Do you charge for the first consultation, and what do I need to bring?
There is no charge for the initial consultation. We ask that you bring any prior Estate Planning documents if you have any and the completed Client Questionnaire. Try to fill out the Client Questionnaire as much as you can but don't get bogged down if you are unable to gather all of the requested information before the initial consultation. This information will help us better formulate a plan based on your assets and goals. We will discuss the terms of your Wills, Revocable Trusts, Durable Financial Powers of Attorney, Health Care Powers of Attorney, and HIPAA Authorization. We will also advise you on your exposure to estate taxes, generation-skipping transfer taxes, and income taxes, if any. For Estate and Trust Administration, the necessary documents for our meeting will include several original death certificates and the original Will, if applicable. Our fees will be a percentage of the estate, and we will likely have an idea of an estimate of these fees after our initial consultation.
What are your fees?
We believe that clients should be charged based on value that is delivered to them, not how much time the attorney spent working on their file. Our flat-rate pricing lets clients know exactly how much they should anticipate spending. We publish our prices on a schedule so that clients know that they are not being charged more simply because of the size of their assets. We believe our flat-rate pricing encourages clients to spend more time to communicate with us so that we can get the job done right. It also encourages us to spend our time on tasks which we believe will deliver value to the client.
What is a Revocable Trust or a "Living Trust," and do I need one?
A Revocable Trust is an arrangement where your assets will be held by you, as Trustee, and managed however you like. During your lifetime, you have complete control and access to the assets held in your Revocable Trust and taxes are reported in the same manner as they were before. However, upon your death or incapacity, the Successor Trustee automatically steps in and starts managing the trust assets. This swift transition will avoid the probate process, thus minimizing probate fees and avoiding public disclosure of the nature and disposition of your assets in Probate Court records. There is very little downside to implementing a Revocable Trust. However, it does cost a little bit more to prepare than a standalone Will. Also, some legal fees will be incurred and some time must be spent in re-titling your assets to your Revocable Trust. Assets which are not titled to your Revocable Trust during your lifetime can still be governed under the terms of your Revocable Trust. However, they may be subject to the probate process and will then be directed to your Revocable Trust under the terms of your "Pour-Over Will." I will look at both the size of your assets, but more importantly, the nature of your assets, to determine whether you would benefit from using a Revocable Trust.
Even if I die without a Will, won't my assets go to my spouse and children anyway?
If you die "intestate" or without a will, your assets will be distributed according to the default rules of the State of your domicile at the time of your death. In my experience, the intestate distribution is almost never exactly what the client would have wanted if he had taken the time to execute an estate plan. Assets which are distributable to young children will be "turned over" to them at the young age of 21, instead of held in a separate trust for her benefit until she reaches a more appropriate age. Your Executor will be chosen according to an arbitrary list of people according to their relationship to you under default State rules, which may or may not be what you would have wanted. It is a total crapshoot as to whether your assets will be managed and distributed in a manner which you would have intended, had you undertaken appropriate planning. Proper estate planning removes this burden off of your loved ones.
I have minor children. Do I need to make extra planning for them?
I can't emphasize enough how important it is that young families with minor children implement at least a Will naming a guardian of their minor children. If you and your spouse are not around to raise your children until the age of majority (age 18), a guardian must be appointed to have physical custody of your children until they become adults. North Carolina law accords “substantial weight” to the guardianship recommendation contained in a parent's Will. Without this critical recommendation, the Clerk of Court is left to make a guardianship determination that is in the best interest of the children without the benefit of what would otherwise be the single biggest determining factor. You may be able to avoid expensive and time consuming court hearings by appointing a guardian under your Will. You may appoint a married couple to serve as co-guardians if you wish, and you may appoint a successor guardian or co-guardians in the event your first choice for guardianship is unable or unwilling to serve. You should consider individuals who already have a close relationship to your children and who would be in a good position, financially and otherwise, to take care of your children. You may also consider establishing trusts for the benefit of your young children, instead of leaving a substantial amount of assets to them which they may receive outright at age 21. If you are okay with your children receiving assets outright at age 21, you should at least appoint a custodian of a Uniform Gifts to Minors Act ("UGMA") to be custodian of those accounts until age 21. Guardianship appointments, whether over the person or estate of a child, can be time consuming and costly.
I move here from another state. Should I re-do my estate planning documents?
Your estate planning documents prepared in another state could still be okay, but they would most likely be governed under the laws of your prior state of residency. You may be able to amend these documents with a simple Codicil or Trust Amendment to bring them up to speed. At the very least, I generally always recommend executing a new Health Care Power of Attorney and Durable Financial Power of Attorney. State laws for these documents can vary widely and it is often difficult convincing third parties to accept out-of-state documents.
I've added my adult child as a joint account holder of my bank account so she can easily pay my bills if I can't. Is this okay?
Adding an adult child to a bank account may cause some unintended problems. Upon your death, the surviving joint tenant will automatically receive whatever is leftover in the bank account, which may inadvertently disinherit your other descendants with regard to those assets. Your other children may find it unfair that the child who is a joint account holder received these extra assets. Also, your child's creditors may be able to reach these account assets and "drain" the account to satisfy a judgement against your child. After all, your child would have unfettered access to these assets, so why wouldn't her creditors as well? As an alternative solution, you may want to appoint your adult child as your financial agent under your Durable Financial Power of Attorney. In this manner, she would be able to pay your bills for you, on your behalf, without incurring these undesirable consequences. I recommend discussing the pros and cons of each of these arrangements so that you and your loved ones can avoid running into these problems.