Everyone needs an estate plan – and they need one today. Procrastination too often leads to families suffering more than necessary after the passing of a loved one.
If you do not have an estate plan, the legal system will dispose of your property after you pass away. Without the right estate plan in place, your family faces a long and expensive court process as well as tax consequences. Furthermore, it is highly unlikely your assets will be handled according to your wishes.
Avoid the default system by putting an estate plan in place. Your estate plan may be complex or relatively simple. Regardless of the size of your estate or the complexity of your situation, you want an experienced Estate Planning & Probate Attorney by your side. The TW Estate Planning attorneys will educate you about the various options, walk you through the tough decisions, and allow you to meet your goals for your family and your legacy.
OUR SOLE FOCUS: ESTATE PLANNING
The attorneys at Thomas Walters Estate Planning focus on just one thing: estate planning.. We create individualized estate plans that ensure that the client's family benefits from their hard earned assets.
We accomplish this using a variety of legal strategies, which include (but are not limited to):
- Children’s Inheritance Trust
- Last Will and Testament
- Special Needs Trust
- Medicaid Irrevocable Trust
- Irrevocable Life Insurance Trust
- Revocable Living Trust
- IRA Trust
- Pet Trust
- Testamentary Trust
- Asset Protection
- Business Succession
- Estate Tax Avoidance
As estate plans include instructions for distributing assets, many families rely on Thomas Walters Estate Planning to offer further guidance when a loved one passes away. We understand that when someone passes away, legal issues are the the last thing the family wants to deal with. Our goal is to minimize the stress when it comes to the estate, so that your family can focus on what really matters.
ESTATE PLANNING SERVICES FOR A FIXED, FLAT FEE
Estate plans must be regularly reviewed and updated. They must evolve alongside the client and their personal circumstances. The value of an estate plan is in knowing that it is customized, comprehensive, and designed to cover you through any and all life-changing events and law revisions. We incorporate this philosophy in our work. Thomas Walters Estate Planning offers estate planning services for a fixed, flat fee so you have the peace of mind of knowing we are with you for a lifetime.
THE BENEFIT OF A MULTI-STATE PRESENCE
Some estates include property in multiple states. Some families move across state lines during their lifetimes. Sometimes families reach across state lines, as children grow older and seek opportunities in their education or career. With Thomas Walters Estate Planning, we can accommodate your family’s multi-state presence with a multi-state presence of our own.
Our firm's multi-state presence enables us to handle simple and complex estate property matters that reach across state lines. The attorneys at Thomas Walters Estate Planning regularly collaborate to ensure clients are provided with the best solutions for their estate planning needs.
THOMAS WALTERS ESTATE PLANNING: 60 YEARS OF EXPERIENCE
With over 60 years of combined legal experience, the attorneys at Thomas Walters Estate Planning have witnessed countless estate planning documents in action. This experience provides our firm with the ability to anticipate potential obstacles, and address them so that they never become an issue.
Not just any estate plan will do. It has to be the right plan.
No matter what estate planning issues you need to accommodate, the Thomas Walters Estate Planning attorneys are prepared to handle it. Our attorneys customize each and every estate plan according to the client's unique life, assets, and family.
THE LIFETIME LAWYER PROGRAM
At Thomas Walters Estate Planning, our clients benefit from our unique Lifetime Lawyering. With this program, our clients receive ongoing, lifetime service that ensure your estate plan remains current through all of life's changes and law revisions. Our full service, lifetime approach offers a lifetime of peace of mind for you and your family.
BENEFITS OF THOMAS WALTER ESTATE PLANNING’S LIFETIME LAWYER PROGRAM:
Estate Plan Maintenance: Your lifetime relationship with TW Estate Planning attorneys means creating a program that works for you and your family, now and in the future. Through life changes and law revisions, your TW Estate Planning attorney will be there to make necessary changes to original documents. Avoid the worry that comes with needing to “re-invest” in your estate plan. Our Lifetime Lawyer benefit means your estate plan will be maintained for the rest of your life.
A Lifetime of Answers: You and your family enjoy the lifelong benefit of calling or emailing with questions related to the estate plan without ever receiving another bill from Thomas Walters Estate Planning.
Educational Updates: You benefit from an ongoing educational process offered by TW Estate Planning to ensure you are up to date on the latest legal matters, changes in applicable law, and estate planning trends that could affect your decisions about your estate: monthly newsletters, webinars, special legal reports, legal bulletins, live workshops, etc.
