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Estate Planning & Probate
Estate planning is important for everyone to consider, regardless of age, financial situation, or triggering events such as a marriage, divorce, birth or death. If you already have estate planning in place, be sure to review your documents every 3–5 years to ensure that the plans you have in place still reflect your current wishes. Developing or maintaining a comprehensive estate plan will provide you with security and peace of mind knowing that your wishes have been properly documented and will be carried out as you intended.
Estate planning is a process that helps you ensure the preservation of your estate. It involves analyzing your current situation, anticipating future events, and arranging for the management and distribution of your estate both during life and after death. General estate planning should, at the very least, consist of a will, durable power of attorney, and a health care directive to ensure that your basic needs are covered. It is our job to ensure that this incorporates both expected and unexpected events. Comprehensive estate planning involves in-depth discussions addressing several issues such as:
- Trust options
- Estate and income tax issues
- Property distribution
- Probate vs. non-probate assets
- Designating beneficiaries
- Planning for the care of minors, and
- Planning for the potential of nursing home care
We guide you through these discussions and utilize that information to build you specific legal documents that ensure that your estate planning goals are achieved.
A will is the most commonly used tool for an individual to express exactly who will benefit from their estate upon their death and to what extent. Your will works to establish your wishes, dictate how your assets will be distributed, and designate the person you trust to carry out the intentions of your will. A properly prepared will assures that property, money, and personal items are distributed as quickly as North Dakota and Minnesota laws allow. This helps alleviate the burden on your surviving family members and friends by taking the guess work out of the process and ensuring that it occurs in a timely manner.
There are several different types of trusts that can accomplish different types of goals. They can be revocable, meaning it can be altered during life, or irrevocable, meaning that it cannot be altered. Trusts are most commonly established to provide for minors, special needs individuals, individuals owning real estate in more than one state, and individuals with high asset estates. Trusts can be straightforward, or they can be rather complex. It is important to discuss trust options with an experienced attorney to determine if this is an appropriate estate planning tool for you.
Business & Farm Succession Planning
For clients with business or farm interests, it is important to understand how business law and estate planning can heavily overlap. It is important to review your succession goals, discuss your options, and create documents to accomplish them whether that means keeping the interest in the family or providing for family members who will not participate in the business or farm. It might be accomplished through wills, trusts, or asset transfers, or it might require forming new entities. Fortunately, we are well-versed in both areas, and we will work with you to create your succession plan.
A healthcare directive is a document that allows you to appoint an individual to make or communicate health care decisions for you in the event you become unable to make or communicate those decisions for yourself. It also allows you to provide that person with specific instruction and direction as it relates to your health and your medical care, making it an incredibly important part of your estate planning. You may better recognize it as a living will or an advance directive, and you may have even filled out or signed a general template with your medical provider, however the health care directives we prepare tend to be more encompassing and cover issues and releases that generic ones do not. We are happy to review and discuss any existing directives you may have and work with you to create a new one if your wishes are not currently being accomplished.
Power of Attorney
A Durable Power of Attorney is a document that allows you to appoint and authorize a trusted individual to manage your finances as you would, in the event that you are unable to do so yourself. It is important to note that this document is not only relevant in the event you lack capacity, either temporarily or permanently, but it can also be utilized if you are physically unavailable to handle your finances. This is a common use for individuals who work or travel out of state. It is a living document, meaning that it governs who is to manage your financial assets during your lifetime, not after death. Executing a Durable Power of Attorney while competent can help obviate the need for a guardianship/conservatorship proceeding should you become incapacitated in the future. This can save your estate and your family members from costly and time-consuming court proceedings. Because this document authorizes broad powers over your finances and assets, it is important to seek legal advice to ensure that the document is drafted properly, and that you are aware of the powers you are granting.
Guardianships and conservatorships involve the process of obtaining court-appointed authority to make medical (guardianship) and/or financial (conservatorship) decisions for an individual that lacks the capacity to make those decisions for themselves. In the event that an individual has special needs or does not have estate planning in place and becomes incapacitated, it might become necessary to seek a court order to establish a family member, friend, or other trusted agent to make those decisions on their behalf. It can be costly and time-consuming, and it can often be avoided by having the proper estate planning documents in place.
It is important to discuss a deceased’s estate with an attorney to determine if a probate is necessary. Probates are common where the deceased-owned real estate is in their name alone or as tenants-in-common, or where no co-owners or beneficiaries were named on the decedent’s accounts. Probate is the legal process of managing and distributing the estate after someone has passed away. It involves filing documents with the court to appoint a personal representative, identifying and inventorying the deceased’s property, and ensuring it is properly distributed. It can be a difficult process during a difficult time, and we can help you navigate every step of the way.