Estate planning is more than just writing a will to determine how your personal assets will be distributed after your death. A thoughtful estate plan will look at the benefits of distributing some of your assets during your lifetime. Also, a complete estate plan will designate and provide guidance to one who will manage your assets and make healthcare decisions in the event you become unable to make those decisions for yourself. All of these factors come together in a comprehensive estate plan, and an experienced estate planning attorney can advise you on what is best in your particular circumstances and can fashion the necessary documents to meet your needs.
Wills and Probate
Probate is the court-supervised process for distributing your assets according to the terms of your will, or according to state law if you die without leaving a valid will. Wills must be carefully drafted and meet many formalities in order to be accepted by the probate court. A poorly-drafted or contested will can frustrate your intentions about how you want your estate distributed. Even if the will is eventually accepted, probate can be an expensive and time-consuming process with fees and commissions diminishing your estate. Fortunately, there are ways to transfer assets outside of a will that do not require going through probate.
By placing your assets into a trust, you will be able to manage and control these assets during your lifetime, and upon your death they will be transferred to the intended beneficiaries, without the need for probate. A revocable living trust can be revoked or changed during your lifetime should your wishes change. Also, if you become incapable of administering the trust for your own benefit, a properly-drafted trust will contain a successor trustee who can continue to administer the trust on your behalf.
Even if you establish a living trust, you will still want a will which is designed to work with a trust. This type of will, called a “pour-over” will, is designed to ensure that assets which may have been left out of the trust, including assets acquired after the trust was created, will pass according to the terms set forth in the trust. The will also allows you to specify who will serve as guardian for your minor children.
Some assets, such as retirement benefit accounts and life insurance policies, are controlled by beneficiary designations, we work closely with our clients to carefully coordinate the beneficiary designations to ensure our clients’ planning objectives are met. An experienced estate planning attorney can help you decide which estate planning options are best for you.
While a successor trustee may be able to manage your trust assets for you should you become incapacitated, there may be assets outside of the trust, or other financial and legal decisions that need to be made. A Durable Power of Attorney can be drafted in advance, naming an attorney-in-fact who can make these decisions according to your wishes.
Another important area of concern is the ability to make decisions regarding health care. An Advance Health Care Directive/Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care, also sometimes referred to as a Living Will, can designate an attorney-in-fact to make health care decisions on your behalf, including issues regarding life-sustaining treatments, organ donation, and funeral considerations.
A qualified and experienced estate planning attorney can address all of these issues and draft documents that fulfill your wishes when you pass on. A well-drafted estate plan will provide the peace of mind of knowing that you and your loved ones will be cared for according to your desires. If you have been considering how best to approach these issues, contact Czech & Howell to begin the process of crafting your estate plan.