Access to Documents: Easy and immediate access to legal documents upon a client’s death is another benefit of the program. Permanent, electronically scanned documents are kept safe in accordance with banking security regulations. These documents can be shared securely with a client’s family, wherever they may be located, to make settling the estate significantly more convenient and minimize the time heirs spend maneuvering the legal process.
And most beneficial of all is that you can enjoy the peace of mind that comes with the knowledge that Thomas Walters Estate Planning is with you for a lifetime – through any and all life-changing events.
SIMPLIFY ESTATE SETTLEMENT
SIMPLIFYING ESTATE SETTLEMENT:
Your Thomas Walters Estate Planning attorney develops a custom and comprehensive estate plan specifically designed to evolve with you and your family. The purpose of the estate plan is to cover you and your family now and in the future. No matter what stage of life you are in, or what laws and regulations change, our estate planning lawyers are there to guide you and your heirs through the initial process and any changes or updates needed in the future. We provide the technical expertise you need to compose estate planning documents that are not only thorough, but tailored specifically to the needs and wants of you and your family. We also make sure that you have every opportunity to stay informed on estate planning issues through a number of tools and educational events sponsored by Thomas Walters.
Thorough, Custom Estate Planning Portfolios: Your thorough and professional custom Estate Planning portfolio from Thomas Walters Estate Planning includes:
- Last Will and Testament
- Trust transfer documents
- Revocable Living Trust
- Pour-Over Last Will and Testament
- Property Power of Attorney
- Health Care Power of Attorney
- Estate Planning Letter
- Location Lists
- Living Will
- Life Insurance
- Instructions for Executors of a Will or Settlers and Trustees
- Glossary of legal terms applicable to your estate
Your comprehensive portfolio will motivate you to keep all the important estate plan components, assets, and vital information your family will need after you are gone in one single, organized place. Timely access to your documentation can be very important, and the Thomas Walters Estate Planning portfolio makes everything you need accessible right when you need it.
Easy to Understand Estate Planning Documentation: At Thomas Walters Estate Planning, we believe that your estate planning portfolio is for you and your family so we create them with that in mind. You won’t find your estate planning documents overflowing with legalese that requires translation. We construct them using terms that are easy to understand with or without a law degree.
Stay Updated on Estate Planning Issues: Included with your thorough estate planning portfolio, and your lifetime lawyer benefits, you receive the benefit of ongoing educational and training opportunities to ensure that you are aware of any changes that could affect decisions you made on behalf of your estate. Thomas Walters Estate Planning sponsors ongoing educational events to further educate you on all estate planning topics: how to save on taxes, how to manage gift and estate taxes, capital gains taxes, income taxes, and taxes on retirement accounts, how to leave your estate to your significant other, your children or grandchildren, how to avoid nursing home poverty, and other important estate planning legal strategies.
Easy, Secure Access to Estate Plans: Our clients do not have to worry about misplacing their documents or theft. At Thomas Walters Estate Planning, we securely store every estate planning document. This allows us to provide you and your approved heirs (upon your death) immediate access to your estate planning documents.
We value our client relationships. We not only offer you lifetime lawyer benefits, but we hope you enjoy your close relationship with our firm. Upon your death, the relationship continues when your heirs reach out to us for help only to find the immense comfort and ease that comes with simplified estate settlement.
WHAT IS PROBATE?
Probate is a court process used to distribute the assets of the deceased in accordance with their wishes as stated in their Last Will and Testament. If no Last Will and Testament exists, the court uses the probate process to distribute assets according to state law rather than the wishes of the deceased.
WHY IS PROBATE SOMETHING TO AVOID?
Many people wish to avoid probate. It is unpredictable, expensive, and time consuming. The process is made all the more complicated if your heirs do not agree on every aspect of the estate distribution. While family members may love each other deeply, they might not always see eye to eye. It only takes one heir to contest a Will, and the probate process quickly goes from several months to years.
Our clients typically wish to avoid probate for one of three reasons:
Avoid Unnecessary Expenses: As a court administered process, probate typically requires the assistance of an attorney. It also requires that an Executor be appointed to direct the procedure on behalf of the heirs. Both the attorney and the Executor will result in additional fees due from the estate. These fees can become quite significant depending upon the estate at hand and are often completely unnecessary.
