, generally, they are only as powerful as those you appoint to act as your fiduciaries.
A fiduciary is an individual (or entity) you name in your legal estate planning documents to perform a specific job, on your behalf or on the behalf of your estate.
For example, in your Will, you need to appoint an Executor. This is the person who is in charge of handling the administration of your estate when you pass away. He or she is tasked with probating your Will, paying expenses and bills, and distributing your assets as you specify in your Will. It is important to note that your Executor has a finite role – his or her job will only last for the period of time after you pass away until all the distributions have been made from your estate to your beneficiaries.
In addition, you may need to appoint a Trustee. Typically, you will need to appoint a Trustee if you establish a Trust during your lifetime or if your Will provides for the creation of a Trust, upon your death. This person’s job is to manage and oversee the assets held therein for the benefit of the beneficiaries of the Trust, and, potentially, to distribute assets from the Trust to or for the benefit of the beneficiaries of the Trust, as the Trust specifies. Here, unlike the role of Executor, the length of the Trustee’s job may be limited or could last a long time, depending on the terms of the Trust.
Furthermore, if you have minor or disabled children, you may also appoint a Guardian in your Will to care for those children if you pass away.
Finally, in your Powers of Attorney, you will need to appoint an Agent. This is the person who you authorize to make financial and medical decisions on your behalf while you are alive, but are unable to make or communicate those decisions for yourself.
For each of these fiduciary roles, it is imperative that you appoint successors. Sometimes, we find that our clients have appointed a person to act as their fiduciary in their legal documents, but that person may have already predeceased them or is unwilling to act, as appointed. A vacancy in any of these estate planning documents may result in the necessity of court involvement in order to appoint a successor.
Your estate plan should not only reflect your wishes in the most effective way but should also appoint the people you want in charge of your affairs, during and after your lifetime. If you would like to review your estate plan and the fiduciaries you appoint therein, please call our office at 856-489-8388 to speak with one of our attorneys.