WHAT IS AN ESTATE PLAN?
An estate plan is the strategy you design for the care and management your estate if you become incapacitated or upon your death. It includes the use and disposal of your property and wealth while minimizing taxes and costs, but it is more than that. Your estate plan should include plans for who will make medical and financial decisions for you if you become unable to do so for yourself and how you will provide for your loved ones according to your wishes. Estate planning is not just about property; it's also about the legacy, values and vision you want to pass along to future generations.
HOW MUCH DOES ESTATE PLANNING COST?
See our Getting Started page for information on our plan options and pricing.
WHAT IS A TRUST?
A trust is a legal structure that permits management of your assets by a trustee on behalf of your beneficiaries. A living trust is a trust created while you are alive. You can be the trustee for your own living trust until you are no longer able to manage your financial affairs or pass away, at which point the responsibility for managing the trust passes to someone you designate as a successor trustee. Establishing a trust can be a bit complicated, and the process can cost a bit more upfront than a will; however, if you’re willing to invest a little more up front, a trust can be your best option for avoiding probate later.
WHAT IS PROBATE?
Probate is the process by which the court validates the authenticity of a will; appoints an executor (aka personal representative); and supervises the settlement of an estate, including the payment of bills, filing of tax returns and transfer of assets to beneficiaries. When a person dies without a will, the court must determine the deceased's heirs under the state’s intestacy laws and distribute the deceased’s assets to them, not necessarily beneficiaries chosen by the deceased. Probate is a public process that involves paperwork and court appearances by lawyers. Court costs and lawyers’ fees are paid from the estate property, which would otherwise go to the deceased’s beneficiaries had probate been avoided.
HOW TO I AVOID PROBATE?
Most people want to avoid probate because it can include high fees and costs, significant time delays and stress, and public dissemination of private information. Many people successfully use a (fully funded) revocable living trust to avoid probate. A trust can bypass probate because your assets are transferred to the trust while you are still alive - so when you die, there’s nothing that needs to be transferred by the probate court (everything is already in your trust). This process not only limits court costs, but it also maintains the privacy of your financial records while enabling your beneficiaries to enjoy the benefits of the trust without disruption or delay. In addition, contract assets such as life insurance, retirement accounts and annuities as well as assets owned by joint tenants with rights of survivorship avoid probate as well.
WHAT DOES "DISABLED" MEAN?
In the estate planning world, the term “disabled” refers to an individual’s incapacity or the inability to manage day-to-day business affairs such as managing and protecting assets, signing papers, paying bills, and filing taxes. “Disability” or “incapacity” doesn’t mean you’re laid up on the couch with a bad back; instead, it means that you don’t have the physical and mental capacity necessary to manage your personal business.
HOW CAN I BE SURE TO STAY IN CONTROL OF MY PROPERTY IF I BECOME DISABLED?
There are two options for maintaining control during a period of disability; and, often, we recommend the use of both: power of attorney and revocable living trust.
WHAT'S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN MY HEALTH CARE AGENT AND MY FINANCIAL AGENT?
Health care and financial agents are two distinct roles within an estate plan. Your health care agent (aka health care power of attorney or health care proxy) is responsible for making medical decisions on your behalf if you experience incapacity. Likewise, your financial agent can manage your wealth, pay bills, file taxes, purchase insurance, and adjust investments for you if you become unable to do so yourself. They may or may not be the same person. It’s up to you to decide who is best for each role.
HOW DO I AVOID BEING KEPT ALIVE BY MACHINES AND ALLOW NATURAL DEATH?
With a living will (or advance healthcare directive), a person specifies what actions they want taken for their health if they are no longer able to make decisions for themselves because of illness or incapacity, including decisions on terminating care and life support.