Estate planning is more than just a collection of documents. It is the way in which you pass a legacy to your family. Depending on who you are, that could be a business, a home, what is left of your nest egg, an old car, a cherished art collection or a family heirloom. It could be all of those things. Estate planning is also the way to specify who will make healthcare and financial decisions for you if you are unable to do so. Think about how important that is and which person in your life you trust to make the right decisions at the right time. Security, peace of mind, assurance and clarity. These are the goals of estate planning.
Why Estate Planning Is Important
Whatever your stage in adult life, it is a good idea to think about and plan for how your affairs will be handled in the event of your incapacity or death. A few simple steps of preparation now will give you peace of mind knowing that your final healthcare wishes will be respected and that your estate will pass seamlessly to your heirs. Surprisingly, more than 80% of all adult African-Americans have not undertaken the most basic step in estate planning. The consequences of failing to execute a will do not fall upon the deceased, but upon his or her loved ones who may not get property intended for them or who may find themselves mired in delays and legal entanglements at a time when they are ill-equipped to deal with them. Estate planning is designed to assist you in:
- Addressing the advance planning necessary to ensure an orderly transition of your estate to those whom you wish to receive it after your heirs
- Minimizing taxes and other liabilities, and,
- Helping to avoid confusion, family drama and costly litigation.
Doing the advance planning necessary to ensure an orderly transition of your estate to those whom you wish to receive it after your heirs, Minimize taxes and other liabilities, and help avoid confusion, family drama and costly litigation.
Everyone has an Estate
Many people believe they do not need estate planning. Some believe – erroneously – that they do not have an estate, while others think the value of whatever they do have is not sufficient enough to garner estate taxation, so what’s the point?
With few exceptions, everyone has an estate – even the young child with a custodial account in his name and the granddaughter who received a lovely piece of jewelry for her 16th birthday. Estate planning is your personal opportunity to make decisions concerning your assets, finances, and healthcare. Although some individuals narrowly view estate planning as a way to assign their assets to heirs, others see it as a way to perpetuate their legacies. Bottom line: If you own something of value that you would pass on to someone else upon your death, you have an estate. Whether you know it or not, you also have an estate plan that will be written by the state if you do not prepare one. The state has one for you free of charge (well, sort of); if you do not get around to writing a will or designing a plan of your own. The one written by the state is managed by the state, and your estate pays mandatory fees to the state. In this instance, funds from your estate will be paid first to someone appointed by the court -- a stranger – and then maybe to your family.
Estate Planning Basics
Broadly speaking, an estate plan encompasses the accumulation, conservation, and distribution of an estate. A good plan will enhance and maintain the financial security of individuals and their families.
You need certain documents to meet your estate-planning goals, and a basic understanding of the way it all works.
- A will
- Trusts as a complement to your will
- Knowledge of how the estate tax system works
- Current law and how it affects your assets
- Gift tax on generosity
- Gift tax on generosity
WILLS: The Cornerstone of All Estate Plans
A will is a personal declaration of your intentions about the disposition of your property at death. Everybody should have one. Because a will does not become legally enforceable until your death, it may be changed at any time before the maker’s, or testator’s, death or mental incompetence. A properly drafted will contains instructions for your personal representative; the executor. The executor is responsible for administering your estate. A will offers many advantages, enabling you to control, to a large extent, what happens after you are gone.
With a will you can:
- Choose the executor
- Designate a guardian for minor children or others unable to fully care for themselves
- Distribute your property to beneficiaries you choose
- Be generous to a charity at death
- Minimize estate tax
- Get a sense of accomplishment and peace of mind
The last thing you want to do is die without a will. A person who dies without a will is considered “intestate.” Dying intestate can be unnecessarily costly for your heirs and leaves you with no specific say about who receives your assets, or in what proportion those assets will be distributed. Some assets, such as individual retirement accounts and life insurance proceeds, bypass a will entirely and go directly to the beneficiaries listed and filed with the financial firm that handles those products. Otherwise, the state decides who gets what. Each state has a prescribed order for the distribution of property of those who die with no will.
For over 40 years, Hollowell Foster & Herring has assisted its clients preserve and transfer wealth in a manner that minimizes estate taxes and the costs of administration of the estate and maximizes the delivery of their assets to intended beneficiaries. The Firm serves a range of clients, from those with modest estates requiring only basic planning to large complex estates requiring use of sophisticated planning techniques designed to avoid or minimize estate taxes. Our attorneys maintain close working relationships with all integral parties, including accountants, life insurance agents, and financial planners to ensure that a strategic approach is taken in the process of planning our clients' estates. In each case, the Firm's estate planning attorneys provide individualized attention to each matter, the ultimate goal being to develop a plan that meets the unique needs and desires of each client Hollowell Foster & Herring can provide guidance with the following services:
- Last Will and Testament
- Power of Attorney
- Georgia Advance Healthcare Directive
- Wealth Preservation
- Asset Protection
- Special Needs Planning
- Business Succession Planning
- Elder Law and Medicare Planning
- Probate and Trust Administration
- Estate Taxes
The Firm is highly capable of designing plans that make appropriate use of wills, health care directives, and testamentary, lifetime and charitable trusts. Additionally, where the client’s needs so require, the Firm can assist in devising appropriate business succession and asset protection plans, including use of family limited partnerships and other such devices. The Firm’s attorneys also have considerable experience representing administrators and executors in the administration of estates and have successfully defended wills submitted to probate and challenged defective wills.
The Firm’s estate planning attorneys are graduates of law schools of national prominence and have extensive experience advising clients regarding complex legal matters. The Firm uses the latest in electronic research, drafting software and document assembly programs to provide efficient customized estate plans to its clients.
Estate Disputes and Litigation
Estate litigation involves disputes over estates, trusts and wills. Fights over estates are more common than people realize. If you find yourself in a tug of war after the death of a family member, it is probably time to consult with our office about your rights and the best way to protect your interests.
Special Needs Planning
If you have a family member with a disability, you know that you have unique estate planning challenges. You should be considering using Special Needs Trusts to provide for your family member without negatively affecting their eligibility for government benefits. This plan should be coordinated with the appropriate caregivers to ensure the best possible outcome.