ESTATE PLANNING / PROBATE

Estate Planning is a dynamic process designed to address your welfare and needs, plan for your own personal and health care if you are no longer able to do so, position your assets for easy transfer, protect your minor children by designating guardians, minimize transfer or estate taxes, and avoid the time and expense of probate.

The probate and estate planning attorneys at Bolhouse, Hofstee & McLean are skilled at helping a diverse range of clients, from young families with small children to senior citizens enjoying retirement. We work with clients who have very small estates as well as those whose assets are valued in the millions of dollars. We provide a wide range of estate planning services from simple wills and powers of attorney all the way to complex living trusts and sophisticated business succession plans.

Because tax laws affecting estate planning change often, we continually monitor legislative activity and attend continuing legal education classes to maintain our expertise. In addition, we regularly conduct educatioanl Estate Planning Seminars for our clients.

Comprehensive estate planning/probate services for individuals and families include:

  • Establishing living trusts to avoid probate
  • Creating succession plans for transferring family businesses
  • Minimizing, deferring or eliminating death and gift taxes
  • Designating guardians and creating custodianships to protect minor children
  • Establishing discretionary trusts to preserve governmental benefits for the elderly or disabled
  • Planning for disability by:
    • Creating durable powers of attorney and living trusts designed to avoid probate
    • Creating patient advocate designation and living wills to address medical treatment concerns
    • Preserving benefits through careful Medicaid planning
  • Representing clients in all matters involving probate court including:
    • Administering decedents' estates
    • Handling probate disputes such as will contests and claims against estates
    • Representing clients in guardianship and conservatorship matters

Click here to download our Estate Planning Questionnaire

Attorneys

Related Questions & Answers

Q. Who will inherit my assets if I do not have an estate plan?

If you do not have a will or a trust, any assets in your name alone will be distributed pursuant to state law. Who actually receives your assets will depend on whether or not you are married, whether or not you have children, whether or not you have children who are not the children of your current spouse as well as other factors. Rarely does state law accurately reflect a person's desires concerning the distribution of his or her assets. Your assets will need to be probated to complete the distribution.

Q. What is probate?

In its simplest terms, probate is how we change the name on a person's assets after he or she dies. When a person dies, there is no one who can sign for him or her; consequently, no one can transfer the deceased's assets. The probate judge has the authority to transfer assets on behalf of a deceased person and the probate process is how the transfer is accomplished. Probating a deceased's estate takes at least five to six month to complete.

Q. Doesn't a will avoid probate?

No, although this is a common misperception. Your will is really your instructions to the probate judge, and everyone else, as to who you want to manage the probate process and how you want your assets distributed.

Q. Should I put my children's names on my assets to avoid probate?

While putting a child's or children's names on assets will avoid probate, there are several drawbacks, including: any joint owner of a bank account has the right to withdraw funds from that bank account, any creditor of an owner of a joint bank account can take the money in the joint account regardless of who put the money into the account, and real estate owned jointly cannot be sold unless all of the owners, and the wives of male owners, consent.

Q. What is a trust?

A trust is a contract. The person who sets up the trust is called the Grantor or Settlor, the person who manages the trust is called the Trustee, and the people who benefit from the trust are called Beneficiaries. Typically, the same person is the Grantor, Trustee and Beneficiary. Usually trusts can be changed by the Grantor at any time as long as the Grantor is capable of making financial decisions. A trust does have its advantages, including: avoiding the time and expense of probate; providing for minor or disabled children; delaying the distribution of assets or basing the distribution on specific conditions; providing for the management of assets if you become disabled; minimizing estate taxes.

Q. How much does an estate plan cost?

The cost of an estate plan depends on the complexity of your goals and objectives. The cost of a simple will with a General Durable Power of Attorney and Patient Advocate Designation is relatively modest. An estate plan designed to minimize federal estate taxes will be more.

Q. Who will care for my minor children if something happens to me?

Someone on behalf of the children must ask the probate court to appoint a guardian and conservator for minor children if both parents die. A guardian is responsible for the care of your child and a conservator is responsible for your child's assets. You can tell the probate judge who you would like to serve as the guardian and conservator of your minor children in your will or another written document signed by the parents and witnessed by at least two witnesses. If your trust provides for the management of your children's assets, a conservator is not normally necessary.

Q. What happens if I become incapacitated?

If you have no estate plan, someone must ask the probate court to appoint a guardian and conservator for you. The process of appointing a guardian and/or conservator can be time consuming, costly and stressful for your family. Fortunately, signing a General Durable Power of Attorney and a Patient Advocate Designation can eliminate the need for a guardian and conservator. However, these documents must be signed before the incapacity begins. With a General Durable Power of Attorney you give someone the right to handle your financial matters. If you have a trust, your trustee will manage the assets in the trust and your power of attorney will handle matters that are not related to the trust such as signing personal tax returns or obtaining governmental benefits. If you do not have a trust, your power of attorney will handle all of your financial matters. With a Patient Advocate Designation you appoint someone to make your medical and healthcare decisions if you cannot make those decisions yourself. A patient Advocate Designation can also include your desires concerning life sustaining medical treatment or life support.