Experienced Estate Planning Attorneys
We help clients structure their affairs to carry out their wishes with a focus on minimizing costs and stress related to transfers. This also includes defensive asset protection planning and income, estate, and gift tax planning.
Estate Planning Documents
When you think of estate planning, you probably think of wills and trusts. These are the major components of most estate plans.
- Will: The will is the standard document in most estate plans. The will names an executor, or personal representative, to administer the distribution of your assets as you intend. Your will can also appoint guardians of minor children who will oversee their custody and care until they become adults.
- Personal Property Memorandum: Although not a valid will, this document can be part of a will. It directs your executor on how to distribute your tangible personal property items such as furniture, jewelry, artwork and other things not specifically addressed in the will. This can be changed over time.
- Living or Revocable Trust: A revocable trust holds and provides management of your assets for your benefit while you are alive and names the people who will receive the property when you die. These trusts can also help with planning for incapacity, to keep out-of-state property from going through probate, or for tax planning purposes when the estate is substantial.
The Other Estate Planning Documents
There are other estate planning documents that should be considered. Here are a few of them:
- Durable Power of Attorney (Financial Agent): This document appoints a trusted family member, friend, or advisor as an agent to act on your behalf for financial and legal matters while you are alive but become incapacitated by some event such as a car accident, illness, stroke, or heart attack. It is important to have this in place before such an event because once you become incapacitated, you cannot execute this agreement. Therefore, we recommend that you make it effective immediately to make it easier to use if needed.
- Medical Power of Attorney and HIPAA Release (Medical Agent): This document appoints someone you trust (agent) to make medical decisions for you when you no longer can. Also, the HIPPA release gives the agent authority to discuss your medical care with the doctors and access your medical records.
- Directive to Physicians (also called a “Living Will”): This is an in-hospital directive that directs the physician on your “end-of-life” care wishes, rather than leaving them up to the agent named in your Medical Power of Attorney or the doctor. This document covers the situation when you have a terminal or irreversible condition and are unable to communicate your wishes, allowing you to choose to die comfortably or use life-sustaining treatment, such as a ventilator, feeding tube, or resuscitation.
- Out-of-Hospital Do-Not-Resuscitate Order (OOH-DNR): This is an out-of-hospital directive that directs paramedics or other healthcare professionals on whether to withhold or withdraw life-sustaining treatments in the event of a respiratory or cardiac arrest. Examples of out-of-hospital settings include long-term care facilities, in-patient hospice facilities, private homes, hospital outpatient, emergency departments, physician’s offices, and vehicles during transport. The prohibited life-sustaining treatments include CPR, transcutaneous cardiac pacing (electrical impulse from pads applied to chest), defibrillation (electrical shock to chest), airway management (tube inserted down the throat for the worker to breathe for the patient), artificial ventilation (mask and bag used to force air into the patient’s lungs).
- Survivorship Agreement for Community Property: By default, community property does not include survivorship rights. On the death of one spouse, his or her interest in the property passes to his or her estate instead of directly to the surviving spouse. Married couples can change this result by filing this document in the deed records.
- Transfer on Death Deed: This document is used by married individuals owning separate property or unmarried individuals that own real property. This deed transfers real estate to someone else after you die without it going through the probate process. Property transferred with the new deed is treated like real property passing through probate, but outside the probate process. There should be no federal or state estate tax by transferring the property and the recipient should get a “stepped-up basis.” Your ownership rights are not affected while you are alive.
- Appointment for Disposition of Remains: This document allows you to choose the person you feel will best carry out your wishes regarding the details of what happens to your body upon your death, as well as any funeral arrangements. This document is legally binding and names your agent who will carry out your wishes regarding any cemetery organization, cremation plans, desired funeral director or embalmer, and funeral establishment. Without this document, state law provides a list of who has the right to control the disposition and are liable for the cost of interment which are: (1) surviving spouse, (2) surviving adult children, (3) parents, then (4) surviving adult siblings. If you would like to change this or have specific requests that you would like honored, we can prepare this document.
- Motor Vehicle Transfer Forms: If you own any motor vehicles, regardless of whose name is on the title, we can provide instructions and forms that will automatically transfer any motor vehicles to your spouse or other beneficiaries outside of probate.
This does not even get to the nonprobate transfer documents. Non-probate assets include bank accounts, investment accounts (traditional and retirement accounts), bonds, and life insurance. With bank accounts, you need to confirm that there is either a joint owner with rights of survivorship or a Pay-on-Death beneficiary designation. With stock accounts, retirement accounts, or life insurance, beneficiaries must be designated, or probate will be necessary for your devisees or heirs to access the funds. These estate funds will be distributed to the persons designated in your will as beneficiaries, or, if there is no will, to your heirs as determined by state law. This can be avoided by properly designating beneficiaries to these non-probate assets to receive the funds directly without the need for probate.
We Have the Experience You Need
Our attorneys have experience working with some of the largest estates. We also help with more modest estates and one-time transactions, such as property transfers and planning.
We can handle just about every estate planning and trust matter. This includes planning and drafting the documents, transferring property, transferring or reforming trusts, and representing the parties in court. It also includes planning the estates to minimize tax consequences, preparing estate/gift and fiduciary tax returns and working on the audit review by the IRS, and representing the executor or administrator and others as they administer the estate.
Clients come to us during their lifetimes to find ways to deal with or manage assets or wealth. We are honored to serve as counsel in these ongoing relationships. This includes business owners, executives, investors, inheritors, and others who realize that they need a plan to transfer and protect their assets. It can also include coming up with a plan for who is to care for minor or incapacitated children.
If you need help managing your estate or planning for your estate, we want to hear from you.
Need more information?
Contact our estate planning attorneys to see how we can help with your estate planning needs.