We understand that this may be a difficult time for you and we respect that. We are known for our gentle approach and for taking the time to make sure you have the information and guidance you need when you are making estate planning decisions.
Many put off estate planning until it is too late, which can result in their wishes being unmet and their beneficiaries footing some unexpected bills. Online solutions can be attractive, but a customized approach ensures that your unique situation is reflected in a plan tailored for you and safeguarded from possible legal questions later. Ask for a free consultation.
Estate planning is not only for the wealthy. It is for anyone who wants to ensure that their loved ones can enjoy the benefits of their generosity and that the grieving family members are not forced to deal with the lengthy and often costly process of probate.
By putting an estate plan into place now, you can protect your estate from the claims of creditors through strategic probate avoidance, you can ensure that your assets are distributed according to your wishes and shield your loved ones from potential quarrels and legal conflicts. If you do nothing, your estate will be distributed according to the dictates of state law, and your family may end up receiving far less than they otherwise could. The benefits of an estate plan cannot be underestimated.
A trust transfers assets out of your name into the ownership of a separate legal entity. You can still enjoy possession and control over the assets, but they are no longer legally yours. As a result, when you die these assets can be transferred directly to your heirs without the necessity of probate.
You can use a trust to determine a schedule of distributions to avoid the gift tax, and you may even choose to begin distributions during your life. Any assets held in the trust will not be liable to the claims of creditors, as they would be during probate.
If your personal estate is large enough that it would be subject to the estate tax, it may be in your best interests to establish a trust. Since the assets held in the trust are no longer legally yours, the distributions paid to your loved ones will not be taxable as an inheritance. And you can keep them small enough to minimize tax liabilities. You may choose to use either a revocable or irrevocable trust, depending on whether you want to leave the door open to modifying the arrangement or reclaiming your assets.
Revocable Living Trusts: These are excellent tools for avoiding probate. Upon your death, the property held within the trust is not subject to probate because the property is owned by a trustee and not an individual. The trustee can immediately transfer the trust property to your spouse, family friends or charities according to your wishes. Within your trust document, which is similar to a will, you specify your beneficiaries.
Irrevocable Trusts: While revocable trusts can be modified during the grantor’s life, irrevocable trusts may not. Nonetheless, this type of trust can be the right choice for you. It is protected against legal action or bankruptcy and does not count when the value of your estate is totaled. Thus, if the estate is large (triggering a 40% estate tax rate), an irrevocable trust may significantly reduce the burden on your heirs. Such a trust can also distribute assets to your beneficiaries on a conditional basis. A major downside of this type of trust is that it cannot be changed — ever. You must be certain before you create one.
Special Needs Trust: These trusts are made for disabled or mentally ill loved ones who are not able to manage their own finances appropriately. If people leave assets, specifically lump sums of money, to their disabled relatives through a will, it may disqualify these beneficiaries from continuing to receive government assistance. However, with a special needs trust, the beneficiary can receive the inheritance from the trust in a more managed fashion, while also continuing to receive aid from government assistance programs. Generally, these trusts are used to make sure that the beneficiaries continue to receive government aid, while also receiving their fair share of the inheritance. If the family is not concerned with government benefits and assistance, a special needs trust should still be considered, as it addresses requirements that are specific to special needs situations, unlike other trusts.
what do you need?
You don't have to be extremely wealthy to need an estate plan. To understand the benefits of an estate plan, you should know how each component of the plan works.
The components of an estate plan include:
- Living wills
- Advanced medical directives
- Powers of attorney
A large portion of elder law is dedicated to the care of your aging family member and paying for that care. Long-term planning may require an analysis of the individual's estate value, assets, debts and more, to determine how much can be allocated monthly for such care. If there is medical insurance or coverage, you will need to consider Medicare planning. Ultimately, you will be faced with a handful of critical decisions that will determine the living conditions of your loved one. We have years of experience to provide you with knowledgable, compassionate support and clear options.
estate planning options
Joint Ownership: There are several forms of joint ownership that allow one owner to avoid probate when the other dies. You must state how you want to hold title on a document such as a real estate deed. When one of the property owners dies, the property automatically goes to the joint-owner and the property is not subject to probate. Joint tenancy with the right of survivorship means that property owned in joint tenancy will automatically pass to the surviving owner without probate.
