Process, Property & People
The key to an effective estate plan is covering all the important bases. At Legacy Trust & Wills, we can help you address the three key elements of your plan: Process; Property; and People.
Attorneys at Legacy Trust & Wills guide each client through a four-step process:
- Client education—One of the main goals is to introduce the client to the words and phrases commonly used in estate planning. We first ask that the client review certain written material. The client will then be given the opportunity to ask questions about that material. With a better understanding of words and terms, the client and attorney can more effectively and efficiently make decisions about the client’s estate planning needs.
- Information harvesting—The firm will need detailed information about the client’s family members and the client’s assets. A member of our client support team will be specifically assigned to the individual client and will work with the client to coordinate gathering information and documents.
- Decision making—Once the first two steps are completed, decisions about people and property are made by the client with the advice of counsel. Together, they will identify people who can serve as trustees and executors; these people will guide the client’s affairs after the client’s death. Final decisions will also be made regarding the distribution of property to heirs.
- Signing ceremony—At the signing, client and attorney will review the documents in detail. Although clients may not retain all the legal nuances of the estate planning documents, it is important that the client understand all the primary concepts at the time they sign the documents. Final arrangements for funding the trust and for annual follow up will also be discussed at this meeting.
From start to finish, the process takes about five weeks. Only the signing ceremony must take place in person and weekend and evening hours can be arranged for the signing if necessary.
In any estate plan there are two main actions with regard to the client’s property: assembly and distribution. In a traditional “simple will” type estate plan, the executor assembles the assets into the client’s estate after death. Then the executor distributes those assets according to the client’s wishes and under the supervision of the probate court.
In the trust-based estate plan, property is still distributed after death according to the client’s wishes, but assembling those assets takes place during the client’s life. The assets are transferred by the client (with assistance of counsel) into the trust when the trust is created and also when additional assets are acquired throughout the client’s life. If done properly, the client owns nothing when they die; instead, the trust owns all the client’s assets. After the client’s death, a new trustee (named by the client) can immediately take over the operation of the trust and proceed to distribute the trust property. The entire assembly and distribution takes place without the hassle, the time, and the expense of the probate process.
The backbone of a trust-based estate plan is nominating (appointing) a trustee to take care of the client’s estate after death. In many instances, the client will nominate their spouse to act as sole trustee after the client’s death. It is often the selection of the second trustee, who will take over when both spouses have passed, that requires careful consideration. The trustee’s primary responsibility is to distribute the contents of the trust according to the client’s wishes. Those wishes will, of course, be reflected in the trust document which will guide the trustee’s actions. While the trustee is often a family member, it can also be a close friend or even a professional hired for that purpose.
Even in a trust-based plan, it is necessary to name an executor for the will. If all goes as planned, the client will not need the will, as there will be no probate. The will is always drafted, however, as a backup. If used at all, the will simply instructs the executor to move assets into the trust. Often the executor and the trustee are the same person.
Clients with minor children will want to nominate a guardian to raise their children in the event of tragedy. Clients may want to name separate people as trustee and guardian. If the guardian also controls the child’s inheritance it may unduly complicate the relationship.
The financial agent is another role that must be filled. This is the person who will make financial decisions for the client if the client is incapacitated by a medical condition. Again, spouses will often name each other in the first instance; it’s the backup agent that requires more thought.
Like the financial agent, clients will name a medical agent to make medical decisions if the client is not able. The nomination of this person is often the most challenging for clients, as this person may have to make life-and-death decisions.
Still have questions? The experienced attorneys of Legacy Wills & Trust are here to help.