Wills, Trusts, & Estates
While nobody wants to think about death or disability, establishing an estate plan is one of the most important steps you can take to protect yourself and your loved ones. Proper estate planning not only puts you in charge of your finances, it can also spare your loved ones of the expense, delay, and frustration associated with managing your affairs when you pass away or become disabled.
Most people know about wills and their basic purpose – to ensure that one’s hard earned assets go to the right beneficiaries when an individual passes away. However, wills can be used for a lot more than simply allocating tangible property. Some of the very valuable things a will can do include:
List who gets what. The most common purpose for a will is to name which individual, or group of individuals, will receive particular property belonging to a person when he or she passes away.
Name guardians for children. Typically, a will is the document that states who should raise a person’s children if something happens to the parent. The will also usually contains at least one alternate in the event the first choice cannot serve.
Establish trusts. In many cases, a person may not want a child or loved one to receive all of the property that he or she is inheriting at once. Or a person may want the beneficiary to be able to use the property for a defined period of time, and then for it to pass on to someone else. In that situation, an individual may choose to use a trust. A trust holds property on someone else’s behalf. In wills, trusts are commonly established for minor children, so that someone else can manage the children’s money until they reach a certain age when their parents believe they will be able to manage it. Trusts are also commonly used in second marriage situations – a person may want to allow a spouse to have access to certain property while the spouse is living, but for that property to ultimately pass to the decedent’s children. Trusts can help accomplish that goal.
List funeral wishes. Although this is also done in other documents too, a will commonly states whether an individual wants to be buried or cremated, and where the body should be buried or the ashes should be spread. Sometimes, wills contain other information about funeral wishes too like where it should take place and even what readings might be recited.
Tax planning. Wills can be great tools for tax planning in order to avoid federal or state estate or inheritance taxes. This can sometimes be accomplished by setting up various trusts.
Naming executors and trustees. A will usually states who will be the executor of an estate, which is the person who will carry out a deceased individual’s wishes listed in the will. Wills can also name the trustee of any trusts established in a will, which is the person who will be in charge of carrying out the instructions of the trusts.
And while wills can serve as powerful estate planning tools, they are only effective if they are properly drafted to suit the needs of each individual. Many people have preconceived notions about wills and trusts and believe that they are only for multi-millionaires who wish to leave large trust funds to their children. However, this notion could not be further from the truth: trusts can be invaluable tools in the estate plans of millions of individuals.
Stucky, Lauer & Young, LLP also assists in estate administration. When a loved one passes away, his or her estate often goes through a court-managed process called probate or estate administration where the assets of the deceased are managed and distributed. If the assets of the deceased were owned through a well drafted and properly funded living trust, it is likely that no court-managed administration is necessary, though the successor trustee needs to administer the distribution of the deceased's assets. The length of time needed to complete the probate of an estate depends on the size and complexity of the estate and the local rules and schedule of the probate court. We will compassionately and thoroughly assist you during the probate process.