Estate Planning and Administration
We help you to effectively plan your estate to ensure tax minimization and the comfort of knowing that your assets will be transferred to your loved ones according to your desires, while providing for them comfortably in your absence.
When a loved one passes away, we will assist you with the burdens of managing and distributing their estate, including all legal and tax filings.
Our aim is to help our clients plan their estates in order to transfer wealth in the manner that incurs the least taxation, whether Federal or State Estate Tax, or income taxation, and ensures that it is done in a manner that takes into account the needs of the beneficiaries, be they minors, spouses, same sex partners, persons with special needs, or children from prior marriages. We also have expertise in planned giving for charitable beneficiaries. We do not believe in a “one size fits all” approach to estate planning, and we help our clients achieve their goals using various forms of trusts, wills and other legal instruments.
Estate Planning Considerations
FulServ Group Attorneys individualize estate plans to meet the specific needs of each client. Common considerations include:
- Whether you are part of a blended family. If so, you might have children from a previous marriage you want to provide for.
- Whether you want to provide for someone who is disabled and receiving government benefits. If so, you don’t want anything in your estate plan to risk their losing eligibility for government benefits.
- Whether you want to transfer assets outside of probate, such as a home or checking account.
- Whether you have sufficient assets or whether you should use life insurance to supplement your estate.
- Who you want to oversee the administration of your estate after death. You need a responsible, willing person to serve in this capacity.
Give some thought to these considerations even before meeting with a lawyer. The better you can articulate your goals, the more an estate planning law firm can help you achieve them.
Wills Versus Trusts
Two of the most popular estate planning instruments are wills and trusts. Understand the basic differences between them before you ask an attorney to begin drafting your estate plan.
With a will, you identify what property you want to leave and who should receive it. You can make bequests of specific property—such as your home or car. Or you can leave someone a sum of money, which might come from different bank accounts or from the sale of certain property.
You also must identify a person who will administer your estate after you die, called the executor. Many people name a spouse or child as their executor, but you can name anyone who is willing to serve.
Clients with minor children can also recommend guardians in their wills who will look after their children in the event of their deaths. Choosing a proper guardian is enormously complicated and something you and your spouse should spend considerable time discussing. Many couples choose a sibling or close family friends to serve as the guardian. Whomever you choose should agree ahead of time to serve in that capacity.
After your death, the nominated executor submits your will to the Surrogate’s Court and begins to gather the assets in your estate. The executor also must pay off creditor claims as they come in and, at the end of the process, distribute assets to beneficiaries according to the will.
In many ways, a trust is similar. With a “living trust,” you transfer assets to the trust while you remain alive. A trustee manages the assets for the benefit of the beneficiaries. You can create a revocable living trust, which allows you to change your mind and remove assets from the trust if you want. With an irrevocable trust, you give up control and ownership of assets.
One advantage of a trust is that you can avoid probate. Probate is public, so anyone can find out how much your estate was worth and to whom you left property in a will. Conversely, no one apart from the trustee will know to whom you left assets in a trust. Trusts may also be useful tools for minimizing taxes, and you can create many different types of trusts such as insurance trusts or charitable trusts depending on your tax goals.
Other Estate Planning Documents
Regardless of your age, consider what will happen if you become incapacitated and unable to make decisions for yourself. A complete estate plan could also benefit from the following documents:
- Health Care Proxy and Living Will Power of Attorney
With a living will, you specify the medical care you want when you become incapacitated. Your living will can contain as many details as you want and can identify any medical treatments that you do not want to receive once you become incapacitated. For example, some people choose not to receive CPR if it becomes necessary.
A health care proxy appoints an agent to make medical decisions if you cannot. The person you appoint as your agent makes sure that your doctors carry out your wishes Often, our clients pick a family member or trusted friend to serve in this capacity. Talk ahead of time about your wishes should you become gravely ill.
With a power of attorney, you appoint someone to perform financial transactions and make financial decisions for you including if and when you become incapacitated.
Questions About Estate Planning
Planning for the future is complicated, and you might not know what type of estate plan you want. To better understand your goals, we offer clients a consultation where you can ask any question you have. Many clients come to us with common questions, such as:
- What if I want to change my estate plan in the future? Is it complicated?
- I don’t know yet whom I want to leave certain assets to? Should I delay creating an estate plan?
- I think I’ll acquire assets in the future, such as a second home. Will I need to rewrite my estate plan?
- I think my future may include divorce/remarriage. Should I create an estate plan now, or wait?