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WILLS, ESTATE, TRUST, & PROBATE
Losing a loved one is an emotional and stressful time that is often compounded by managing the affairs of the decedent’s estate. Often it is both mentally and financially draining trying to piece together the appropriate information to honor a loved one’s last wishes and settle their estate. The team at Wolk, Neuman, Maziarz & Lanzet will create an estate plan that makes it easy to efficiently place the estate in order and will help alleviate the uncertainties surrounding the legal process of estate settlement.
Proper estate planning eliminates uncertainties over the administration of a loved one’s affairs after they pass, facilitates a quicker estate settlement process and increases the value of their estate by reducing taxes, lawyer’s fees and other expenses.
To oversee the proper settling of an estate, an executor is selected/appointed to manage the decedent’s affairs. It is the executor’s responsibility, perhaps working in conjunction with legal counsel, to make certain all pertinent institutions and parties with a legal or financial interest are informed of the decedent’s passing
An estate is the net worth of a person at any point in time, whether alive or deceased. It is the sum of a person’s assets – legal rights, interests and entitlements to property of any kind – less all liabilities at that time.
Estate planning is the process of arranging for the disposal of an estate during a person’s life.
BENEFITS OF ESTATE PLANNING
Wealth Preservation – Take a proactive approach to secure the wealth built up in the estate.
Asset Protection – Identify the who, what, why, when, where and how of estate asset protection to prevent valuable resources from slipping through your grasp.
Tax Planning/Reduction Strategies – Learn how to adopt practical methodologies, which legally and ethically help you avoid unnecessary asset exposure.
How to Avoid Probate – Steer the entire process to avoid Probate Court and maximize the value of the estate going forward.
Pre Death Action Plan – Equip yourself with a step by step guide, which will help minimize family conflicts/uncertainty and help facilitate proper estate settlement.
Legacy Secured – Ensure the estate holder’s wishes are followed to maximize inheritance to the heirs.
Business Succession Planning– If you own your own business it is imperative that you formulate a business succession plan to ensure a quick and inexpensive transition of your business interests at the time of your death. Since 1961 we have helped thousands of business owners preserve the companies they have worked so hard to build. Our attorneys have the necessary Corporate Law expertise to facilitate a seamless exit strategy in the event of your retirement or death saving your family or partners valuable time and money.
Peace of Mind – Determine a path that saves your family time, money and anxiety at time of your passing:
-Create an inventory to easily locate assets and determine debts
-Reduce conflict between family members by creating an exact roadmap of your estate.
Taxes in Order – Create a Financial overview to ensure estate tax returns (706 and 1041) can be easily filed.
Proactivity Saves – Our Firm will implement efficient strategies that will foster asset protection, wealth preservation, tax planning and avoiding probate.
ESTATE PLANNING STEPS
Compile Documents in a Safe Deposit Box
To ensure that your important papers are easy to find and in one place, store all deeds, titles and other proof of ownership documents in a safe deposit box at your local bank. You should also include your Last Will and Testament, Healthcare Proxy, Power of Attorney, Trusts, birth certificate, social security card, credit report, last three years’ tax returns and appraisals. Finally, include copies of an Assets and Liabilities list, a Family Tree and an address book containing family members and important contacts.
Make certain you have appointed a deputy, someone authorized to open the safe deposit box upon death, with your financial institution. You should also ensure that the deputy has the needed documentation to prove authority to access the box.
Explore Buying Long-term Care and Life Insurance Policies
The cost of long-term care in this country is skyrocketing. Without proper planning, an individual’s estate can be decimated by nursing home, hospice or healthcare expenses. Long-term care insurance may provide a good solution and help protect assets for your heirs. Contact your insurance agent to discuss options available.
Consider Transferring Assets While Alive
Transferring assets while you are alive will reduce your taxable estate and help minimize any friction that might exist after you have passed. It also gives you the opportunity to bear witness to the joy that it might bring your loved ones. After transfer, these assets are beyond the reach of any creditors you might have. You may gift $14,000 a year tax-free to as many individuals as you like.
Please note that there is a five-year look back period for purposes of Medicaid and Medicare subsidies. By transferring assets five years prior to your death, you will be more likely to qualify for Medicaid and Medicare. If assets are transferred within five years of applying for Medicaid and Medicare, those assets must be disclosed and may disqualify you from receiving a subsidy.
Certain family members must be notified when papers are filed with the Probate Court. Locating and contacting surviving members- children, grandparents, parents, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles and first cousins is an especially difficult assignment for the Executor. To simplify the task it is vital you obtain family member contact information and place it in an address book which can be easily referenced by the executor. Most Probate Courts require a Family Tree Affidavit with the Petition for Probate. If the Court is not confident that the Family Tree is complete and accurate, it can require a due diligence search for family members, which may cost the estate thousands of dollars in attorney and private investigator fees.
