At Mosman Law Offices we believe that everyone should plan for the future through effective estate planning. Regardless of the size of your assets an estate plan provides many practical benefits while giving you peace of mind. Proper planning for the administration of your estate can also lessen family confusion and conflict in potentially difficult times.
We will carefully explain all of your options and the effect that they will have on your estate. We will listen to your concerns, particularly those surrounding guardianships, tax liabilities and powers of attorney. We are here to help you through all your planning needs.
When someone dies, you must convert their properties and assets into an estate before you distribute them. This legal process is called probate. Courts review and monitor the distribution of estates, and help decide disputes involving:
Validity of wills and estate plans
Appointment of a personal representative for the estate
Identification and value of all the estate’s property
Payment and identification of the estate’s debts
Distribution of the estate’s property according to the deceased’s wishes or intestate law
Because this process is complicated and one misstep can cause delays, disputes, and unwanted expenses, it’s in your best interest to consult with one of our lawyers before opening an estate.
Smaller estates can use a simplified probate process that skips most of the hassle of court proceedings. Your lawyer and the estate’s personal representative will file a series of written documents that outline the estate’s assets and affidavits. As long as no one contests the will, there will typically be no need to attend a hearing.
If you don’t qualify for simplified probate, you’ll have to deal with a more complex process involving court hearings and more rigorous documentation. Some of the tasks you will be required to complete include the following:
Filing documents with the court that formally open an estate
Naming a personal representative who represents the estate (with a lawyer’s help)
Confirming the will’s validity and addressing any will contests
Taking inventory of all the estate’s property
Issuing notices to creditors and identifying the estate’s debt and tax liabilities
Notifying potential heirs of their entitlement of a property distribution
Distributing the estate’s assets to all eligible heirs once its debts are paid
Because this process is confusing and sometimes contentious, most families consult with a knowledgeable attorney.
It’s important to understand that your loved one’s estate may not include all of your loved one’s property. The law does not include the following assets in an estate:
Property that is held in a trust
Assets that are jointly owned with rights of survivorship
Bank and other accounts that are payable on death or transferable on death
Life insurance, retirement, and other accounts that have a named beneficiary
If most of your loved one’s assets fall into these categories, the estate might be eligible for a simplified, affidavit-based claim or not require probate at all.
While you can’t open a trust after a loved one dies, they are a useful tool that protects your loved ones from the hassle of a probate claim. To learn more about the benefits of living trusts and proactive estate planning in give us a call.
Sometimes, a loved one dies before writing a valid will. In these situations, the court will distribute the estate’s assets under intestate succession or inheritance laws of the state where the deceased loved one was living at the time of his/her death. Under the laws of intestate succession property is divided based on each heir’s relationship with the deceased. For example, if there is:
A surviving spouse and no surviving descendants or parents, the spouse receives the entire estate.
Descendants (children or grandchildren, for example), and no surviving spouse or parents, the children get the entire estate.
A surviving spouse and children from the marriage, the spouse receives the entire estate.
Sometimes, the rules of intestate succession have unwanted consequences. For example, you might want your spouse to receive all of your assets, rather than share them with your parents. However, the only way to avoid these inheritance laws is by creating a valid, enforceable estate plan. Once you die, it’s typically too late to avoid intestate succession.