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Estate Planning Overview, 101

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Estate planning is not solely about planning for your death. It also involves planning for your life in the event you're mentally incapacitated. Having an estate plan in place is very important because it reflects your wishes for your children, family, property and assets.

Is Estate Planning Often Overlooked?

Despite its extreme importance, estate planning is often overlooked and neglected. Many people work hard throughout their lives to provide for their families and build their estates, only to have the very things they've worked for and people to protect in disarray because they didn't invest time in a comprehensive plan that reflects their wishes.

Statistics show that more than 50% Americans do not have an estate plan in place at the time of their death. This is likely due to the average person's unfamiliarity with the estate planning process itself. Because they do not understand its importance and how it works, many Americans forego wills, trusts and other estate documents.

Why do you Need an Estate Plan?

Without the proper documentation in place at the time of your death or incapacity, you are leaving it up to a judge you don't know to decide how to distribute your assets throughout your family, who will care for your minor children, and who will care for you if you're ever unable to care for yourself.

Five Questions to Answer in your Plan

In your plan, you want to proactively answer questions that may arise in the event of your death or incapacity. Generally, these questions will involve your assets, minor children, inheritances, health care directives and sometimes more.

Here are 5 questions you should answer in your plan:

  • Who do you want to care for your minor children?
  • Who will be responsible for managing your estates?
  • How will your assets and property be distributed?
  • Who will care for you if you're unable to care for yourself?
  • How will inheritances be distributed to beneficiaries?
Five Documents to Include in your Plan

A comprehensive estate plan is not a mere document. It's actually a combination of several documents that reflect your wishes regarding your minor children, your health care, and distribution of your assets, property and inheritances in the event of your death. It also covers your health care wishes if you're ever incapacitated and unable to make your own decisions.

Here are the minimum five (5) documents you should include in your estate plan:

  • Will
  • Power of Attorney
  • Trust
  • Living Will and Advantage Directives
  • Guardianship Plans for Minor Children

Many of us get uncomfortable when we think about dying and our family's life without us. It's not a topic anyone wants to consider more than once. However, it is critical that you take time now, while you're healthy and in a good state of mind, to invest time in getting your estate, health and other affairs in order, and create an estate plan that reflects your wishes upon your death or incapacitation.

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Boulder Utah 9 estate planning pitfalls to avoid

Estate Planning: What You Need To Know

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Here are four key elements of estate planning that can not only help to preserve the value of your estate but also to ensure the efficient administration and disposition of your estate assets.

1. A will is the cornerstone for an estate plan and deals with all matters regarding the final distribution of your estate assets. A will is a legal document that speaks on your behalf upon your demise. If you do not have a will, then the courts will decide the manner in which your estate assets will be distributed - and this may not be in accordance with your wishes.

2. A trust is a legal document that can be designed to address any unique situation that you may have in regard to the distribution of your estate assets. For example, a spendthrift trust can be set up to protect the interests of a beneficiary who is not good at handling money. A trust can be set up for the protection and administration of assets for minor children, a spouse or for any other beneficiary.

Creative use of wills and trusts can not only protect the interests of your heirs, but also can help reduce the impact of taxes and probate fees. An estate planning attorney can help with the proper legal drafting of wills and trusts. But before you engage the services of an attorney, it is highly recommended that you should do the essential ground work first - this will save you hundreds if not thousands of dollars in legal and accounting fees.

3. Your estate executor will need to know the location of your assets and vital documents. If you do not have a proper record of your assets and vital documents, valuable assets can be "lost" during the estate settlement process. For example, there are billions of dollars in unclaimed money currently held by the government waiting to be claimed by the beneficiaries of deceased relatives.

4. It is vitally important to understand that most estates usually comprise of assets that are not readily convertible into cash. For example, real estate, long term financial investments, business interests, rental properties and other assets. In other words, most estate assets are generally illiquid.

Without proper funding arrangements it is highly probable that valuable estate assets may have to be liquidated at fire sale prices in order to pay taxes and other estate settlement expenses. These expenses can easily amount to thousands and even millions of dollars in the case of larger estates. There is a smart way to fund estate settlement expenses without having to liquidate valuable estate assets by the creative use of life insurance.

By implementing the above estate planning strategies you can ensure that all your affairs are properly organized and depending on the size of your estate, you could potentially save thousands if not millions of dollars. Your heirs will be proud and glad that you made all the proper arrangements and that all your affairs were left in excellent order. To learn more on estate planning please check the resource box below.

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Bluffdale Utah County UT estate planning 5 year lookback

Estate Planning and Trusts

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If you're reading this article, it's probably not for entertainment value. And if you're reading for entertainment, then you're either a masochist or you're actually interested in what I have to say. It could be both, I guess. Whatever the reason, estate planning is an important topic, regardless of your station in life.