Avoid Time Delays: The probate process requires numerous documents and forms to be filed with the court with numerous actions throughout the process requiring court supervision. This usually means that the transfer of property from the deceased to their heirs becomes a lengthy process taking from 6 months to years. In many cases, heirs will not be able to sell property and/or sale proceeds from the sale of the property can be inaccessible.
Avoid Private Matters Becoming Public: All documents related to the transfer of property during probate are filed with the court. This information is accessible to the public. That means that the probate process publicizes the value of a deceased person’s assets, the intended beneficiaries and any conditions related to their receipt of the assets.
In addition, the probate process results in a general loss of control. A judge who is unfamiliar with the deceased and the deceased’s family makes the ultimate decisions regarding asset distribution. Because things that look good on paper aren’t always the same in reality, the probate process frequently results in asset distribution that would not be in line with the wishes of the deceased.
The first step to avoiding probate is to have an estate plan in place. The Last Will and Testament included in that estate plan will act as a conduit for your wishes upon your death, advising the court of your wishes regarding your estate and its distribution upon your death.
THE LAST WILL AND TESTAMENT TELLS THE COURT:
- Who is designated as your personal representative or Executor.
- Who you named to be the guardian of your minor children.
- Who you named as the conservator of any monies to be received by minor children.
- The terms of any trust you may want to establish.
AVOID NURSING HOME POVERTY
NURSING HOME POVERTY:
When planning the future, no one enjoys considering the possibility of spending time in a nursing home. Yet, in more and more cases, it becomes necessary. Failing to consider the implications of this possible future event can severely damage otherwise healthy and well thought out financial plans.
According to statistical analysis of the U.S. population, the older age bracket is expected to see considerable growth in the coming decades. While medical advances have dramatically increased life expectancy and quality of life for those enjoying their silver years, science has not yet pinpointed a method of preventing, stopping or reversing the natural aging process. The passage of time continues on, causing physical and mental deterioration. This, in combination with longer life expectancies, leaves us with a fact that many like to ignore: the majority of people living in the United States will spend some time in a long-term care facility. Those who do not plan for this eventuality could see devastating financial consequences from disrupted financial plans to an unexpected state of poverty. Poverty due to unplanned expenses related to long term care facilities is becoming so common that it has a name: nursing home poverty.
AVOIDING NURSING HOME POVERTY WITH MEDICAID PLANNING:
The most obvious first step towards avoiding nursing home poverty is Medicaid planning. Medicaid is an entitlement program receiving the majority of its funding from the federal government, but administered at a state level. The principal benefit of the Medicaid program is that it provides payment for long term care in a nursing home setting once you are qualified.
Sadly, many individuals who are seeking this benefit seek advice outside of the legal industry and are told to spend down their assets. They are actually advised to reduce their life savings to a point at which they can qualify for Medicaid coverage.
If you are considering the benefits of Medicaid, please seek qualified legal counsel on the matter. Through the integration of Medicaid planning in an all-inclusive estate plan, hard-earned assets can be protected while simultaneously qualifying for Medicaid coverage when long-term care expenses present themselves.
In most cases, Medicaid covers nursing home residents staying at long term care facilities. Their nursing home stays are paid for in full (or at least in part) through Medicaid coverage. The cost of a nursing home stay will vary depending on the level of care necessary, the location (city to city), and the length of the stay. But for general information purposes, it can be useful to know that the 2015 average monthly cost to stay at a nursing home was $7,600, that’s $91,200 for the year. If an older couple requiring nursing home care is staying together at a nursing home, their living expenses can easily reach over $15,000 per month (i.e. nursing home care, medicines, outside medical treatments, necessities, etc.)
Considering the numbers, it is easy to see how an extended stay in a nursing home can completely obliterate a family’s life savings in just a short time. Nursing home poverty has become a commonplace occurrence in America, leaving many seeking out information on qualifying for Medicaid, which covers the costs. To qualify for Medicaid, an individual must be able to meet the program’s definition of “poor” in addition to other stated requirements. To meet the definition of “poor” provided by Medicaid, many will need to limit both income and assets.
HOW TO BECOME ELIGIBLE FOR MEDICAID AS A SINGLE PERSON:
In order to be eligible for the Medicaid program, a single person (unmarried) must pass both an income test and an asset test. Income requirements are designated by the state of residency within federally regulated minimum standards. The allowed monthly personal needs allowance will also vary due to the state of residency. Any additional income, with only a few exceptions, such as health insurance premiums, must be paid to the long term care facility or nursing home. The facility then bills the Medicaid program for any shortage.
