Generally, estate planning is a four-step process through which you:
- Identify your individual financial and healthcare objectives for the future;
- Choose, out of the estate planning techniques available to you, how you would like to achieve those objectives;
- Execute legally enforceable documents providing authority to others to carry out your objectives in the event that you are no longer able to do so due to illness or death; and
- Where applicable, retitle your assets and/or designate death beneficiaries in coordination with your chosen estate plan.
Typically, several legal documents are used in conjunction to form a comprehensive estate plan. Each of those documents advances a different set of objectives, some relating to planning for illness i.e. Durable Power of Attorney (for finances), Healthcare Power of Attorney, Living Will and, in some circumstances, a Trust (see “why do I need to plan for illness”), and others to plan for death i.e. Last Will and Testament and, in some circumstances, a Trust (see “why do I need to plan for death”).
Generally, there are four main purposes for estate planning:
- To make your financial and healthcare objectives known and legally enforceable in the event that you become ill or otherwise unable to manage your own affairs;
- To make your last wishes known and legally enforceable upon your death;
- To preserve your assets to the greatest extent possible (see “what is asset protection and how can estate planning help protect my assets”); and
- To ease the burden on your loved ones should you become ill or pass away (see “how will estate planning help to protect my loved ones”).
This is an excellent question. While people avoid estate planning for a variety of reasons, it is often due to some common misunderstandings, such as “I am too young to need an estate plan” or “only the wealthy need estate plans”. The simple truth is that, regardless of your age, level of wealth or just about any other circumstance, planning will still be of benefit to you for one or more of the following reasons:
Make the Decisions for Yourself
One of the greatest benefits of planning is that it allows you to make important decisions about your future now. For example, whether you are young or old, wealthy or not, you will need someone to manage your financial affairs and healthcare decisions if you become unable to manage them yourself. By creating an estate plan, you can appoint someone now to handle your affairs later, should the need arise. The key is all in the timing though because, as an adult, you the only person who can authorize another to manage your finances and healthcare decisions for you. If you become incompetent without having appointed someone in a legally binding manner, then by default, someone appointed by the Probate Court will have to make the decision for you. In that instance, your loved ones would have to file a guardianship proceeding with the Probate Court so the Court can determine who should manage your financial and personal affairs and in what manner they will be permitted to do so. Fortunately, estate planning works to avoid such a harsh result.
Protect Those Hard-Earned Assets
Another benefit of estate planning is asset protection. Regardless of the extent of your assets, the fact of the matter is that you worked hard to attain them, and that they should be protected to the greatest extent possible. (See “what is asset protection and how can estate planning help protect my assets” for more information.)
Make Your Last Wishes a Reality
Lastly, everyone’s last wishes are important. Creating an estate plan will not only bring peace of mind to you in knowing that your unique goals and objectives will be accomplished. In addition, it will provide peace of mind to your loved ones by letting them know exactly what you would have wanted, instead of leaving them guessing. Unfortunately, without an estate plan, Ohio and/or other applicable law will determine who receives your assets. This consequence can lead to unintended results, igniting disagreements between your loved ones (see “what happens if I don’t have an estate plan”). A properly executed estate plan avoids this harsh result by enabling you to make your last wishes known and legally enforceable.
Estate planning is not essential; this is true. Should you become ill or pass away, your affairs will still be handled in one manner or another. The difference is, if you don’t plan, your affairs will be administered through the Probate Court pursuant to default rules prescribed by Ohio and/or other applicable law (see “what happens if I don’t plan for illness” and “what happens if I don’t plan for death”). On the other hand, with an estate plan:
- Your affairs will be administered in the manner that you directed;
- The corresponding goals you planned to accomplish will be met;
- You will save money by eliminating administration costs and procedures; and
- You will greatly reduce the frustration and burden imposed upon your loved ones due to your illness or death.
