Estate planning is the process of arranging for the management and distribution of one’s assets at and after death. A good estate plan will also minimize taxes and other expenses, and prepare for any chance of the client’s incapacity in the future. An experienced elder law attorney can answer questions and advise you on the best course of action for your personal situation.
Who will care for my children if something unexpected happens?
How can I guarantee my assets are distributed to the right people based on my wishes?
Is there a way to ensure my descendants use their inheritance wisely?
What options are available to minimize estate taxes after my death?
Will my family end up in a lengthy and stressful probate proceeding?
The process of estate planning involves a broad range of techniques. For over 47 years, the Beck & Lenox Estate Planning & Elder Law Firm (Beck & Lenox) in St. Charles has been helping Missourians prepare their estates and provide peace of mind for themselves and their loved ones.
Who Needs Estate Planning?
Everyone needs a plan for the future. A common misconception is that estate planning is only for the elderly or those with large estates. But that is simply not true. Anyone who owns property or personal belongings needs a well-prepared estate plan, especially people going through a major life change, such as first-time parents and newly married couples. It is also important to revisit your estate plan periodically to ensure the plan is still relevant.
Estate Planning Strategies
The strategies employed by an estate planning attorney to prepare their estate to transfer peacefully upon their death will depend largely on the estate itself, as well as the individual or family involved. Below are just a few of the most common techniques employed by the attorneys at Beck & Lenox to secure the future of a client’s estate.
Last Will and Testament
Often called a “simple will,” this is a basic document for many people who want to ensure their wishes are followed in regard to who receives their property and who cares for their children after their death. A simple will requires that you go to Probate Court.
Financial Durable Power of Attorney
The importance of a well-drafted financial durable power of attorney document cannot be overemphasized. This document allows you to appoint someone else to handle your financial affairs for you when you become unable to do so yourself, and the range of power that may be given to someone is quite extensive.
Healthcare Durable Power of Attorney
This document is your own statement as to what you want to be done by way of medical treatment when you cannot make those decisions for yourself. This document is vitally important for many reasons. For example, Missouri law currently requires that a doctor continue to provide water and food by tube even when there is no brain wave activity.
Establishing a Living Trust is a way to avoid probate and control the assets for those you care about after your death. Additionally, unlike a will, a Living Trust is not public record, affording the estate far more privacy and it takes far less time and money to administer after death than having to probate a will.
“Pay On Death” and “Transfer On Death”
Both of these designations dictate that a particular asset — such as a bank account, a certificate of deposit or stocks and bonds — be transferred to the person you designate immediately after your death. This method is far preferable to making someone a joint owner, as it doesn’t transfer any ownership until your death. However, while these techniques are simple, they fall way short on providing full protection that a living trust can provide for your heirs.
Federal Estate Tax
Simply put, the Federal Estate Tax is a tax the government imposes on your assets at your death. Fortunately, the current “unified credit” of approximately $12,920,000 prevents the vast majority of people from paying estate taxes at death, though this amount is likely to be reduced in the near future. As the value of personal residences grows, along with the value of IRAs, pension and profit-sharing plans, automobiles, personal savings, and the face value of life insurance, we can help keep your hard-earned assets in the hands of those you care about.
An estate planning attorney can also draft Charitable Trusts, Irrevocable Life Insurance Trusts and other more complex strategies. For clients with sufficient assets to make these techniques appropriate to consider, these devices can truly be a “wealth saver” and, in many cases, even a “wealth builder.”
Estate Planning to Protect Your Children
The thought of an untimely death of yourself or a spouse can be distressing. But, it is also a potential reality that is important to plan for to ensure your children will be cared for should the unthinkable happen.
Setting up a Last Will and Testament as part of your estate plan is very important because it is the only document in which you can name the person or persons you want to appoint to act as guardians for your minor children. Without one, your family will have to go through the probate process to appoint a guardian who will oversee the personal upbringing of a child.
Having a plan in place will also allow your family to dictate how assets should be distributed at the time of death, or saved for the future. Without a plan, a process called “intestate administration” will take effect. For example, in Missouri, if you are survived by a spouse and children born to both of you, then your spouse would only be entitled to the first $20,000 in value, and one-half of the rest. The other one-half would be split equally among the children. And, if the children are minors (under 18), a conservatorship would have to be established through probate court in order to oversee the management of assets for the children until they reach the age of majority.
How To Get Started
Each person and family situation is unique and should be taken into account when planning for your future. Whether you have a family member with a disability who you wish to care for, or an exquisite valuable collection that you want handled in a particular way, an experienced estate attorney is best placed to advise you.
This first step in developing an estate plan is to book a call with one of the attorneys at Beck & Lenox Estate Planning & Elder Law.