Many have been led to believe that they must spend a significant portion or all of their assets prior to entering into a nursing home in order to qualify for Medicaid coverage. While there are strict guidelines regarding assets that a person may hold, Medicaid coverage qualification does not require that an individual spend all their assets. In fact, certain assets are countable, while others are excluded by law. For instance, a single person applying for Medicaid can only have $2,000 of “countable” assets. (Countable assets include, but are not limited to: cash, bank account balances, IRAs, 401(k) accounts, certificates of deposit, cash value in life insurance policies, bonds, stocks, lump sum annuities, real estate investment properties, business interests, or other assets that are easily converted to cash.
QUALIFYING FOR MEDICAID: WHAT ASSETS ARE EXCLUDED?
Assets that are excluded during the Medicaid qualification process are referred to as non-countable assets. Owning these assets will not affect Medicaid eligibility. Primary non-countable assets include a primary home, many household goods and personal effects, a single vehicle, and funeral/burial funds and spaces.
Home Property: The largest non-countable asset most Americans own is their home. The home is considered to be the property in which you hold an ownership interest that serves as your primary residence and includes the house or lot, contiguous property, and other buildings on the property. If you are living in the home or are only not living in your home due to a medical condition and keeping the home available for your return as soon as your condition permits, the entire home property is excluded. The home property is also excluded if you are away from home, but you have a spouse or other dependent/relative living on the premises.
The home property is NOT excluded when qualifying for Medicaid if it is offered for sale. This failure to exclude is based on a lack of intent to return to the home. In most cases, a nursing home resident cannot establish a new home property while they are in residence at the facility since they have never lived there. The new residence would not be able to meet the definition of “home property” according to the Medicaid program requirements. If a home property is located outside of the Medicaid applicant’s state of residence, its value is typically a countable asset.
Household Goods and Personal Effects: The following household goods and personal effects can be excluded from the Medicaid qualification process, regardless of value: one wedding ring and one engagement ring per individual, prosthetic devices, wheelchairs, hospital beds, dialysis machines, and any other items required by a person’s physical condition as long as they are not used extensively and primarily by other members of the applicant’s household. There is also a general exclusion of up to $2,000 applicable to the total equity value of household goods and personal effects outside of those that can be excluded regardless of their total value.
Vehicles: Medicaid applicants can exclude one vehicle per household regardless of its value as long as someone in the applicant’s household uses it for transportation. If an applicant owns more than one vehicle, the exclusion is applied to the vehicle with a greater equity value. Additional vehicles’ equity value is counted regardless of type of vehicle or use of vehicle. (For instance, inoperable vehicles and antique cars are counted). The Medicaid program uses the NADA “Blue Book” trade-in value accessible at www.nadaguides.com.
Burial Contracts & Burial Funds: If an applicant’s burial contract is revocable, salable, or includes conditions for liquidation that do not present a significant hardship, the burial contract is countable. Any portion of the burial contract that represents the purchase of burial space may be excluded and some or all of the remaining value may be excludable as burial funds. If the burial contract cannot be revoked or sold without significant hardship to the individual, the burial contract is not countable.
Burial Spaces: If the Medicaid applicant has a fully paid burial space or an agreement representing the purchase of burial space on their own behalf, their spouse or the burial of an immediate family member, it is excluded regardless of value.
HOW TO BECOME ELIGIBLE FOR MEDICAID AS A MARRIED PERSON:
Income and asset levels for Medicaid qualification are determined at a state level. These income and asset levels are significantly different if one spouse is in the nursing home and the other spouse is at home or “in the community.” Yet many assume the “community spouse’s” income is used when determining eligibility for the institutionalized spouse. This is not the case. The community spouse’s income is not a determining factor for eligibility for an institutionalized spouse.
Medicaid even offers protection for the spouse of a Medicaid applicant through the Maintenance Needs Allowance, which is designed to ensure that the spouse has the minimum support necessary to live in the community while their spouse is in a long term care facility. The Allowance specifics vary by state.
ARE ASSET RULES DIFFERENT IF YOU ARE MARRIED?
