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Estate Planning Glossary


A Will is a legal document allowing you to direct the distribution of your property upon death. Bequests under a Will may pass directly to a beneficiary or may pass into a trust for a beneficiary. One of the primary objectives of a Will is to insure that your assets pass to the proper people with as little time, trouble and expense as possible.


There are many different kinds of trusts. Generally a trust is an entity holding assets for the benefit of a beneficiary. The assets are managed by a trustee. Trusts may be created to begin operating during your lifetime (living trusts), or to take effect upon your death (testamentary trust). Each trust should be customized to fit your particular situation and wishes. A trust may be revocable and amendable or may be irrevocable and not amendable. Some trusts are used primarily for tax reasons and some are used primarily for management purposes.

Estate Tax Planning:

A federal estate tax and a Texas inheritance tax is assessed against assets owned at death. Under current law, there is no tax assessed until your estate reaches a certain threshold. Federal estate tax is constantly changing. There are steps an individual can take to minimize the estate tax burden.

Power of Attorney:

A General Power of Attorney is a document naming someone as your agent to handle business and financial matters on your behalf in the event of an incapacity or unavailability.

Living Wills/Advanced Medical Directives:

There are now three different documents dealing with medical issues:

Living Will (Directive to Physicians): A Living Will deals with life support equipment. It indicates your preference not to be maintained on life support equipment indefinitely if there is no chance of recovery.

Medical Power of Attorney: A Medical Power of Attorney designates someone with authority to consent to general medical treatment on your behalf if you are not able to yourself.

Medical Information Authorization (HIPAA Authorization): This is an authorization designating persons who are allowed to talk to your doctors in light of the new federal patient privacy law, HIPAA.

Special Needs Trusts:

A special needs trust is a particular type of trust to deal with a beneficiary who may be receiving state or federal disability benefits. It is designed to allow those disability benefits to be supplemented but not replaced. The intent is to be able to provide for a disabled individual without them being disqualified from their benefits.