While no one likes to think, much less talk about death or disability, one the most important steps you can take to protect yourself, your family and your legacy is to establish your Estate Plan. Creating an estate plan that works for you puts you in charge of your finances and spares your loved ones the expense, delay and frustration often associated with managing your affairs after you become disabled or pass away.
The attorneys at Deeb+Deeb can help you carefully plan and draft all of your estate planning documents such as:
- Last Will and Testament
- Living Trust (Revocable or Irrevocable)
- Durable Power of Attorney
- Living Will
- Health Care Surrogate
Last Will and Testament
A Last Will and Testament is a legal document directing how you wish to have your assets passed on to your family, friends or charitable organizations after you pass away. A Will also names your personal representative – or the person who is in charge – to administer your estate, and a guardian or trustee for any minor children you might have at the time. A Will may be either simple or complex depending on your estate or the complexity of your wishes.
It is important to understand that a Will, without other planning, does not avoid court probate (a lengthy and costly process) and does not in any way become valid until after your death, which leaves you at risk for issues that come up while you’re still alive like mental or physical incapacity with no guidance for making end-of-life decisions on your behalf.
The attorneys at Deeb+Deeb help clients such as yourself, with families such as yours, create a Last Will and Testament appropriate under their particular circumstances. And through counseling and client sessions, we determine when a Will alone is inadequate and help determine what is required in order to make a comprehensive, custom-tailored plan suitable for each and every client.
Providing for Incapacity
You won’t be able to manage your own financial affairs or health care if you ever become incapacitated. A common misperception is that one’s spouse or adult children are automatically able to take over when one is incapacitated. However, in order for anyone to be able to manage your finances or health care after incapacity, a petition must first be made with the courts in order to declare someone legally incompetent and appoint a guardian. And after the court appoints a guardian, a report must be provided to the court on a yearly basis accounting for all income and expenses incurred. This lengthy, costly and very stressful process can easily be avoided with some advance planning.
If you want someone, in particular, to immediately take over your financial and health care needs when you are unable to do so for yourself, you may designate such person (or persons) in advance through the use of Advance Directives. Properly drafted Advance Directives legally provide the authority necessary for your chosen loved one to manage your social security benefits, Medicaid, Medicare and other insurance matters, deposit and withdraw from your bank accounts, pay your bills, take distributions from your IRAs, sell or refinance a property, obtain medical information from your doctors and make medical decisions on your behalf.
It is important to differentiate Advance Directives, that are effective while you are still around, with your Last Will and Testament, that only becomes effective after you have passed away. Examples of Advance Directives are Durable Powers of Attorney, Living Wills, and Health Care Surrogates.
Deeb+Deeb prides itself on carefully drafting Advance Directives after thoroughly counseling Clients about the options available and the best choices for them in particular.
If you leave your estate to your loved ones using a Will, all assets will be transferred through a Judicial Probate Court. This process is expensive, time-consuming, and open to the public. The probate court is in control of the process until the estate has been settled and distributed. If married or with minor children, you would like some certainty and peace of mind knowing that they have immediate access to your cash in order for them to pay for living expenses while your estate is being probated. It is not unusual for judges to freeze assets for weeks or months while determining the proper disposition of the assets in your estate. With proper planning, your assets can pass on to your loved ones without undergoing probate, quickly, inexpensively, and in private.
Providing for Minor Children
If you have any minor children, it is important that your estate plan provides for their upbringing. If your children are young, you may want to consider implementing a plan that allows your surviving spouse to devote more attention to your children, without the burden of work obligations. You may also want to provide for special counseling and resources for your spouse if you believe they lack the experience or ability to handle financial and legal matters. Further, your plan should also consider the possibility that both you and your spouse die simultaneously, or within a short duration of time. By preparing a plan that considers this possibility, you can appoint a guardian of your choice (with alternates in the event your initial choice is unable or unwilling to perform) to handle either your minor children’s finances, well-being, or both. The person you appoint as being in charge of the finances (also known as a trustee) does not need not be the same person you appoint as guardian – and it is often recommended that it not be in order to maintain a system of checks and balances. Without designating a trustee and guardian in advance, will require the court to make that designation, which may not be what you would have ultimately wished for. But even in the fortunate event that the court does make the right choices, the trustee and guardian will have the burden and restriction placed on them by the court, making the situation more difficult and costly.