WILLS, TRUSTS, ESTATE PLANNING and ADMINISTRATION
The Home of “The Wills Lady”I represent individuals, families, fiduciaries and estates in matters ranging from explaining and preparing wills and trusts, consultation and advice on approaches to handling family and planning issues, techniques for minimizing estate taxes, to administering a decedents’ estate or trust, and to helping families facing debilitating health conditions to plan. Services include preparation of traditional wills and/or revocable living trusts, including naming a personal representative you want to administer your property, designating a guardian for minors, establishing protective trusts for children and young adults or special needs trusts for those on income limited programs like Medicaid, and helping with business succession planning for closely held business or farming interests. As a small firm practitioner, I am able to focus on providing each client and family with individual attention.
I approach our discussions with an understanding of the sensitive nature of the issues you are considering. I try to make you comfortable while discussing a subject most people would rather avoid, while giving you practical information and a full discussion of your choices.
I consider myself to be in the “Peace of Mind” business. I urge my clients to put a plan in place now to protect themselves and their families. Eleanor Roosevelt said, “It takes as much energy to wish as it does to plan,” but I can tell you the results are not as good!! Many people hold off acting, not being fully sure what to do, who to name as a guardian or Personal representative, how to split the estate in blended or other family situations. Remember: As George Patton said, “A good plan today is better that a perfect plan tomorrow”. Nothing is set in stone. Your plan and documents can change and grow as your family’s situation evolves. What is really important is to get something in place now …. to provide you with peace of mind and your family with protection.
I also provide clients with assistance in handling probate, or, trust administration.
The services I routinely provide are listed below, with discussion of each.
• Wills – Handcrafted to set out how YOU want to leave your property, name a guardian for your children, protect your children’s money, protect special needs beneficiaries and prevent disruption of their benefits, estate tax minimization, and achieve charitable objectives.
• Revocable Living Trusts – Alternate document to a Will which accomplishes similar objectives, passing property at your death, establishing trusts to protect your children’s money, or a Special Needs Trust, as well as facilitating management of your property during incapacity. It avoids potentially expensive and cumbersome probate for out of state property.
• Special Needs Trusts – Such a trust allows you to protect money for handicapped/disabled or incapacitated children or adults without disturbing their governmental benefits.
• Estate Tax Planning – Washington State and federal estate tax.
• Community Property Agreements – These have to be used with caution. They can assist a couple in avoiding probate at the time of the first death solely for the purpose of transferring the house or other real property.
• Durable Powers of Attorney – Durable Powers are one of the most useful documents you can have. They permit a person you choose to act for you in regard to all your financial affairs and/or your health affairs and medical decisions … if you are unable to act for yourself.
• Powers of Attorney For New Adults – (“Just 18 Year Olds”)Every adult should have a current durable power, including students or young adults just turning 18, who may be off to school, the service or new jobs.
• Blended Family Issues – Blended families raise many issues – split of proceeds in an estate, timing of inheritances for a second spouse or children of a first marriage, naming guardians for minors to name a few.
• Non-Traditional Couple Planning – Non-traditional couples know the importance of planning and having legal documents in place to assure your partner has rights to speak for you and to administer the estate and to receive property in the event of death.
• Living Wills – Health Directives – Mental Health Advanced Directives – These all offer the opportunity for you to express your wishes as to details of your care if you are unable to speak for yourself, offering guidance to your durable power holders, providers and family.
• Elder Planning – Planning for adults facing long term incapacity.
The traditional will is the workhorse document used to distribute your assets as YOU want, name a guardian for your children, protect your children’s money, protect special needs beneficiaries (prevent disruption of their benefits), estate tax minimization, and achieve charitable objectives.
Revocable Living Trusts
Alternate document to a will which can accomplish similar objectives in terms of passing property at your death, establishing trusts to protect your children’s money, establish Special Need Trusts, as well as facilitate management of your property during incapacity. It can avoid potentially expensive and cumbersome probate for out of state property.