Single Medicaid applicants must have no more than $2,000 in countable assets. For a married couple, with one spouse in the nursing home and the other is at home, the asset rules are significantly different. The married couple’s countable assets will include the community spouse’s assets, the institutionalized spouse’s assets and any joint or shared assets. The institutionalized spouse can qualify for Medicaid if the couple’s combined countable assets do not exceed the Spousal Impoverishment Standard. This Standard varies by state.
ESTATE RECOVERY: CAN MEDICAID TAKE YOUR HOME?
Every state is required by the federal government to establish an estate recovery program. The purpose of the program is to recover payments made to nursing homes on behalf of Medicaid recipients. When a resident applies for Medicaid, they are informed of federal law mandating estate recovery actions and that payments made by Medicaid could be subject to estate recovery. Estate recovery can be made only after the death of both the patient and the patient’s spouse. After death, Medicaid will serve a notice to the family or heirs of the estate regarding the action to be taken by Medicaid.
For example: John Kinkaid is in a nursing home on Medicaid. His wife, Debbie, lives in their family home. John and Debbie’s home was an exempt asset according to Medicaid eligibility requirements and their countable assets were less than $119,220, which is the Spousal Impoverishment Standard in their state of residence. During John’s stay in the long term care facility, Medicaid paid out $150,000. After both John and Debbie pass away, Medicaid can force the sale of their primary home in order to reimburse Medicaid for the funds spent on John’s long term care in the nursing home.
HOW TO PLAN AHEAD FOR MEDICAID ELIGIBILITY:
Many Medicaid applicants to not qualify because they have too many assets. To avoid this scenario, there are a number of financial options and tools to reduce income and protect countable assets while planning for Medicaid eligibility. The simple transfer of countable assets into non-countable assets or property can help, but may not protect your assets for your heirs. In order to preserve your assets for your heirs, you can consider a timely gift or a trust.
The Timely Gifting of Assets: Making gifts of your assets in order to qualify for Medicaid can be one of the most complicated aspects of Medicaid Planning. The best case scenario is to structure your estate appropriately, and then stay out of the nursing home for five years after the plan is put in place. In this way, you can protect the entire estate.
However, many do not consider the need for Medicaid Planning until they actually need nursing home or long term facility care. In this scenario, you may still be able to protect approximately half of your countable assets using different methods.
Five Year Rule and Penalties for Transfers: When applying for Medicaid, you must list any transfers or gifts made to an individual or trust in the previous five years. A transfer discovered within this five year period disqualifies the applicant due to a federally mandated period of ineligibility meant to prevent individuals from simply transferring all assets out of their name as soon as they need Medicaid coverage. Disqualified applicants must wait until the “penalty period” expires. The penalty period is determined by dividing the value of the transfer by the Average Monthly Cost to Private Patients of Nursing Facility Services.
For Example: Carl Jarvis would qualify for Medicaid coverage except that he holds a bank account with a current balance of $39,000. He decides to gift $38,000 to his daughter, Liz. After the gift, Carl’s bank balance is $1,000 and he assumes he will now qualify for Medicaid. He does not. The national average cost for a nursing home in 2015 was $7,600. So, since Carl made a transfer or “gift” of $38,000 to his daughter, he would be ineligible for Medicaid for 5 months ($38,000 gift divided by the $7,600 average national nursing home cost per month).
If You Don’t Have Five Years? You aren’t alone if you didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about Medicaid coverage until nursing home care became necessary in your life or the life of a loved one. When you or someone you love needs immediate long term care, waiting five years to qualify is not a valid option. In this situation, you face the possibility of depleting both savings and assets before the five years pass.
In this situation, you can utilize specific techniques to qualify while protecting half of your countable assets as long as you are currently in a nursing home or will be entering a nursing home soon. These techniques require someone experienced in the transfer of assets out of your name and then returning assets back to you.
WHERE SHOULD YOU PLACE YOUR ASSETS?
When attempting to decide whom to gift your assets to, there are a few obvious options. The most common are your own children, a trust, or a combination of both. Families actively involved in Medicaid Planning usually agree that money taken out of the parents’ names should be set aside in accounts for the children. The children in this type of situation usually informally agree that they will spend the money on the parents, if necessary.
When considering this line of action, there are some negative aspects that should be considered: if you need to enter the nursing home within five years of the transfer, you lose Medicaid eligibility, you lose sole control over the asset/s, you lose ownership interest if a child files for bankruptcy or gets a divorce, you lose ownership to your child’s heirs if you outlive your child, potential for adverse tax consequences following the “gift,” you could lose the homestead exemption, and other potential negative tax consequences.
