What Is An Estate Plan?

As a family law attorney, I frequently examine client’s estates and taxes to resolve issues of income and support.  We often review lists of property owned by the parties to determine the fair market value of the parties’ estate.  We know who the parents of the children are, so we can put a plan together to take care of them.  Issues of finances and support are easy as well, it comes down to basic math. The issue that comes up most frequently is the ownership of property acquired during the marriage.  Everyone wants to argue over who owns what. 


Your estate is, “all that a person or entity owns, including both real and personal property,” according to the legal definition.  An Estate Plan is simply the preparation for the distribution and management of your estate at death, through the use of wills, trusts, insurance policies, and other arrangements to avoid probate court, reduce administration costs, and tax liabilities.

I love Estate Planning because no one is arguing and playing tug-o-war over the silverware.  We can settle arguments before they begin.  Even those who think they do not need a Trust will find, over time, the use of having an instrument to hold all of their assets as they go through life, so in the end the passing of their “estate” is a simply handoff.

Our Estate Planning includes the preparation of many of the following documents that will be provided to you in an Estate Planning Portfolio, along with courtesy letters that will be mailed out to each of your nominated agents (power of attorney, financial, healthcare, guardian of children, etc.):

    • An advance health care directive lets your physician, family, and friends know your health care preferences, including the types of special treatment you want or don’t want at the end of life, your desire for diagnostic testing, surgical procedures, cardiopulmonary resuscitation, and organ donation.
      • If your loved ones are not comfortable knowing when the time has come, you can make the hard decisions for them.  You can also leave directions for long term care, burial, or cremation.  
  • Asset Spreadsheet
    • Some clients choose to utilize all our services.  Along with their Estate Plan they receive an Asset Spreadsheet to keep with their portfolio, to maintain as they acquire new assets, to help remind them to fund the trust properly.
      • For some clients, keeping track of their assets is important and an asset spreadsheet is an excellent tool.
  • Beneficiary’s Rights
    • The intent of most wills and trusts are to reach the intended beneficiaries.  Once you are gone, you will either rely on the courts, a stranger, or a chosen loved one to make the final handoff that connects them to you.  Now is the time for you to make that decision and ensure that your intended beneficiaries receive all of the benefits you want for them.
      • We focus on protecting the rights of the beneficiaries you name in your Will and/or Trust.  We believe that you have a right to distribute your assets however you please, and we aim to see it to the end.
    • An agreement created in our Office between our client’s who have children and the Guardians they have elected to care for their children.  The selected Guardians are each notified in advance so plans can be made with the parents.  More importantly, the parent’s wishes are clearly outlined in writing, and might even include an “exclusion” letter if they have strong feelings against a person who might seek to interfere with their choice of Guardianship.
  • Deeds
    • All deeds need to be renamed in the name of your trust after we create it.  Some of our clients rely on us to help them with this, while others feel comfortable completing this on their own.  Funding your trust with property you already own is very important.
      • If you have deeds, titles, or other documents indicating that you are the owner of an asset (not the lessee), you need to collect all of them, in order to likely transfer title to your new Trust.  You do not want to die with any assets still titled in your name.  You will be required to go through the Probate process. 
  • Estate Administration
    • The process by which an individual’s lifetime financial affairs are wound up and their property distributed after they pass away is called Estate Administration.  A significant function of this role is to ensure all taxes are paid.
      • While you are alive, you have the opportunity to appoint the Personal Representative, or Agent, that you want handling your affairs after you pass away.  This person will ensure that your taxes are filed and paid, and deal with the Probate process if necessary.  Without this appointment, the probate court will make an appointment. 
  • Fiduciary Appointments
    • The local Court will make a Fiduciary Appointment known as a Personal Representative, for any person who dies and whose estate must be administered through the Probate Court.  The fiduciary appointment will be given authority by the Court to act with legal authority on behalf of the deceased person.
      • While you are alive, you have the right to avoid this public appointment and appoint your own Agent, who will handle everything, privately.
  • Medical Directives
    • A legal document explaining one’s wishes about medical treatment if they become incompetent, incapacitated, or unable to communicate (Advanced Health Care Directive), so they receive the care they want in the way they want; or not at all.
      • Your Advanced Health Care Directive will allow you to have a say in what the medical professionals around you continue to do to you, when you might be incapacitated.  Although you might understand and feel everything around you, and unable to communicate, you will be subject to the decisions of others.  If you have left your choices, then your Agent has a voice.
  • No-Contest Dispute
    • A testamentary provision that threatens to dispossess any beneficiary who challenges the terms of your written will.
      • In an attempt to prevent conflict within the family and friends after your passing, this term within the documents prepared at our office dissuades most potential beneficiaries from contesting your wishes.
    • An instrument granting someone authority to act as agent or “attorney-in-fact” for the grantor.  General power of attorney is revocable and terminates upon death of the principal.  A Durable Power of Attorney remains in effect during the grantor’s incompetency.
      • These documents are provided for your Agents, in order to make your life easier, both during and after your life.  They are intended for your most trusted Agents to care for you, when you need extra help.
  • Probate
    • The legal process where a “Last Testament” is determined to be a valid will, to the satisfaction of the court.   It is the court process that your personal property, or assets owned by you, must go through after you die to determine where they go.
      • With our office, you have the chance to avoid probate, avoid conflict, avoid future family problems.  Even with a Will or incomplete Trust, you will end up in a probate process, giving way to the appointment of an Agent that does not have your true desires known to them.  A complete Estate Plan will resolve all of that.
  • RETIREMENT PLANS (Employee Benefit Plan)
    • A written stock-purchase, savings, option, bonus, stock-appreciation, profit-sharing, thrift, incentive, pension, or similar plan solely for the employees, officers, and advisors of the company.
      • The distribution of these plans should be carefully examined.  In blended families, these assets can easily be redirected after the first spouse dies if the estate planning is not completed correctly.
  • Trust 
    • A creation of a legal entity, by a Trustor who transfers his/her assets and property by written declaration into the named trust and appoints a Trustee(s) to manage the property within the trust for the sole benefit of the Trustor’s named beneficia(ies).
      • An Estate Trust is a trust that is established to qualify a deceased spouse’s property for the marital tax deduction. Other trusts include the Bypass, A-B, Q-TIP, revocable, irrevocable, etc.
  • Wills
    • A will is a written instrument executed in accordance with certain formalities that directs the disposition of a person’s property at his death.
      • A will takes effect only upon the death of the maker; it has no operative effect during the Testator’s life.  It is fully revocable at any time, and the beneficiaries have no rights under a will, until the Testator death.

Contact An Estate Planning Lawyer Today!

The Law Office of Heath L. Baker is devoted to protecting what is important to your family.  As a Family Attorney, Heath provides his clients with legal advice in the areas of Family Estate Planning, Divorce, Custody, and Support.  Even though the areas of law are resolved in different buildings, the combination of the different applications allows us to see hundreds of outcomes in all realms.  For over a decade, I’ve learned, studied, and built plans for families to protect their wealth, retirement, property, and children.  In order to continue protecting families, our Office invites you to talk with us about your Family Estate Plan. 

What Is An Estate Plan?

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