So what does it mean to have an estate plan? The better question is: why does it matter? This is not easy stuff. It deals with death and dying and the future. Of course, nobody wants to think about this stuff. But unfortunately, it's the pink elephant in the room. And it's not all that bad, actually.

Generally, an estate plan is a set of instructions that spell out how your property should be managed and distributed during your life and after death. The attorney (yours truly) is basically a conduit that channels your wishes onto paper in a way that make sense and have the most effect. Okay, maybe it's not that simple, but this should give you some idea. The estate plan should be a reflection of your life and vision. And don't confuse the word "estate" with a gated 8000 square foot villa with your initials on the entry gate. Your estate is all that you own in real estate and other assets.

At one point or another, most of us who own property think about what will happen to our property when we die. We think about stuff like, "Who will get my 1984 Honda Civic?" That's a legitimate concern. Nobody is going to want it, but the concern is no less legitimate. But what if you become disabled? And what happens when you get old and feeble minded? There may come a time where we will live out our lives without sufficient mental and/or physical capacity to manage our own affairs. Look, we all know or knew someone who started to "lose it." We can all remember thinking this or saying something like, "hey, is it me, or is Uncle Joe beginning to lose it?"

Enter the estate plan. The estate plan deals with the management of your property and financial affairs. There are two main types of estate plans: one is built around a Will and the other around a Revocable Living Trust. Each has it pros and cons. But as long as you have your wits about you, you can always make changes to the plan along the way. That being said, it's important to have an estate plan in place now because you don't know when you might become the "Uncle Joe."

THE WILL

A Will is the most common document used to specify how an estate should be handled after death. The person or entity designated to receive your property under the Will is called a Beneficiary. The person whose property is to be disposed by the Will is the Testator or Testatrix.

Like a Trust, the Will can set out different instructions, such as who gets certain property or who will be the guardian of Testator's minor child in the event that no parent is alive. It can be used to disinherit someone. It can set conditions on inheritance, such as the requirement that the Beneficiary first reach the age or 25 or graduate from college.

And then there's the dreaded P word - PROBATE. There's no getting around it. When a person dies and leaves property in a Will, probate is the legal proceeding that is used to wind up his or her legal and financial affairs. It's best described as a court-supervised process by where assets are gathered, valued, and distributed according to the Testator's last wishes as stated in the Will.

Probate proceedings are held in Superior Court for the county in which the Testator lived. The Executor (the person who administers the estate) is responsible for protecting a deceased person's property until all debts and taxes have been paid, and seeing that what's left is transferred to those who are entitled to it. Their job includes making an inventory of the estate's assets, locating creditors, paying bills, filing tax returns, and managing the estate assets. Finally, when this is all done, a petition is filed with the court requesting a distribution to the Beneficiaries. The whole process can take many months and sometimes years to complete.

As you can imagine, probate can also be very expensive. The Probate Code sets the maximum amount that attorneys and personal representatives (i.e. executors, administrators, etc.) can charge. As of 2016, the fees are four percent of the first $100,000 of the estate, three percent of the next $100,000, two percent of the next $800,000, one percent of the next $9,000,000, and one-half percent of the next $15,000,000. On top of that, a probate referee is appointed to appraise all of the non-cash items. This person usually takes one percent of the total assets appraised. All of this can add up very quickly. Although it's safe to say that most of us will probably not die with an estate valued at $15 million, the probate process can easily reduce the size of the estate by tens of thousands of dollars.

And of course there's the privacy issue, or lack thereof. When a Will is admitted to probate it becomes a matter of public record, including the details of what your assets are and who's in line to get them. Some may have legitimate reasons for following the probate matter, like a beneficiary's creditor who's looking to collect. Other unscrupulous types may want to know who to bamboozle.

THE REVOCABLE LIVING TRUST

A Living Trust is established with a document, usually a Declaration of Trust or a Trust Agreement. It's basically a relationship whereby property (real or personal, tangible or intangible) is held by one party for the benefit of another. A Living Trust conventionally arises when property is transferred to a separate Trustee to hold for the Beneficiary. However, that's not always necessary.

The person creating the Living Trust is called the Settlor or Trustor (these are synonymous). The Settlor appoints a Trustee to manage the Trust assets. The Trusee holds legal title to property for the benefit of another, also known as the Beneficiary. Although the Beneficiary does not own legal title to the property, he or she is said to own beneficial title. So you can imagine that the Trustee cannot do anything with the property that does not benefit the Beneficiary, like sell some off and pocket the money. It may be easier to think about a Trust like a Corporation. The Trustee is the CEO and the Beneficiaries are the shareholders. And it's not uncommon for Trustee to also be a Beneficiary, although it's advisable that a Co-Trustee be named as well.

