Will. A written document that governs the distribution of property owned in your sole name at death. It must meet certain legal requirements to be valid. It is common to include a provision for guardianship of minor children in the Will.
Living Will. A written declaration stating your preferences regarding life-sustaining treatment in the event you have a terminal health condition (that is, your death is imminent except for death-delaying procedures). This document is very different from a Will and only governs the use of end of life care.
Power of Attorney for Property. A document used to appoint a person to act on your behalf with respect to financial matters in the event you are still living, but unable to act for yourself. This document allows your agent to essentially step into your shoes and transact business as if he were you (e.g. pay your bills, file your taxes, sell real estate, etc.).
Power of Attorney for Health Care. A document used to appoint a person to act on your behalf with respect to health care decisions in the event that you are still living but unable to act for yourself. This document allows your agent to make health care decisions for you (including the decision to maintain or withdraw life support).
Land Trust. A special kind of trust usually created with a bank for the sole purpose of holding legal title to real estate.
Trust. An arrangement whereby property is transferred to a trustee who administers it for someone’s benefit pursuant to a written set of instructions called the “trust agreement”. Typically, trusts are created in separate documents apart from the Will, but it is possible, in some circumstances to create trust arrangements within the body of the Will. These trusts are called “testamentary trusts” and are frequently used to provide for minor children in the event of the death of both parents.
Guardian. A court-appointed individual who takes charge of the person and/or the financial affairs of an incompetent person. Requires a court hearing and a judge’s determination of incompetence. Two separate people may be “guardian of the estate” and “guardian of the person.”
Probate. The court process of overseeing that the terms of a deceased person’s Will are carried out by the executor of the Will. Executor. The person or institution nominated by a deceased person’s Will and appointed by the court to conclude the deceased person’s final affairs (pay bills, collect assets, etc.) and distribute property pursuant to the Will.
Administrator. The person or institution appointed by the court to administer a deceased person’s estate when there is no Will.
Intestacy. Dying without a will and allowing your property to be distributed pursuant to Illinois law.