In Harvard, "estate planning" refers to all of the decisions affecting how a person's property is going to be disposed of after their death, as well as the process of implementing those decisions when the time comes.
The problems that estate planning raises are sometimes very difficult. Without competent legal and financial advice, many problems can pop up, which can easily throw your entire plan into disarray, and cost your survivors a great deal of time, energy, and money.
In addition to post-death decisions, estate planning also concerns matters that might affect you during your life, such as granting power of attorney to a family member or trusted friend in case you become unable to make your own decisions regarding your finances or medical care. Moreover, effective estate planning can minimize the impact that estate taxes and court fees will have on your final disposition to your loved ones.
If you want to maximize the odds that your wishes will be followed after your death, you should do everything you can to make them legally binding. While this is not always possible, a Harvard attorney will be able to make sure that, where it is allowed, it is done.
Common Features of Harvard Estates
Will: This is the centerpiece of most estate plans. A will is a document written by a person (the "testator"), typically with the help of a lawyer, which says what is to be done with their property after they die. Most provisions in a will are legally binding, to the extent that ownership of the property legally passes to the named beneficiary. However, a will cannot compel a person to do anything against their wishes (though it can certainly state your preferences on the matter, phrasing them as requests).
Living Will: This is a document which lays out instructions for your medical care, should you become so sick or badly hurt that you are unable to express your wishes. It should state under what cases you want to remain on life support. A well-drafted living will can prevent you from being kept alive in a permanent vegetative state (if that is not what you want), while ensuring that you receive medical care as long as you have a chance at recovery.
Power of Attorney: Power of attorney allows you to grant someone else (typically a trusted family member or friend) the power to make certain decisions in your place, with the same legal effect as if you had made them yourself, in the event that you become unable to do so (typically due to mental or physical incapacity). If you decide to give someone power of attorney, you should make your wishes known to them in advance, so they are more likely to make the same decisions that you would make, if you were able to. And, of course, you should only give this authority to someone with whom you would trust your life because that is, in some cases, just what you're doing.
Funeral Arrangements: What do you want done with your body after you die? Do you want to be cremated? How about buried? Or maybe you want to be cremated, and have your remains shot into space? Whatever your preference, you won't exactly be able to tell anyone when the time comes. Consequently, you should make your desires on this matter known well in advance. You also shouldn't make your will the only place where these instructions are contained, since it might not be read for weeks after your death, when it will probably be too late.
Do I Need a Harvard Estates Lawyer?
A flawed estate plan in Harvard can result in those affected by it being confused as to your intent, which can then lead to disputes between them. A knowledgeable attorney can frequently avoid this confusion by ensuring that there is as little ambiguity as possible in your will and other related documents.