Planning for illness is of great benefit for the simple reason that it minimizes the need for Probate Court intervention. The Court will simply not have any role to play in your personal affairs if you have already determined in legally binding documents who will handle your financial and/or healthcare decisions for you and in what manner should the assistance be desired or become necessary. This is because planning documents allow you to provide the requisite authority to another now, to handle your financial and/or healthcare decisions later if and when the need does actually arise.
Without a Plan
Without a plan, your loved ones will have to apply for a guardianship proceeding in the Probate Court since you are, as an adult, the only person who can authorize another to handle your financial and/or healthcare decisions for you. If you did not provide such authorization to another while you were legally competent to do so, then the authorization has to be provided by the Probate Court after the fact. In that instance:
- The Probate Court will have to decide who will manage your financial affairs and/or healthcare decisions, and in what manner;
- Your assets will be used to pay for otherwise avoidable administration expenses, such as court costs and attorney fees;
- Your private financial information and/or the status of your physical and mental health may become a part of the public record; and
- Most decisions your loved ones would like to make on your behalf will be subject to the supervision of the Probate Court.
With a Plan
On the other hand, you can decide now who will handle your affairs and in what manner in the future, by properly preparing and executing the following documents:
- Durable Power of Attorney (for finances);
- Healthcare Power of Attorney;
- Living Will; and
- In some case, a Living Trust, if the circumstances warrant a need for additional instruction.
(See “how do I plan for illness” for more detailed information). Taken together, these documents will allow you to:
- Decide who will manage your affairs, and the manner in which they will do so;
- Help to preserve your assets by avoiding the court costs, attorney fees and other expenses related to a guardianship administration;
- Keep your personal affairs private; and
- Save your loved ones much time, effort and frustration by greatly reducing, if not altogether eliminating, the need for Probate Court intervention.
Should you become incompetent without having a properly executed estate plan in place, your loved ones may have to initiate a guardianship proceeding with the Probate Court. Guardianship’s are generally not ideal for many reasons, including the following:
- Disputes often arise between loved ones as to who should serve as guardian;
- Applying to become a guardian is a lengthy process which, among other things, requires a background check and a good credit history so that the applicant can be bonded;
- Serving as a guardian under the supervision of the Probate Court can be a very frustrating and time-consuming process, as it requires the guardian to:
- Coordinate with the ward’s physician to complete annual reports that must be filed with the Court indicating the status of the ward’s capacity; and
- Prepare annual financial accountings that must be filed with the Probate Court, often requiring the assistance of an attorney, showing exactly how the ward’s assets have been used and the status of the assets remaining;
- In addition, a guardian has to apply to the Probate Court for authority to use the ward’s assets to purchase anything for the ward; and
- In some circumstance a guardian can become personally liable for mistakes made while acting as guardian, regardless of their good intentions.
The Probate Court
- A guardianship proceeding is expensive, typically incurring both court costs as well as attorney fees;
- The Probate Court will have the final say in determining who will handle the healthcare decisions and/or financial affairs of the ward (the person under guardianship);
- The Probate Court will have the final say in determining the best interests of the ward and how the ward’s money will be spent to promote those interests; and
- The financial affairs and/or physical and mental health status of the ward may become part of the public record.
On the other hand, if you have a proper and legally enforceable estate plan in place, Probate Court intervention and guardianship proceedings will not be necessary.
Planning for death enables you to:
- Make your last wishes known and legally enforceable;
- Protect your assets by reducing the amount of services required to administer your estate (i.e. bonding fees, attorney fees, accountant fees, court costs, etc.);
- Ease the burden on your loved ones by limiting Probate Court involvement and simplifying administration procedures; and
- Provide comfort to your loved ones by letting them know exactly what you would have wanted.