A Living Trust should usually be accompanied by a Last Will and Testament, also known as a "pour-over will." The Will should say that property that is outside of the Trust is to be distributed to the Trustee of the Trust when the Testator dies. As long as the property outside of the Trust is valued at less than $100,000, probate can be avoided. The benefit is that property not previously placed in the Trust will get "poured" into it. Even if the property exceeds $100,000 and has to go through probate, it will eventually be distributed according to the instructions of the deceased instead of being distributed according to California law. It may also be a good idea to name the same person to be both the Executor of the Will and the Trustee of the Trust, since he or she will dealing with the same property.

WHAT DOES THIS ALL MEAN?

So what's the point of all of this mumbo jumbo? Well, just that it's easy to overlook the necessity of a proper estate plan. A Living Trust helps to protect you, your assets, and those people and/or entities who you want to leave your assets to when you're gone.

A good reason to create a Living Trust is to keep your estate plan private. Unlike a Will and probate, the Living Trust is a private contract between you (the Settlor) and the Trustee. It does not need to be filed with the county. The only way it can become public is if a dispute arises and someone files a lawsuit, which is possible.

Another major benefit of a Living Trust is that it has the ability to protect you in the event that you become disabled. The Trust can specify how your incapacity should be determined, how you should be taken care of if you're deemed disabled, and who will be able to manage your property if you can't. A Living Trust is written so that your Trustee can automatically jump into the driver's seat if you become ill or incapacitated. This will keep you and your property outside of court-supervised guardianship or conservatorship. The more you can keep the court out of your life and affairs, the better.

A Living Trust also allows you to dispense with your property in the manner that you choose. For example, many families have a child who has or had some problems in life. This may range from physical challenges to addiction to partying in Las Vegas with prostitutes every weekend. A Living Trust can provide for financial support to others without giving them direct control of the trust property.

Finally, a Living Trust makes it possible to avoid having to go through probate. How? It's simple - the property is titled in the name of the Trust when you die. Your Trust does not check out just because you do. Only those assets that are titled in your name at the time of death go through probate.

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Bluffdale Utah estate planning lawyer

Estate Planning - Why Should I Care?

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An estate plan is a document consisting of multiple trivial elements such as the living will or healthcare proxy or also known as medical power of attorney and assignment of power of attorney. Some people also include trust into their wills. Once you merge all these things together, you have to get it certified under the legal laws of both the federal and state governments. Basically everyone needs to have a will, to inform the world where you wish to allocate your assets to after you leave the world. In fact, it is the best way to consign guardians for your children.

Those dying without a proper estate planning, having no will to display upon their deaths are known to be dying intestate. However, this implies that your heirs need to struggle through several legal procedures in order to take over the assets. Having a trust does not guarantee the ownership transfer; it is insufficient because you still need a will to be in charge of your trust to inherit them to your beneficiaries. In addition, it is advisable that you discuss the plan with your children to avoid future discord, especially if you know your heirs may come in strong disagreement with one another.

To begin with your estate plan, you have to garner all appropriate information such as insurance policies, investments, real estate or business interests, financial condition, and any retirement savings. Then ponder to yourself several questions like who you wish to assign to the job of handling your financial affairs if you happen to be incapacitated. Then consider whom you intend to inherit your assets to and give thoughts into plotting the responsibility of your medical decisions should you be bedridden and unconscious.

Some people think that having infinite amount of money indicates a good estate planning but this is not always the case. Leaving all your properties and cash to your spouse does not imply it will be exempted from estate tax because you will instead increase his or her taxable estate. Subsequently, if your spouse leaves the money to your children upon his or her death, they will end up paying higher estate taxes. At all cases, having a will is the best item to solve all hassles.

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Bluffdale Salt Lake County UT subchapter s estate planning

Levels of Estate Planning

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Appropriate estate planning can only be possible with proper appreciation of the major aspects involved in personal finance management process. Efficient estate planning attorney makes it a point realizing these aspects perfectly while making the plan.

Appropriate estate planning involves understanding various aspects of personal finance management well. Multiple aspects of such financial management are involved in the estate planning process. An efficient attorney therefore will always look at these aspects before preparing the estate management. People who are looking for inheritance, insurance and property transfer managements with efficiency will find understanding these aspects extremely useful for the purpose of preparing an all comprehensive estate planning.

