Estate and Trust Planning
Estate and Trust Planning
The best estate plan is the plan that is right for you. At M&R Law, we listen to your concerns and goals and recommend the plans and tools that serve your needs and objectives. L. Ashley Brooks, M&R Law’s estate and trust attorney, is ready to help clients create a plan of their lives. She also is honored when clients entrust their legacies to her, making her a part of their long-term team of advisers.
A trust is a legal contract, created by a Grantor, under which assets are held and administered by a Trustee, for the benefit of a beneficiary. The trust states the conditions for distributions to the beneficiary (or for their benefit), and the terms upon which the trust assets are administered and invested. There are many types of trust, both revocable and irrevocable. Whether a trust is the right tool for you depends on your goals and objectives, which also determine what type of trust you need. Trusts are commonly used to avoid probate, provide privacy, promote superior disability planning and protection, preserve assets in long-term care planning, reduce taxes, protect a beneficiary’s inheritance from creditors and divorce, and ensure that a beneficiary on public benefits does not lose them when they receive an inheritance, to name just a few of their purposes.
Wills are the traditional tools for conveying your assets upon death. With a carefully drafted will, you can choose who receives your assets, and in what manner. Without a will, your estate is distributed according to Virginia’s intestacy statutes. While a will does not keep your estate out of probate, it can include provisions that significantly simplify the probate process.
Powers of Attorney and Advance Medical Directives
Few tools are more underestimated in importance than powers of attorney (for financial and health care decisions) and advance medical directives. Powers of attorney allow you to choose the persons or institutions that will make decisions on your behalf if you become incapacitated and unable to make decisions for yourself. Advance medical directives allow you to put your wishes regarding end-of-life treatment into writing, with the goal of eliminating conflict among family members regarding the use of life-prolonging measures if you have a terminal illness and your death is imminent, or if you are in a persistent vegetative state. Powers of attorney and advance medical directives should be thorough, custom-tailored to your needs, and updated on a periodic basis.
Planning for Blended Families
Statistics show that there is a 50% chance that new marriages in the United States will end in divorce. In 2013, 40% of marriages included at least one previously married spouse. As a result, a tremendous number of “blended families” exist today. Blended families are defined as families that include children from the previous marriage or relationship of one spouse, or both. Estate planning for blended families can be complex. A frequent concern is that children of a prior relationship not be disinherited after one spouse dies. Discussing these sensitive issues is not easy, but the peace of mind that comes from developing a thoughtful plan with proper titling and restrictions to protect all family members is worth the effort.
Planning for Same-Sex Couples
In the landmark case of United States v. Windsor (in 2013), the United States Supreme Court ruled that prohibiting same-sex couples from marrying violated the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution. While married, same-sex couples are now entitled to privileges previously only extended to married, opposite-sex couples, it is critical that they, as all married couples, engage in thorough estate planning to ensure their specific objectives are met.
Special Needs Planning
Far too many recipients of needs-based public benefits, like Medicaid or Social Security Income (SSI), lose their benefits when they receive an unrestricted inheritance. This result is completely avoidable. A special needs trust, included in a traditional will or a living trust, allows you to leave an inheritance to a benefits recipient while keeping their benefits intact. Funds in the special needs trust can supplement the benefits – not supplant them – ensuring a better quality of life for the recipient.
For many, pets are as much a part of the family as its human members. Their presence in our daily routine is as significant for us as our love and care are to their well-being. We need to provide for them, not only when we are well and capable, but when we are no longer able to meet their needs ourselves – during our disability and after our death. After all, they depend on us completely. Pet trusts are an excellent way to provide such care.
We can help you with the critical components of designing your pet trust, from choosing your pet’s trustee and guardian, to estimating future care costs and selecting resources to cover those costs – all to ensure seamless access to funds to care for your pet when you cannot, and accountability for the use of the funds for the life of your pet.
Vacation Home Succession Planning
When multiple people inherit real estate together, problems are likely to ensue. What happens when a co-owner refuses to pay his or her share of the expenses? What if another co-owner decides to move into the vacation home full-time? Or if one party wishes to sell the home, but the rest do not?
There are solutions to these issues. If you own a vacation home and desire to keep it in the family for future generations, you should consider a trust or limited liability company (LLC) that is structured to address the conflicts of co-ownership. Use of a trust or LLC means that property usage is governed by contract law, not antiquated property law, providing flexibility and solutions.
Family Limited Partnerships (FLPs) and Family Limited Liability Companies (FLLCs)
FLPs and FLLCs are entities created by attorneys for families with wealth. These entities provide multiple benefits to families running a business, such as tax discounts, privacy, improved income tax planning, a structured gifting program resulting in gradual transition of ownership while maintaining effective management, asset protection, and limited liability.
Providing for a charitable organization in your estate plan is easy to do, with benefits ranging from tax savings to the satisfaction of leaving a legacy for meaningful charitable work. You can provide for a specific distribution to a charity in your will or trust, name a charity as a beneficiary of your retirement account or life insurance, or create a charitable remainder trust or charitable lead trust, to name a few charitable planning tools.