Estate Planning Law Center

Fundamentals of Estate Planning, Will & Testaments, Advance Medical Directives, Probate




What is Estate Planning

Estate planning is planning for your estate while you are alive and well, if you become incapacitated, and after your death. It involves the management of your assets while you are still alive and the distribution of those assets after you die. This planning allows for the orderly administration and disbursement of your estate, and includes taking actions that will minimize taxes and distribute assets to the appropriate heirs.

Your estate consist of all your property, which includes your house and other real estate; tangible personal property; and intangible property, like insurance, bank accounts, stocks and bonds, pensions, etc.

The elements of an estate plan include a will; assignment of power of attorney; a living will or health-care proxy; and for some people, a trust.

When you are setting up an estate plan, ask yourself the following questions:
  1. Whom do you want to inherit your assets?
  2. Whom do you want handling your financial affairs if you are ever incapacitated?
  3. Whom do you want making medical decisions for you if you become unable to make them yourself?
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Recent Articles Related to Estate Planning

  • Inheritance Laws
    Inheritance laws are determined on the state level. These laws come into effect when the person who died left no will or his or her will is invalidated due to not following legal formalities, being the product of undue influence or duress, the testator lacking the requisite capacity or for other reasons as determined under state law. Additionally, some inheritance laws take effect even if a valid will was left and if the will says something that contradicts state law.
  • The Disadvantages of a Living Trust
    Many financial service providers spout the advantages of a trust, promising that trusts can be used as an asset protection tool and can help your beneficiaries avoid the cost and expense of probate. However, living trusts also carry certain disadvantages with them, which should be carefully considered and weighed against the advantages.
  • Donít Neglect these Issues that Could Deplete Your Estate
    Individuals need to take the following often-neglected but important issues into consideration when developing an estate plan or they risk depleting estate assets:
  • What Is the Process of Probate?
    The probate process is the legal process that is undertaken after a person dies. This process helps to identify the individualís rightful ownership interests, pay off remaining debts and distribute property in accordance with the will or the laws of intestacy. This process involves several stages.
  • Components of a Good Estate Plan
    A thorough estate plan should be designed to avoid probate, save on estate taxes, appoint someone to act for you if you become disabled, and protect assets if you need to move into a nursing home.
  • Can I Avoid Probate?
    Probate is a process in which a personís final affairs are wrapped up, debts are paid off and any remaining assets are distributed according to the terms of a will or the laws of intestacy if there is no valid will. During this time, assets are tied up as beneficiaries impatiently await their share. Probate can also be expensive and time-consuming. For these reasons, many individuals try to avoid probate through one or more of the following ways.
  • What Are the Laws of Intestacy?
    The laws of intestacy are the default rules that are followed to dispose of a personís probate estate after he or she dies. These laws are based on state statute. In order to avoid these laws, a decedent can make a will or otherwise dispose of the assets before or at death, such as through a living revocable trust or a testamentary trust.
  • Digital Assets in Estate Planning
    Many individuals account for their real estate, securities and tangible property as part of their estate plan. However, much of peopleís lives are now online, potentially leaving a personís digital assets unclaimed or even susceptible to theft. A comprehensive estate plan should address the handling of digital assets.
  • Holographic Wills: Pros and Cons
    Having a will helps prevent a testatorís estate from passing through the laws of intestacy. However, if the will is not executed properly, these rules can apply if the will is considered invalid or does not completely dispose of all property under the will.
  • Does My Will Have to Be Witnessed?
    Wills allow individuals to avoid the stateís rules about who gets what portion of a decedentís estate. They also allow individuals to name their executors, name a guardian for their children and bequeath specific items to certain individuals. However, if a will is not properly executed, the will can be invalidated and the rules of intestacy (dying without a will) can apply.
  • Divorce and Estate Planning

    If you are going through or even contemplating a divorce, the single most important step you can take to make sure that your desires are carried out is to execute a new will, power-of-attorney and health care proxy.

  • DIY Estate Plans

    Many people view estate planning as selling of commodity documents (like wills, trusts, etc.). And if that is all there is to it, then they are right to choose DIY options like the form sites that are available. This article discusses DIY estate planning.

  • Do-It-Yourself Wills Leave Families Unprotected

    As the economy crawls sluggishly toward recovery, individuals and families continue to make difficult financial choices. In an effort to save money, people are increasingly attempting to personally handle tasks that were once reserved for professionals.

  • Golden Years can be Tarnished by Lack of Planning

    Retirees often come to Arizona to enjoy their golden years in great weather and an affordable state with spectacular natural beauty. Things sometimes turn ugly and expensive for seniors in Arizona, however.

  • Is This a Good Time to Transfer Your Wealth to Your Children?

    Is this a good time to transfer your wealth to your children? With the interest rates at a really low rate, and with the economic fallout from the present economy, even people with money do not feel flush now and may decide that they do not want to make gifts to the next generation. Even though the economy has been in recession many times before and has come out of it to prosperity, sometimes it is hard to look beyond the present time to see that prosperity.

  • Making Estate Planning a Family Affair

    Very few people are excited about drawing up their estate plans.

  • Pet Trusts Are an Important Part of Estate Planning

    A pet trust should be included as part of any good estate plan, just as a will, POS, HCP, and LW are the minimums everyone should have. The Helmsley debacle outlined some problems in her Pet Trust and will. Good drafting goes a long way.

  • Repeal of Estate Tax Likely to be Short-Lived

    As December 31 came and went, so did the federal estate tax - or at least for the time being. The estate tax, or the "death tax" as it is more affectionately known, is a tax imposed on the property and assets (i.e. "the estate") that an individual leaves behind at death. Under 2009 rates, the first $3.5 million of the estate was exempt from the tax while any amount over this was taxed at 45 percent.

  • Seniors Ė Planning Ahead is Key to Financial Stability

    Recently, there was a case in the news of a Brooks Astor, a New York socialite, who is now 104 years old. Her grandson is in a heated battle to remove his dad as Mrs. Astor's caregiver. In court papers that were filed, the grandson accused his father of ignoring Mrs. Astor's health and personal needs and requested a friend of Mrs. Astor's be appointed as her guardian.

  • The Pitfalls of Improper Titling of your Assets

    Even if the terms of your estate plan meet your current goals, your estate plan could be defeated if your assets are not titled in accordance with your particular estate plan.

  • The Value of Gifts to Estate Planning

    Gifts offer an important tool for Estate Planners to avoid federal estate taxes. However if gifts do not take into account the special circumstances of the giver and recipient it may create more harm than help.

  • Three Ways to Ensure your Minor Children can Inherit without Costly Guardianship Proceedings

    While itís not a pleasant subject, sometimes parents pass away while their children are still under the age of 18. What happens then? In this article, we discuss the perils of guardianship and three ways to avoid it.

  • What is IRS Section 529?

    IRS section 529 or Qualified Tuition Programs (QTP's) are found under Title 26, Subtitle A, Chapter 1, Subchapter F, Part VIII, Section 529 of the Internal Revenue Code or "IRC". It is considered the most complicated and hard to read section of the Code and a good treatment for insomnia. This section deals with special tax breaks for families, hence the "insomnia effect".

  • Why You Need an Estate Plan

    With the repeal of the estate tax (and generation skipping tax or "GST"), you may have put your estate plan on hold. This could be a serious mistake and put your family's (and business') financial future in jeopardy!


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