Do you really need a will?

There is a question we hear alot when people come to our office – namely: Do you really need a will?
You May Not Think You Need a Will, But You Really Do.

Most Americans do not have a simple will as part of their estate plan. You might believe that a will is only for the rich and famous, and not the average person who has a far smaller net worth. On the other hand, you may think that a will is entirely unnecessary since you have a trust, jointly owned property, or have named beneficiaries on your insurance.

So, do you really need a will? The short answer to this question is “yes.” Continue reading

Is a Revocable Living Trust Right for You?

Revocable Living Trusts have become the basic building block of estate plans for people of all ages, personal backgrounds, and financial situations. But for some, a Revocable Living Trust may not be necessary to achieve their estate planning goals or may even be detrimental to achieving those goals.

What Are the Advantages of a Revocable Living Trust Over a Will?

Revocable Living Trusts have become popular because when compared with a Last Will and Testament, a Revocable Living Trust offers the following advantages:

  1. A Revocable Living Trust protects your privacy by keeping your final wishes a private family matter, since only your beneficiaries and Trustees are entitled to read the trust agreement after your death.  On the other hand, a Last Will and Testament that is filed with the probate court becomes a public court record which is available for the whole world to read.
  2. A Revocable Living Trust provides instructions for your care and the management of your property if you become mentally incapacitated.  Since a Last Will and Testament only goes into effect after you die, it cannot be used for incapacity planning.
  3. If you fund all of your assets into a Revocable Living Trust prior to your death, then those assets will avoid probate.  On the other hand, property that passes under the terms of a Last Will and Testament usually has to be probated. A probate could add thousands of dollars of costs at your death.

Why Shouldn’t You Use a Revocable Living Trust?

Although Revocable Living Trusts offer privacy protection, incapacity planning, and probate avoidance, they are not for everyone.

For example, if your main concern is avoiding probate of your assets after you die, then you may be able to accomplish this goal without the use a Revocable Living Trust by using joint ownership, life estates, and payable on death or transfer on death accounts and deeds.  However, those strategies aren’t a perfect fit for everyone.

In addition, if you are concerned about protecting your assets in case you need nursing home care, then an Irrevocable Living Trust, instead of a Revocable Living Trust, may be the best option for preserving your estate for the benefit of your family. The rules governing Irrevocable Living Trusts can be very complex, and you should only create an Irrevocable Living Trust after a thorough discussion with a qualified trust attorney.

Do You Still Need a Revocable Living Trust?

While some estate planning attorneys advise their clients against using a Revocable Living Trust under any circumstance, others advise their clients to use one under every circumstance.  Either approach fails to take into consideration the fact that Revocable Living Trusts are definitely not “one size fits all.”  Instead, your family and financial situations must be carefully evaluated on an individual basis and the advantages and disadvantages of using a Revocable Living Trust must be weighed against your personal concerns and estate planning goals.  In addition, these factors must be re-evaluated every few years since your family and financial situations, concerns, and goals will change over time.

If you have a Revocable Living Trust and it has been a few years since it has been reviewed, then we can help you determine if a Revocable Living Trust is still the right choice for you and your family. Contact our office today at 832.408.0505 to find out how we can help you.

3 Reasons You Want to Avoid Probate

When you pass away, your family may need to visit a probate court in order to claim their inheritance. This can happen if you own property (like a house, car, bank account, investment account, or other asset) in only your name. Although having a will is a good basic form of planning, a will does not avoid probate. Instead, a will simply lets you inform the probate court of your wishes – your family still has to go through the probate process to make those wishes legal. Continue reading

Baltimore Register of Wills Can’t Find Her Father’s Original Last Will, Will Your Family Be Able to Find Yours?

While it’s not unusual for an original last will and testament to be misplaced, it is when your daughter happens to be the Register of Wills for Baltimore City. 

 What is a Register of Wills?

 In Maryland, the Register of Wills is an elected official in each county and the City of Baltimore who is responsible for overseeing the administration of the estates of deceased persons during the probate process.  As an added benefit, each Maryland Register of Wills provides safekeeping for the last will and testaments of living persons.

 Why is it Important to Locate an Original Last Will?

 Belinda Conaway became the Register of Wills for Baltimore City in December 2014 after her stepmother, Mary W. Conaway, held the office from 1982 through 2012.  After Belinda’s father, Frank M. Conaway, Sr., died in February 2015, court records indicate that the family was unable to locate his original last will and testament but did find a copy of a will he signed in 1999.  The 1999 will left Mr. Conaway’s estate equally to his children, Belinda and Frank M. Conaway, Jr.  In March 2015, Belinda filed a petition requesting that the copy of the will be admitted to probate.  She stated in her petition, “This copy was found among the personal papers and I have not been able to locate the original.” 

 Ironic, isn’t it?  Fortunately in this case, Mr. Conaway’s children agreed that the 1999 will was in fact their father’s last will and the probate judge admitted the copy to probate.  But this may not be the case in your situation.  Sometimes after an original will goes missing and a copy is found, family members will disagree about whether it is in fact the deceased person’s last will.  If this is the case, then the copy may be overlooked in favor of an older original will that has been located or state laws that dictate who inherits when there is no will (known as “intestacy laws”).

 This is why it is so important for your loved ones to be able to find your most-recent original last will – because without it, the laws of your state may presume that you intended to destroy your will and a copy of it will be viewed as worthless.

 Who Knows Where to Find Your Original Will?

 Do you know where your original will is located?  Do your loved ones know where your original will is located?  While your family members certainly don’t need to know what your will says, they do need to know where your original will is being stored. 

 On the other hand, if you’re uncomfortable letting family members know where to find your original will, then let someone you trust – such as your attorney, accountant, or financial advisor – know where to find your original will.  Otherwise, your family may end up in front of a probate judge and your true final wishes may be overlooked. Contact our office today at 832.408.0505 to see how we can help you!

 

3 Simple Ways to Avoid Probate Costs

The bad news: probated estates are subject to a variety of costs from attorneys, executors, appraisers, accountants, courts, and state law. Depending on the probate’s complexity, fees can run into tens of thousands of dollars.

The good news: probate costs can be reduced by avoiding probate. It’s really that simple.

Here are three simple ways to avoid probate costs by avoiding probate:

 Name a Beneficiary. The probate process determines who gets what when there is no beneficiary designation. So, naming a beneficiary is the easiest way to avoid probate. Common beneficiary designation assets include:

  • Life insurance
  • Annuities
  • Retirement plans
  1. Create and Fund a Revocable Living Trust. A revocable living trust owns your property, yet you remain in charge of all legal decisions until your death. After your death, your named trustee manages your assets – according to your A trust works well if properly created and funded by an experienced estate planning attorney.
  1. Own Property Jointly. Probate can be avoided if the property you own is held jointly with a right of survivorship. There are several ways that you can establish joint ownership of property such as:
  • Joint tenancy with right of survivorship – ownership simply transfers to other tenants upon your death;
  • Tenancy by its entirety – is a form of joint tenancy with right of survivorship, but only for married couples in some states;
  • Community property – property obtained during a marriage in some states;

State laws play an important role here. We can help you determine which form of joint ownership, if any, is a good fit for you.

 We Have the Tools to Help You

Contact our office today at 832.408.0505. We’ll help you decide whether it makes sense to avoid probate in your particular case and, if so, the best way to do so.