ESTATE PLANNING

Estate planning, sometimes referred to as “wills & trusts” is one of the few areas of law that is, eventually, applicable to nearly everyone. Not everyone is ever engaged in a lawsuit, not everyone will get divorced, but everyone is likely to inherit property from another or leave property to be inherited by someone else. The decisions and methods by which one person leaves their property to another is their “estate plan.”

Surprisingly, even those without a Last Will and Testament have an “estate plan.” Should we die without a will (termed “intestacy”) state law determines who receives our property (usually a spouse and minor children, in specific amounts, then adult children, etc.). Of course, there are very good reasons to have a will, not least of which is determining for yourself how your assets will be distributed and to whom, rather than leaving the decision to the state.

Depending upon the size and nature of your estate and what you would like done with it after your death, different types of estate plans are advisable. Everyone’s circumstances are unique, and everyone will benefit from thinking about their estate planning desires, and taking the steps to ensure those desires are carried out (often with the guidance and assistance of an estate planning attorney).

Sometimes, an estate plan may be as simple as naming appropriate beneficiaries on a bank account, life insurance policy, or retirement account. However, even those with minimal assets benefit from executing a Last Will & Testament. For example, you will be able to name your personal representative (sometime called an executor), who will be responsible for managing your estate; you can plan for the possibility of a larger-than-expected estate, perhaps due to a wrongful death claim; and you can put into place certain protections to prevent even minimal inheritances from causing your loved ones to lose SSI, Medicaid, or other public benefits.

Sometimes, an estate plan will require establishing a trust or other legal mechanism to achieve certain goals (e.g., minimizing estate taxes, avoiding probate, or caring for a special needs beneficiary). There are many different types of trusts commonly used in estate planning: a revocable living trust, and irrevocable trust, special needs trusts, credit shelter or by-pass trust, life insurance trusts, charitable remainder trusts, and “QTIP” trusts. Each serves a specific purpose and can be of great benefit when used in the appropriate circumstance.

Consulting with an estate planning attorney is essential to ensure that your estate plan is both appropriate for your circumstances and effective at accomplishing your estate planning desires.