What Is Estate Planning?
Estate planning covers three major areas of law, which interact in complex ways. Each has its own vast set of rules, and each raises its own set of important questions.
Inheritance. Who will receive your property after your lifetime? Different kinds of assets require different kinds of documentation. Do you wish to make different provisions for different people? Can everyone handle the responsibility of receiving assets? Should any strings be attached? Have you considered the different circumstances that might exist when the time comes? Might your gift interfere with public benefits that a beneficiary is receiving?
Administration. How easy or difficult will it be to manage your various assets? Who will be the right person or people to get the job done while managing relations among the various interested parties? What complexities might arise due to jurisdictional issues, family relations, or the nature of your assets? And what if your affairs require administration while you’re alive but unable to handle them?
Taxation. Will estate tax apply to your estate? Gift tax? Inheritance taxes? Capital gains tax? Income tax? Transfer taxes? State, city, or federal taxes? Who must pay, and when, and from what assets? And what can we do in advance to reduce or eliminate the burden?
Where there’s a will, there’s a way. Not to worry – whatever you wish to do can usually be done, as long as we think it through carefully and write the documents thoughtfully.
We start by gathering information in a couple of questionnaires and then having an hour-long discussion to explore the issues. By the end of that first meeting, we are usually able to arrange a flat fee for the work. This enables you to know the exact price of our services and encourages you to call with questions, without concern that the meter is running.
We prepare draft documents for you within a couple of weeks, address your questions, and then proceed to a formal signing with witnesses at our office. We can do this quickly if you’re under pressure, or we can take as long as you may need to reach your decisions. And there’s nothing we love more than to take your idea for an unusual kind of plan and write a document that will make it happen.
Review of Existing Documents.
It’s not uncommon for estate documents to accumulate over time. You might start with a will, and then make some revisions, add a trust, change a trustee, re-title a property. And the result could be a complicated set of materials that may or may not have the intended effect, and may or may not suit your current needs. If you have anything more than one will in effect, it might be a good idea to bring your documents in for a comprehensive review.
Changes in an estate plan have to take your whole picture into account. It’s not unusual for us to find that a plan that made sense when it was written is out of touch with the client’s current needs. Or that a smart strategy in one part of the plan was not coordinated with a corresponding change in another part of the plan. There are also lots of issues that can arise as plans play out over time — such as the ongoing ownership or management of a property that passed to a trust after someone has died.
And technical details can have a serious impact. For example, amendments to trusts are not always permitted, and they require the signatures of the right parties with the right formalities in order to take effect.
Bring it all in and we’ll let you know what your documents are doing for you and what you might want to change.