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Estate Planning

Wills
Recent trends indicate that fewer and fewer people are bothering themselves with the exercise of writing a will.  Because many of our assets pass to surviving heirs or beneficiaries outside of the probate process; life insurance, qualified retirement plans, certain social security benefits and property owned jointly with right of survivorship, some people believe that a will is unnecessary.  However, the simple fact is that most all other types of property will be subject to the probate process.  In the absence of a will, the Probate Court will distribute those assets to the heirs chosen by the state and not necessarily to those the decedent may have wished.  This can be particularly problematic in blended families where all of the kids do not have the same mom and dad.  If a person is married, there will probably be probate property.

Minor children need a guardian if their parents die.  While the Probate Court is not bound to follow the will in every aspect, it typically gives great weight to the decedent’s wishes.  If there is no will, the court must rely on the guidance of others in the selection of a guardian.

A will is essential for the parent of a minor child or a property owner.  At Hawkins Law, we are experienced in protecting those most precious to you.  Our fee for a simple will is very affordable and the potential benefit it offers is significant as well as comforting.


Trusts

Trusts are a legal entity in which the trustee, on behalf of the trust, has legal ownership of any property or assets transferred into the trust by the person establishing the trust who is known as the grantor.  The property or assets held by the trust is known as the trust principal.  The trust principal is invested or managed by the trustee for the benefit of one or more beneficiaries.  The trustee has a fiduciary responsibility to the trust to ensure that the trust is used only for the purpose and in the manner described by the grantor in the trust document.  Sometimes the same person can be the grantor, trustee, and beneficiary depending upon the type of trust and how many beneficiaries the trust allows.

Trusts are a useful estate planning tool, because they can permit property and assets to be transferred to heirs outside of the probate process thereby eliminating certain taxes that would otherwise become the responsibility of the estate.  Trusts also ensure that the grantor’s wishes for the disposition of the trust assets are met and/or that specific persons and organizations enjoy the support of the trust as beneficiaries in perpetuity.  Additionally, a properly structured trust will protect the trust principal assets from most types of personal liability that the grantor may incur.

There is no minimum amount of money or asset value required to establish a trust.  Trusts can be established with as little as the minimum deposit required by the bank to open the trust bank account.  However, it is important to understand that only assets owned by the trust or alternatively those “held” by the trust avoid the probate process.

Trusts can be “living” - established by the grantor during his or her lifetime or “testamentary” – established by the grantor in his or her will.  Living trusts can be revocable or irrevocable.  A revocable living trust is subject to termination or modification by the grantor at any time for any reason.  Irrevocable trusts cannot be changed or terminated and the grantor may never withdraw assets from the trust for any reason.  An irrevocable trust is a separate legal entity.

Testamentary trusts are always irrevocable.  However, prior to death, the grantor is free to change his or her will as well as any testamentary trust that is yet to be created.  It is important to note that that a testamentary trust requires the will to be probated.  As such, these trusts may then become accountable requiring that they report to the Probate Court under state law.  While testamentary trusts do not require the transfer of assets or property during the grantor’s lifetime, they also do not avoid the probate process entirely like a living trust. 

One type of trust that has been popular with our clients is a revocable living trust wherein the trustee or trustees assign all rights and use of the trust principal assets to the grantor, as grantor and trustee, during the grantor’s lifetime.  Upon the grantor’s death, the successor trustee or trustees assume the responsibility for management and/or disposition of the trust principal assets according to the requirements in the trust document. 

This type of trust protects the grantor’s assets from certain personal liabilities during the grantor’s lifetime, avoids the probate process upon the grantor’s death and ensures that the grantor’s wishes for the use of the assets held by the trust are followed.

Let Hawkins Law help you preserve your wealth for the benefit of those most important to you.


Property Transfers

Transfer on Death Affidavits are a method of property transfer that allows conveyance of real property to a non-resident successor outside of the probate process upon the owner’s death.  Hawkins Law offers these and other types of property transition strategies as part of our estate planning practice.

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