Estate Planning, Probate, And Trust Administration
Estate Planning Tools
Estate plans can be as simple or as elaborate as the client needs or desires. There is a plan to fit every budget from as little as $400 to as much as $2,400 or more. The Law Office of Michele L. McGill offers free estate planning consultations so that the client will know exactly what their options are and how much it will cost before they commit. The office also offers discounts for teachers, nurses, and military families.
There is a significant difference in the quality of the estate planning documents offered in the market today. Estate planning mills offer a one size fits all product. The Law Office of Michele L. McGill recognizes that each person’s needs are different and creates an estate plan customized to meet the needs of each client. Whether it’s a remarried spouse who wants to protect his current spouse as well as the children from his or her prior marriage, or young parents who want to make sure their children are well cared for if they both die, or parents who have an adult child who cannot care for himself due to drug dependence or disability. or a gay couple who are not yet permitted to marry and need to take extra steps to plan around this legal impediment, or other unique circumstances. Because there is no standard family, one size doesn’t fit all and it is well worth it to obtain an estate plan designed to meet your specific needs.
A comprehensive estate plan may include the following documents:
A will is a document that sets forth what happens to a person’s property when that person dies. A will can be made by an individual or by a couple. Wills take effect only on the death of the person who executed the will. Wills can be simple – nominating someone to administer the estate and providing that certain individuals receive certain assets. Wills can be sophisticated – providing for a trust for minor children and nominating one or more guardians to raise the children – or providing for a special needs trust for a child – or setting up an education trust – or any number of variations. If the assets value exceeds $150,000, a probate proceeding is required to administer the estate – which may include paying the bills, filing tax returns, selling assets, and distributing the proceeds to the designated beneficiaries, under court supervision.
A trust agreement sets out an estate plan for an individual or a couple. It is effective during the trustor’s life, whereas a will is only effective on death. The trust agreement can be revoked or amended by the trustor as long as he or she is competent. A trust may help avoid federal estate taxes for a couple – by technically keeping the estate from combining on the death of the first spouse or domestic partner – and thereby doubling the amount that can be passed without payment of estate taxes. The trust is usually set up for the benefit of the surviving spouse or domestic partner and then passes to the designated beneficiaries. In the absence of a conflict, a trust can be administered without probate court proceedings. The transfer on death is not automatic and certain steps must be taken to administer the trust – including paying the bills, transferring title, filing tax returns, and selling or distributing assets. A trust may be helpful during the trustor’s life – if the trustor becomes ill or incompetent, control of the trust assets can pass to the successor trustee who can use the assets to take care of the trustor. A trust can be as simple or as complicated as the trustor’s needs and desires. A trust is ineffective unless and until the trustor’s major assets are actually transferred into the trust.
Advance Healthcare Directive
An Advance Healthcare Directive designates someone to make medical decisions for a person who becomes too ill or incompetent to make their own decisions. A well drafted directive provides detailed instructions to a healthcare agent about the person’s medical preferences in the event of a terminal illness or their lifestyle preferences in the event of a debilitating illness. It may also address whether the person wishes to permit organ donation and funeral plans. The directive requires each individual to consider and address these important issues.
Durable Power of Attorney
A Durable Power of Attorney authorizes another to act on behalf of the person executing the power. It may authorize a person to act only if the person executing the power is incapacitated, or it may be effective on execution. It should never be executed without independent legal advice because it gives the authorized agent the power to control and dispose of the assets of the person executing the power. A durable power of attorney applies to assets that are not held in trust and controlled by a trustee. It may avoid the need for a court supervised conservatorship in the event of incapacity. Although a durable power of attorney may be amended or revoked, actions taken prior to the revocation of amendment, or without notice of the revocation or amendment, remain valid.
Special Needs Trust
A Special Needs Trust allows a parent or other family member to provide for a disabled person who receives public benefits without disqualifying them from receiving benefits. It allows a concerned family member to assist a person by supplementing the public benefits to provide for additional needs that would not otherwise be met.
Asset transfers may be a critical part of an estate plan. A trust is not effective unless or until the assets are actually transferred to the trustee of the trust. Alternative arrangements may include joint tenancy or community property title with rights of survivorship or termination of such rights of survivorship. Joint title is not a substitute for comprehensive estate planning. It has serious consequences during the joint lives of the parties that may lead to unintended tax and legal consequences.