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Estate Planning Learning Center

Estate Planning

What is estate planning?

Planning your estate properly prepares for the distribution of your assets after you die to help ensure there are no uncertainties regarding your intended wishes.

What is the benefit of estate planning?

Estate planning serves many purposes. Creating a Last Will and Testament allows you to have direct control over where your assets go after your death, as opposed to the government deciding how your assets will be divided.

More specifically, it ensures that your loved ones are cared for should you ever pass away suddenly. It also alleviates any unnecessary stress on your loved ones if they know that you have prepared clear and thoughtful instructions on how to administer your estate.

What do I need to plan my estate?

Everyone should plan their estate using a Last Will and Testament to specify which family members, friends, or organizations they intend to leave assets to. In your Will, you name an executor to carry out your estate plans. He or she is in charge of seeing to your estate's dispersal.

Last Will And Testament

What is a Last Will and Testament?

A Last Will and Testament is a legal document which allows you to control how your estate will be distributed after you pass away. A Last Will also enables you to appoint a guardian for your minor children as well as provide instructions and set aside funds for the care of any pets you may have.

 

Who should use a Last Will?

A Last Will and Testament should be used by anyone over the age of 18 to help avoid potential disputes or confusion regarding your estate. A Last Will is especially important for parents with minor children as it will allow you to appoint a guardian and have a say in how your children will be raised.

What information I need to write a Last Will and Testament?

To create your Last Will and Testament, you should be prepared to address the following:

  • Who is the Testator: The testator is the person whose property will be distributed upon death - that's you. Female testators are often referred to as the testatrix.

  • Designate a Beneficiary: A beneficiary is a person or organization who will receive a gift under your Will. Designating a beneficiary allows you to control who will receive your property after you pass away and help avoid any confusion or disputes. If you don't designate any beneficiaries, the courts will distribute your estate among your surviving family according to a pre-determined formula. In that case your friends or charities would receive nothing.

  • Name an Executor: An executor is the person who will administer the Will according to your written terms and is sometimes referred to as a personal representative. You should choose a trustworthy and responsible person for this important task.

  • Provide for Children and/or Pets: If you have children who are still minors, you should name a guardian who will be willing to care for them. You may also choose to set aside funds specifically for the care of your children or pets.

  • Review and Sign: It's important to carefully review the document to make sure that it is free of errors and accurately reflects your wishes. Once you have verified the Will is accurate, it is critical that you sign the document according to the laws of your state. Our attorneys will provide state-specific instructions to help you execute your Will.

 

Why is a Last Will Important?

A Last Will allows you to give instructions on who will get your property after your death, appoint the person who will administer your estate, and appoint a guardian for any minor children you may have. If you die without a valid Will, your property will instead be distributed by a court-appointed administrator according to a pre-determined formula (defined in state law).

Without a Will, you would not be able to give your property to a non-relative or to exclude relatives. If you have no Will and there are no relatives at the time of your death, your property will go to the state.

 

Who can make a Last Will?

Any person of legal age (usually 18 years of age) may make a Last Will, although an exception may be made if you are married, in the military, or have been legally emancipated. Additionally, most states require that you must be of "sound mind" to make a valid Will which means:

  • You understand you are making a Will and you know what a Will is;

  • You understand your relationship to the people mentioned in your Will; and

  • You understand the types and amount of property you own and how you wish to distribute it

Can I give away all of my property in a Will?

You can give away most, but not all, of your property in a Last Will. Typically the following cannot be given away in a Will:

  • Life insurance

  • 401(k) plan assets

  • Pension plan assets

  • Retirement plan assets

  • Annuities

  • Property held in a trust

  • Matrimonial home held jointly


Who should I name as a guardian for my children?

When choosing a guardian you should consider the following questions:

  • Is the guardian of legal age? Your proposed guardian must be an adult.

  • Is the guardian genuinely concerned for you child's welfare?

  • Does the proposed guardian have the time and ability to care for my child?

  • Is my child comfortable around the proposed guardian?

  • Where does the proposed guardian live? Will my child be able to adapt to the area and lifestyle?

Does a Will allow me to specify how my pets will be cared for?

Yes, you can provide instructions to the executor (person administering your Will) to leave money for the upkeep of your pet(s) and ensure they will be cared for.

It is also a good idea to discuss any concerns regarding the care of your pets with trusted friends and family. Ideally you should also leave a spare house key with a person you trust to allow for expedient care of your pets in the case of an emergency.

 

Can I make a gift to a charity in my Will?

Yes, you can make a gift to a charitable organization in your Will. Our questionnaire will help you accurately designate your gift to ensure that your contribution will be properly disbursed.

Do I still need a Will if I already have a Power of Attorney?

Yes, a Power of Attorney only lets you give another person the authority to deal with your property while you are alive. Since a Power of Attorney will automatically end upon death, a Last Will and Testament is required in order to control how your estate is distributed after death.

What is the difference between a Last Will and a Living Will?

