Frequently Asked Questions
Is estate planning only for older people?
Because no one knows when they will die or become incapacitated, estate planning could benefit almost everyone who has a family and/or assets they want to protect. A well-prepared estate plan can protect against unexpected death or legal incapacity. It can provide for the care of young children and pets and continuity of business. Estate planning is not just a one-time event, it should be maintained throughout your life. Therefore, estate planning is not only for older people. It is equally, if not even more, important for young families that have children who need protection and care.
Is estate planning only for wealthy people?
The transfer of assets after a person dies is only one part of a complete estate plan. Estate planning can provide for guardianship and care of children, care for pets, issues relating to life support, and the ability for someone to handle financial issues and health decisions for someone else who is unexpectedly incapacitated. In addition, anyone with assets could benefit from an estate plan to avoid probate after they die. Probate is a long, expensive process that can deplete an estate of its assets and delay the transfer of property to a person’s heirs. Probate also makes the affairs of your estate a matter of public record. Therefore, anyone with children, pets, a business, or who would like their estate to avoid probate after he or she dies should consider an estate plan.
What is probate?
Probate is the legal process through which a court orders the distribution of a deceased person’s property to the person’s creditors and heirs. It is an expensive process that sometimes lasts years depending on the complexity of the estate and the number of creditors or heirs that contest its administration. A primary goal of estate planning is to avoid probate.
Why do I want to avoid probate?
Probate is the court process of distributing your property that you held upon your death to your creditors and heirs. The probate process can take many months and even years in some cases. The court appoints a personal representative to liquidate the non-gifted property, notify the public of the estate, pay off creditors, distribute property to your heirs, and fight any legal battles that surface against the estate along the way. It can be a long and expensive process. Probate can delay or even disregard your wishes for distribution of your property. This can affect whether a loved one timely gets funds for their special needs or for expenses such as those associated with a wedding or attending college. Probate can delay or even decline care for a pet. It can disrupt any business that you may have, even to the point of having to close down. Finally, if you do not want your estate and all the probate proceedings to be a matter of public record you will likely want to avoid probate.
What is the difference between a will and a trust?
A will mainly provides for the distribution of a deceased person’s property to certain heirs. It is basically a directive of the person’s wishes as to how the court should proceed in probate. However, issues with the will or its proper execution could render it invalid, which would cause the court to continue the probate process according to state law and not according to the deceased person’s wishes.
A trust, on the other hand, is a legal plan that a person sets up before her or his death or incapacity. Its purpose is to hold the person’s property throughout his or her life so that when the person dies the property can be distributed in the manner that he or she wishes without court involvement and without the delay, expense, and uncertainty of probate.
Not only do trusts generally avoid probate, but they also allow for the distribution of assets over a long period of time. For example, a trust can instruct the trustee to release funds to a person upon the occurrence of certain events or can instruct funds to be released over time for a child’s upbringing.
Is there only one kind of trust?
There is no such thing as a “one-size-fits-all” trust. There are many different types of trusts with each serving a different purpose according to a person’s specific needs. Some trusts only deal with the immediate distribution of property after a person dies. Others are meant to not only last throughout a person’s life but also last many years into his or her heirs’ lives. These include trusts that provide for expenses such as college or weddings for children or grandchildren. Others provide for protection of assets from creditors and from lawsuits. Some are set up to protect against taxes while the person who made the trust can enjoy the income generated from the trust during his or her lifetime. This is why it is important to meet with a knowledgeable attorney who can customize your trust to fit your situation in life and who can meet with you periodically to make sure your trust is properly maintained.
How much does an estate plan cost?
Perhaps the better question would be, “How much will it cost to not have an estate plan?” An estate plan can help avoid the uncertainty and high cost of probate. Without getting into actual numbers, which are different in every situation, it is often more expensive to your estate in the long run to not have an estate plan than it is to have one. Because there is not a “one-size-fits-all” estate plan, there is not a “one-size-fits-all” price. Once we meet with you and review your situation, we can estimate the cost for a complete plan tailored to your specific needs and goals. We only charge flat fees for estate plans, so you will know how much your estate plan will cost before you hire us to do the work.
When should I update my estate plan?
Estate planning is not a one-time event. It is important that once you have a plan in place you maintain it. People’s lives often change unexpectedly, so it is a good idea to meet with an attorney at least once every year to review your plan and evaluate if any changes need to be made. To help keep your plan updated, we offer maintenance plans that include phone calls and an annual meeting with an estate planning attorney along with discounts on updating your plan if needed.
What documents are included in a typical estate plan?
Because everybody’s family, property, and situation in life is different, it is difficult to define what is a “typical” estate plan. However, many estate plans include a Revocable Living Trust, Memorandum (or Certification) of Trust, Pour Over Will, Living Will (or Advance Directive), Medical Power of Attorney, Durable Power of Attorney; HIPPA Authorization, and all necessary transfer documents to fund the trust.
Would a will or trust purchased online be sufficient for my needs?
Without knowledge of your family and friends, property, pets, business dealings, health concerns, insurance policies, and life ambitions, it is impossible to know if a “cookie-cutter” form that is generated online would meet your needs. Our estate plans are the result of face-to-face meetings and, oftentimes, numerous calls and emails with our clients. We review relevant documents and sometimes even meet or communicate directly with our clients’ accountants, insurance agents, financial advisors, and other professional service providers. The customized estate plans we develop are the result of strategic planning based on all your information. Our relationships with our clients are often long lasting, as we become our client’s life-long personal family legal advisors who can navigate you through many of your legal concerns. This level of personal service and planning simply cannot be achieved by simply downloading a document and attempting to properly sign and fund a “cookie-cutter” plan on your own. If you truly want the peace of mind that comes with having a properly prepared estate plan in place, we recommend against executing an online sourced will or trust.
What if I cannot afford a complete estate plan at this time?
In the long run, the cost of having an estate plan may be far less than not having one. A well-prepared plan should be a high priority for most families. The benefit can far outweigh the cost. However, we do offer financing for qualified clients that wish to put a plan in place as soon as possible without having to pay the full amount upfront.