Payable on Death Designation: In Georgia, you have the option of adding a "payable on death" designation (POD) to bank accounts such as savings accounts and certificates of deposit. You maintain control of all the money in your account and your POD beneficiary has no rights to it until your death, when the beneficiary can claim the money from the bank directly without probate proceedings.
Transfer Stocks and Bonds: Finally, state law allows people to register stocks and bonds on a transfer-on-death (TOD) form. If you register your account in a beneficiary form, the beneficiary you name will inherit the account automatically upon your death, avoiding probate. As with a payable on death designation on a bank account, the beneficiary of a TOD can claim the money directly from the bank upon your death.
If there is a family business, a good succession plan will ensure a smooth transition as family members pass responsibilities and ownership from one generation to the next. A trusted estate specialist with deep expertise in the law is critical in making sure this structure is sound and effective. Additionally, advisors who are not part of the family can bring objectivity to the discussion that creates the foundation for your plan.
A strong succession plan should include:
- Training and development of successors;
- A timeline for the transfer of authority;
- A plan for retaining key employees, directors and advisors;
- Decisions on who will own the business and who will manage the business;
A discussion with key advisors — including your estate attorney, business advisors, business managers and family stakeholders — should be the first step to putting your succession plan in place. Successors must be identified, financial options discussed and decided upon and management scenarios structured. Your plan should be reviewed yearly. Consult with a trusted estate advisor to move forward on creating your succession plan.
last will & testament
If a person dies without a will, his or her personal estate will be distributed according to the dictates of state law. The heirs will normally receive far less than they otherwise would have — if they receive anything at all.
Everyone should have a will. The last will and testament appoints an executor or a personal representative to administer your estate. This person will control your personal property and determine who will receive which items. If you have children, a will is even more important.
Choosing an executor you trust is key. And it is vital to ensure that the language of the document does not leave any ambiguities which could lead to legal battles among grieving family members. Further, the will must be legally sound to stand up to the challenges of probate, both to ensure that the process moves as swiftly as possible and to withstand any claims made by heirs or those not named in the will.
A living will spells out your wishes regarding to what extent you want medical science to keep you alive. If you don't make this decision for yourself, the burden to make it falls on your loved ones. A living will works in conjunction with other advanced medical directives, which authorize a designated person to make medical decisions for you when you're not capable of doing so.
Advanced medical directives detail how you wish medical decisions to be made in the event you are not able to make them. If you are married, doctors usually consult with the spouse, but such directives are still a sound idea. A health care proxy or surrogate document will name someone to provide informed consent regarding your medical treatment if you aren't capable of doing so yourself. If you are single, having a power of attorney for healthcare is critical. If you become incapacitated, a durable power of attorney will allow someone of your choosing to manage your finances and control your assets outside of any trusts you've created.
When a person dies leaving a will, his or her estate is subject to the process of probate, which involves checking the validity of the will, carrying out its terms and allowing others to bring legal challenges against it. Even the smallest estates can be subject to probate and its accompanying fees. If you move assets into a trust, you can avoid the time-consuming and costly probate process, keep more control and protect your heir's inheritance.
With our small-firm setting in Kennesaw, we are capable of personalizing your case and tailoring each solution to your business's needs, giving us the ability to achieve large-firm results without distancing you from the legal process.
The lifeblood of your business is inherent in the thoroughness of your business contracts and the structure of your business. If you want your company to thrive both today and into the future, you cannot risk legal complications due to poor wording or professional misunderstandings. When you retain our services, you put years of experience and compassionate advocacy on your side.
Our specialties include:
- Incorporation: If you want to set your business's entity apart from your own, thus protecting yourself from liabilities and possibly achieving lower tax rates, you will want to consider incorporation and its many benefits.
- Contract review: Most company executives are masters at running a business but require guidance on legal details. We can remove the guesswork and uncertainty about your company's contracts, analyzing them for accuracy and efficiency and ensuring that they are sound.
- Dispute resolution: Not even the best and biggest conglomerates in the world are immune to business disputes. To help keep your business on track and out of the news, we provide effective and reliable dispute resolution techniques to avoid the courtroom.