Estate planning can involve a number of estate planning legal documents, including wills, trusts, healthcare directives, powers of attorney and other legal documents. An experienced estate planning attorney will know the appropriate documents needed to create an estate plan customized for you. Your estate plan will need to include three important roles to carry out your wishes: personal representative, guardian and trustee. All three functions can be carried out by one person or by different persons.
Personal Representatives (formerly known as Executors)
A personal representative’s duty is to ensure the instructions of your will are carried out as you instructed and handles any legal formalities regarding your estate. Personal representative duties may include:
- Keeping beneficiaries informed regarding the estate
- Maintaining full and accurate records/accounts
- Paying all required taxes in a timely fashion
- Assembling all assets of the estate
- Executing the funeral arrangements of the deceased
- Ensuring accurate distribution of estate assets
- Selling any property of the estate
- Handling the claims of creditors
It is important to select a person that you believe is competent and can successfully complete tasks associated with being a personal representative.
A trustee is the person responsible for administering the trust. This role may involve making investments of estate assets along with distribution of money from the trust. The role of trustee may be assigned to more than one person. This is common with particularly large estates or estates with a number of different assets. Trustees may have the power to hire professionals to assist in the administration of the estate, such as attorneys, investment advisors and tax professionals. Any action taken by the trustee must conform to the instructions of your will. Clearly the choice of trustee(s) is important and should be a person who is ethical and will respect your wishes.
Persons with minor children will need to think about whom will care for the children should you and your spouse die. This care-giver of minor children is known as a guardian. The guardian is the person who will raise your children and make the daily decisions that impact your children until they reach the age of 18 years old. Examples of these legal decisions include education decisions, spiritual and religious development as well as many other decisions. While the court does have final approval of the guardian of your child(ren), most courts follow your wishes detailed in your estate planning documents. It is important to note that a guardian does not need to be a family member, although this is by far the most common arrangement.