Estate Planning & Probate
Everyone needs to plan for their future. Although it is difficult to think about your mortality, it is much better to think about it now than later. Make the time to plan for the future of yourself and your family.
At Fornaro Law, we will help you come up with a plan and will be there with you to address your life decisions when they happen. Whether it is a will, trust, guardianship, estate issue, or other matter, Fornaro Law is here for you.
Estate planning is about more than just making sure your loved ones are provided for in accordance with your final wishes. It’s also about:
- Ensuring that you (and your spouse, if you are married) will be properly cared for in accordance with your wishes while still alive if you (or your spouse) should ever become incapacitated.
- Taking measures to prevent the wealth you worked all your life to build from being depleted by avoidable taxes, unnecessary probate costs, or excessive estate administration expenses.
- Taking steps to ensure that the inheritance you intend to pass on to your loved ones will withstand unanticipated circumstances.
If you have not yet done any estate planning
Each of us has an intrinsic responsibility to lessen the burden on those we love if something should ever happen to us. That includes death, but it also includes becoming incapacitated by a serious illness or injury. None of us would ever want our loved ones to bear a heavier burden merely because we failed to plan. That is what estate planning is all about.
Estate planning is not only for people who just retired
It is also for people just starting their careers, whether married or single, whether with children or no children, whether in good health or poor health, and whether wealthy or poor.
Planning saves money helps avoid hardships
Many people put off estate planning because they think they have plenty of time to do it later. Unfortunately, our office sometimes receives phone calls from people whose loved ones became unexpectedly incapacitated or passed away without having done any estate planning. When this happens, the lack of planning can result in things happening by operation of law that are inconsistent with the loved one’s wishes or expectations. It can also result in unnecessary time and expense for the family members trying to manage the situation. Estate planning helps avoid those hardships.
None of us know if anything will ever happen to us. What we all do know, is that none of us will live forever. We do not know how or when our lives will come to an end. We also do not know if a serious illness, injury or some other form of legal incapacity will befall us at some point in our lives, or, if it does, when it will occur.
The bottom line is this. No matter where you are in life, if you have never previously done any estate planning, the best time to begin is right now.
If you have already done some estate planning
If you (and your spouse, if you are married) already have a will, a trust, and/or powers of attorney, then you are already a step ahead of those who do not. But this does not mean there is no longer any need for estate planning. Some questions to ask yourself include the following:
With regard to your (or my spouse’s) estate planning documents, ask yourself these questions:
- Were they prepared more than five years ago?
- Do they fail to provide instructions and resources for my care (or that of my spouse) in the event that I (or my spouse) become(s) incapacitated?
- Do they fail to provide for the needs of any of my beneficiaries that might, at the time that I (or my spouse) pass away or become incapacitated, suffer from a disability of any kind?
- Do they fail to provide for the care of any minor children I may have?
- Do they fail to enable my estate (or that of my spouse) to avoid becoming bogged down in probate court?
- Do they fail to anticipate that an intended beneficiary might receive a lump sum from life insurance proceeds or some other source that he or she is too inexperienced or immature to manage?
With regard to property, have I (or my spouse) recently:
- Acquired property or disposed of property that might cause directions to executors or trustees to become obsolete?
- Received property from a parent or other family member through inheritance?
- Acquired or disposed of real estate or another significant investment or thought about doing so?
- Obtained or eliminated one or more policies of life insurance, disability insurance, or long term care insurance or thought about doing so?
- Paid off any large loans or assumed any new loans or thought about doing so?
- Experienced significant increases or decreases in income?
With regard to personal circumstances, have I (or my spouse) recently:
- Moved to another state or thought about doing so?
- Had a new child or are expecting one?
- Experienced significant changes in medical treatment or medical care?
- Filed for social security or Medicare or Medicaid benefits or anticipate doing so?
- Changed your estate beneficiaries or distribution plans or thought about doing so?
With regard to marital status, have I recently:
- Been married or remarried or made plans in that regard?
- Been divorced?
- Lost a spouse?
Have I not had an attorney or financial advisor review my situation within the last five years to recommend any adjustments that may be needed in light of recent changes in applicable laws and regulations?
If you answered yes to any of the above questions, then you are likely in need of some additional advice concerning your estate plan.
What is an Estate?
Your “estate” consists of all property owned by you at the time of your death. It includes:
- Real estate
- Money in bank accounts
- Property you own such as automobiles, home furnishings, jewelry, artwork and other personal effects,
- Stocks and other securities
- Life insurance policies
Unless you have made other arrangements through proper estate planning, when you pass away, your estate will be required to go through probate. Probate can sometimes be costly, slow things down and, if you do not at least have a will, result in your property being distributed in ways you never would have intended.
Can probate be avoided?
There are several ways that probate can be avoided.
- If you own assets with beneficiary designations, proceeds generally will bypass probate and go directly to the named beneficiary. There are some exceptions to this, and the estate planning process helps steer clear of those.
- If you have a properly drafted will, and the gross value of property held in your name with no beneficiary designations is below a certain threshold, then your estate will be exempt from probate. However, if that gross value is above that threshold, then probate will be required.
- If you have a properly structured revocable living trust, and the trust is properly “funded,” it will allow you to transfer your property into the trust and pass that property directly to your intended beneficiaries entirely outside of probate.
So what is a will and why is it important?
A will is a written legal document that governs the division and distribution of assets held in your individual name at death.
If you do not have one, then you will be presumed to have passed away “intestate” and all of the assets in your estate that have no designated beneficiary will more likely than not be distributed by a probate court judge you have likely never met, according to laws and distribution rules with which you are likely unfamiliar.
A properly prepared will does not avoid probate, but it does provide guidance and direction to a person you appoint – known as an executor – on how you want your estate divided and distributed. Accordingly, through the use of a will, you can exercise control over how you want your estate distributed.