Appraise All Assets
Obtain a current appraisal of the value of your home if none has been completed in the last five years. You should also consider getting appraisals for jewelry, art, collectibles and other valuable items (or at least locate the receipts if you purchased the item).
One of the keys to a strong Estate Plan is avoiding Probate and the reach of creditors. Probate is the legal process that proves in court that a will is valid; identifies, inventories and appraises the decedent’s property; pays off outstanding debt or taxes; and distributes the remaining property as the will directs.
By naming “Pay on Death” beneficiaries on any and all accounts, you can minimize your Probate Estate. The types of assets that allow for a named beneficiary include life insurance, IRAs, stocks, bonds and annuities. Upon death, most of these accounts will pass directly to those named as beneficiaries without having to go through Probate or being subject to creditor’s claims. This costs you nothing, goes a long way in simplifying your estate settlement, and ensures you determine who receives the distribution. By naming a pay on death beneficiary, you are not giving control over the asset/money until you die. Contact your bank or investment administrator, and ask how you can set this up.
If you have not named beneficiaries or set up an alternative estate planning vehicle, the assets that are in your name alone will have to go through the oversight of the Probate Court and will be subject to the mandates in your Last Will and Testament. This opens the door for someone to contest your will or to contest a person or asset bequeathed therein. This could delay your estate settlement for years and cost your heirs many thousands of dollars, as well as unnecessary emotional turmoil.
Guardian for Minor Children
Likely, the most important decision you will make is who will care for your minor children upon your death. You usually name the guardians in your Last Will and Testament. Be sure to name an alternate in the event the first choice does not want the position or predeceases you. To that end, before you name them, you should have a conversation with and ask your proposed guardian and alternates if they are willing to raise your children in the event of your death. This is an important responsibility, and you want to ensure that your children are wanted and in a loving home.
Prearrange Your Funeral
Contact a funeral home location near you. Making your final arrangements in advance ensures your funeral will be conducted according to your wishes, eases the burden on loved ones during an already difficult time, helps loved ones avoid selecting unwanted merchandise or services, and locks in today’s prices should you choose to fund your prearrangement. You should also prearrange your funeral or memorial service to reflect the way you want to be remembered. Will it align with your religious or ethnic customs? What music should be played? Are there special readings you would like included? Answering these questions and others can help ensure that your final wishes are carried out.
Create a Financial Overview
Create a detailed financial overview. Oftentimes, Executors of estates are saddled with piecing together a financial profile from invoices, statements, proofs of ownership, tax returns, etc., which is clearly time-consuming and imprecise. The estate may spend thousands of dollars not only compiling the information, but also in lawyer fees to organize the information in the way necessary for settlement.
Compile a list of your assets and liabilities and keep a running inventory of your estate. You will need to detail all beneficiary and co-debtor information. For all accounts, include the account numbers and address of the institution. If you have a pension plan, be sure to name the Administrator of the plan and include the address and phone number. You should give the named Executor in your will access to this information.
ESTATE PLANNING DOCUMENTS
Your Estate Plan should include a Last Will and Testament, a Healthcare Proxy or Directive, a Power of Attorney, and a Trust (if necessary). It is vital that your plan contains the legal directives that detail not only your wishes upon death, but also what happens if you become unable to make decisions for yourself while you are alive.
Last Will and Testament
Your Last Will and Testament sets forth your wishes for the distribution of your estate. It also appoints the person you would like to manage the affairs of your estate (Executor/Personal Representative). This is an essential document, and you should ensure that your loved ones know where to locate the original will.
Healthcare Proxy or Directive
Equally important is a Healthcare Proxy or Directive, which will predetermine certain healthcare decisions (for example, a “Do not resuscitate” order) and leave other healthcare decisions to another person if you are incapacitated or otherwise unable to make these decisions on your own.
Power of Attorney
A Power of Attorney should be executed that allows an individual/individuals to make a financial decisions/transactions on your behalf if you are mentally incapacitated and unable to do so for yourself.
You may or may not need a trust. However, it often is advisable to set up a trust in the case of substantial assets (over $1 million) or if you have minor children who will need guardianship. There are a myriad of trusts that exist, and part of your estate planning is to see which one is right for you.
Business Succession Plan
Whether you are a sole proprietor, partnership, or corporation a proper business succession plan is the key to keeping your business out of the courts, and making sure your business is preserved and your wishes are followed. Wolk, Neuman, Maziarz and Lanzet have corporate tax attorneys and seasoned estate planning lawyers with the knowledge that is essential to put a proper succession plan together for you.
As your Estate Plan should be unique to your individual circumstances, we highly advise that you make your appointment today with Wolk, Neuman, Maziarz and Lanzet to ensure you are maximizing your tax strategies and the distribution of your assets to loved ones.