Last Will and Testament
A comprehensive estate plan should include a “Last Will and Testament”, which allows you to:
- Appoint a guardian for your minor children (where applicable);
- Name an Executor – the person who will administer your estate and carry out the terms of your Last Will and Testament;
- Waive the legal requirement that your Executor be bonded, which may otherwise preclude persons form acting as the representative of your estate if they do not have a good credit history; and
- Specify legally enforceable instructions as to how you would like your assets (i.e. your estate) to be managed and distributed upon your death.
In some situations, other planning documents may be of benefit as well. For instance, a Living Trust may be helpful where circumstances are such that there is a need to:
- Maximize the benefit of certain applicable estate tax credits and/or deductions;
- Authorize another to manage the inheritance of a minor beneficiary until he or she has reached a certain age;
- Impose restrictions on the inheritance of a disabled beneficiary to ensure that government benefits are not interrupted;
- Impose restrictions on the inheritance of a beneficiary who struggles with managing money in a responsible manner, etc.
If you do not have an estate plan in place when you die, your estate will still be administered and your assets will still be distributed. The main differences are that, without an estate plan:
- The Probate Court will have the ultimate say as to who will serve as your estate representative (Administrator);
- Ohio and/or other applicable law will determine the manner in which your Administrator must manage your assets during the administration; and
- Ohio and/or other applicable law will determine how, and to whom, your assets will ultimately be distributed.
Unfortunately, estates that are administered in the absence of a properly prepared and executed estate plan often operate in a far less efficient manner than estates administered pursuant to a plan (see “what difference does it make if I do not have an estate plan in place when I die”).
The administration of an estate is often a far less efficient process when a properly prepared and validly executed estate plan is not in place upon death. For example, the following circumstances, easily avoidable with proper planning, are common in estates administered without a plan:
A greater emotional burden placed upon family and friends who:
- Are left wondering what the decedent would have wanted;
- May disagree as to who should represent the decedent’s estate; and
- May experience disappointment, anger and/or sadness when the decedent’s assets are distributed in the manner prescribed by law instead of the manner that the decedent would have wanted.
A greater burden placed upon the representative (Administrator) of the estate, who will:
- Have to obtain the approval of the Probate Court before acting on behalf of the estate;
- Have to comply with additional Probate Court procedures not otherwise waived in an enforceable estate plan; and
- Be held personally liable for certain actions taken on behalf of the estate, even if made by mistake, when such actions fail to comply with their legal duty to protect the interests of the decedent’s heirs.
An inconvenient and inefficient estate administration potentially resulting in:
- Unintended distributions of assets since the law, and not the decedent, determines to whom and in what manner the decedent’s assets will be distributed;
- Delayed distribution of assets where the Administrator must follow additional Probate Court procedures because they were not otherwise waived in an estate plan;
- Diminished privacy where the Administrator must disclose asset information to the Probate Court as required by law, which then becomes part of the public record; and
- The cost to administer the estate (i.e. court costs, attorney fees, bonding fees, etc.) increases due to the need for the Administrator to obtain authority to act, either through (a) disclosures and waivers or (b) notices and a court hearing.
Estate planning can help to preserve your assets to the greatest extent possible by:
During Life – allowing you to:
- Avoid the expenses of a Probate Court guardianship proceeding such as court costs, attorney fees, bonding fees, etc.; and
- Maximize applicable tax benefits (i.e. gift tax exclusions).
After Death – allowing you to:
- Minimize court costs, attorney fees, etc. by simplifying Probate Court estate administration procedures;
- Minimize estate taxes (AKA death taxes, inheritance taxes) by making use of applicable estate tax deductions (i.e. the marital deduction, deductions for charitable bequests, etc.);
- Minimize estate income taxes (form 1041) by determining the most beneficial time for income to be paid into the estate and choosing fiscal years that best match the estate’s deductions against its income; and
- Provide a forum and rules for dealing with creditors.