Clients are often confused about what a Revocable Living Trust is, how it differs from a Will and whether they should have one. Like a will, a revocable living trust is a method of providing for distribution of your assets after death. Additionally, it can provide a financial management tool during disability, and facilitate the transfer of out of state property. It is established by a written agreement, and becomes functional once you put some money or property in the trust.
A Living Trust is a probate avoidance device. In Washington, we have a streamlined, simple probate process. For many people, there is no need to incur the extra expense of setting up a Living Trust and the extra effort to keep it in place through the years. If you 1) have out of state property; 2) need help in managing assets; 3) have a complicated family situation; or 4) just prefer the privacy of the Trust administration, then you should certainly consider a Living Trust. There are situations in which a Living Trust should be avoided. I am glad to discuss the pros and cons of setting up a revocable living trust in light of your personal and unique situation. If you decide to have a trust, then I can advise you as to the steps to take to initially fund the trust and to keep it funded and active.
Special Needs Trusts
A Special Needs Trust allows you to protect money for disabled or incapacitated heirs, without disturbing their right to receive certain governmental benefits. Special Needs Trusts may be established either during your life time or after death (by the provisions included in your Will or Trust). Such Trusts permit a gift or inheritance to be made to a person who is receiving … or likely to receive income/asset limited governmental benefits, primarily Medicaid or SSI, without interfering with the recipient’s right to receive such benefits.
Common uses of a Special Needs Trust include leaving a surviving spouse the couple’s remaining assets so the incapacitated survivor has the use of the couple’s assets for life, or a parent (grandparent) leaving a bequest for a disabled or incapacitated child or grandchild who is receiving aid, but in a manner such that that the incapacitated person’s eligibility for such program(s) is not adversely affected.
While the Special Needs Trust may Not be used for basic support or medical care provided by the governmental program, income and principal of the Trust can be used to enhance the beneficiary’s life in many ways such as paying the cost difference between private and shared rooms, medical care not paid for by the governmental program, eye care, dental care, computer and internet services, personal care, travel, cable, education, and the like. The Trustee for the Trust is the person YOU select, and is often a trusted family member. At the special needs beneficiary’s death, remaining money in the Trust goes to any person (s) you have specified.
Durable Powers of Attorney for Financial Affairs and Health Care Decisions
Durable Powers are one of the most useful documents you can have. They permit a person you choose to act for you in regard to all your financial affairs in one instance and in regard to all your health affairs and medical decision making in the other instance … if you are unable to act for yourself. This simple, versatile document can avoid problems in urgent situations as to who speaks for an unconscious patient, resolve or avoid family disputes, provide certainty to unmarried individuals, and avoid the need for an expensive (and often rancorous) court proceeding to establish a guardianship over an incapacitated person and his/her money. HIPPA imposes confidentiality on patient information and without a Durable Power of Attorney containing a HIPPA release, it may be difficult for family members to access their loved one’s medical information and to make decisions for them.
For a married couple, usually the spouse is the first named agent. Different agents can be named for financial and health decisions. A Durable Power of Attorney is a great value as it can avoid having to go to court to impose a Guardianship over an incapacitated person, saving large costs and problems.
There are choices to be made here too! Who to name as Power Holders (Agents); whether to have the Durable Power currently effective or effective only upon incapacity; the extent of the gifting powers to be given to the agent; special provisions to reflect individual situations.
Powers of Attorney For New Adults (“Just 18 Year Olds” starting college or careers)
You are accustomed to speaking for your children in health/ financial situations …. But suddenly you do not have that right! Make sure it is clear who can speak for your child at college, in the service or living separately if he/she is ever unable to do so due to accident or health emergency. A Durable Power of Attorney for a young person is inexpensive and can save a lot of money and heart ache!!
Living Wills – Health Directives – Mental Health Advanced Directives
All these documents give your family, Durable Power agents and health care professionals guidance as to what you would want in terms of care in the event of critical illness or injury and/or end of life care, and specifics of care if you have chronic mental illness. It assures you get the treatment …. Or non-treatment … you want if you cannot speak for yourself. It also helps to avoid family disputes about your care.
Community Property Agreements
A Community Property Agreement can help transfer property without probate after the death of the first of a married couple to die. Then at the survivor’s death, the survivor’s will disposes of then remaining property.
