How to Speak Lawyer Lingo
It's best to plan ahead, wouldn't
Decisions about your future
medical care, your future finances and what to do with your possessions
are best made before a crisis occurs.
Maybe you've been reading up
on the subject, but you keep running into confusing "lawyer language."
To help simplify things, here
are some straight forward descriptions of key legal terms provided by
judges, professors and national organizations.
If you are no longer able to
manage your own affairs (incapacitated), a court may appoint a guardian.
Often this person is a family member.
The court transfers some or
all of your rights to your guardian, which may include making decisions
about your right to marry, spend money or drive a car.
Your guardian must carry out
the terms of the guardianship, such as filing regular reports on the state
of your health. If the guardian fails to do so, the court can remove him
You can avoid guardianship
by setting up, in advance, some other mechanism for your care. For example,
you could have a living will, a durable power of attorney for health care
or a document of advance directives prepared.
Suppose you had an accident
or serious illness, such as a stroke. It's possible that you could never
again recognize your family and friends, or even regain consciousness.
If you should become incapacitated, what would you want done?
You can leave such future decisions
to your spouse or children. Or you can leave instructions that will ensure
what you want done will be done. Advance directives can:
*Make sure all possible measures
will be taken to preserve your life. Or they can specify only medications
for comfort, or something in between, such as "no machines,"
meaning no excessive treatment or heroic measures.
*Designate a family member
or friend to make decisions for you.
*Include a durable power of
attorney for health care or a living will.
Sometimes called a terminal
care document, a living will goes into effect if you should become incapacitated.
It indicates your wishes for medical treatment.
Durable Power of Attorney
for Health Care
When you legally designate
another person to make medical decisions on your behalf, you are giving
that person power of attorney for health care.
It is important to know that
a traditional power of attorney ends when you become incapacitated. Durable
power of attorney does not.
Financial planning means developing
total, coordinated plans for reaching your overall financial goals. One
goal, for instance, would be to secure an adequate cash flow after retirement.
Good financial planning also includes preparing for what happens to your
Estate planning is arranging
for the transfer of your belongings or assets to others, usually the next
generation. Your estate includes everything you own. It consists of two
kinds of property:
*Personal property is movable.
Tangible assets include automobiles, furniture, clothing, tools and jewelry.
Intangible assets include investments such as stocks, bonds, pension plans,
savings accounts and franchises.
*Real property is not movable.
It includes land and anything attached to it, such as a building, or anything
growing on it, such as an orchard.
A trust is a legal device or
instrument to hold your assets. There are many different kinds of trusts.
*A living trust takes effect
before death. You can control it yourself or appoint a trustee. This person,
or possibly a bank-trust company, will care for or distribute your assets
as you have requested.
*A testamentary trust is created
by a will and never takes effect before death.
A will declares what you want
to happen to your assets after death. It makes known what people or organizations
will benefit from your estate. It lets you name a person (executor) to
carry out your wishes.