Prevent Misunderstandings and Disagreements Among Loved Ones
– by clearly identifying:
- Your financial and healthcare goals for the future;
- Your last wishes to be carried out upon your death; and
- The person(s) whom you would like to:
- Manage your financial affairs in the event that you become unwilling or unable to do so;
- Make your healthcare decisions for you in the event that you become unable to make them yourself;
- Carry out your last wishes and otherwise represent your estate during its administration (Executor); and
- Care for your minor children if you become unable to care for them yourself (Guardian, as applicable).
Reduce Probate Court Involvement
- Eliminating the need for a guardianship proceeding (see “what happens if I don’t plan for illness”);
- Possibly eliminating the need for probate estate administration procedures upon death (see “what happens if I don’t plan for death”); and
- Otherwise minimize Probate Court supervision should extraordinary circumstances require the Court to intervene.
Otherwise Reduce the Burden on Your Loved Ones
- Preserving your assets to the greatest extent possible (see “what is asset protection and how can estate planning help protect my assets”);
- Maximizing the income tax benefits passing through your probate estate to the estate beneficiaries; and
- Keeping your physical and mental health information and personal financial affairs from becoming part of the public record.
Estate planning will save you money by helping you to avoid the expenses associated with guardianship and estate administration procedures in the Probate Court, and by minimizing tax burdens by making the best use of all tax benefits available to you (see “what is asset protection and how can estate planning help protect my assets” for more information). The exact amount of money you will save depends on the applicable law, your current circumstances, and the manner in which those circumstances evolve in the future. However, even if there are no tax benefits available to you and/or you never become ill or otherwise need assistance managing your affairs, at the very least you will still save money by reducing the costs necessary to administer your estate upon death.
The cost that you pay to have an estate plan prepared will be recouped in two different ways. First, putting a comprehensive and specifically tailored estate plan into place now will reduce if not eliminate expenses that would otherwise crop up in the future (see “will estate planning save me money”). Reason being, the cost of a guardianship and/or probate estate administration in Probate Court is typically far greater than preparing an estate plan to keep you out of Probate Court in the first place.
In addition to saving money, though, there are numerous intangible benefits that estate planning will provide for you and your loved ones (see “how will estate planning help to protect my loved ones”, “why should I plan for death” and “why should I plan for illness”). To put it simply, there is just no replacement for the peace of mind our clients find in knowing that they are doing everything in their power to provide for and protect their loved ones.
Many people believe that having an estate plan to help them avoid probate (i.e. an estate administration through the Probate Court) automatically means that they will not have to pay any estate taxes. This is not the case. While it is true that estate planning can help to minimize estate taxation in many circumstances, having an estate plan does not necessarily mean that you will not owe any estate taxes.
Estate Tax Filing Thresholds
The thresholds for filing federal and/or Ohio estate tax returns vary from year to year. A good estate plan will take such variations into consideration and allow you to maximize your tax savings no matter what the thresholds turn out to be.
Everything included in a decedent’s “gross” estate counts toward reaching the estate tax filing threshold. A decedent’s “gross” estate consists of a decedent’s “probate” assets i.e. assets held in decedent’s name alone, as a joint tenant, or naming the decedent’s estate as the beneficiary, “nonprobate” assets i.e. assets held between the decedent and another jointly with a right of survivorship, or held in the decedent’s name alone with a designated beneficiary, payable on death (POD) beneficiary or transfer on death (TOD) beneficiary), and certain other items in which the decedent held an interest at death such as life insurance payable to the decedent’s estate, certain trust assets, etc.
Avoiding Probate Does Not Affect Estate Taxation
As indicated above, then, all of a decedent’s assets, not just probate assets, are included in a decedent’s “gross” estate for estate income taxation purposes. Hence, it does not matter if all of a decedent’s assets are passing outside of the Probate Court pursuant to an estate plan. If the value of the decedent’s assets passing outside of probate rises above the estate tax filing threshold, then an estate tax return will still have to filed and estate taxes may be due and owing.
