Estate Planning and Administration
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Many people believe that estate planning is only for people who are particularly wealthy, have elaborate schemes in mind for passing their money to their heirs, or for people who are acutely ill and contemplating their death. This could not be farther from the truth!
Estate planning is for every husband, wife, mother, father, grandparent, business owner, professional, or anyone else who has someone they care about, are concerned about providing responsibly for their own well being and for the well being of those they love, and for anyone who seeks to make a difference in the lives of others after they’re gone. Estate planning is not “death planning” it’s “life planning” and an essential and rewarding process for individuals and families who engage in it.
When done properly, estate planning requires that a highly trained individual lead you through one or more in-depth meetings to uncover your hopes, fears, and expectations for yourself and for those who are most important to you. This process almost always requires the preparation of several sophisticated legal documents, but those documents themselves are not ‘estate planning.’ Planning is a process, represented by a complete strategy that is properly documented and maintained by a professional who has taken the time to get to know you, and who is committed to continuing to serve you.
Below are just some of the tools we use to accomplish your goals:
A will is a legal document that tells the probate court how you want your property distributed after you die, and who has the power and responsibility to wrap up your affairs. Through the probate process the court will give the “executor” of your will the authority to gather all of your property, pay any remaining creditors’ bills, and distribute your remaining property as you specify in your will.
Because the will takes effect only after a court determined that it is a valid document, a judge must act before your executor can step in and manage your estate.
Healthcare Power of Attorney
A healthcare power of attorney allows your trusted friend or family member to make medical treatment decisions for you if you are unable to communicate your wishes to doctors. Without one, you must have a guardian or ‘conservator’ of your person appointed by the court before decisions can be made on your behalf.
A healthcare power of attorney not only saves precious decision making time, but it also makes sure that the individual you trust the most has the power to make these most important decisions for you if you are unable to make the decisions on your own.
Your Living Will works with your Healthcare Power of Attorney and guides the individual named in the Healthcare Power of Attorney in making critical end of life decisions. In this document, you make your wishes known regarding lifeprolonging procedures such as a feeding tube or life support issues.
Revocable Living Trust
Perhaps the most common type of trust is the revocable living trust. As the name implies, revocable trusts are fully revocable at the request of the trust maker. Thus, assets transferred (or ‘funded’) to a revocable trust remain within the control of the trust maker; the trust maker (or trust makers if it is a joint revocable trust) can simply revoke the trust and have the assets returned. Revocable trusts can be excellent vehicles for disability planning, privacy, and probate avoidance.
Long Term Care Planning
As our population matures, many individuals are concerned about losing many of their assets to long term care facilities and management. Our firm can assist in planning to minimize the impact of long-term care needs. Below are just a few options. For any other questions, please schedule an appointment with our office. We are happy to come to your house anywhere within the Tri-Cities.
The Medicaid Trust
One currently-effective planning technique is to transfer assets into a ‘Medicaid’ trust. In a Medicaid trust, the trust maker retains the right to all of the trust income for life while irrevocably giving up the right to receive or benefit from any of the trust principal. The assets in the trust are not available to pay for the cost of the trust maker’s LTC.
By using a Medicaid trust, a senior can preserve capital and still qualify for Medicaid, but only after expiration of the look-back period for the transfer to the trust (which can be as much as 60 months (5 years)).
The ‘penalty period’ starts from the date the applicant applies for Medicaid and would be eligible but for the disqualifying transfer. Its length is determined by dividing the state’s average daily private pay nursing home cost into the total of the transfers made during the look-back period.
For the Medicaid trust strategy to work, insurance, an income stream, or other assets must be sufficient to pay for LTC if needed during the waiting period before applying for Medicaid.
A Medicaid trust can allow the trustee to distribute principal during the trust maker’s lifetime for the benefit of the trust maker’s spouse, children, or other designated beneficiaries, just not to or for the benefit of the trust maker. Many trust makers choose to maintain the right (called a Special Power of Appointment) to change the current or ultimate beneficiaries of the Medicaid trust by ‘reappointing’ the assets to different family members at a later date.
If a Medicaid trust is not desired, it is still possible to make ‘outright’ gifts of property, wait until the look-back period expires, and then apply for Medicaid or use other planning techniques to qualify for Medicaid at the earliest possible date.
Protecting the Home
If the home is the only asset to protect, a deed to children or others with a retained life estate for the client will protect both the property and the client’s Medicaid eligibility upon expiration of either 60 months from the date of the conveyance or the applicable ‘penalty period’. As with other advanced planning strategies, because the penalty period begins only after the applicant has applied for Medicaid and is otherwise eligible, other LTC funding should be available to get past the look-back period.
Even if the need for LTC is imminent or immediate, sophisticated Medicaid planning opportunities can be employed to protect a substantial portion of your assets. Carefully working within the Medicaid transfer rules can allow individuals to provide security for themselves and a legacy to their families, while ensuring that they will remain eligible to receive LTC under Medicaid when necessary.
Counseling individuals on their Long Term Care options, including the availability of Long Term Care insurance, is an integral part of comprehensive wealth planning.
For many people, owning your own home or piece of property is the American Dream. For others, finding the right spot for their new or growing business means making sure that the lease they are about to enter in to protects them. These are just a few of the situations where our firm can help you and your family out.
Residential Real Estate
Whether it’s simply handling the closing on your residence or performing a title search and preparing purchase agreements, our firm can walk you through the entire real estate process. We can help to identify liens on the property and help to eliminate those to make sure you are buying clear title to the property. We can also assist sellers of residential property to make sure they have complied with all of their legal requirements in selling the residence.
