A Revocable Trust is a useful tool that can minimize estate taxes payable at death, avoid the probate process for certain assets, “hold up” assets for beneficiaries for their entire lifetime or until they reach a particular age and/or provide a means of privately ensuring your estate plan is followed. A Revocable Trust is established while you are living and as the name indicates, it is revocable and can be amended at any time prior to your death; provided you are competent or have an authorized agent acting under a Durable Property Power of Attorney. Our office regularly prepares Revocable Trusts and pour-over wills (wills that pour assets into the trust) for clients.
A Funeral Agent Designation allows you to designate an individual to be in charge of your funeral arrangements at your death. This form can prove extremely helpful to have in place in situations involving multiple children with diverging views on funeral arrangements or for individuals who do not have children or any close relatives.
A Durable Health Care Power of Attorney allows you to designate up to three (3) health care agents to communicate your medical decisions to your health care providers if you are no longer able to do so. The document can also express your wishes regarding organ donation, life-prolonging procedures and interventions. A Durable Health Care Power can prevent the need for a court-appointed Guardianship of the person in the event you are unable to communicate or make health care decisions. You can start a conversation with your loved ones regarding your health care wishes by visiting Engage with Grace.
A Durable Property Power of Attorney is an agency document in which you appoint agent(s) (“attorneys-in-fact”) to handle your financial affairs while you are living and to sign all legal documents except a Will. The Power of Attorney is durable, meaning that it will remain in effect even if you are incompetent. Generally Property Powers of Attorney are revocable, meaning they can be revoked at any time, and all powers end with your death. A Durable Property Power of Attorney is a vital document to have in place as you never know when you might become incapacitated. With this document your agent will have the power to pay your bills, maintain your home and take care of your finances among other things. A Durable Property Power of Attorney also provides a private and less expensive alternative to an adult Guardianship which is a public process through the Probate Courts requiring your treating physician to report that you are unable to handle your own decisions for property, health, residence and association.
Our office also provides basic Powers of Attorney for property, advocacy, school issues and health care for persons with disabilities capable of understanding. Oftentimes these documents serve as a meaningful substitute for imposing a full guardianship over a family member with a disability.
A Will generally does four things:
1) names individuals or entities (and successors) to be your personal representative in charge of your probate assets when you die (called an Executor);
2) provides the Executor with a blue print of how to distribute your assets; and
3) nominates a guardian for minor children or children with disabilities.
By naming an Executor and outlining his or her powers there is minimal need for Probate Court approval of the estate’s administration which in turn minimizes the costs of administering your estate.
A Will is also an important document to have in place if your heirs are minors i.e. under the age of 18. If a minor inherits a large sum of money the Probate Court will require a Guardian be appointed for the minor regardless of whether the minor has parents who are living and able to manage the finances. A minor Guardianship can be a costly endeavor and oftentimes parents are upset to learn that they are not automatically in charge of their children’s inheritance. In addition, the child will receive the inheritance in full and outright upon his or her 18th birthday. Our office can help you tailor your Will to avoid a minor Guardianship and even “hold the money up” beyond the child’s 18th birthday to age 21 using the Uniform Transfers to Minors Act or to an age deemed more appropriate based on the size of the inheritance through the use of customized trusts.
A simple estate plan generally consists of the following documents: a Will, Durable Property Power of Attorney, Durable Health Care Power of Attorney and, if necessary, 4) Funeral Agent Designation form. We also provide assistance completing beneficiary designation forms. Together we can work to develop an estate plan that meets your goals and priorities. Contact us to schedule an appointment.
If you die without a Will state law creates a “Will Substitute” (the rules of intestacy) for your probate assets by allocating them among your heirs and your surviving spouse, if any. You cannot choose your heirs, but if you have a Will you can choose your beneficiaries.
If you die without a Will your probate assets are controlled by a personal representative called an Administrator. An Administrator must seek court approval for major decisions which can delay the process and increase costs.
Dying without a Will can be especially problematic for parents of children with disabilities. The rules of intestacy pass assets to heirs regardless of their ability to manage those assets and the effect such an inheritance will have on their continued eligibility for means-tested government benefits and services. See the “Special Needs Planning” tab for planning techniques geared towards families with children with disabilities.
Creating an estate plan gives you and your family peace of mind to know that you have thought about end of life decisions and already made some of the difficult choices for your loved ones. Additionally, working with an estate planning attorney gives you the freedom to tailor your estate plan to your specific needs. Designing your estate plan is akin to building a puzzle; it is important to ensure that all of the pieces are accounted for and fit together. Our office will help you understand how your assets pass at death and work with you to make the transition as smooth as possible.
We understand that creating an estate plan can be anxiety-provoking for most people. We can help you through the process and find that most clients feel a sense of relief in the end.