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Estate Planning

While some people may believe that only the wealthy should consider estate planning, that is not the truth. Everyone needs to address how his or her estate will be divided upon death. Estate planning should not be a one-time task for most people. In addition to working with Mr. Rhine to set up the initial documents, clients need to spend time periodically looking at their estate plan and ensuring that it still fits their needs.

Anytime there is a new birth, death, marriage, divorce, or change in a major asset, the estate plan should be re-evaluated. In addition, most people should plan to review the estate documents every couple of years just to make sure they are still aligned with personal and family goals and preferences.

The idea that the estate plan is simple and can be done over a brief session with template legal documents is one that can be dangerous and cost heirs significant money. Mr. Rhine will sit down with you and help you to draft documents that speak to your specific situation. In particular, it is important that you think about these issues:

  • What do you want to happen to your property after your death? This question includes both real property, such as your house, and intangible property, such as your bank account.

  • What do you want to happen when you become ill?

  • Who do you want to take care of you?

  • Should you become unable to care for yourself and make decisions before your death, who do you want to have that power?

  • How do you want that to be determined?

Mr. Rhine has the experience and compassion to help you make all of these decisions. He can help with many legal areas related to probate and estate planning, including the following:

  • Wills

  • Living Wills

  • Trusts

  • Intervivos Trusts (Living Trusts)

  • Testamentary Trusts

  • Durable Powers of Attorney

  • Advance Health Care Directives

  • Probate

The Will

For most people, the will is the primary legal document that will help determine what happens after death. The basic purpose of the will is to determine how assets will be divided. For people who are responsible for minor children, their care and financial well-being obviously is a significant part of the will. The will includes three major parts.

  1. As stated, a guardian for minor children as well as a financial custodian, which may be a different person, is the top purpose of a will for people who still have children living at home.

  2. Beneficiaries are people to whom your property is distributed after your death. They benefit financially from your death. Many states have specific rules regarding who should be beneficiaries and can contest a will. Mr. Rhine can help you to navigate those waters and to include in your will the people to whom you want to bequeath assets and how that works.

  3. The executor is the person or institution responsible for ensuring the wishes set forth in the will are carried out. Some people choose a family member who is responsible and mature, but others choose an institution, such as a lawyer or an accountant, to take care of these tedious details. The executor’s responsibilities include not just ensuring the proper distribution of assets but also paying debts from the estate, handling taxation issues that arise after your death, and managing any assets.

Living Wills

The term “living will” is common but often misunderstood. In fact in many hospitals people are asked if they have a living will before registering, and people who don’t often are taken back at the question. In short, a living will works similarly to a will but functions before death. If you become incompetent because of medical problem or car accident, for example, a living will would be the document that spells out your preferences. Also called a durable power of attorney or an advance health care directive, a living will can save significant conflict and grief for family members dealing with a crisis.
Trust

Trusts are written documents that work in a similar way to wills. Two types of trusts apply to most situations. The first is an Intervivos trust. Also called a living trust, an Intervivos  trust allows you to decide when you want your assets to go into your trust. Trusts have many benefits, including avoiding court costs and supervision.

The second type of trust is a testamentary trust. This type of trust comes into play after the person has died. In fact, the will needs to go through probate before the establishment of the testamentary trust in many cases. The purpose of the trust is to name someone as the guardian, or trustee, of assets on behalf of someone who is unable to make those decisions. Testamentary trusts are most commonly set up when the person has small children who are not able to make financial decisions, but they also can work for people who are not yet mature enough to make those decisions. In most cases, trusts last until the person reaches a certain age.

Durable Power of Attorney

Andrew Rhine recommends that everyone considers getting a durable power of attorney. This person is the one who will make decisions of a financial nature if you become unable to do so for any reason. Without a durable power of attorney, the person who, by legislative statute, is next of kin typically is the one who would be granted this power. Even if you agree with that assessment, having a legal document to make your wishes known can avoid protracted court battles and family conflict.

The process of dealing with your financial affairs if you are unable and do not have a durable power of attorney to state your wishes can be cumbersome and expensive for your family members. It is not uncommon for these battles to completely drain an estate and render the initial decision less important than the ensuing court battle. When you set up a durable power of attorney, this person will be able to sell and buy property on your behalf, to handle debt and bills that you have incurred, and to leverage your assets if necessary. Speaking with an attorney is the best way to ensure that a durable power of attorney is handled in an efficient and legal manner.

Advanced Health Care Directive

The advanced health care directive is similar to a durable power of attorney but works in the case of medical decision making. This is the type of document that helps if you are in a severe car accident, for instance. The person who is named in the advance health care directive is the person who will be responsible for making medical decisions on your behalf. Again, there are procedures in place to determine who would make those decisions if you have not named anyone, but the process is easier and less stressful if you use the help of an attorney to put together legal documents that your family can access. If you do not have family members you want making those decisions, the advance health care directive is even more important because you’re able to appoint an attorney-in-fact to make those decisions for you.

Asset Protection

The idea of asset protection is what most people think of when they think of estate planning. The purpose is exactly as stated — to protect assets from being lost to over-taxation or other issues that may arise. An attorney in association with a Certified Public Accountant can advise you on the best ways to protect your assets so that your heirs can get the most amount of money from them.

Probate

Probate is the process by which wills are confirmed or contested and through which asset allocation is managed in the event that someone dies without a will. Probate courts have very strict rules that legislatures set up, and there is very little wiggle room within the probate court system to alter those rules. In many states, however, people have to go through probate to have a will authenticated and accepted.

Having an attorney set up your legal estate planning documents is one way to make this process run smoothly. People who have a family member who died without a will also need the help of probate attorneys because they will need to go to the probate system in order to have access to the deceased’s assets. There are pros and cons to the probate court system. In general, this system has such strict rules in place that there is very little way to manipulate it. On the other hand, probate courts are typically slower in addition to being costly. Hiring an attorney who can help to navigate these waters and is familiar with all the rules will provide peace of mind during an otherwise stressful time.

Seek Advice

The best way to deal with estate planning and probate issues is to look for advice from competent legal representation. You want to find someone who has actual experience in the area you need. In addition, you should seek to find someone with whom you can develop a rapport because of the sensitive, important nature of estate planning issues for most people.