Whether or not you execute a Last Will and Testament, your heirs must still go through the probate process. A properly drafted and executed Will makes this process less expensive and less time-consuming. During the probate process, a petition is made to the court to take control of the estate of the deceased. The executor named in the will or the court-appointed administrator is empowered by the court to pay all legally enforceable debts of the estate and carry out the disposition of all property of the deceased. This process usually takes a year or so to complete and can be confusing and frustrating for surviving heirs. Many people engage a probate attorney.
At Merritt Webb our Probate Section staff understands that the grief associated with losing a family member or other loved one can make the probate process a trying time. We strive to take as much burden off of you as possible during your time of grieving. Let a probate attorney from our Probate Section help remove the mystery surrounding the process and walk with you through the process from start to finish.
If you become incapacitated during your lifetime, your family must come to grips emotionally with your sickness. Without proper estate planning, your family and loved ones may be subjected to an expensive court proceeding to handle your finances or make healthcare decisions on your behalf during your incapacity.
With your death will come sadness for those who knew and loved you. Without proper estate planning, they will have to rely on state statutes to determine who will receive your assets and/or an expensive court proceeding to determine who will take custody of any minor children upon your death. These types of problems, if not properly planned for, will compound your family’s grief during such trying times.
A well-crafted estate plan can address these problems. By taking the time to address these issues in advance, you make the decisions instead of a statute or court and your family will not have to be subjected to a potentially divisive and destructive argument over these matters.
At Merritt Webb, we address these issues through the drafting and execution of documents including a Durable Power of Attorney, Healthcare Power of Attorney, Living Will, and Last Will and Testament or Living Trust.
Planning for Incapacity
In the absence of a properly drafted and executed Financial Durable Power of Attorney and Healthcare Power of Attorney, family and loved ones must petition the courts to control finances and/or make healthcare decisions on your behalf if you become incapacitated. Taking the time to sit down with an attorney and have these documents drafted will literally save your family thousands of dollars in attorneys’ fees and court costs down the road as well as a significant amount of time and stress.
A Living Will is a document in which you make decisions regarding the withholding of various forms of treatment or a feeding tube or intravenous fluids. This document serves two purposes: (1) it makes certain that your wishes are followed in these situations; and (2) it takes the burden of making these decisions off of your loved ones, who undoubtedly will be grieving and unable to make such decisions with a clear mind.
In Tennessee, there is a relatively new document called, The Advance Care Plan. It combines a basic healthcare power of attorney with the provisions of a living will in a single two-page document. The document allows you to name an agent to make healthcare decisions on your behalf. It also allows you to make decisions as to the level of competence/capacity at which you believe “quality of life” ceases and what types of treatment you would like provided or withheld when you have crossed your defined quality of life threshold. The remaining provisions in the Advanced Care Plan allow you to make decisions regarding organ donation and other end of life decisions. This document was developed in conjunction with the medical community and is part of a well-structured estate plan. Completing both the Financial Power of Attorney and Advance Care Plan will take the burden of making these decisions off of your loved ones, who undoubtedly will be grieving and unable to make such decisions with a clear mind.
Planning for Disposition of Property, Children and Business at Death
Everyone, whether possessing a large or small estate, should have a Last Will and Testament so that wishes regarding the disposition of property and the care and control of minor children can be followed. If you pass away without a properly executed Will, state statutes will decide where your property will pass. Most importantly, if you have minor children and you fail to execute a Will before your death, the court decides who will take care of your children and control any insurance proceeds or other assets they may receive as a result of your death. If you are a small business owner, you also undoubtedly need to address the continuation or termination of your business upon your death.
The process of drafting and executing a sound Last Will and Testament requires knowledge of highly technical state and federal laws (including state and federal tax laws). There is simply no substitute for estate planning advice from an attorney who practices in this area of law. You should understand every word of your Will and only a licensed attorney can make certain of this.
The Living Trust as an alternate to a traditional Will is growing in popularity and there is dramatically increased marketing for it. Therefore, you should know the differences between the two documents and which one is the right document for you. An attorney can explain the nuances of each document so that you can make an informed decision on which you prefer.
Estate/Inheritance Tax Planning
As in life, a deceased individual’s estate may face significant taxes. If your estate, including all real and tangible personal property, life insurance and retirement accounts of all kinds, is substantial, a sizeable portion of your estate may go to the state and/or federal government in the form of state inheritance or federal estate taxes, thus reducing the amount your heirs will ultimately receive. Many estate planning techniques exist, at various levels of sophistication, which can help eliminate or reduce your estate’s exposure to state inheritance and federal estate taxes.
At Merritt Webb, we handle estate planning and tax planning matters for estates of all sizes. Our clients range from individuals and families with estates ranging from under one hundred thousand dollars to tens of millions of dollars. Please contact us if you want to know more about what type of estate plan is right for you or how to reduce or eliminate your estate’s exposure for inheritance or estate tax.
Clearly, probate and estate issues can be challenging. Our lawyers at Merritt Webb are anxious to represent your interests and advise you on how to put your wishes into effect and to assure they are carried out as you or your loved one would want so that the assets you have worked so hard to build are preserved. If you have a probate or estate issue or need estate planning, call us at 1.800.556. 8404.
Our probate and estate planning attorneys at Merritt Webb are ready to help you deal with this problem quickly, decisively and efficiently. Just Contact Us. Help may be only a phone call or a mouse-click away. Let us see if we can help you.