When people refer to “probate”, they are usually talking about the administration of the probate estate of a decedent (a person who has passed away) through the Probate Court. The Probate Court facilitates the administration of the estates of persons who either (1) passed away without an enforceable estate plan, and/or (2) passed away leaving “probate” assets (i.e. assets held in the decedent’s name alone, in the decedent’s name as a tenant in common, or assets for which the decedent’s estate is the beneficiary).
The Probate Court provides a secure, organized and equitable means of managing and distributing the probate property of a decedent, either pursuant to the decedent’s Will or pursuant to the law if the decedent did not leave a valid Will. Probate procedures are required to be followed in order to:
- Protect the decedent’s probate assets;
- Ensure the decedent’s last wishes are followed;
- Protect the rights of the decedent’s heirs and beneficiaries; and
- Protect the rights of the decedent’s creditors.
In order to accomplish those objectives, however, probate requires a number of procedures not otherwise necessary for assets passing outside of probate (i.e. appointment of an estate representative, collection of the decedent’s assets and deposit into the probate estate, determination of legally enforceable debts, the need for a public filing of an accounting of the probate assets during the administration, etc.). In other words, the benefits of the protection provided by the Probate Court often come at the cost of:
Ongoing Probate Court supervision;
- Increased administration expenses (i.e. court costs, bonding fees, attorney fees, etc.);
- Delayed distribution of probate assets to heirs and beneficiaries; and
- Public disclosure of certain probate estate matters including the contents of a Will, the debts and probate assets of the decedent, the persons inheriting from the probate estate and in what manner, etc.
For these reasons, people seek to avoid probate.
Oftentimes, avoiding probate entirely (i.e. the administration of a decedent’s probate assets through the Probate Court – see “what is probate and why does everyone want to avoid it”) can provide the greatest benefit to a client. However, that is not always the case. There are particular instances when one or more of a decedent’s assets would be best administered through the Probate Court, such as (1) when a person owns real estate that will need to be sold upon death so the proceeds can be distributed to numerous beneficiaries, (2) when creditors must be dealt with, (3) when expenses can be deducted against taxes, etc.
Please note, however, that whether or not avoiding probate would be most beneficial to you specifically will depend entirely upon your individual circumstances. A comprehensive review of all of your assets, including the form of ownership and value of each of those assets, must be performed before such a determination can be made.
There are several ways in which estate planning can and should be used to avoid probate (i.e. the administration of a decedent’s probate assets through the Probate Court). Assets that avoid probate (i.e. “nonprobate” assets) include assets with a named beneficiary (other than the estate) i.e. life insurance, retirement plans, assets that have a payable on death (POD) designation, assets with a transfer on death (TOD) designation, and assets owned between joint tenants with the right of survivorship (as long as one or more owners survive the decedent). Likewise, if the decedent has assets whose ownership has been transferred to a Living Trust, those assets will also avoid probate. It is necessary to note, though, that many different consequences follow from the use of each of these techniques.
Assuming that an individual’s overall planning goals would be advanced by removing one or more assets from probate (see “do I need to avoid probate”), then the method of removal for each of those assets will have to be determined. Such factors as the number of persons who are to benefit from an asset, the number of persons who are to have control over the asset during lifetime and after death, whether the asset holds tax-deferred income, etc. will influence the manner in which each asset is moved from the probate to the nonprobate estate.
PREPARING AN ESTATE PLAN
A comprehensive estate plan typically includes (1) a Durable Power of Attorney (for finances), (2) a Healthcare Power of Attorney, (3) a Living Will, and (4) a Last Will and Testament. Certain circumstances may derive additional benefit from the use of a Living Trust as well.(See “how do I plan for illness” and “how do I plan for death”for more detailed information.)
In addition, beyond executing the above-mentioned documents, it is sometimes necessary to retitle one or more assets and/or designate death beneficiaries for one or more assets. This is the case where a particular individual’s planning goals are best advanced by avoiding probate, either in part or in whole (see “what is probate and why does everyone want to avoid it” and “do I need to avoid probate”).
