“Wills are uncanny and electric documents. They lie dormant for years and then spring to life when their author dies, as if death were rain. Their effect on those they enrich is never negligible, and sometimes unexpectedly charged. They thrust living and dead into a final fierce clasp of love or hatred. But they are not written in stone—for all their granite legal language—and they can be bent to subvert the wishes of the writer.”
- Strangers in Paradise: How Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas got to Heaven, by Janet Malcolm, The New Yorker, 11/13/06
“Never ascribe to malice that which can adequately be explained by incompetence.”
- Napoleon Bonaparte
Estate planning is the setting up of instructions for the disbursement of your estate assets to your heirs and loved ones at your death. It includes drawing up a will, setting up various types of living trusts, assigning powers of attorney and gifting property. The purpose of estate planning is to ensure that you keep as much of your estate as possible, minimizing federal estate taxes, avoiding probate court, structuring the ownership of assets to take advantage of tax laws and avoiding an unwanted conservatorship of your person and your estate. The goal is to make sure that your intentions, and not the intentions of someone else or the probate court are implemented during and after your life.
A trust is an estate planning device that allows for the gifting of property to a trust instrument in order to benefit the trustor and one or more beneficiaries. Certain irrevocable trusts can be set up to limit your exposure to unforeseen litigious attacks. Avoiding probate, protecting certain assets and preventing an unwanted conservatorship are major reasons to create various kinds of living trusts.
Trust administration refers to the management of trust property in accordance with the terms of a trust instrument for the benefit of the beneficiaries. The trust administration can be set up during the trustor’s life if the trustor is incapacitated and after the trustor’s death. The administration process is complicated and laborious and it requires the help of a qualified estate planning, trust, and probate law expert in order to avoid personal liability.
Probate is the act or process of proving that a will is authentic. The document that is alleged to be the last will and testament of a deceased person must be proven to be such by an authorized person or a judge of the probate court. A person’s will is usually delivered to the probate court by an executor or by an administrator of the deceased person who obtains a certificate that authenticates the will. Probate is an expensive public process that can take a long time to complete. A qualified estate planning attorney will have the skills and expertise to help clients avoid this antiquated process.
Conservatorships & Guardianships
A conservatorship is a legal concept in which a guardian or a person is appointed by a probate court judge to manage the financial affairs and/or the daily life of another person because of physical or mental limitations or old age. A conservatorship can be ordered over another person’s financial affairs, their physical being or both. Conservatorships are difficult to challenge because people are placed under them by a court of law and are declared to be incapacitated and not able to make their own decisions. It is critical to have a compelling estate plan in place to prevent someone from petitioning the court to be made your conservator. Your only defense in this case is your estate plan. An argument that you are of sound mind is not acceptable. A guardianship typically is the care and management of the person or the estate of a minor.
Business law encompasses all the laws related to the forming and running of a business. It includes laws that govern how to start, buy, manage, close or sell any type of business. The typical forms of business include sole proprietorships, corporations, limited liability companies, general partnerships and limited partnerships. Effective estate planning will address these forms of business ownership in a comprehensive plan that is intended to avoid problems when a business owner dies.
This is the management and settlement of the estate of someone who died without having made a will or living trust estate plan or a person who only made a will. This process is typically performed under the supervision of a probate court but sometimes probate supervision is not necessary. The administration process involves collecting the decedent’s assets, the payment of his or her debts and distributing the estate amongst those who are entitled to it.
Tax planning is a component of traditional estate planning. It is used to implement strategies that take advantage of all available deductions in order to reduce tax liability.