When we plan an estate, we marshal the client’s property, real or personal, ascertain the client’s dispositive intentions, draft documents effecting the client’s dispositive intentions, and have the documents executed.
The process begins by emailing the client our exclusive estate planning questionnaire. The client fills it out and returns it to us. Then we interview the client as necessary. Then we draft documents to effect the client’s dispositive plans. Those documents typically include—
- A Last Will and Testament for each spouse.
- A Revocable Trust for each spouse.
- A Certificate of Trust Existence and Authority for each spouse’s Revocable Trust.
- A General Durable Power of Attorney for each spouse.
- A Health Care Durable Power of Attorney for each spouse.
- A Quit Claim Deed for each parcel of the client’s real property conveying the property to the revocable trust of one of the spouses.
- An account ownership document for each of the client’s financial accounts retitling the account into the revocable trust one of the spouses, together with a letter of instruction to the financial institution.
- An updated beneficiary designation form for each retirement plan account of each of the spouses, together with a letter of instruction to the retirement plan administrator.
- A current beneficiary designation form for each life insurance policy of each of the spouses, together with a letter of instruction to the life insurance company.
We email drafts of the documents to the client for their review and comment. When the client is satisfied with the documents, we arrange for the client to execute the documents at our office.
Once the client has executed the estate planning documents, we have the Quit Claim Deeds recorded in the Register of Deeds’ office of the county where the real property is located. We file copies of executed beneficiary designation forms with retirement plans and life insurance companies, as appropriate. We provide each spouse with a booklet of his or her executed estate planning documents.
We perform estate planning mindful of the following objectives:
- Making sure that the client’s property goes to the person(s) the client wants it to go to.
- Avoiding taxes on succession to the client’s property, or minimizing such taxes and deferring them for as long as possible. We are expert in federal estate and gift taxation.
- Avoiding probate proceedings on succession to the client’s property.
In planning an estate involving a closely-held business, we take care to clarify ownership of the business in the revocable trusts of the spouses. This is important for many reasons, including—
- Making sure that neither spouse’s trust owns a majority interest in the business, so that each spouse’s estate can avail of a minority interest discount in valuing the interest for estate tax purposes.
- Making sure that there are no other ownership interests in the business, such as those of the couple’s children or employees of the business. In performing estate planning for a couple several years ago, we updated the records the corporation holding the couple’s business to clarify that each spouse’s trust owned 50 percent of the outstanding stock of the corporation. Not long after we completed the couple’s estate plan, one of the couple’s children, who worked in the business, went through a contentious divorce. Had we not clarified that the child had no ownership interest in the business, his wife surely would have made a claim to the business in the divorce.
We perform due diligence on charitable beneficiaries identified by the client, and advise the client on the bona fides of the charitable institutions, i.e., whether the charitable institutions are what they purport to be.