Practice Areas

Estate Planning, Probate, and Trust Administration

 

Estate Planning

Estate planning is making a plan in advance and naming whom you want to receive the things you own after you die.  It is not just for “retired” or “wealthy” people, although people do tend to think about it more as they get older. Unfortunately, we can’t successfully predict how long we will live, and illness and accidents happen to people of all ages.  Good estate planning often means more to families with modest assets, because they can afford to lose the least. 

An estate plan begins with a will or living trust. A last will and testament provides your instructions, but it does not avoid probateAny assets titled in your name or directed by your will must go through your state’s probate process before they can be distributed to your heirs.  It can also take anywhere from nine months to two years or longer.  With rare exception, probate files are open to the public and excluded heirs are encouraged to come forward and seek a share of your estate. In short, the court system, not your family, controls the process. 

Not everything you own will go through probate. Jointly-owned property and assets that let you name a beneficiary (for example, life insurance, IRAs, 401(k)s, annuities, etc.) are not controlled by your will and usually will transfer to the new owner or beneficiary without probate. But there are many problems with joint ownership, and avoidance of probate is not guaranteed. For example, if a valid beneficiary is not named, the assets will have to go through probate and will be distributed along with the rest of your estate. If you name a minor as a beneficiary, the court will probably insist on a guardianship until the child legally becomes an adult.

For these reasons a revocable living trust is preferred by many families and professionalsIt can avoid probate at death, prevent court control of assets at incapacity, bring all of your assets (even those with beneficiary designations) together into one plan, provide maximum privacy, is valid in every state, and can be changed by you at any time. It can also reflect your love and values to your family and future generations.

Unlike a will, a trust doesn’t have to die with you. Assets can stay in your trust, managed by the trustee you selected, until your beneficiaries reach the age you want them to inherit. Your trust can continue longer to provide for a loved one with special needs, or to protect the assets from beneficiaries’ creditors, spouses, and irresponsible spending.

A living trust is more expensive initially than a will, but considering it can avoid court interference at incapacity and death, many people consider it to be a bargain. 

Probate

Probate is a legal proceeding in which a state court oversees the process of identifying a deceased person’s heirs, property, and valid debts. The goal is to see that a decedent’s valid debts are paid and to distribute the remaining estate assets to the proper heirs. The process of actually identifying a decedent’s heirs, property, and valid debts is done by the executor or administrator (also known as the personal representative) of the estate. If the decedent left a will, the court normally appoints the person named as executor in the will as the executor. If there is no will, the court will usually appoint a relative or friend of the decedent to act as administrator. The personal representative, usually working in conjunction with a probate attorney, will have the task of sorting out the estate.

Trust Administration

Probate is a legal proceeding in which a state court oversees the process of identifying a deceased person’s heirs, property, and valid debts. The goal is to see that a decedent’s valid debts are paid and to distribute the remaining estate assets to the proper heirs. The process of actually identifying a decedent’s heirs, property, and valid debts is done by the executor or administrator (also known as the personal representative) of the estate. If the decedent left a will, the court normally appoints the person named as executor in the will as the executor. If there is no will, the court will usually appoint a relative or friend of the decedent to act as administrator. The personal representative, usually working in conjunction with a probate attorney, will have the task of sorting out the estate.