What Is My Lawyer Saying?

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Written by Erica R. Berger-Hausthor, Esq.

Reviewed by Matt Rheingans, Esq.

A what kind of deed? A subtrust for whom? A specific devise of what now? Are you confused by what your lawyer is saying? As lawyers, sometimes we forget that we are trained to read and speak a different language. By the end of an initial client meeting sometimes your head is spinning with legal terms, definitions, and concerns or questions that would have never crossed your mind. Estate Planning and Elder Law are about ensuring you and your loved ones are cared for as you approach all of the changes in life. The most important part about creating this plan is that it reflects what you want in the way that you want. Other than the difficult decisions you have to make, sometimes the hardest part is interpreting what your lawyer is saying!

Stress no more!

Here is a list of definitions of basic legal terms that you will likely hear in your meeting with your Lawyer:

Living Will– this is a legal document where you list whether you want your life to be prolonged by artificial measures.

Durable Power of Attorney– you pick a person or persons to make financial decisions for you if you need help making them. This document is extremely important if you ever need someone to help you arrange care for you in your home, assisted living facility, or nursing home.

Trust– a contract that states who you want to get your assets when you pass away and how.  It also states who you want to manage those assets if you are alive but not competent and when you pass away.

Long Term Care– services that help people who need assistance with every day activities.  This can be care at home or care at a facility.

Joint Tenants with the Right of Survivorship– a type of ownership that says when one person passes away, the surviving joint owner gets their interest.  If an asset is titled this way, the asset is transferred to the other joint owner outside of a will or trust and no probate administration is required.

Beneficiary Designation– a person or people who receive an asset after you pass.  If a beneficiary is listed on an account, that money is given to the beneficiary outside of a Probate or Trust Administration.

Homestead– this word has many meanings. When referring to who gets your home when you die, by law, if you have a living spouse and no children, your interest in your primary residence automatically goes to your spouse unless you have an agreement that states otherwise (like a prenuptial agreement).

Probate– the process where the court transfers your assets the way your Last Will and Testament says, if you have one. If you do not have a Will, the court transfers the assets the way the Intestate Law says.  If you have a beneficiary listed on an asset or you own the asset as joint tenants with the right of survivorship, then the asset does not go through probate.

Personal Representative– A person or sometimes a financial institution, which is appointed by the probate Court to administer your Will, pay off any legal debts, and ensure that your assets are transferred to the people who you say they will go to in your Will.  They are entitled to a fee for their services.

At your next appointment with an attorney, you can impress them with your legal knowledge. To talk further about your own Will or Trust, or the Probate of a loved one, call an Elder Law Attorney today.