If you are wondering why you need anything more than a simple Will, then you are not alone; this is the most common inquiry we receive from prospective new clients. In short, most estate plans involve more than a simple Will because a Will is limited in scope. Although it is an important estate-planning document because it directs how a person’s assets will be distributed upon death, a Will is not sufficient by itself to address all of the issues a comprehensive estate plan should cover because a Will is only effective at death.
Limitations of a Will
To be more specific, a Will is very limited in its scope because:
- It cannot be used to plan for illness or avoid guardianship proceedings (see “why should I plan for illness” and “what happens if I don’t plan for illness”);
- Its terms only control the distribution of “probate” assets and do not have any affect on the distribution of “non-probate” assets (see “The Probate Court” section of “what is probate and why does everyone want to avoid it”);
- It cannot keep your financial affairs and medical information from becoming part of the public record;
- It may not be sufficient by itself to minimize estate taxes to the greatest extent possible; and
- It may not be sufficient to adequately protect beneficiaries who could be harmed or disadvantaged by an inheritance (see “Living Trust” section of “why should I plan for death”).
One Part of a Whole
So, while a Will is certainly an important part of an overall estate plan, it is merely that, just one piece of the whole. A comprehensive plan that will protect you and your loved ones both during your lifetime and after you pass will include the following four basic estate-planning documents:
- Durable Power of Attorney (for finances);
- Healthcare Power of Attorney;
- Living Will; and
- Last Will and Testament.
In general, planning for illness involves the preparation and execution of certain estate planning documents, by which you (1) name another person (an “agent”) along with alternates to make decisions on your behalf in the event that you become unable or unwilling to make those decisions yourself, (2) provide your agent with authority to act on your behalf, and (3) provide your agent with instructions, powers and/or limitations to same, specifying the manner in which you would like your agent to manage your affairs.
The following three documents are used to plan for illness for the reasons noted below:
- Durable Power of Attorney for Finances – to appoint an Attorney-in-Fact who will manage your financial affairs for you in the event that you become unwilling or unable to do so yourself;
- Healthcare Power of Attorney – to appoint an Attorney-in-Fact who will manage your healthcare decisions for you in the event that you become unable to make those decisions yourself; and
- Living Will – to make specific end-of-life decisions that will override the desires of all others.
When more substantial instruction is needed to manage a person’s financial affairs, a Living Trust can sometimes be of benefit as well (see “Living Trust” section of “why should I plan for death”).
The techniques used to plan for death vary depending on an individual’s particular circumstances. Nevertheless, at least one of the following three planning components can be found in most any estate plan:
- Last Will and Testament – in every case, planning for death involves the preparation and execution of a Last Will and Testament, which enables you to:
- Name a guardian for your minor children (where applicable);
- Name an Executor to represent your estate during its administration;
- Provide your Executor with the requisite authority and powers to administer your estate in the manner you see fit;
- Provide your Executor with legally enforceable instructions as to how you would like your assets to be distributed; and
- Provide for payment of debts and taxes.
- Living Trust – in some cases, planning for death also involves the preparation and execution of a Living Trust (see “Living Trust” section of “why should I plan for death”), which enables you to:
- Appoint a Trustee to carry out the terms of your trust; and
- Provide the Trustee with the requisite authority and powers to administer your trust in the manner you see fit; and
- Provide the Trustee with legally enforceable instructions as to how you would like the trust assets to be managed and/or distributed.
- Retitling Assets and/or Designating Death Beneficiaries – finally, it is often necessary that one or both of the following actions be taken in coordination with an estate plan to make sure all aspects of the plan will function together as intended (see “what is probate and why does everyone want to avoid it” and “do I need to avoid probate”):
- Retitle assets in conjunction with the overall estate plan (i.e. add a joint owner with the right of survivorship, transfer ownership of an asset into a trust, etc.); and/or
- Designate Death Beneficiaries (i.e. add a transfer on death (TOD) beneficiary, a payable on death (POD) beneficiary, etc.).
