There is no charge for an initial consultation. I ask that you bring any prior Estate Planning documents (if applicable). Please bring an idea or list of your assets and ownership of those assets and liabilities. For example, Sheila and Bob would bring a list that tells me they own a house jointly in NC and a beach condo in Myrtle Beach with no mortgage on either. Each have an IRA with estimated values of X and they have several bank accounts in separate and joint name (I will need a specific list of each account). Also, bring of list of any life insurance policies you have, what type of insurance it is, what the death benefit is and who your beneficiary is. Don’t worry about getting too bogged down in the details for this meeting – Very often we can sort this out together. At the end of the consultation, we will usually have an idea of what direction you wish to go in and can quote you a fee. We handle wills, revocable and irrevocable trusts, special needs trusts, durable (financial) powers of attorney, health care powers of attorney, living wills and a variety of more sophisticated planning when appropriate. We will advise you on estate taxes, generation-skipping taxes and other tax matters when appropriate. Our goal is to help you implement a plan that achieves your goals while reducing or even eliminating any potential estate tax (if applicable). For Estate Administration, the necessary documents for our meeting will include the death certificate and the original will (if applicable). We do all our administration by an hourly rate, but we will likely have an idea of an estimate of these fees after our initial consultation. This way, you can decide if we are a good fit without accruing a fee. Our goal is to take care of the probate process for you so you can put aside your worry, frustration and concern. We will assist executors/administrators/personal representatives with the probate process and any post-mortem planning and help you understand and comply with the probate process.
During our first meeting, I will analyze your situation and let you know what sort of estate planning I would recommend and why. Typically my rates are hourly, and I can usually estimate a range where your bill would fall for the planning after we meet. I can usually approximate the estate administration fees as well and charge a lesser rate for my paralegal whom I incorporate in the administration whenever it is feasible. There is no obligation to use me after our consultation if you are uncomfortable in any way.
I tell clients to think of the revocable trust like a bucket that you can put assets into and take them out of at your discretion when you are your own Trustee. Any assets titled in a revocable trust at the time of death avoid probate, thus minimizing probate fees and avoiding public disclosure of assets through the court records. The terms and rules of Revocable Trusts vary, but whether or not it is a vehicle for you would be a discussion to have with your estate planning attorney.
A good foundation includes a General Durable Power of Attorney which allows you to name someone to take care of your finances if you are unable to do so yourself, a Health Care Power of Attorney which allows someone to make health care decisions for you if you are unable to do so and a living will which provides when you would want to receive life support if at all. As mentioned above, you may or may not need a revocable trust.
At your death, your assets may or may not pass as you would wish. They will pass by contract such as to a beneficiary of a life insurance policy or a payable on death account, by ownership designation such as to a joint owner with rights of survivorship on a deed to real property or possibly a checking account, and other property will pass through the probate court to your intestate beneficiaries if you don’t have a will. Even if you do have a will, your beneficiary designations will override the will and sometimes cause problems with your planning. The intestacy (if you die without a will) statutes can be found under Chapter 29 of the North Carolina General Statutes and Title 62 - South Carolina Probate Code, Chapter 2, Intestate Succession and Wills. Your assets may or may not pass as you would wish under these options.
Having young children, I am particularly cognizant of this issue. One important role we name in your will is a guardian of your child. This is the person who will physically have your child in their care. Particular thought should be given not just to this person, but to a successor if the person named is unwilling or unable to accept such responsibility. We also usually name a Trustee who oversees and is responsible for the assets for the children until they reach such age(s) as they can take over the assets themselves. There is much to discuss and consider when choosing who will fill this role so it is best to discuss it with your estate planning attorney. Another concern is minor children receiving assets outright. This can cause a guardianship of a minor’s estate court proceeding which can be costly and again, not necessarily as you would choose. This concern is applicable to anyone with minor children, whether they have a will or not.
I would have an estate planning attorney review your documents. At the very least, it is likely you should have your General (Durable) power of attorney and your Health Care Power of attorney/Living Will updated to adhere to the statutes in the state in which you now live. Your other documents may or may not need updating.
I’ve put my adult child on all my accounts so it will pass to that child at my death. I don’t need a will, do I?
This is a concern I’ve seen on the post-death side again and again which creates problems only after the parent is gone and can’t answer questions as to their desires. There may be times when this form of “estate” planning is acceptable, but I would highly recommend having an estate planning attorney review the asset types, values and titling to verify the assets will truly pass as you wish. One quote I hear often after a parent has passed is “This is NOT the way mama or daddy would’ve wanted it.” My job is to make sure the assets pass exactly as mama and/or daddy wanted them to pass, without question. I make sure my client(s) understand what they are signing and what their estate plan is, no matter how simple or complicated it may be. My job is to simplify it for you.