Setting goals is extremely essential for preparing the perfect plan. Without the goals clearly determined it may not be possible to prepare plan that would meet all the requirements of the client. Retirement plans are examples of such goal setting. One could plan buying a house for residence after retirement at 25% of the gross income while keeping the residual portion of the income away for future investments, maintenance of the family, and other pursuits. People who are concerned with setting up multiple goals at one time may obtain the assistance of professional expert trust planning attorney that would balance the financial planning with goals set by the client for benefit optimization.

Goals that the client set up for achievement could either be long or short term. In any case setting such financial goals help direct planning. Processes like these involve adequate assessment of the financial and all other aspects of the estate and resources of the estate owner. Experienced and professional estate planning attorney would take care to prepare simplified versions of all the financial statements and legal documents so that there is no room for any confusion in the minds of the clients involved. Ordinarily balance sheets and income statements would be a couple of financial documents that helps the proper assessment of the estate to be planned.

Despite best goal setting and near perfect assessments by the estate lawyer proficient in these deals, best results could only accrue with perfect execution of the plans. One has to be careful about it.

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Blanding San Juan County UT estate planning 2nd marriage

Estate Planning - Do You Need an Estate Plan?

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Estate planning is not solely about planning for your death. It also involves planning for your life in the event you're mentally incapacitated. Having an estate plan in place is very important because it reflects your wishes for your children, family, property and assets.

Is Estate Planning Often Overlooked?

Despite its extreme importance, estate planning is often overlooked and neglected. Many people work hard throughout their lives to provide for their families and build their estates, only to have the very things they've worked for and people to protect in disarray because they didn't invest time in a comprehensive plan that reflects their wishes.

Statistics show that more than 50% Americans do not have an estate plan in place at the time of their death. This is likely due to the average person's unfamiliarity with the estate planning process itself. Because they do not understand its importance and how it works, many Americans forego wills, trusts and other estate documents.

Why do you Need an Estate Plan?

Without the proper documentation in place at the time of your death or incapacity, you are leaving it up to a judge you don't know to decide how to distribute your assets throughout your family, who will care for your minor children, and who will care for you if you're ever unable to care for yourself.

Five Questions to Answer in your Plan

In your plan, you want to proactively answer questions that may arise in the event of your death or incapacity. Generally, these questions will involve your assets, minor children, inheritances, health care directives and sometimes more.

Here are 5 questions you should answer in your plan:

  • Who do you want to care for your minor children?
  • Who will be responsible for managing your estates?
  • How will your assets and property be distributed?
  • Who will care for you if you're unable to care for yourself?
  • How will inheritances be distributed to beneficiaries?
Five Documents to Include in your Plan

A comprehensive estate plan is not a mere document. It's actually a combination of several documents that reflect your wishes regarding your minor children, your health care, and distribution of your assets, property and inheritances in the event of your death. It also covers your health care wishes if you're ever incapacitated and unable to make your own decisions.

Here are the minimum five (5) documents you should include in your estate plan:

  • Will
  • Power of Attorney
  • Trust
  • Living Will and Advantage Directives
  • Guardianship Plans for Minor Children

Many of us get uncomfortable when we think about dying and our family's life without us. It's not a topic anyone wants to consider more than once. However, it is critical that you take time now, while you're healthy and in a good state of mind, to invest time in getting your estate, health and other affairs in order, and create an estate plan that reflects your wishes upon your death or incapacitation.

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Do you want a Free Initial Consultation with an Estate Planning Lawyer?

Call 1-800-564-2707 today.

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Blanding Utah estate planning expert

Estate Planning: What You Need To Know

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The five levels of estate planning is a systematic approach for explaining estate planning in a way that you can easily follow. Which of the five levels you need to complete is based on your particular objectives and circumstances.

Level One: The Basic Plan

The situation for level one planning is that you have no will or living trust in place, or your existing will or living trust is outdated or inadequate. The objectives for this type of planning are to:

reduce or eliminate estate taxes;
avoid the cost, delays and publicity associated with probate in the event of death or incapacity; and
protect heirs from their inability, their disability, their creditors and their predators, including ex-spouses.

To accomplish these objectives, you would use a pour-over will, a revocable living trust that allocates a married person's estate between a credit shelter trust and a marital trust, general powers of attorney for financial matters and durable powers of attorney for health care and living wills.

Level Two: The Irrevocable Life Insurance Trust (ILIT)

The situation for level two planning is that your estate is projected to be greater than the estate-tax exemption. In any event, you can make cash gifts to an ILIT using your $13,000/$26,000 annual gift-tax exclusion per beneficiary.

Level Three: Family Limited Partnerships

The situation for level three planning is that you have a projected estate-tax liability that exceeds the life insurance purchased in level two. If your $1 million gift-tax exemption ($2 million for married couples) is used to make lifetime gifts, the gifted property and all future appreciation and income on that property are removed from your estate.

