When a loved one passes away with just a will, or no estate plan at all, their families have to put the estate through a process called “probate.”  Probate is the court-managed proceeding where assets are re-titled and distributed according to the will or the law of intestacy (when you pass away without a will). While most of our clients set up their estate via a living trust, which avoids this process entirely, the majority of estates will have to go through probate.

We are often asked to help families go through this process and we meet a lot of new clients for the first time helping them with the estate of recently deceased family members. (Most of those families choose to do comprehensive planning with our law firm after having gone through the probate process once with a loved one.)

No two probates are ever the same, but all of them involve locating the Will and/or making a filing with the probate court. Once the Will has been accepted, a Personal Representative is appointed. After that, all of the heirs need to be mailed a formal written notice, where they will have the opportunity to review the Will and make any appropriate challenges or contests.

Then, the assets have to be gathered, debts and taxes have to be paid, and only then can assets can be distributed in accordance with the Will or intestacy. While many assets will pass through probate, some assets, like life insurance and retirement accounts, will pass directly to the named beneficiary.  Other kinds of assets, like those held in joint tenancy, will pass directly to the other joint tenant. The important thing to remember is that all of these assets are counted as “part of the estate” for purposes of calculating whether taxes are due and/or as part of any existing or future Medicaid applications. You should also know that estates over a certain threshold have to be probated, whether they are “taxable” or not.

As you can imagine, accomplishing all of this takes an enormous amount of time and can be extremely frustrating.  When you factor in the grief that comes with the loss of a loved one, the process can seem overwhelming.

As your trusted advisor, we can help you navigate the process and settle the estate as quickly and economically as possible. We will lift the burden off your shoulders, so you can focus on what is most important—coming to terms with your loss and preparing to move on with your life.

If a loved one has recently passed away and you would like a confidential consultation to discuss the next steps, please contact our office to schedule an appointment.

Simplifying Estate Administration

One of the hardest things to do is deal with the estate of a loved one who has passed away.  If that loved one hasn’t put proper planning in place, it can be doubly hard. In the midst of dealing with the grief that comes from losing a loved one, you may also have to deal with the mess that they’ve left behind by failing to put proper planning in place.

One of the most important gifts that you can give the people that you leave behind is an estate that is well organized, efficiently managed, and where you have an existing relationship with a trusted advisor who can help after you are gone.

Our planning focuses on becoming lifetime legal counselors for our clients and their families. One of the richest benefits that comes from joining our client family is the knowledge, and peace of mind, that someone who knows you is there to guide your loved ones after you’re gone.

Tax Planning

Did you know that:

  • The estate tax is separate from the income tax, and is paid on the net value of all your assets, including life insurance, and retirement accounts owned at your death in excess of the exempt amount?
  • The federal estate tax rate is currently 40% (in 2018)?
  • For most families, estate taxes are totally voluntary.  Only people who fail to plan will end up paying estate taxes.

Using various techniques, we can help most families avoid or reduce the amount of estate tax that will be due upon their death.  This kind of planning must be put in place before you pass away, and some of this planning requires anywhere between 1 to 3 years to become effective.

If you may be facing estate tax at your death, you could benefit from consultation with our office to assess the magnitude of the taxes that will be owed, and to put together a plan that will help keep more money in the pockets of your loved ones, and less money in the pockets of the government.