Probate: Dissolving the Mystery
It is important to understand the probate process before deciding whether and how to avoid it.

Probate: Dissolving the Mystery

probate and estate planning
If you want to avoid probate, work with an experienced attorney to coordinate your plan and assets.

Probate avoidance is a common concern for our clients.  They frequently seek ways to pass their assets to their loved ones without going through probate.  Although it can be avoided with proper estate planning, probate avoidance should be done carefully and at the advice of an attorney as using piecemeal strategies usually don’t work, and sometimes create bigger problems.  For example, consider using trusts in your estate planning.  See this article for more information.  https://www.galliganmanning.com/how-do-trusts-work-in-your-estate-plan/

Before considering whether you want to avoid probate, it is important to understand what the process is.  The Street’s recent article on this subject asks “What Is Probate and How Can You Avoid It?” The article looks at the probate process and tries to put it in real-life terms.

Probate is the process by which an Executor (person put in charge of the Will) goes to court to prove the validity of the Will and their authority to be in charge of the estate.  I find it helpful to remember that the word probate is essentially Latin for “prove it.”

Every state’s process is different, but in Texas, the Executor starts by filing the Will and an application to probate along with other documents necessary to that case.  Next, there is a hearing before a probate judge.  The Executor and her attorney ask the judge to admit the Will to probate as the valid Will of the decedent and ask that the Executor be empowered to handle the decedent’s affairs as directed in the Will.

Once the Will is admitted to probate and the Executor agrees to serve, there are many tasks for them to complete.  They include the following:

  • Giving notice to the beneficiaries in the Will;
  • Giving notice to potential creditors of the estate;
  • Gathering, valuing and categorizing the decedent’s assets;
  • Prepare an inventory of those assets;
  • Paying off any of the deceased’s existing valid debts or fighting invalid ones;
  • Paying final taxes or expenses of the estate; and
  • Distributing the deceased’s property to those directed by the Will

The above are just the basic responsibilities of the Executor.  The probate process becomes more complicated when a creditor appears, the family disagrees, assets are entangled or cumbersome, such as land or business interests, or the Will was written without the aid of an attorney.  Even worse, it is hard for an Executor to locate assets in the first place!  This can make estates drag on months or even years.  I recently spoke with a client whose family is still going through a probate 10 years after the decedent has passed.

With all of that uncertainty, it is worth discussing your wishes with an experienced estate planning attorney who will be able to explain what strategies are used to avoid probate, how to remove certain assets from the process, or whether it needs to be avoided at all.  The key, as with all estate plans, is to find the option that fits your goals for you and your family.

Reference: The Street (July 29, 2019) “What Is Probate and How Can You Avoid It?”

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How to Begin the Estate Planning Process

The estate planning process can be intimidating, but doesn’t have to be.  Start by listing your assets, who they go to and who to put in charge.

The hardest part of the estate planning process is  starting it.  About 17% of adults don’t think they  need  a will, believing that estate planning is only for  the very wealthy. In fact, clients frequently ask  whether they have enough money for an “estate.”    Sometimes they think state law will already directs their assets and they don’t need a plan.

However, the estate planning process is not about how much money someone has.  It is about planning for the assets you have, however much or little that may be, your wishes for those assets, yourself and your family.  It is about empowering you to make the choices you want for you and your family, not leaving it up to the state.  Even completing a few simple documents can make a huge difference in the future.

valuewalk.com’s recent article, “Couples: Here’s How To Start The Estate Planning Process” notes that although the estate planning  process can seem overwhelming, taking inventory of assets is a terrific place to start.

Make a list of all your assets, including confirming how they are titled and whether there are beneficiaries named on the accounts, as well as the general value of the assets. Then, decide who you want to leave these assets to and who should be in charge of the process.  Our firm uses questionnaires as part of the estate planning process to help gather this information so we can focus on the issues most important to you.  I also did a video segment on Kevin’s Korner that walks through some of these issues as well.  See this link for the video.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B2M_-tBoSiU 

Drafting a will or a trust may be the most critical step in the estate planning process. These documents serve as the directions for how assets are to be distributed and who is responsible to do it.  A well-crafted will or trust can simplify the distribution of assets at your death, provide instructions to your family, and avoid disputes, unnecessary taxes and protect your beneficiaries from predators.