More people would be willing to make gifts to their children if they could continue to manage the gifted property. A family limited partnership (FLP) or a family limited liability company (FLLC) can play a valuable role in this situation. You would typically be the general partner or manager and in that capacity, continue to manage the FLP or FLLC's assets. You can even take a reasonable management fee for your services as the general partner or manager. Moreover, by gifting FLP or FLLC interests to an ILIT, the FLP or FLLC's income can be used to pay premiums, thereby freeing up your $13,000 / $26,000 annual gift-tax exclusion for other types of gifts.

Level Four: Qualified Personal Residence Trusts and Grantor Retained Annuity Trusts

The situation for level four planning is the additional need to reduce your estate after your $1 million/$2 million gift-tax exemption has been used. Although paying gift taxes is less expensive than paying estate taxes, most people do not want to pay gift taxes. There are several techniques to make substantial gifts to children and grandchildren without paying significant gift taxes.

One technique is a qualified personal residence trust (QPRT). A QPRT allows you to transfer a residence or vacation home to a trust for the benefit of your children, while retaining the right to use the residence for a term of years. By retaining the right to occupy the residence, the value of the remainder interest is reduced, along with the taxable gift.

Another technique is a grantor retained annuity (GRAT). A GRAT is similar to a QPRT. The typical GRAT is funded with income-producing property such as subchapter S stock or FLP or FLLC interests. The GRAT pays you a fixed annuity for a specified term of years. Because of the retained annuity, the gift to the remaindermen (your children) is substantially less than the current value of the property.

Both QPRTs and GRATs can be designed with terms long enough to reduce the value of the remainder interest passing to your children to a nominal amount or even to zero. However, if you do not survive the stated term, the property is included in your estate. Therefore, it is recommended that an ILIT be funded as a "hedge" against your death prior to the end of the stated term.

Level Five: The Zero Estate-Tax Plan

Level five planning is a desire to "disinherit" the IRS. The strategy combines gifts of life insurance with gifts to charity. For example, take a married couple, both age 55, with a $20 million estate. Assume that there is neither growth nor depletion of the assets and that both spouses die in a year when the estate-tax exemption is $3.5 million, and the top estate-tax rate is 45%.

With the typical marital credit shelter trust, when the first spouse dies, $3.5 million is allocated to the credit shelter trust and $16.5 million to the marital trust. No federal estate tax is due. However, at the surviving spouse's death, the estate tax due is $5.85 million. The net result is that the children inherit only $14.15 million.

With the zero estate-tax plan, the ILIT (with generation-skipping provisions) is funded with a $13 million second-to-die life insurance policy. These gifts reduce the estate value to $18 million. In addition, the couple's living trusts each leave $3.5 million (the amount exempt from estate taxes) to their children upon the surviving spouse's death. The balance of their estate ($11 million) passes to a public charity or private foundation-estate-tax free. To summarize, the zero estate-tax plan delivers $20 million (i.e., $13 million from the ILIT and $7 million from the living trusts) to the children instead of $14.15 million; the charity receives $11 million instead of nothing; and the IRS receives nothing, instead of $5.85 million.

In summary, with some advanced planning, it is possible to reduce estate taxes, avoid probate, set forth your wishes, and protect your heirs from creditors, ex-spouses and estate taxes. Remember, every year taxes change so if you need estate tax help, call us today to speak with an estate attorney.

TO THE EXTENT THIS WEBSITE CONTAINS TAX MATTERS, IT IS NOT INTENDED OR WRITTEN TO BE USED AND CANNOT BE USED BY A TAXPAYER FOR THE PURPOSE OF AVOIDING PENALTIES THAT MAY BE IMPOSED ON THE TAXPAYER, ACCORDING TO CIRCULAR 230.

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Big Water Kane County Utah power estate planning

Estate Planning - Do You Need an Estate Plan?

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Why Plan Your Estate?

The knowledge that we will eventually die is one of the things that seem to distinguish humans from other living beings. At the same time, no one likes to dwell on the prospect of his or her own death. But if you postpone planning for your passing until it is too late, you run the risk that your intended beneficiaries - those you love the most - may not receive what you would want them to receive either because of extra administration costs, unnecessary taxes or squabbling among your heirs.

This is why estate planning is so important, no matter how small your estate may be. It allows you, to ensure that your assets and other possessions will go to the people you want, in the way you want, and when you want. It permits you to save as much as possible on taxes, court costs and attorneys' fees; and it affords the comfort that your loved ones can mourn your loss without being simultaneously burdened with unnecessary red tape and financial confusion.

