Estate Planning FAQs: Video Answers

Some of the most frequently asked questions from our clients

What is Probate?

Probate is a court administered process, overseeing the handling of a deceased individual’s estate. It is time consuming and expensive. Proper estate planning can help your heirs avoid this unpleasant ordeal.

What happens if I die without a Will?

In Missouri, “intestate succession” laws dictate what happens to your assets if you die without a Will. In short, these laws set forth an order of priority amongst your potential heirs. This order starts with your spouse, then kids, and so on, to other relatives.

Why do I want to avoid Probate?

Probate is almost always significantly more expensive than having a Trust or using other non-probative transfers. Additionally, Probate is time consuming and involves a great deal of “red tape.” Build an estate plan to avoid it!

Does a Will protect my property from Probate?

No. It is a very common misconception that property & assets transferred by a Will avoid Probate. This is false. Assets must be transferred by a non-probative method, such as a Revocable Trust, to bypass Probate court.

How do I avoid Probate?

Essentially, Probate can be avoided by creating a Trust or through a series of other non-probative transfer techniques. Typically, creating a Trust and transferring your assets to said Trust–is the most efficient and effective method.

What is a Trust?

A Trust is a distinct legal entity that can own assets. A Trustee is appointed (typically yourself, while you are alive) to manage these assets in a manner dictated by the terms of the Trust. When the creator of a “Revocable Living Trust” dies, the assets owned by the Trust are distributed and or held, as detailed in the Trust document. In the eyes of a Probate Court, no one who owned anything has died. The Trust continues to exist and seamlessly transfers assets to the Beneficiaries

What are the benefits of a Revocable Living Trust?

Compared to other planning instruments, such as a simple will, a Revocable Living Trust frequently offers many unique advantages. These include: avoiding probate (saving time, money, and convenience), ensuring privacy, and greatly increased control over asset distribution.

Who should I appoint as my Successor Trustee?

Successor Trustee is an extremely important job. Essentially, this is the individual who will handle the management and distribution of your assets after you die. Similar to a Personal Representative, you want to select someone trustworthy and responsible. In addition, age is of increased importance with Successor Trustee (or at least include a long list of back-ups with some younger individuals included). Depending on the terms of your Trust, a Successor Trustee could potentially serve for a far greater time period than a Personal Representative. For example, if you have young children and your trust is going to provide for their maintenance until age 21; If you die when your child is 8, a Successor Trustee will need to serve for 13 years. In short, it is wise to err on the side of having too many back-up successors, than too few.

Are Trusts only for the wealthy?

One of the most common misconceptions about Trusts is that they primarily benefit the wealthy. This could not be further from the truth. Trusts have substantial benefits for individuals and families at most all income levels.

What do Trust instructions look like?

Flexibility and control are part of what makes a Revocable Living Trust such an effective estate planning tool. This video provides an overview of the wide ranging options available when having a Trust prepared.

If I have a Trust do I still need a Will?

A Will is still an essential part of an estate plan even if you have a Trust. If you have a Trust, your Will is called a “Pour-over” Will. A Pour-over Will is structured a little differently from a traditional simple Will and works in complementary fashion with your Trust.

What kind of issues are addressed in a Will?

A Will names your personal representative, nominates guardians for minor children, and determines where or to whom your property & assets are to be distributed.

What is a Personal Representative?

A Personal Representative (called an executor in some states) oversees your estate and carries out the instructions of your Last Will and Testament. This person holds a great deal of legal authority in “wrapping up” your affairs. Additionally, it is wise practice to nominate back-up Personal Representatives, in case your first choice is unavailable (or declines) to serve.

Who should I nominate as my Personal Representative?

A key decision in one’s Last Will and Testament is the selection of a Personal Representative. Ultimately, you want to nominate an individual(s) who you find trustworthy and responsible. Age is also an important consideration. Frequently, clients select siblings, parents, close friends, or adult children (depending on the age of the client). Likewise, you also have the option of choosing a professional fiduciary (if that option makes the most sense for your situation).

Do I name a guardian for my children in my Will?

Yes. If you have minor children (or an older special needs dependent), the nomination of a guardian–to step in if you die unexpectedly–is a crucial decision made in your Will. For many clients, this decision is perhaps the most important aspect of creating a Will. Accordingly, this choice requires careful thought and reflection. Some criteria I suggest considering, when listing guardian nominees, includes (in no particular order): (1) Character & responsibility; (2) Values that are important to you (religion, political beliefs, etc.) (3) Age; (4) Geography (relocating a child can be undesirable); (5) Economic circumstances; (6) Health of the guardian; and (7) Willingness to act as a guardian. This is not an exhaustive list. However, it is important to think of your own list of criteria when making this significant decision.

Can I leave gifts in my Will?

You can absolutely leave specific bequests in a Will or Trust. In distributing one’s assets, we generally speak in terms of percentages of one’s estate. This is basically your “net worth,” once all assets have been pooled. However, you can (and people frequently do) distribute specific items to specific individuals. These can be tangible items of sentimental importance (e.g. your mother’s wedding ring goes to your daughter) or larger assets like real estate.

What is a General Power of Attorney?

A General Power of Attorney (sometimes referred to as a Financial Power of Attorney) allows you to appoint a proxy to act on your behalf, under specified circumstances. The powers and timing associated with your General Power of Attorney are highly customizable.

What does an Attorney-in-Fact do?

An Attorney-in-Fact is the individual appointed as one’s agent in a Power of Attorney document (either general/financial or for health care decisions). The powers given to one’s Attorney-in-Fact are highly customizable. These powers can be extremely limited–for example, signing a single real estate document on your behalf. Or these powers can be extremely broad–such as acting on your behalf in a wide array of financial and legal activities on an on-going basis.

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