The simple transfer of assets to your children or heirs is not the best solution. There are too many negatives and potential negatives associated with the action. Instead, take advantage of more favorable legal strategies based on the creation of specific types of trusts designed to protect assets from nursing home poverty.
Trusts Transfer Assets: Putting a trust in place can legally designate a situation in which one person holds title to assets, but they are subject to an obligation to keep or use the assets for the benefit of another.
For example: Larry Wright has 5 children. He wants to give his children a gift of $100,000 - $20,000 each, but he doesn’t want them to spend it immediately. He knows that at 3 of his 5 children would spend the money immediately if he simply gave it to them. He knows that his oldest daughter, Eliza, is responsible and will act in accordance with his wishes. So Larry creates the Wright Family Trust and names Eliza as the trustee of the trust. Larry names himself as the income beneficiary of the trust so that he will continue receiving the interest from the $100,000. He wants the principal ($100,000) to be distributed to his children after his death. Eliza goes to the bank and sets up the Wright Family Trust bank account. Only Eliza has signature authority on the account, as she is the sole trustee. Larry then transfers $100,000 of his money into the trust account. From this point forward, Eliza, as the trustee, manages the money for the rest of Larry’s lifetime. She makes sure that Larry continues to receive the interest as income beneficiary of the trust, and Eliza distributes the principal to the other children (all designated as principal beneficiaries) after Larry’s death. If Larry had needed to move into a nursing home five years after the trust was created, the $100,000 would not be considered as a countable asset for Medicaid eligibility.
Trusts Offer Control: Trusts are a popular tool for Medicaid Planning. When the trust is established correctly, it allows individuals and married couples to transfer assets out of their name, but retain control of the same assets after they are transferred. The creation of a trust should be given careful thought in order to plan for the future.
For example: In 2005, Scott set up a revocable living trust in order to avoid probate. When he established the trust, Scott didn’t have any conversations about nursing home poverty and how to avoid it or include any specific provisions regarding the matter. In 2010, Scott suffered a series of strokes that resulted in a severe decline in his overall health and ability to function. Nursing home care became necessary. Scott’s two children were advised that his assets were not in the correct type of trust. They were told to spend the assets within the next two years or lose them.
Individual Retirement Accounts & Medicaid Eligibility: Many Americans hold a significant portion of their money in Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs). One benefit of this is that IRAs can be left in your name and probate will be avoided, but IRAs cannot be transferred to a trust or to your children without first taking a distribution from the IRA, paying taxes on it, then transferring the after-tax proceeds to the right kind of trust. When managing an IRA in connection with avoiding nursing home poverty and creating Medicaid eligibility you have a couple options. You can take the minimum amount of distribution each year, but if you need to enter a nursing home, you will be forced to spend the IRA assets to become Medicaid eligible. Or you can take more of the IRA than the required distribution rules allow and pay tax on the distribution. The after tax distributions must be transferred to a trust account in order to protect the funds from nursing home expenses in the future.
America’s population is aging. The cost of long term care and nursing home facilities is skyrocketing. With the amount of government funding for this type of care dwindling, it would seem that the importance of Medicaid Planning is becoming more and more important. Every few years the Medicaid eligibility rules change, making it hard for individuals and families to protect their assets and qualify for Medicaid. Thankfully, there is a means of avoiding the loss of hard-earned assets in the event that you or a loved one requires long term care during your later years. If you are attempting to put a plan in place to avoid nursing home poverty, there are a number of concerns that must be addressed: obtaining the proper level of countable assets, a thorough understanding of the rules and guidelines for gifting assets, planning far enough in advance to protect your estate from the government, establishing a trust to allow control of assets, and working with an experienced estate planning attorney at Thomas Walters Estate Planning who knows you don’t want the government to take your assets and is ready to help you prevent that eventuality. As experts in estate planning law, Thomas Walters Estate Planning attorneys are committed to helping you and others like you by listening to you, determining what you want and what you need, and creating a plan that will make it happen. Let’s set up your estate the right way, right now, to protect all that you have worked so hard to achieve.
