The federal government imposes a substantial tax on gifts of money or property above certain levels. Without such a tax someone with a sizable estate could give away a large portion of their property before death and escape death taxes altogether. For this reason, the gift tax acts more or less as a backstop to the estate tax. And yet, few people actually pay a gift tax during their lifetime. A gift program can substantially reduce overall transfer taxes; however, it requires good planning and a commitment to proceed with the gifts.
A will is a legal document that transfers what you own to your beneficiaries upon your death. It also names an executor to carry out the terms of your will and a guardian for your minor children, if you have any.
Your signature and those of two witnesses make your will authentic. Witnesses don't have to know what the will says, but they must watch you sign it and you must watch them witness it.
You may recall that during the final weeks of his life, former President Richard Nixon refused "heroic measures" and received only palliative (comfort-easing) care at his home. Similarly, former First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis refused life-prolonging medical intervention before her death from non-Hodgkins lymphoma. Former President Nixon and Mrs. Onassis both retained control over their final medical care through use of a living will and a health care power of attorney.