All estate plans should include, at minimum, two important estate-planning instruments: a durable power of attorney and a will. The first is for managing your property during your life, in case you are ever unable to do so yourself. The second is for the management and distribution of your property after death. In addition, more and more, Americans also are using revocable (or "living") trusts to avoid probate and to manage their estates both during their lives and after they're gone.

Your Will

Your will is a legally binding statement directing who will receive your property at your death. It also appoints a legal representative to carry out your wishes. However, the will covers only probate property. Many types of property or forms of ownership pass outside of probate. Jointly owned property, property in trust, life insurance proceeds and property with a named beneficiary, such as IRAs, insurance policies or 401(k) plans, can all pass outside of probate.

Why should you have a will?

Here are some reasons.

First, with a will you can direct where and to whom your assets (what you own) will go after your death. If you died instate (without a will), your estate would be distributed according to state law. Such distribution may or may not accord with your wishes.

Many people try to avoid probate and the need for a will by holding all of their assets jointly with their children. This can work, but often people spend unnecessary effort trying to make sure all the joint accounts remain equally distributed among their children. These efforts can
be defeated by a long-term illness of the parent or the death of a child. A will can be a much simpler means of affecting one's wishes about how assets should be distributed.

The second reason to have a will is to make the administration of your estate run smoothly. Often the probate process can be completed more quickly and at less expense to your estate if there is a will. With a clear expression of your wishes, there are unlikely to be any costly, time-consuming disputes over who gets what.

Third, only with a will can you choose the person to administer your estate and distribute it according to your instructions. In Illinois this person is called your "personal representative". If you do not have a will naming him or her, the court will make the choice for you. Usually the court appoints the first person to ask for the post, which is most closely related to you at the time of death.

Fourth, for larger estates, a well planned will can help reduce estate taxes.

Fifth, and most important, through a will you can appoint who will take your place, as guardian of your minor children should both you and their other parent both pass away.

Filling out the worksheet that our office provides will help you make decisions about what to put in your will. Bring it and any additional notes to our office and our estate planning professionals will be able to efficiently prepare a will that meets your needs and desires.

Estate Administration- Probate Procedure

Probate is the process by which a deceased person's property, known as the "estate", is passed to his or her heirs and legatees (people named in the will), the entire process, supervised by the probate court, usually takes about one year. However, substantial distributions from the estate can be made in the interim.

The emotional trauma brought on by the death of a close family member is often accompanied by bewilderment about the financial and legal steps the survivors must take. The spouse who passed away may have handled all of the couple's finances. Or perhaps a child must begin taking care of probating an estate about which he or she knows little about. And this task may come on top of commitments to family and work that can't be set aside. Finally, the estate itself may be in disarray or scattered amount many accounts, which is not unusual with a generation that saw banks collapse during the Depression.

Here we set out the steps the surviving family members should take. These responsibilities ultimately fall on whoever was appointed executor or personal representative in the deceased
family member's will. Matters can be a bit more complicated in the absence of a will, because it may not be clear who has the responsibility of carrying out these steps.

First, secure the tangible property. This means anything you can touch, such as silverware, dishes, furniture, or artwork. You will need to determine accurate values of each piece of property, which may require appraisals, and then distribute the property as the deceased directed. If property is passed around to family members before you have the opportunity to
take an inventory; this will become a difficult, if not impossible, task. Of course, this does not apply to gifts the deceased may have made during life, which will not be part of his or her estate.

Second, take your time. You do not need to take any other steps immediately. When bills do need to be paid, they can wait a month or two without adverse repercussions. It's more important that you and your family have time to grieve. Financial matters can wait. When you're ready but not a day sooner, meet with one of our attorneys to review the steps necessary to administer the deceased's estate. Bring as much information as possible about finances, taxes and debts. Don't worry about putting the papers in order first; our attorney will have experience in organizing and understanding confusing financial statements.

In general rules of estate administration include the following steps:

1. Filing the will and petition at the probate court in order to be appointed executor or personal representative. In the absence of a will, heirs must petition the court to be appointed "administrator" of the estate.

2. Marshalling, or collecting the assets. This means that you have to find out everything the deceased owned. You need to file a list, known as an "inventory", with the probate court. It's generally best to consolidate all of the estate funds to the extent possible. Bills and bequests should be paid from a single checking account, either one you establish or one set by our firm on your behalf, so that you can keep track of all expenditures.

3. Paying bills and taxes. If an estate tax return is needed--generally if the estate exceeds $5,200,000 in value as of 2016 -- the estate must be filed within nine months of the date of death. If you miss this deadline and the estate is taxable, severe penalties and interest may apply. If you do not have all of the information available in time, you can file for an extension and pay your best estimate of the tax due.

