Each estate planning document serves a different function. Below is a brief summary of the basics:
1. Last Wills and Testaments: This is used after a person dies. It describes who the beneficiaries are and what they inherit. The Will is probated in the Register of Wills office in the Courthouse. Wills can be changed at any time up until a person dies.
2. Powers of Attorney: This is used while a person is alive and needs another to act on his/her behalf. The person appointed is their "Agent" and will be able to make all decisions for the individual. Once a person dies, the Power of Attorney is automatically voided.
3. Living Wills: This tells a person's friends and family their explicit wishes to not remain on life support if he/she is brain dead. This takes the burden away from loved ones to make the hard decision of deciding to keep a person on life support.
4. Trust Instruments: These documents can serve numerous functions, but the most common is to consolidate a person's assets and allow a Trustee to handle the day-to-day administration of their assets. Trusts can remain effective after a person dies. Most individuals do not need a trust instrument unless he/she has a large amount of assets.