No documents that you sign in your lifetime are as important as your will and other estate planning documents. Your estate plan, if properly structured, will accomplish a number of important tasks, including:
• Determining to whom, when, and how your property will be managed and distributed after your death.
• Providing your family with directions for funeral arrangements, payment of obligations and distribution of personal or treasured items.
• Designating a personal representative who will manage your estate in accordance with your intentions, and distribute your property as you direct.
• Nominating a guardian for your minor children.
• Reducing the cost of probate, or in many circumstances eliminating the need for probate.
• Eliminating the need for probate in other states if you own property outside of this state.
• Reducing and sometimes eliminating estate taxes, and reducing or deferring income taxes.
• aintaining your estate in a trust to manage your property for your surviving spouse or children, and protecting your property from creditors.
• Developing a succession plan for a family business.
• If you are incapacitated, providing direction to your family and your doctors as to your care, and your wishes concerning life-sustaining procedures, as well as designating a person to make medical and financial decisions for you if you cannot do so.
• Making gifts to charity.
It is not only the wealthy who need estate plans. Married people with young children should plan for each other and for their children. Persons with blended families need to eliminate the complications created by having a spouse that is not the natural parent of their children. Single persons need to make certain that their property is distributed to those friends and family members of their choice, rather than the persons named by state law. The elderly need to consider the best manner to maintain their estates to provide for their own care, and to plan for the next generation, or to charity.
Estate taxes continue to be a concern. Federal tax law has increased exemptions so that fewer estates are subject to estate tax. However, the current tax climate is uncertain. The current tax law is effective through 2010, and no one is sure how the tax laws will change at that time. Also, families who believe they have a modest estate may not consider how their estates has grown, and what property the tax authorities consider. In addition to real estate and investments, federal and state tax laws consider life insurance, retirement assets and other property when determining a "taxable" estate. A fairly straightforward estate plan with bypass trusts can effectively double the value of property passing to the next generation free of estate tax.
Our firm employs a variety of tools to accomplish your estate planning goals. Your plan may be as straightforward as a simple will. It may be helpful to change ownership or beneficiaries on real estate, life insurance, investments or retirement assets, or prepare a marital property agreement. Use of revocable (living) trusts is useful to avoid probate. Estate taxes may be reduced by the use of bypass trusts, or irrevocable life insurance trusts. A health care power of attorney and durable financial power of attorney are important for every person. It is our goal to fashion the best plan for each client that accomplishes our client’s goals, in the simplest and most cost effective manner.
It is important to have expert legal advice in completing your estate plan. A careful plan and properly drafted documents will ensure a legally enforceable plan that will avoid future legal challenges, tax problems and unintended consequences.
Regardless of your age or financial means, there is no better time than now to complete your estate plan. If you have a will, it should be reviewed periodically and revised if your circumstances or your wishes have changed. Wills do not expire, and what was written years ago may not adequately address your current circumstances.
To learn more about our estate planning services, contact Attorney John D. Dobroski for a consultation. You will receive individual attention, careful planning, and a thoughtful approach.
Phone: (414) 276-1233