Without an estate plan in place, your assets will be distributed according to state law, rather than according to your wishes. Don’t assume state law leaves everything to your spouse!  Many people assume if they are married everything they own goes to their surviving spouse, but in many situations, that isn’t true.  For example, blended families, children outside of the marriage and some non-marital property.  Speak with your estate planning attorney about how these issues impact you.

Once you have an idea of your assets, beneficiaries and who to put in charge, the next step in the estate planning process is to meet with your estate planning attorney to review the information so they can make recommendations on the best way to accomplish your goals and highlight other issues to address.  Our firm offers free estate planning consultations, so please contact us today to start the estate planning process.

Reference: valuewalk.com (July 22, 2019) “Couples: Here’s How To Start The Estate Planning Process”

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Estate Planning When Faced with a Serious Illness

More young and middle-aged workers find themselves in the role of family caregiver.
Everyone needs estate planning documents, but a serious illness makes that need more urgent. 

More than 130 million Americans are living with chronic illness. Forbes’ recent article, “Estate Planning Musts When You Or A Or A Loved One Has A Chronic Illness,” says that if you (or a loved one) are living with a chronic illness, you’ll likely need the same estate planning documents most people should have.

The article discusses these key estate planning documents, along with some suggestions that might help you customize them to your unique challenges because of chronic illness. These documents need to be tailored to your specific needs, so you should consult your estate planning and elder law attorney about what works best for you.  It’s also best to put your estate planning documents in place soon after your diagnosis, so that you can return your focus to your health, family and well-being.

HIPAA Release. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 governs the requirements for maintaining the confidentiality of protected or personal health information (PHI). A HIPAA Release lets someone you trust access your protected health information.  This is an important estate planning document because it provides your decision makers with information about your condition so they can best serve your needs.

Living Will. This is a statement of your health care wishes and can address end of life decisions, as well as many other matters. If you’re living with a chronic illness, there are special considerations you might want to make in having a living will prepared. For example, you might explain your specific disease while continuing to address other health issues.  You can address the disease you have, at what stage and with what anticipated disease course, and how if at all these matters should be reflected. It is also critically important to discuss these wishes with your loved ones before the issue arises so they understand what you want.

Medical Power of Attorney. This is sometimes known as a medical proxy. It is an estate planning document in which you designate a trusted person to make medical decisions for you if you’re unable to do so. You can give guidance to your medical agent about your preferences, goals and concerns in your medical care.

Financial Power of Attorney. This estate planning document lets you designate a trusted person to handle your legal, tax, and financial matters if you can’t or if it becomes difficult to do so. There are some unique considerations for those living with chronic illnesses to consider. One is the amount of control that should be given up now or at what stage. Another key issue in a power of attorney is if you should sign a special power that restricts the agent’s authority to certain specified items or sign a general power that provides broad and almost unlimited powers to the agent.  It is especially importantly that your power of attorney include authority to handle Medicaid and other long term care benefits if you are facing a serious illness.

Appointment for the Disposition of Remains.  This is a basic estate planning document by which you choose a person to execute your burial wishes and let them know what those wishes are.

Declaration of Guardians.  This is an estate planning document in which you name a person to serve as a court appointed guardian should you need one.  If you have the other documents in place you’ll likely never need this, but it is important to have as a safety net naming someone you trust to be guardian instead of a court appointed agency or lawyer if the need ever arises.

Will and Revocable Trust. Finally, Wills and  Revocable Trusts are estate planning documents which control the flow of assets at your passing.  You should speak with your attorney about which is right for you, but if you or a family member has a chronic illness, using a revocable trust may be a good way to provide for succession of your financial management.  A revocable trust allows the successor trustee to act quickly to manage the finances if you cannot do so yourself and under the guidelines you create.  This way, the trustee can pay for the care you need.

Everyone should have these estate planning documents as part of a well-crafted legacy plan, but if you or a loved one is facing a serious or chronic illness, you may be facing additional challenges that make this planning more critical.

Reference: Forbes (July 5, 2019) “Estate Planning Musts When You Or A Or A Loved One Has A Chronic Illness”

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