People often wonder why they need an attorney to prepare an estate plan if planning is just a matter of filling out forms. While form preparation is certainly a part of the process, it is actually one of the very last steps in finalizing a plan. In order to maximize the benefits of planning, an individual’s present and future circumstances and planning goals must first be analyzed. Only then is it possible to know how each piece of the plan must be put into place so that all of the pieces can work together to accomplish the common end goals. When that analysis is skipped over, it is often the case that the planning documents are prepared incorrectly, leading to unintended results in the future (i.e. the wrong people inheriting the wrong assets, increased costs to administer the estate, etc.).
In addition, in order to assure that an estate plan will function correctly, all of the planning documents must not only be completed accurately, they must also be executed in the particular manners that are required by law. Moreover, additional action beyond execution of the planning documents must oftentimes be taken to fully implement an estate plan (i.e. retitling assets, designating beneficiaries, etc.). A qualified estate-planning attorney will understand how all of the different pieces of your plan need to put into place so that it will accomplish exactly what you want, and when you need it to.
Once you have decided that you would like to create an estate plan, the next step is to find an attorney to assist you (see “why do I need an attorney to prepare my estate planning documents”). Selecting an attorney is always an important process, but this is especially true with regard to estate planning. While there are many attorneys that prepare estate plans, not all estate plans are prepared equally.
A qualified estate-planning attorney should have an extensive background not only in planning, but also in administering estate plans (i.e. probate, guardianship and trust administration). Such experience enables an attorney to understand exactly how your plan will function in the future, and will fully understand why it is necessary to take the time to:
- Understand your personal and financial circumstances to the extent necessary to assess your specific estate planning needs and objectives;
- Help you understand the different contingencies that must be planned for and the different estate planning techniques that could be used to accomplish your goals;
- Explain the benefits and drawbacks of each planning technique and advise you as to what methods will best enable you to accomplish your objectives; and
- Assist you in correctly executing your estate plan so that it will function exactly as you intend it to in the future.
At Bodycombe and Associates, our attorneys have years of in-depth experience in administering estate plans (see “why should I choose your firm to prepare my estate plan”). They understand not only the different estate planning techniques available, but also (1) how each planning method will differ in execution, and (2) why some methods of planning are more beneficial than others, depending on each client’s own particular circumstances. Our attorneys will help you put a plan into action that will achieve each of your own unique goals and objectives.
Our attorneys are unique in that they have not only planning experience, but also years of experience administering the estate plans of decedents, in addition to guardianship administration and trust administration as well. This background sets us apart from the vast majority of lawyers who prepare estate-planning documents without ever having carried out an estate plan from start to finish. Such experience has provided a thorough understanding of all the problems that result from improper planning, including the issues that arise when a plan is not specifically tailored to a client’s own individual circumstances and goals. In knowing exactly where each pitfall lies and how each can be avoided, our attorneys offer not only high quality estate planning services, but also estate plans that will function efficiently and as intended in the future.
Time and again, our clients and their loved ones have found great peace of mind when the estate plan we prepared functioned exactly as it was supposed to when it was needed. We hope to assist you in fulfilling your estate planning needs so that we can provide you with the same confidence for your future.
In order to maximize the benefits of planning available to you, our attorneys will need to review your financial circumstances, and in some cases, discuss some additional personal matters as well. The information they will need to get started, as detailed in our Estate Planning Questionnaire (see “why do I need to fill out your Estate Planning Questionnaire”), includes:
- A list of your assets;
- Title and form of ownership of each asset;
- Current beneficiary designations for each asset (if any);
- Current value of each asset;
- Basis value for each capital asset (as applicable);
- Current debts owed; and
- Ongoing financial obligations.
