Estate Planning & Probate
Southern Utah Estate Planning & Probate
Estate planning arranges for the transfer of an individual’s estate at the time of death. An estate consists of all property owned at death before it is distributed by will, trust, or intestacy laws. An estate may contain both real property such as real estate, including houses and investment properties and personal property such as all other property, including bank accounts, securities, jewelry and automobiles.
Estate planning benefits those with large estates, as well as those with modest assets. Creating an estate plan ensures that all property will be distributed according to the personal wishes of the deceased, and that those who are benefiting from the estate receive the largest distribution possible with a minimum amount of delay. Specifically, estate planning allows an individual to decide exactly who will benefit from their estate, and to what extent. Estate planning also ensures that the estate will not be destroyed by taxes imposed on the transfer of assets at death. In addition to providing financial security, estate planning encourages individuals to make important decisions, such as appointing a guardian for minor children, choosing healthcare preferences, and securing funeral arrangements.
At Ruesch and Reeve we work to understand your estate planning goals and develop the strategy to implement those to protect your family’s success. We provide standard estate planning for smaller estates, including preparation of simple wills and trusts always providing expert advice. We also specialize in estate planning for large more complex estates including preparation of complex wills and trust agreements, tax planning advice, implementing probate avoidance techniques, initiating gifting programs and rearrangement of property ownership and beneficiary designations to achieve estate planning goals. For more information see the article “Are You a Candidate for a Trust?“.
12 Simple Steps to an Estate Plan
1. Create a will where you can state who you want to inherit your property. You can also name guardians to care for your children incase something were to happen.
2. Consider creating a trust. If you hold your property in a living trust, your survivors won’t have to go through probate court, a time-consuming and a possible expensive process.
3. Create health care directives. Writing out your wishes for health care can protect you if you become unable to make medical decisions for yourself. Health care directives include a health care declaration (“living will”) and a power of attorney for health care, which gives someone you choose the power to make decisions if you can’t. (In some states, these documents are combined into one, called an advance health care directive.)
4. Create a financial power of attorney. With a durable power of attorney for finances, you can give a trusted person authority to handle your finances and property if you become incapacitated and unable to handle your own affairs. The person you name to handle your finances is called your agent or attorney-in-fact (but doesn’t have to be an attorney).
5. Protect your children’s property. You should name an adult to manage any money and property your minor children may inherit from you. This can be the same person as the personal guardian you name in your will.
6. File beneficiary forms. Naming a beneficiary for bank accounts and retirement plans makes the account automatically “payable on death” to your beneficiary and allows the funds to skip the probate process. Likewise, in almost all states, you can register your stocks, bonds, or brokerage accounts to transfer to your beneficiary upon your death.
7. Consider life insurance. If you have young children or own a house, or you may owe significant debts or estate tax when you die, life insurance may be a good idea.
8. Understand estate taxes. Most estates — more than 99.7% — won’t owe federal estate taxes. For deaths in 2017, the federal government will impose estate tax at your death only if your taxable estate is worth more than $5.49 million. (This exemption amount rises each year to adjust for inflation.) Also, married couples can transfer up to twice the exempt amount tax-free, and all assets left to a spouse (as long as the spouse is a U.S. citizen) or tax-exempt charity are exempt from the tax.
9. Cover funeral expenses. Rather than a funeral prepayment plan, which may be unreliable, you can set up a payable-on-death account at your bank and deposit funds into it to pay for your funeral and related expenses.
10. Make final arrangements. Make your end-of-life wishes known regarding organ and body donation and disposition of your body — burial or cremation.
11. Protect your business. If you’re the sole owner of a business, you should have a succession plan. If you own a business with others, you should have a buyout agreement.
12. Store your documents. Your attorney-in-fact and/or your executor (the person you choose in your will to administer your property after you die) may need access to the following documents:
- insurance policies
- real estate deeds
- certificates for stocks, bonds, annuities
- information on bank accounts, mutual funds, and safe deposit boxes
- information on retirement plans, 401(k) accounts, or IRAs
- information on debts: credit cards, mortgages and loans, utilities, and unpaid taxes
- information on funeral prepayment plans, and any final arrangements instructions you have made.
Frequently Asked Questions
What exactly is a will?
A will is formal, written instructions of a person’s desire as to giving his or her property upon death to specific people, businesses or charities. To be effective, your will must be in writing and it must be signed by you. In addition to being in writing and being signed, a will must be signed by two (2) witnesses. These witnesses must have seen you sign the will. It is important that these formalities be carefully observed.
WARNING: If you make a will and later get divorced or get married, part or all of your will may not be any good.It is vital to talk with your attorney about your will before getting married or divorced.
Can I change or update my will?
You can change a will at any time as long as you are of sound mind, that is, you know what you are doing. You may want to change your will for many reasons, such as marriage, divorce, or birth of children or grandchildren. However, specific legal requirements must be met for a revocation or changes to be effective.
An amendment to the will is normally referred to as a “codicil,” and must be completed with the same legal formalities as the will.
What does a will do for me?
First, a will indicates who should get a person’s assets when he or she dies. If you want your stock in General Motors and your grandfather clock to be given to your niece Priscilla, you put that specific instruction into a will. Second, wills can include instructions as to a person’s wishes for a funeral and final disposition. Lastly, a will can name the person you want to care for your children in the event you and your spouse both die before your children reach age 18.
What are the benefits of a will?
A will enables you to plan the distribution of your estate to provide for the welfare of your spouse, children, relatives, friends, and charities. This type of planning prevents later disputes among heirs and usually guarantees that your property will pass in the manner you desire. A will can determine when a gift is to be made, how and when money is to be released, and under what circumstances.
Where do I start?
You can start by coming and talking with our Estate Planning experts, we can best help you to find what needs to be in your plan.