A Last Will is used to distribute your property after your death and cannot be used to specify what type of medical treatment you want. In contrast, a Living Will (also known as a Health Care Directive) allows you to specify your preferences for health care when you are no longer capable of giving consent yourself.

 

When should a Will be changed or revised?

If you marry, divorce, or have a significant change in your family situation, you should update your Will to ensure it remains valid and relevant. Furthermore, since your Last Will and Testament is an important document, it should be reviewed periodically to make sure it still reflects your wishes.

Power Of Attorney

What is a Power of Attorney?

A Power of Attorney form allows you to appoint another person to act on your behalf should you ever require someone to make short- or long-term decisions for you.

On a Power of Attorney form, the person granting authority to another is the "Principal". The person who is granted authority is called the "Attorney-in-fact" or "Agent".

 

Which powers can you grant to your attorney-in-fact?

A Power of Attorney document allows you to choose what your personal representative, or attorney-in-fact, will be responsible for by designating certain powers to them. The powers that you can grant your attorney-in-fact include:

  • Real Estate: To buy, sell, rent, or otherwise manage residential, commercial, and personal real estate.

  • Business: To invest, trade, and manage any and all business transactions and decisions, as well as handle any claim or litigation matters.

  • Finance: To control banking, tax, and government and retirement transactions, as well as living trust and estate decisions. Financial powers also allows your representative to control personal insurance policies and to continue donating to any charities in your stead.

  • Family: To purchase gifts, employ professionals, and to buy, sell or trade any of your personal property.

  • General Authority: This grants your personal attorney the authority to make any decisions that you would be able to if you were personally present.

 

When should you have a Power of Attorney form?

You should consider having a POA if:

  • You travel out of the country often

  • You are employed in a hazardous work environment

  • You have been diagnosed with a serious illness

  • You have business or property that you would want maintained if you were unavailable

  • You have children that would need to be provided for if you were to become incapacitated

  • You want a specific person to be responsible for your affairs

  • You have rules about how you run your business, property, or life, and you want to ensure they are upheld

  • You are approaching old age and would like to designate a representative for yourself

 

Are there different types of Power of Attorney Forms?

Yes, there are four types of POA forms.

  • General: A general Power of Attorney form allows your representative to manage all of your property-based and financial affairs. This type of POA grants them general authority.

  • Specific: A specific Power of Attorney form limits your representative's responsibilities to certain types of decisions. You can choose to allow someone to only make decisions in relation to business, for example.

  • Ordinary: An ordinary Power of Attorney is only valid while you, the principal, are capable of making decisions. This type of POA becomes invalid in the event that you become incapacitated.

  • Durable: An enduring Power of Attorney is when the contract continues even if you, the principal, become incapacitated.

Trust & Estate

How Can a Trust & Estate Attorney Help You?

Trust and estate attorneys help clients plan for the efficient and effective transfer of assets to spouses, to younger generation family members, and to charities. The practice involves the preparation of trust agreements, wills, powers of attorney, medical directives, and closely held business structures, including partnerships, limited liability companies, and corporations. 

 

CALL (877) 230-2986 for experienced counsel and representation from a dedicated Trusts & Estates attorney

Wealth Planning
When attorneys begin the planning process, they consider your objectives, your family relationships, charitable inclinations, and the relationship of federal and state estate tax, gift tax and generation-skipping transfer tax laws to these objectives. Attorneys then work with you and, in some cases, with other advisers to design the appropriate plan to meet your goals and objectives, prepare the necessary documents to carry out the desired plan and assist with the implementation of your plan. In connection with family wealth planning, attorneys plan and draft trust agreements and wills, create various business entities and carry out business reorganizations. 

Estate Administration
Trust and estate attorneys also handle the administration of estates. Attorneys confer with members of a decedent’s family on the various issues, including: 

  • Assistance to the executor with the preparation of the required probate documents and assist in the valuation of estate assets

  • Making insurance claims

  • Preparation of final income tax returns and the estate’s income and federal and state estate tax returns

  • Monitoring of the investment of the estate’s assets

  • Arranging for the distribution of the estate’s net assets

  • Throughout the administration of an estate, consideration is given to income tax savings through the timing of distributions and the timing and claiming of appropriate deductions. 

Trust Administration

In the trust administration area, attorneys advise and consult with corporate and individual trustees concerning the discharge of the trust’s terms and consult with beneficiaries concerning trust administration matters including the preparation of trust accounts. Trust and Estate attorneys also assist clients in all phases of probate and trust litigation. This may involve construing or reforming the terms of a will or trust, prosecuting or defending a will contest action or surcharge actions against trustees. 

 

What is a Trust and Estate attorney's goal for its client/s?

The goal of a Trust and Estate attorney is to assist clients to achieve their personal goals while obtaining the significant tax savings which may be available to them through proper planning. Attorneys in the practice spend a significant amount of time dealing with the federal estate, gift and generation-skipping tax issues involved in transfer planning. 

The information on this website is for general information purposes only. Nothing on this site should be taken as legal advice for any individual case or situation. The information is not intended to create, and receipt or viewing does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship.