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Estate Planning FAQDo I have an “estate”?  Probably yes!

Your “estate” is property you own such as your home, and other assets, like cars, bank accounts, retirement accounts, investments, businesses, family heirlooms or personal keepsakes, jewelry, and even collections (i.e. baseball cards or art). Estate planning is making a plan for how your estate will be distributed (what assets and how much will go to whom) after you die, as well as taking steps now to make the process of carrying out your plans as simple as possible.

However, in a larger sense, estate planning also includes planning about other matters, such as who will care for your health and finances if you become incapacitated, selecting a guardian for minor children, and ways to minimize estate taxes and expenses. Estate planning can seem overwhelming and complicated, but below are basic answers to some of the most commonly asked questions about estate planning.

A Will is a legal document signed by a person, known as the testator, that directs what should be done with property after a person’s death.  In other words, a Will is a legal tool that allows you to control what happens to your estate—not the courts.

Everyone should have a Will so that their property is disposed of according to their wishes. After answering emails and running to the grocery store and everything in between, creating a Will often gets pushed to the bottom of the to-do list. However, a Will is incredibly important because, in addition to directing where assets should go, a Will can nominate a guardian for minor children, or create a Trust that provides for the support and education for loved ones without needing additional court proceedings. Additionally, a Will can name the person you want to handle your estate, avoiding family conflicts such as siblings who may not agree, adult children living in different states, divorced parents who won’t cooperate, or that oddball relative or friend who thinks they know what’s best and won’t hesitate to say so even to the Court!

Contact us today at 703-556-0411, email intake@gcpc.com, to have a conversation about whether a Will is the right estate planning tool for you, or if you’re ready to commit to protecting yourself and your loved ones, simply contact us to schedule an appointment here, to have a conversation about how we can help!

If you die without a Will, the government decides how your property is passed according to state law—regardless of your wishes. Intestate means dying without a legal Will in place, and intestacy is the process your estate would go through without a Will. Typically, when a married person dies with a spouse still living, the estate typically passes entirely to the surviving spouse.  Nothing prevents your surviving spouse from remarrying—your assets, savings, and retirement could be used to support your spouse’s new family without estate planning.  There are usually exceptions if a person dies with a spouse, and with children from a prior relationship. In these circumstances, without a Will, two-thirds of the estate typically pass to these children and the remaining one-third passes to the surviving spouse. If a person wants their assets to be disposed of differently than is set by statute, then a Will is required. Over all, dying without a Will can cause huge problems for your loved ones by adding unnecessary stress and expenses to an already emotional and difficult situation. Here’s good news: creating a Will does not have to be complicated.

Contact us today at 703-556-0411, email intake@gcpc.com, to have a conversation about whether a Will is the right estate planning tool for you, or if you’re ready to commit to protecting yourself and your loved ones, simply contact us to schedule an appointment here, to have a conversation about how we can help!

If you don’t already have an estate plan, you should likely start planning now. Some common milestones or life transitions that may indicate it’s time to start planning include: purchasing a home or other asset, getting married, having a child, receiving an inheritance, when your children turn 18, or when you retire. At these times, a person typically owns assets that need to be disposed of if they die unexpectedly or loved ones to provide for if they no longer are here to do so (i.e. minor children, spouse, family members with special needs, and even business partners). It’s also recommended to be safe and have an estate plan in place before taking major trips or traveling.

It’s generally recommended that individuals review and update their estate plans, as necessary, every three years. However, there are a few common benchmarks that usually suggest it may be time to update an estate plan, including getting married or divorced, having a child or grandchild, the death of a loved one, purchasing a home or other asset, diagnosis of a medical condition, to plan for the potential care of a spouse when you no longer can do so, or any change in life circumstances. You may also choose to update an estate plan after personal reflection that may impact your goals, what your legacy will be, and how you want to be remembered. Your estate plan also may need to be updated when the people you trust to make medical, financial and legal decisions have changed due to their ages, if they moved, or if you simply have not been in touch with them. Finally, as our laws change along with asset protection options, updating your estate plan to stay legally current is not only responsible, it will likely save you time and money while also ensuring your plan reflects your wishes and effectuates your current goals.

A Trust is similar to a Will, as this legal tool can also direct how assets will be distributed, name a guardian for minor children, and create continuing support for children and other loved ones. However, there are key differences between them. While a Will provides instructions for distributing an estate, it does not avoid probate, which is the legal process where a court supervises the administration of an estate. With a Will, most assets are frozen and must go through months of a court probate process before they can be distributed to any beneficiaries. A Trust acts to avoid the probate process, which typically adds expenses to an estate, since there are court costs, attorneys’ fees, and even appraisal fees associated with probating a Will. A Trust a treasure chest that you can add to while you’re alive, and continues to function if you become incapacitated, as well as after you die.

Where a Will is a legal document, a Trust is a legal entity, which essentially exists to protect the assets in your estate. Unlike a Will, a Trust becomes the legal owner of your assets once the Trust is created and the asset is transferred to the Trust. Since the Trust owns the assets and not the individual, when the individual dies, the assets are distributed outside of probate. In addition to saving probate administration costs by utilizing a Trust, a Trust document is private, while a Will and the probate court proceedings are public record. There are multiple types of Trusts which can allow for financial advantages and planning that aren’t always available with a Will.

Another key difference is that while a Will only takes effect at death, a Trust can continue for long after death, and are designed to be used during the lifetime of the Trustor, which is why Trusts are sometimes referred to as a “Living” Trusts. With proper legal planning, assets can remain in a Trust until your children or other loved ones reach a certain age or achieve a certain benchmark. This can be advantageous for children with special needs, to combat fears of irresponsible spending, addiction issues, claims from creditors, or prior spouses.  A Trust also allows you to protect the use of your assets when you no longer are able to do so and to continue providing for future generations.

Contact us today at 703-556-0411, email intake@gcpc.com, to have a conversation about whether a Will or a Trust is the right estate planning tool for you, or if you’re ready to commit to protecting yourself and your loved ones, simply contact us to schedule an appointment here, to have a conversation about how we can help!

Not all assets go through the Court probate process required when someone dies without a Will or with a Will-based estate plan. Jointly owned assets, such as a property owned by spouses, will pass to the survivor upon one individual’s passing. Additionally, some assets, such as life insurance and retirement accounts, allow you to designate a beneficiary and pass outside of probate. If a beneficiary designation is made on these assets, then they are not controlled by a Will, and instead pass to the beneficiary outside of probate. However, if a minor child is named as a beneficiary, probate is still likely to be required to name a guardianship for the asset, until the child reaches the legal age of majority.  Also, probate is required if the beneficiaries you named have died or cannot accept the gift for another reason. Overall, estate planning can help avoid the Court process of probate with asset protection strategies and practical legal advice to make an unfortunate situation less stressful and help save money in the long run.

When creating an estate plan, even the so-called “simple Will,” it’s important to seek counsel from someone familiar with the laws to avoid potential pitfalls and comply with all necessary formalities to ensure the document is legally valid. An estate planning attorney will also help you to avoid complications, confusions or even court challenges that could waste your estate money in unnecessary court battles, hearings, and the time of your friends and family, sorting out details that are unclear, spending hours on hold on the phone, or even waiting for confirmation or other information in the mail. Additionally, an experienced attorney can offer advice or guidance about things you are not familiar with that you wouldn’t have thought to include, similar to a battle plan to address contingencies or an ingredient to add to a recipe that just makes it so much better.

A power of attorney (“POA”) is a legal document that authorizes one person (or multiple people) to act on behalf of the person establishing the POA. In other words, the document creates a legal fiction allowing another person to stand in your shoes to take actions when you cannot, or simply out of convenience if you prefer someone else to do so. POAs can be narrow or broad depending on the circumstances and the amount of authority the individual wants to bestow.

A POA can be helpful if an individual becomes temporarily or permanently incapacitated and unable to manage their affairs. Having a POA allows business and personal affairs to continue without delay and avoids the need to have the Court step in to appoint a guardian or conservator. A POA can give authority to manage financial matters, your business, collect or pay debts, and handle issues arising in daily life, as necessary. This can be especially important for business owners who don’t want business to stop if they become incapacitated, single parents, or unmarried partners who reside together. A POA is especially necessary to fill in the gaps of a Will based estate plan, since a Will only operates upon death, or if you do not have a Will. Even in our electronic age, some actions need to be taken in-person. A POA provides the convenience of allowing another person to appear on your behalf when you are too busy, traveling, or unable to do so for whatever reason.

Contact us today at 703-556-0411, email intake@gcpc.com, to have a conversation about whether a POA would fill in the gaps of your estate plan, or if you would like a review of your existing POA, or a loved one’s POA.  If you’re ready to commit to protecting yourself and your loved ones, simply contact us to schedule an appointment here, to have a conversation about how we can help!

An advanced healthcare directive (also known as a living will or health care proxy) is a legal tool which allows an individual to communicate their wishes regarding future medical care in writing. When property written, this directive can authorize another person (the agent or proxy) to make medical decisions for you if you become incapacitated, or unable to make those decisions for yourself, and explain what kinds of care you do or do not want ahead of time, ensuring your wishes are met. For example, you can indicate what types of life-prolonging treatments you do or don’t want, how long and under what conditions you would prefer to receive feeding and hydration tubes, what type of care you wish to receive if you are diagnosed with a terminal condition, whether you are open to experimental treatments, and even specify your opinion on maximum pain treatment.

An experienced estate planning attorney can help you prepare and guide you through the process of protecting your wealth and possessions and also provide strategies to leverage your chosen legacy and your values during your lifetime. Estate planning attorneys at General Counsel, P.C. can guarantee that you’ll feel more confident about your future after you’ve made your estate plan or updated your existing plan.  We would welcome the opportunity to help you navigate the estate planning process. Contact us today at 703-556-0411, email intake@gcpc.com, or if you’re ready to commit to protecting yourself and your loved ones, simply contact us to schedule an appointment, to have a conversation about how we can help!