WILLS, TRUSTS, ESTATES
Superior legal expertise concerning estate planning,
taxation, wills, trusts, elder law, and asset protection.
The goal of our estate planning practice is to provide families with
practical solutions to individual estate planning concerns, with a strong
emphasis on the tax ramifications of various estate plans.
This often includes Wills, Trusts, and Estates.
Planning and providing for you and your family’s future, in the event of your death,
is one of the most important actions you can take in your lifetime.
Without this plan, at minimum, your assets may not be distributed
according to your wishes.
What is a Living Wills / Healthcare Proxy
A living will has nothing to do with the distribution of assets, but rather sets forth your wishes for medical care in terms of life support should you be incapacitated.
What are Wills?
A will is a legal document that sets forth your wishes regarding the distribution of your property and the care of any minor children. Wills come in several varieties, including the following:
A self-proving will, also know as testamentary will, is the traditional type of will with which most people are familiar. It is a formally prepared document that is signed in the presence of witnesses.
To maximize the likelihood that your wishes are carried out, you want a will that is set forth in writing, and signed by you and your witnesses. If your will does not meet these standards, your instructions may not be carried out.
Why Do I Need One?
Creating a will gives you sole discretion over the distribution of your assets. It lets you decide how your belongings, such as cars or family heirlooms, should be distributed. If you have a business or investments, your will can direct the smooth transition of those assets.
If you have minor children, a will lets you provide for their care. If you have children from a prior marriage, even if they are adults, your will can dictate the assets they receive. Creating a will also minimizes tensions between survivors. Relatives battling over your possessions can weaken what may have otherwise been a strong family.
If you are charitably inclined, a will lets you direct your assets to the charity of your choice. Likewise, if you wish to leave your assets to an institution or an organization, a will can see that your wishes are carried out.
What is a power of attorney?
A Power of Attorney is a legal document you use to allow another person to act for you. You create a legal relationship in which you are the principal and the person you appoint is the “attorney-in-fact” or agent. A Power of Attorney specifies the powers you give to your attorney-in-fact. The powers can be limited or broad. For example, if you are selling your house, but unable to attend the closing, you can give someone the power just to sign the deed in your absence. Most durable powers of attorney, however, give your attorney-in-fact the power to do almost anything you could do.
What Is a Trust, and Why Should I Have One?
Trusts have a reputation for being something that most people don’t have to worry about, with most seeing a trust as a vehicle for the ultra-rich to protect their assets from taxes and other financial threats. In reality, though, trusts are tools that just about anyone can use to achieve worthwhile financial goals. Still, the legal complexity of the estate planning world has left many people uncertain about what a trust is, let alone how to use it. Let’s take a closer look at trusts to try to answer the question of what they are and how they can help you and your family.
In legal terms, a trust enables a person to separate the legal ownership of property from the beneficial enjoyment of that property. Put more simply, a trust gives responsibility for managing and preserving trust property to a person or entity called the trustee. Meanwhile, the beneficiaries of the trust are the ones who actually get to receive trust assets, according to whatever terms the trust establishes for distributions.
Behind that simple concept, though, trusts are available to serve a wide range of different goals. For instance, here are just a few of the many different types of trusts and how people use them:
Revocable trusts, also known as living trusts, enable those who create them to ensure the proper management of their assets both during their lifetime and after their death. The person creating the revocable trust can change it at any time, but after death, the instructions set forth in the trust document guide the trustee’s future actions. Many people use revocable trusts as an estate planning tool to pass assets to heirs without undue publicity or the need to go through a probate court proceeding, saving on costs and administrative hassle.
Testamentary trusts are created in a person’s will. They don’t avoid probate, as a court proceeding is necessary to provide the initial funding for the testamentary trust. As a backup for situations in which the protections of a trust are useful, though, testamentary trusts allow for flexibility to handle different situations that can arise.
Irrevocable trusts can be used to make gifts in a manner that provides subsequent protection from creditors and estate taxation. Irrevocable trusts are often used to hold high-value life insurance policies, with the trust setup helping to keep the insurance proceeds out of the taxable estate of the insured person.
Special needs trusts can help family members with disabilities preserve their eligibility for government assistance while still making financial assets available for supplemental use as necessary to ensure the beneficiary’s well-being. Special provisions ensure that any trust money used for the beneficiary won’t jeopardize benefits available under programs like Medicaid and Supplemental Security Income.
Charitable trusts allow you to make a gift to charity while still retaining an interest in the property you donate. Charitable remainder trusts involve your keeping a stream of income that continues for a set period or for the remainder of your life, with the charity receive any remaining funds at your death. These trusts can give you income-tax benefits from the value of the donation even though you still get income from the assets within the trust.
Various other technical trusts are used for estate planning purposes. Credit shelter trusts are intended to preserve the estate tax exemption of a deceased spouse for future use, while a qualified terminable interest property or QTIP trust allows a spouse access to funds while preserving their eventual distribution to children or other heirs. A qualified personal residence trust or QPRT can allow you to transfer an interest in your home to family members during your lifetime in a manner that can produce extensive gift and estate tax savings.
As you can see, trusts are useful for a number of different situations. In essence, though, they all boil down to a single benefit: guaranteeing that your assets will be used as efficiently as possible to meet your wishes and provide for yourself and those you love.
Trusts aren’t just for the rich. With many different purposes for trusts, you might well find that you could benefit from establishing a trust for yourself or your family.