If you are ready to begin the process of preparing your estate plan, we would be more than happy to assist you. To get started, all you need to do is contact our office at (614) 777-4600 so we can send you our Estate Planning Questionnaire.
On occasion, clients are wary of providing the detailed information that is requested in our Estate Planning Questionnaire (see “what information do you need to know to prepare my estate plan”). This is certainly a valid concern, which we would like to take a moment to address.
The amount of information that you ultimately will provide is of course, entirely up to you. However, since our advice is based solely upon the information that you share, the more detail you are able to provide, the more tailored and comprehensive advice we will be able to give. We do not wish to put you in an uncomfortable position; rather, the purpose of the Questionnaire is to help you understand what information our attorneys need to offer you the best possible planning services that are available.
At Bodycombe and Associates, our attorneys firmly believe in preparing specially tailored estate plans for each individual client. This practice assures that each client’s estate plan will (1) work within the bounds of the client’s own particular circumstances, (2) function exactly as needed when it is needed, and (3) accomplish each client’s own unique estate planning goals.
It has been our experience that clients prefer to know the procedure for billing in advance. Estate planning involves two components, which our billing format follows: (1) fees for consultation and (2) fees for document preparation, revision and execution.
To begin the estate planning process, you will receive a free one-half (1/2) hour office, home or telephone consultation with one of our attorneys to assess the extent of your estate planning needs. Any time exceeding one-half hour will then be billed at our attorneys’ respective hourly rates in increments of a tenth of an hour. The total time spent on the consultation will depend upon (1) the completeness of the information you provide in the Client Questionnaire and (2) the complexity of your planning needs. However, to provide a frame of reference, most consultations involving only the four basic estate-planning documents (a Last Will and Testament, Durable Power of Attorney for finances, Health Care Power of Attorney and Living Will) do not typically exceed one-half hour.
The second component of planning is more concrete as the fees for document preparation, revision and execution are billed at flat rates. If you have any questions or would like additional information about our fees, please feel free to contact our office at (614) 777-4600. We would be happy to answer any questions you might have and provide you with a copy of our current fee schedule.
Estate plans are structured to provide the results that you want, regardless of the many changes that can occur in a lifetime. However, upon the happening of certain life transitions, it may become beneficial to update your estate plan. For example, revisions are often advantageous when any of the following events occur, whether it be to (1) you, (2) your spouse (if applicable), (3) a person or entity you intend to benefit and/or (4) any fiduciary named in previously executed estate planning documents (i.e. attorney-in-fact under a power of attorney, executor under a will, trustee under a trust, etc.):
- Marriage, divorce or separation;
- Births or adoptions;
- Change in status of minor to adult;
- Change in opinion of a person or future outlook of a relationship (i.e. desire to change beneficiaries under will, person named as attorney-in-fact under a power of attorney, etc.);
- Change in dynamic of a relationship (i.e. parent or other person becomes dependent upon you, etc.);
- Plans to move to or live in a different state, either permanently or temporarily;
- Changes in the willingness of person to serve as your attorney-in-fact under a power of attorney, executor under your will, trustee under your trust, etc.;
- Diagnosis of a progressive and/or terminal illness and/or any other type of declining illness; or
- Acquisition of new assets;
- Substantial change to debt or other financial obligations;
- Substantial change in value of capital assets (i.e. real estate, stocks, bonds, etc.);
- Receipt of a substantial inheritance or gift;
- Purchase of real estate (in or out of state);
- Acquisition of or change in business interests;
- Change in receipt of government benefits (i.e. social security income, disability income, etc.);
- Any other substantial change in finances (i.e. bankruptcy, inability of a beneficiary to manage finances responsibly, etc.); or
- Changes to applicable federal and/or state tax law.
If you are dealing with any of the above-mentioned transitions or have any questions regarding some other change that is occurring, please feel free to contact our office at (614) 777-4600; our attorneys would be happy to assist you in reassessing your estate planning needs.