Commercial Real Estate
Location, location, location is the commercial real estate mantra. We can make sure that once you find that location, you are adequately protected in any lease the landlord may throw at you. Our experience in reviewing and negotiating commercial leases can be the difference in a lease that’s good for your business and one that holds your business back.
Real Estate Litigation
Unfortunately, not all real estate dealings go smoothly. Many times the parties have to resort to litigation to resolve their disputes. Whether you feel you have a claim against an individual or business or if you are fearful that you may be sued by a disgruntled party in a litigation dispute, our experience can help to guide you smoothly through those troubled waters. We understand that this is probably your first (and hopefully only!) time being involved in a lawsuit, and that’s a stressful situation. However, because of our litigation experience, you can feel at ease knowing you have an expert to guide you through the process.
One of the most common disputes is a dispute among neighbors over their property line. Many times, neighbors will argue over whether one party has the right to go over their land and what the extent of those rights are. That is called an easement dispute. These disputes can be contentious and emotional, particularly given that the parties live right beside each other, see each other every day and are constantly reminded of the ongoing dispute. Our firm can take over your case and provide you the peace of mind that an expert is handling your case and representing your best interests. It also helps in dealing with your neighbor, because much of the emotion from your point of view is taken out of it by an attorney’s presence.
Our firm is equipped to handle all of your business’s legal needs. From entity formation and selection to business succsession, we can guide you through the life of your business and its needs.
Business Formation and Entity Selection
Whether you are a new business trying to select the proper entity or an existing business figuring out whether converting to a new business entity is appropriate, we can help you work through the legal ramifications of those choices. We work in conjunction with your other professional advisers to select the right entity for your business.
For many businesses the legal advantages and protection of incorporating are worth the costs associated with that incorporation. And many times those costs aren’t as high as many people think. Most of our incorporations are handled on a flat rate basis so that you and your business know the costs associated before the process begins. Ultimately, our goal is to continue to work with you and your business until the time to work on your succession plan.
Have you been looking forward to the day you can retire, perhaps turn your business over to a son or daughter, or sell it? Even if you are not planning to stop working, you need to plan for the day you cannot run your business due to unforeseen illness or death. Most business owners do not take the time to plan for how they will leave their business. They are busy running the company, or they don’t know where to start. But if you continue to own a business until you die, it will be included in your estate and could be subject to substantial estate taxes. Your family could be forced to sell the business or its assets at ‘fire sale’ prices. Then you will have worked hard all these years so that the vultures and Uncle Sam, not your family, will reap the benefits.
Planning for how you will exit from your business should be an integral part of your estate and retirement planning. Proper planning now can provide you with retirement income, reduced income and estate taxes, and even let you benefit a charity if you so choose, regardless of whether you transfer your business to family members at discounted values, to employees, or to an outside buyer. In today’s market, the economy and trends are affecting the timing and value of business transfers.
Planning now to exit your company will result in you and your family receiving the best possible results, both now and after your retirement, disability or death. You can receive retirement income; you can transfer your business to your family, your employees or an outside buyer; you can make a difference for a charity or your community; and you can do all of this with reduced income, gift and estate taxes.
General Legal Advice
In between the formation planning and the succession planning, our firm is here to provide the general legal advice your business needs. Whether it’s drafting an employee handbook, dealing with employee disputes, reviewing contracts or any other general business law needs, we’re here to help you out.
When disputes arise, whether it be because of a real estate transaction, failed business deal or debts owed, many parties feel the need to resort to litigation.
Our firm is committed to serving the litigation needs of our clients. Many times, the best thing we can do is assist the client in coming to an acceptable resolution before going through the heartache and the trouble of going through a “full blown” lawsuit. However, we are prepared to vigorously represent our clients in all of their disputes, including the pleading, discovery, and trial phase of each trial.
We also handle a select amount of personal injury cases. Those include car wrecks, faulty products, workers’ compensation, and slips and falls. Because of early experience representing insurance companies, we are in a position to adequately and competently evaluate these cases and produce the information needed to resolve these cases.
Collections work is also a significant portion of our litigation practice. Whether for a financial institution or an individual, we can help you pursue those debtors that you are having trouble collecting from individually.
Divorce, Custody, Child Support
As part of our effort to protect you and your family, we assist clients with domestic relations issues, including divorce, child support and custody. Whether it’s a simple uncontested divorce, modification of child support or custody orders or a proceeding that promises to get contentious, our firm is equipped to handle your needs and protect your assets to the greatest extent possible.
Our office is equipped to quickly and efficiently handle your uncontested divorce. Most divorces can be finalized within two to three months of filing. And, so long as both you and your spouse have already agreed to the division of your property and debts, the process is simple. We can even assist in helping you to iron out and remaining differences that need to be worked out. Many of our uncontested divorce cases can be handled on a flat rate basis.
Whether you have recently been served with divorce papers or are considering filing for divorce, our office can be there for you from beginning to end. From the time divorce is considered, it’s important to have proper legal counsel through every step of the way. Our office is familiar with the local court system and how to best protect yourself, your assets – and most importantly, your family.
Child Support and Custody
If child support and custody issues have already been decided, it may be important to review any change in your situation and how it may affect these issues. Likewise, it’s important to have counsel on your side if and when your ex-spouse is attempting to get custody and child support changed. Our office can guide you through these situations and more.