Wills, Trusts & Estate Planning
It’s never too early to begin the estate planning process. Whether you’re a young newlywed, a couple in a long-term marriage, or an unmarried person interested in charitable giving, it’s important to have the correct documents in place to carry out your intent after you pass away. A thorough estate plan can also remove a great deal of burden from the loved ones dealing with your loss.
The attorneys at Byrne Westmoreland, PLLC are experienced in drafting a variety of estate planning instruments, including Wills, Testamentary Trusts, Asset and Creditor Protection Trusts, Revocable Living Trusts, Powers of Attorney, Living Wills, and Advanced Directives. We take the time to learn about the wishes of each client, discuss the available options, and formulate a plan tailored to each client’s specific needs.
Revocable Trusts. Revocable trusts, also known as living trusts, are a flexible approach to estate planning that provide opportunities to streamline estate administration and address numerous contingencies. Trust-based estate plans are our preferred approach for most clients. Like a Will, a revocable trust can be amended and revoked during your lifetime. However, if properly funded, a trust can also allow for a streamlined estate administration without the involvement of a probate court.
Revocable Trusts offer many other benefits, including incapacity planning, asset protection, providing for future generations, providing for loved ones with special needs, and privacy. In particular, many clients are attracted to a trust’s ability to protect assets from children’s creditors (including potential divorce). Trusts are highly customizable to your specific needs.
Last Will and Testament. A Last Will and Testament (“Will”) allows you to direct the distribution of your assets upon your death. A Will also appoints an executor or personal representative to oversee the administration of your estate. Though a Will is usually the simplest estate planning document, it must be admitted to probate after your death and may therefore require a more complicated and expensive estate administration. Self-prepared Wills should be avoided, as state laws impose strict requirements regarding the execution and witnessing of a Will.
General Powers of Attorney. A general power of attorney is a legal document which appoints an agent, or “attorney-in-fact”, to handle your personal and financial affairs. The agent is typically appointed to “step into your shoes” and handle any and all matters that you are not able to handle yourself. The agent is bound to act on your behalf and in your best interest. We recommend that all adults have a General Power of Attorney prepared by an experienced attorney.
Healthcare Powers of Attorney, Living Wills, and Advance Directives. Hospitals and doctors typically require specific documentation in order for someone to make healthcare decisions on your behalf if you are incapacitated. All adults should have a Healthcare Power of Attorney appointing a trusted healthcare agent for unforeseen emergencies. In addition to a Healthcare Power of Attorney, we recommend executing a Living Will or Advance Directive to document your preferences for medical treatment in an end-of-life scenario. These documents allow you to make your own decisions instead of placing a burden on your loved ones.
Specific Powers of Attorney. A specific power of attorney, also known as a limited power of attorney, is a legal document which appoints an agent, or “attorney-in-fact”, to handle specified matters on your behalf. The most common example is a specific power of attorney for the sale or purchase of real estate, which is often required by title insurance companies in real estate transactions. Specific powers of attorney can be used to supplement the powers granted in a General Power of Attorney.
We believe that estate planning should begin with an open conversation. Our attorneys prioritize designing an estate plan that fits your specific situation and needs. We look forward to assisting you in creating an estate plan that protects both your assets and your loved ones. Please contact our office to discuss scheduling a free consultation.
Probate and Estate Administration
Dealing with the loss of a loved one is never easy, and the legal complexities of the estate administration process are likely the last thing on your mind. Having an experienced attorney to guide you through this process can make a difficult situation much less stressful.
There are multiple ways in which the assets of a deceased person may pass after death. If the deceased had a Last Will and Testament (“Will”), the estate administration process will likely begin with the admission of the Will to probate in a county Probate Court or Chancery Court. The executor, or personal representative, then administers the estate with the guidance of the estate attorney. Probate administration typically lasts at least six months and can last longer depending on the complexity of the estate. After the assets of the estate are claimed and creditors have their opportunity to make claims against the estate, the executor will pay expenses and distribute the assets based on the terms of the Will.
If the deceased had a properly funded trust, the Trustee may be authorized to administer the trust estate without the involvement of a probate court. However, you should still consult an attorney as many legal formalities must be met to properly administer the trust. In some cases, the trust may even establish subtrusts for the surviving beneficiaries.
In certain cases, there may be no need to probate administration or trust administration at all. In such cases, our attorneys can still assist you in organizing the estate, transferring and closing accounts, and notifying creditors.
Each estate administration case is unique. Whether you’re dealing with a large probate estate, a complex post-mortem trust administration, or an intestate estate, our attorneys would welcome an opportunity to advise you and guide you through the administration process.