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Everyone has an estate plan — even not having an estate plan is a plan. Just a very bad one. Above is a visual “pyramid” of the estate planning services offered at our law firm. Estate Planning is a process that allows a planner and you, the client, to design and build your planning based upon your unique circumstances and situation. As a result it is important to understand the various “tools” we can use and what the “building blocks” of an estate plan are. Depending on your circumstances, age, and stage in life, one or more of these building blocks may pertain to you, and it is critical to put them in place unless you like your estate plan to be the state of Texas plan for everyone? Call our office for a complimentary meeting with one of our attorneys and begin building your planning today.
Powers of Attorney and Declarations of Guardian
These documents are to protect you and your family in the event of your incapacity. Did you know that if you are under the age of 50 you are more likely to be incapacitated for some period of time by accident or illness than you are to pass away? These “incapacity” documents are an important part of the foundation of any estate plan. Anyone over the age of 18 should make sure they have named trusted friends or family (or other fiduciaries) to step in and act for them if something happens and they are unable to act for themselves.
Even more important, if you have minor children, is the Appointment of a Guardian document. In the event of your death or incapacity your children could find themselves the subject of a lawsuit between family members, subject to a costly and time consuming guardianship, in foster care or moved from family to family. They will be traumatized enough – making a plan for them is your gift and your legacy.
As an adult if you do not appoint someone to serve as your financial or medical decision-maker in the event you are unable to do so – the Court will do it for you. A court appointment of a guardian is a costly proposition. In addition to the costs the Court will require an annual accounting and will need to approve EVERY expenditure made by your guardian. If you pre-appoint those guardians at least you can save some of the cost and time and get someone you know and trust instead of someone whose “job” it is to spend your money.
Wills and Trusts
The Will or Revocable Trust will form the center of your estate plan. These documents are built and designed to make sure your assets and estate pass to the people you designated upon your death in the way in which you feel they will be best served. There are advantages and disadvantages to a Will-based estate plan and a Trust-based estate plan. Talk to one of our attorneys to find out what is right for you.
Beneficiary Designations and Life Insurance Planning
Your life insurance and beneficiary designations are the final piece to the “foundation” of your estate planning. If you have life insurance policies or retirement accounts, it is critical to check to make sure you have designated a primary and contingent beneficiary and that those beneficiaries are, in fact, who you still want to inherit that account. If you have had children or gotten married or divorced since initially naming your beneficiaries, it is time to make these updates.
Special Needs Planning
If you have a child or family member with special needs, special planning must take place to make sure you do not unintentionally disqualify them from federal benefits or leave them without someone to protect and care for them.
Trusts to Protect Children and other Family Members
Using trusts in your estate planning can help protect your loved ones in the event you pass away. Trusts can also be used to protect assets and minimize estate taxes. Our attorneys can help you determine whether you need trusts for your children or surviving spouse or even if you need trusts for your firearms or your pets!
For clients with more complex estates, it is important not to overlook the advanced planning and gifting opportunities with trusts. Irrevocable trusts also offer additional opportunities to create and preserve legacy wealth and move assets to other jurisdictions. The top 3 tiers of the pyramid are additional planning techniques we use to solve some of the more complex issues in our clients lives.
For clients with a more complex estate, it is important not to overlook the advanced planning.
Business Succession Plans
For clients with ongoing businesses, a clear business succession plan alleviates the burden of figuring out what to do with the business if you pass away unexpectedly. With a plan in place, you can help prevent a fire sale of the business interests or assets and protect your estate beneficiaries from litigation and preserve the equity you have worked so hard to build.
Life insurance is a tool you can leverage and use to protect your loved ones. Life insurance can be used to anticipate and plan for an impending estate tax bill or liabilities of your estate after you pass away. Although we do not “sell” life insurance we have assisted our clients to “leverage” life insurance to solve complex issues in blended “Brady bunch” families, business succession planning and to protect young families.
Whether you naturally have a charitable inclination or you would prefer to leave part of your estate to a charity of your choice rather than the government, charitable trusts are an excellent tool for estates of all sizes.
Marital Property Agreements
Pre- and post- nuptial agreements are actually incredibly useful vehicles spouses can use to protect themselves and their property. IF you are contemplating marriage take advantage of our complimentary consultation to determine if a pre-nup is right for you.
Family foundations are a unique way of charitably gifting wealth. We have also used them as a vehicle for older family members to introduce younger family members to philanthropy. Whether you want to create a private foundation set up and run by the family to gift to a cause special to them or a create a foundation to gift to public charitable organizations, this is an incredible planning vehicle for families.
Asset Protection Planning
Many clients are engaged in professions or hobbies that frequently make them targets of litigation. Others are entrepreneurs who just need to limit the liability their new business may create so their family assets or other businesses are protected. Business entities, irrevocable trusts, gifting and other strategies are in our “tool box” to assist you in building a defensive plan for protecting your assets.
Some of the most advanced planning for clients involves ownership of their assets overseas or “offshore”. Our attorneys will work with you to minimize tax and liability consequences of ownership of a client’s offshore assets.