In Charleston, "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 procedure of implementing those decisions when the time comes.
If you want to start the process of planning your estate, you've made a good choice, particularly if you care about what happens to your survivors after you're gone. You should be careful, however, and make sure you have the help of a legal and financial expert every step of the way. This will likely prove quite helpful in the long run, preventing a lot of problems in the future.
In addition to deciding what to do with your assets after your death, your estate plan should also contain things that might become relevant during life. Power of attorney is a big one. Power of attorney is an arrangement in which you provide another person the ability to make decisions for you, if you become incapacitated. Additionally, effective estate planning can help reduce the effect of taxes and court fees on your final disposition to your chosen beneficiaries.
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 Charleston attorney will be able to make sure that, where it is feasible, it is done.
Common Features of Charleston 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. Nonetheless, 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 guaranteeing that you receive medical care as long as you have a chance at recovery.
Power of Attorney: What if you become incapacitated, and can't make your own decisions? It would be nice if somebody knew what you would want in a given situation, and, on top of that, had the legal authority to make that decision for you. Power of attorney lets you do precisely that, granting a person of your choice the ability to make certain decisions for you, in case you, for whatever reason, can't (you can, of course, control the scope of power that you grant).
Funeral Arrangements: Some people, for religious and other reasons, have very particular wishes regarding the disposal of their remains after they die. Some want to be buried. Others, cremated. No matter what your preferences on this matter are, it's crucial that you inform your family of them far in advance. These instructions should be included in a document that is likely to be read before your death (such as a living will), or very shortly thereafter. This excludes a will, because it's frequently weeks after a person dies until their will is read.
Do I Need a Charleston Estates Lawyer?
A reliable estates lawyer in Charleston can make the estate planning process much easier. He or she can maximize the chances of your wishes being given effect. Moreover, a good and clear estate plan is far less likely to result in litigation in the future, since disputes of this nature are almost always the result of ambiguity.