Wills, Trusts, and Estates
Have you put off thinking about planning your estate? Maybe you have come to the conclusion that you don’t really own much, you plan to use it before you become elderly, and things will take care of themselves. Or, maybe you are thinking “by the time this is an issue, I won’t really have to think about it.”
As the old adage goes: if you fail to plan, plan to fail.
Take a few minutes to learn the basics about wills, trusts, and estate and gift taxes, you can plan your estate with confidence. A will, often known formally as a “Last Will and Testament,” is a written legal document executed during your lifetime that will direct how your property will be managed and distributed after your death. When it becomes important, you will no longer be available for consultation. Therefore, it is drawn up according to strict guidelines and executed with notable formality. A will can be changed anytime during your lifetime—anytime that is, if you still have the mental capacity to sign a legal document—and becomes effective only when your local Surrogate Court finds that it meets the legal requirements to be deemed valid. This begins the process known a “probating a will.”
Do you have a will? If you don’t, or perhaps you have one that is decades old, a short consultation with us can point you in the right direction.
Besides directing where your property will go, a will allows you to choose an executor. An executor is a person who will be appointed by the court to collect, manage and distribute your estate to the beneficiaries.
Perhaps, you have heard that having a “trust” is better than having a will? Like a will, a trust is a written, legal document that can direct and manage your property after your death. Unlike a will, it can be created during your lifetime, if you choose, and begin to operate to hold your property. A trust begins with a Trust Agreement, naming the trustee, the property and the beneficiaries. If correctly created and managed, your property will not go through probate, it will be distributed privately without the direction of any court.
Trusts have long historical background, much if it direction by state law. They can be drafted for many purposes. They can be very simple or quite complex. They can be revocable or irrevocable. A trust often provides a safe method to protect assets during your life, and to provide for the future use of loved ones or charity. In fact, our clients often chose trusts to avoid the probate process at all, have more control and protection over their assets during their life, and avoid unnecessary taxes.
There are many combinations of will and trust provisions that can accomplish your wishes simply and safely. However, there are other choices, too. Life insurance, payable-on-death accounts, retirement assets, and section 529 educational plans are often used in place of or along with wills and trusts. The exact configuration will depend what you own and what you want to do with it.
Caregiving and Aging
While a will and/or a trust will provide the basic framework for an estate plan, there are other considerations, too. Will you need care? Who will decide about that care? A solid, comprehensive estate plan will address these needs, too.
If you become unable to handle your financial affairs, you will need a Power of Attorney. This written legal document will give another person (or institution) the ability to transact business on your behalf. This is an important decision and options about what sort of control and responsibilities this person will have should be considered carefully.
Then there is the matter of advanced medical directives. Who will make your medical and care decisions? After a thorough discussion, we can craft directives that specify what you do and do not want should you become unable to make those decisions yourself. This type of document is known as a Living Will and should address your personal preferences for care, as well as any religious constraints. There is also the matter of who will make those decision for you. This should be a trusted person, familiar with your preferences and guided by the written dictates in your Living Will.
We have guided many clients in making decisions on these topics. We invite you to call us for a consultation and discussion. The peace-of-mind and security you will receive will become a valuable contribution to your family and community.