PROBATE LEGAL SERVICES
PROBATE LEGAL SERVICES:
When someone passes away owning certain assets in their name, surviving family members and loved ones go through the court-supervised probate process to settle the estate. Probate, sometimes referred to as Succession, is a lengthy legal procedure requiring a Court to validate a Last Will and Testament, appoint an executor, and then grant the executor authority to transfer assets from the name of the deceased into the names of the appropriate heirs in accordance with the laws and process of probate. The executor’s duties include the identification and inventorying of the deceased person’s assets, obtaining appraisals for any property, notifying creditors, paying debts, completing tax returns, filing taxes, completing necessary accounting, and distributing remaining assets in accordance with the Last Will and Testament or state law if a Last Will and Testament is not available.
Many who find themselves in the midst of probate find it to be lengthy, complicated, draining, challenging and time consuming. In addition to coping with the loss of a loved one, they are suddenly expected to be informed and actively involved in handling tax and legal matters that are foreign to them. A few of the tasks surviving family members may be expected to handle during probate include:
- Identifying necessary Court forms.
- Gathering the necessary information for the required forms.
- Knowing when they need to be completed and filed.
- Making sure the necessary heirs have signed the right forms.
- Working with the Court to get appropriate signatures on various court orders.
- Working with the legal departments of numerous financial institutions at which the deceased held assets.
- Liquidating financial accounts of the deceased.
- Accumulating assets into a single account for which the Executor is responsible and maintaining detailed accounting records throughout the process.
- Transferring titles of ownership for real estate, time shares, etc. from the name of the deceased to the name of the deceased’s heirs.
- Re-titling property such as vehicles, boats, trailers, etc.
- Interpreting the deceased’s Last Will and Testament to ensure that various parties involved receive the appropriate and correct information at the proper times during the process.
- Staying in compliance with federal estate tax laws and completing necessary tax reporting filings in accordance with the law.
Even families who agree on the plan and support one another, the probate process can be trying. Its long delays in receiving inheritances, rigid schedules and deadlines, painstaking and unfamiliar court processes, lengthy lists of time-consuming tasks, endless requirements for communication with the heirs of the estate, restrictions on estate/asset distribution until probate is complete, and complex tax issues can create problems where none existed. Receiving advice and guidance from an experienced estate planning attorney who has the knowledge, professionalism, and patience required to conquer probate on your behalf is absolutely vital. Contact one of the experienced attorneys at Thomas Walters Estate Planning. We understand the subtle nuances and endless requirements of probate and estate administration and are experienced in easing the burden on families by expediting and simplifying the process. Gain peace of mind as Thomas Walters creates and implements a comprehensive strategy to settle the estate from start to finish without all the unnecessary delays, frustrations and obstacles that many families experience during probate.
TRUST ADMINISTRATION SERVICES
Trusts can be a valuable estate planning tool and there are many benefits for their use, such as:
• Avoiding probate
• Preventing nursing home poverty
• Minimizing federal estate tax
• Protecting your children’s inheritance
After the death of the person(s) that established a trust, it is essential for the successor trustee, or the person that is named to handle the trust, to assure that it is settled. The trust administration process is often complex and confusing and can seem overwhelming at times. Many individuals who have been named as successor trustee, have had little or no experience in executing the appropriate steps necessary to administer a trust. In addition, when one is grieving the loss of a loved one, it can be a burdensome undertaking.
Even when the court-supervised probate process is avoided by the family, sometimes it is necessary or desirable to retain the services of a law firm familiar with trust administration in order to make it easier for the trustee and the family to settle the trust. At Thomas Walters, the estate planning attorneys prepare the necessary documents to simplify the process for them and to give them peace of mind throughout the administration.
There are many steps that must be followed to ensure proper administration of the trust and to protect the successor trustee, when one or both settlors die. The Thomas Walters estate planning attorneys and staff have years of experience settling trusts and eliminating the often times, consuming burden for the successor trustee.
Working with a Thomas Walters expert will:
• Affirm that all necessary estate and/or inheritance tax returns are filed and all taxes are paid.
• Assure that all valid debts are paid.
• Guarantee that all real property transfers are enforced. There are many steps involved to vest title in the successor trustee so the property can be managed, sold or distributed as part of the trust administration.
• Insure compliance with various accounting requirements when beneficiaries intend to continue owning the real estate in the trust.
• Identify and collect all of the other trust assets (i.e. bank accounts and investment accounts) and prepare the documents to transfer titles.
• Provide the peace of mind knowing that a considerable task will be handled for them.