4. Filing tax returns. You must also file a final income tax return for the decedent and, if the estate holds any assets and earns interest or dividends, an income tax return for the estate. If the estate does earn income during the administration process, it will have to obtain its own tax identification number "TIN" in order to keep track of such earnings and file an estate income tax

notion in addition to the decedent's final income tax return.

5. Distributing property to the heirs and legatees. Generally, executors do not pay out all of the estate assets until the period runs out for creditors to make claims, which in Illinois is 6 months from the date the estate, notice of death in the newspaper. But once the executor understands the estate and the likely claims, he or she can distribute most of the assets, retaining a reserve for unanticipated claims and costs of closing out the estate.

6. Filing a final account. The executor must file an account with the probate court listing any income to the estate since the date of death and all expenses and estate distributions. Once the court approves this final account, the executor can distribute whatever is left in the closing reserve, and finish his or her work

Avoiding probate through joint ownership or trusts can eliminate some of these steps. But whoever is left in charge still has to pay all debts, file tax returns, and distribute the property to the rightful heirs. You can make it easier for your heirs by keeping good records of your assets and liabilities. This will shorten the process and reduce the legal bill.

Guardianship and Conservatorship

Every adult is assumed to be capable of making his or her own decisions unless a court determines otherwise. If an adult becomes incapable of making responsible decisions due to a mental disability, the court will appoint a substitute decision maker, called a "guardian". Guardianship is a legal relationship between a competent adult (the "guardian") and a person who because of incapacity is no longer able to take care of his or her own affairs (the "ward"). The guardian is authorized to make legal, financial, and health care decisions for the ward. Depending on the terms of the guardianship, the guardian may or may not have to seek court approval for various decisions, but generally the guardian acts without being required to incur the expense of court approval.

Some incapacitated individuals can make responsible decisions in some areas of their lives but not others. In such cases, the court may give the guardian decision-making power over only those areas in which the incapacitated person is unable to make responsible decisions (a so-called "limited guardianship"). In other words, the guardian may exercise only those rights that have been removed from the ward and delegated to the guardian. Guardianships are consuming and expensive. Prefer planning with Power of Attorneys for health care and financial matters will significantly reduce cost and time in the event you became incapacitated. (See Page for detailed discussion of Power of Attorney).

Incapacity

Generally a person is judged to be in need of guardianship when he or she shows a lack of capacity to make responsible decisions. A person cannot be declared incompetent simply because he or she makes irresponsible or foolish decisions, but only if the person is shown to lack the capacity to make sound decisions. For example, a person may not be declared incompetent simply because he or she spends money in ways that seem odd to someone else. Also, a developmental disability or mental illness is not, by itself, enough to declare a person incompetent.

Process

Anyone interested in the proposed ward's well being can request a guardianship. An attorney is usually retained to file a petition for a hearing in the probate court in the proposed ward's county of residence. The proposed ward is entitled to legal representation at the hearing, and the court will appoint an attorney if the allegedly incapacitated person cannot afford lawyer.

At the hearing, the court with the help of the Guardian ad Litem attempts to determine if the proposed ward is incapacitated and, if so, to what extent the individual requires assistance. If the court determines that the proposed ward is indeed incapacitated, the court then decides if the person seeking the role of guardian will be responsible.

Guardian

A guardian can be any competent adult-the ward's spouse, another family member, a friend, a neighbor, or a professional guardian (an unrelated person who has received
special training). A competent individual may nominate a proposed guardian through a durable power of attorney in case she ever needs a guardian.

The guardian need not be a person at all--it can be a non-profit agency or a public or private corporation. If a person is found to be incapacitated and a suitable guardian cannot be found, courts in many states can appoint a public guardian, a publicly financed agency that serves this purpose. In naming someone to serve as a guardian, courts give first consideration to those who play a significant role in the ward's life - people who are both aware of and sensitive to the ward's needs and preferences. If two individuals wish to share guardianship duties, courts can name co-guardians.

Reporting Requirements

Court often give guardians broad authority to manage the ward's affairs. In addition to lacking the power to decide how money is spent or managed, where to live and what medical care he or she should receive, wards also may not have the right to vote, marry or divorce, or carry a driver's license. Guardians are expected to act in the best interests of the ward, but give the guardian's often-broad authority; there is the potential for abuse. For this reason, courts hold guardians accountable for their actions to ensure that they don't take advantage of or neglect the ward.

The guardian of the property inventories the ward's property, invests the ward's funds so that they can be used for the ward's support, and files regular, detailed reports with the court. A guardian of the property also must obtain court approval for certain financial transactions. Guardians must file an annual account of how they have handled the ward's finances. Guardians must offer proof that they made adequate residential arrangements for the ward, that they provided sufficient health care and treatment services, and that they made available educational and training programs, as needed. Guardians who cannot prove that they have adequately cared for the ward may be removed and replaced by another guardian.