Community Property Agreements must be drafted carefully and used with caution. Never use a form or do this yourself. There are also certain situations (estate tax planning, Medicare eligibility, marital dissolution) in which they should never be used and they defeat other planning. Your professional can help you with this.
Prenuptial and Property Status Agreements
Especially where a couple marries and one or both have substantial separate property, or where there is a family from a first marriage, these documents help a couple: 1. Classify their property; 2. determinse what each will receive and how property will be split up and disposed of following death, avoiding conflict at that time; 3. Keep family property (business/ family) in the family.
Estate Tax Planning:
I assist clients needing this service to avoid or minimize Washington State or federal estate tax. Although an individual needs to have in excess of five million dollars for the federal estate tax to apply, Washington residents need to start planning if they have a net estate, including all life insurance proceeds, of at least two million dollars. Fortunately, it is easy to eliminate or minimize these taxes with a little planning …. But without planning they could be a very unpleasant surprise for your heirs!
People who may benefit from regular estate tax review and action to eliminate or minimize state and/or federal estate taxes include those who own or have an interest in a closely held business or farming enterprise and mid-career professionals and business executives who carry large amounts of life insurance which could put them into the estate tax range without their realizing it. We may look at business valuation issues, buy sell agreements, gifting programs and life insurance trusts. Only after a review with a professional will you be able to make a plan to minimize or eliminate estate taxes. This is a complex area and planning should never be undertaken on your own.
Irrevocable Life Insurance Trusts
An Irrevocable Life Insurance Trust is an irrevocable trust used for a leveraged gifting program and which are very helpful to hold large life insurance policies, without estate tax implications. They are primarily used to avoid or minimize estate taxation. The trust is set up for the benefit of your children (grandchildren).
You gift money to the trust (preferably within the gift tax exclusion amounts to cover premium payments on life insurance owned by the Trust. At your death, the insurance proceeds are not counted as part of your estate for estate tax purposes, although they would have been without the trust. This technique can substantially reduce the size of the taxable estate, and thus avoid tax.
Blended Family Issues
If you have a blended family, run do not walk to the nearest attorney! Without a plan, there is an excellent chance that nothing will go as you would like in the event of an untimely death. Do children of a first marriage get a portion of the estate even if the new spouse survives? How is the new spouse to be taken care of? Are plans in place so children of the first marriage can have personal property, family heirlooms, and sentimental items and if so, when? Is there life insurance? Have beneficiary designations been attended to? Who will serve as a guardian for minor children?
Non-Traditional Couple Planning
Non-traditional couples know the importance of having legal documents in place to assure a partner has the right to speak for you, to administer the estate and to receive property in the event of one partner’s death. Laws in this area are getting less complicated but still present challenges. It is vital for the non-traditional couple to have legal documents to spell out what you want in the event of your incapacity and after death. Non-traditional couples also have blended families, introducing a whole additional layer of complexity and heightening the need for a good solid plan!
This term refers to putting your affairs in order taking into account current or anticipated physical or mental incapacity. It would include updating wills/trusts and most importantly, durable powers of attorney in anticipation of the possibility the client will not later have the capacity to sign new documents, analyzing assets, considering property transfers and financing of long term care, including Medicaid.
Probate and Estate/Trust Administration
I assist you to open a probate whether or not there is a Will and get a Personal Representative appointed (usually a very simple process), help you with the administration and closing of the estate. If you are the successor trustee on a Revocable Living trust, I can also assist you with proper administration of the trust.
The foregoing is NOT intended to be legal advice to anyone, and you do not have the right to rely on it in making legally significant decisions. Each person’s situation varies. What may seem to be a minor difference in your situation could require you to take a totally different approach. DISCUSS YOUR PERSONAL SITUATION WITH A PROFESSIONAL. Nothing on this website establishes an attorney client relationship between us, which is only formed after we meet and sign an engagement agreement.
For more information on these topics follow these links:
- Tips On Selecting a Guardian
- Tips on Durable Powers of Attorney
- 7 Big Mistakes You Can Make in Your Estate Plan