Frequently Asked Questions

Q: I live a simple life, and don't have any major assets to speak of. Do I really need estate planning?

At the very least, execute a Will and powers of attorney. Even if you think your estate is not worth very much (a mistake many people make), a Will serves other important functions. Also, we often find client's needs are more complicated than they realize. This can be for many reasons, including expected inheritances, employment issues, divorce, remarriage, or health concerns. Powers of attorney are necessary regardless of your net worth (see Estate Planning). If you still think you don't need estate planning, you should consult with an attorney to be certain you understand your situation. Not having a will in place can cause significant problems for your heirs because there is no direction regarding distribution of your assets upon your death.

Q: My net worth is well over the limits of the Estate Tax. Is there anything I can do to protect my family from having to pay the taxes on my estate when I die?

It may not always be possible to eliminate taxes, but it is always possible to plan for them. There are several strategies we can discuss with you to help ensure you only pay the minimum amount of taxes required by law. Some of these strategies include utilizing the marital deduction, creating a QTIP trust, using irrevocable life insurance trusts to pay the taxes, setting up an annual gift giving program and making charitable donations.

Q: When should I update my estate planning documents?

As a general rule, you should review your documents every 3 years and see an attorney if necessary. Most importantly, if any circumstances change that might affect your documents, you should consult with an attorney. Such changes certainly include marriage, divorce, remarriage, death of a spouse, the birth of a child, a family member becoming disabled or seriously ill, or a change in the law. Other changes might include a child reaching the age of 18, a substantial inheritance or the acquisition of new property. If in doubt, it is best to consult an attorney.

Q: What is HIPAA?

the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) involves regulations to prevent the unlawful disclosure and dissemination of personal health care information. Due to substantial fines on entities failing to comply, health care providers are very careful in sharing medical information. As a result, some agents, Trustees and other fiduciaries appointed in Powers of Attorney or Trusts have had difficulties using the powers granted to them under the respective document. These changes certainly affect "springing powers of attorney" (those that become effective only upon the disability of the principal).

The regulations allow a person to sign a written document, authorizing the release of information to other people. Furthermore, Powers of Attorney and Trust documents must refer to the authorization as well. Be sure to check your documents and if you need to sign a HIPPA authorization or change your existing documents, our office can help you.

Q: Do I really need an attorney? Can't I just use estate planning software or do-it-yourself websites?

While these tools may serve a purpose in the planning process, they can be used as a starting point, but not a finishing point. Despite the claims of companies who produce this software, most estate planning attorneys do not use similar programs to prepare documents. A good attorney knows every client is different, and hence every document is tailored to the individual client.

There are several potential pitfalls in using such do-it-yourself tools. Software programs treat estate planning as a "fill-in-the-blank" exercise. This requires the program to make assumptions about you and places the burden on you to identify potential issues in your estate plan. Just as a doctor would caution against self-diagnosis and medication, so too must we warn you against presuming to know how to address your legal and financial interests.

More specifically, many programs fail to address or comply with state law. Without consulting an attorney you will not know if the program you used generates a valid document. Likewise, most fail to include recent changes in federal law requiring many estate planning documents to specifically address HIPPA.

If you have minor children, the potential problems are even greater. The complicated issues surrounding guardianship and financial provisions deserves more attention than what a computer program can give you.

Sadly, if the documents are invalid or fail to carry out your wishes, it will only be evident after your death. At that point, your family and loved ones will be left with the expense of trying to fix it.

If you still want to go it alone, consider having an attorney review a draft of the documents. The attorney will likely charge only for the time to review the papers. If there are no problems with the documents, you will still save money and you will have the peace of mind knowing an attorney has reviewed the documents.

Disclaimer: The information contained on this website is NOT a substitute for legal advice and no representations are made as to the accuracy of this information. Individuals seeking individual advice about estate planning and probate are STRONGLY encouraged to obtain legal advice. Many of the terms used herein have a specific legal meaning which may be different from the common usage of these terms.

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