For more information, please see Part II of this article

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Here are four key elements of estate planning that can not only help to preserve the value of your estate but also to ensure the efficient administration and disposition of your estate assets.

1. A will is the cornerstone for an estate plan and deals with all matters regarding the final distribution of your estate assets. A will is a legal document that speaks on your behalf upon your demise. If you do not have a will, then the courts will decide the manner in which your estate assets will be distributed - and this may not be in accordance with your wishes.

2. A trust is a legal document that can be designed to address any unique situation that you may have in regard to the distribution of your estate assets. For example, a spendthrift trust can be set up to protect the interests of a beneficiary who is not good at handling money. A trust can be set up for the protection and administration of assets for minor children, a spouse or for any other beneficiary.

Creative use of wills and trusts can not only protect the interests of your heirs, but also can help reduce the impact of taxes and probate fees. An estate planning attorney can help with the proper legal drafting of wills and trusts. But before you engage the services of an attorney, it is highly recommended that you should do the essential ground work first - this will save you hundreds if not thousands of dollars in legal and accounting fees.

3. Your estate executor will need to know the location of your assets and vital documents. If you do not have a proper record of your assets and vital documents, valuable assets can be "lost" during the estate settlement process. For example, there are billions of dollars in unclaimed money currently held by the government waiting to be claimed by the beneficiaries of deceased relatives.

4. It is vitally important to understand that most estates usually comprise of assets that are not readily convertible into cash. For example, real estate, long term financial investments, business interests, rental properties and other assets. In other words, most estate assets are generally illiquid.

Without proper funding arrangements it is highly probable that valuable estate assets may have to be liquidated at fire sale prices in order to pay taxes and other estate settlement expenses. These expenses can easily amount to thousands and even millions of dollars in the case of larger estates. There is a smart way to fund estate settlement expenses without having to liquidate valuable estate assets by the creative use of life insurance.

By implementing the above estate planning strategies you can ensure that all your affairs are properly organized and depending on the size of your estate, you could potentially save thousands if not millions of dollars. Your heirs will be proud and glad that you made all the proper arrangements and that all your affairs were left in excellent order. To learn more on estate planning please check the resource box below.

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I had a potential client call me earlier in the week asking me if he needed a will. The caller wasn't married and had no children or grandchildren. He didn't own any real property. All of his bank accounts had payable on death beneficiaries and he owned minimal personal property. He had the perfect plan; nothing was going to pass through probate so he didn't think he needed a will.

Maybe he doesn't need a will. I didn't know exactly since self-help estate planning frequently leads to mistakes or property that doesn't have the proper designations. In this situation a will is prophylactic. It ensures that if a mistake is made or a beneficiary designation fails, that property passes to the intended recipient.

I turned the discussion from planning for death to what type of planning he had for his life. I asked if he had a power of attorney for finances. His answer was no. "Do you have an advanced health care directive (aka health care power of attorney)?" "No."

The lack of such planning concerned me since I knew he didn't have a significant other or children to care for him if he were unable to care for himself. What would happen to him if he had a stroke or suffered from dementia or Alzheimer's? Perhaps his siblings would step in to care for him - but how? They would have to spend his money to set up a conservatorship and guardianship or other court proceedings. These processes take time and money to set up and are expensive to administer.

To help deal with his finances he could execute a springing power of attorney for finances that would give a sibling or trusted relative the ability to manage his finances if he became incapacitated and unable to do so. It's called a springing power of attorney because it only becomes effective upon incapacity. The power of attorney can provide broad powers and sets forth detailed instructions concerning what the designated agent can and cannot do on the individual's behalf. More importantly, it would allow the caller to designate who he wanted to manage his finances - not a judge. Drafting and executing a power of attorney in this situation is relatively inexpensive when compared to the cost of setting up and maintaining a conservatorship.

In Oregon, an advance health care directive would assist the caller by designating a health care agent to make health care decisions on his behalf when he's unable to. It would potentially eliminate the need for guardianship proceedings. The representative can make decisions based on directions that are left in the directive. Among the decisions the representative can make is whether to withhold or remove life support, food or hydration. The advance heath care directive does not authorize euthanasia, assisted suicide or any overt action to end the person's life.

This example is a part of the problem with self-help planning. Although the caller was very thorough with his death planning he didn't give any thought to his life. In this caller's case, life planning was much more important than death planning, but he hadn't given it any thought.

Give us a call if you need additional information or to prepare your estate plan.

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