The Basics of Estate Planning

Estate planning is the process of setting up your affairs to plan for incapacity and avoid court interference at death. Estate planning provides a private means of transferring assets to the next generation while reducing litigation, taxes and administrative costs. Every estate plan is unique and implements a detailed plan for the individual’s situation. Setting up an estate plan provides peace of mind by assuring that your family and loved ones will be provided for after you pass away.

What is probate? Probate is the legal process where a judge administers your estate, appoints guardians for your children and distributes your assets after your death. Probate can be completely avoided via estate planning, but if you have not prepared a plan, your estate will go to probate court. A typical, simple probate estate takes around 6 months to 2 years to distribute assets (assuming there are no minor beneficiaries) and the entire process is public. Probate can be costly and frustrating for heirs and intended beneficiaries. Probate can be, and should be, avoided by utilizing the proper legal documents and properly titling assets.

What are the costs of probate? If your assets go to probate, your family members will likely need to hire an attorney to assist with the probate administration. Probate attorneys typically charge on an hourly basis and can cost your family thousands of dollars. Legal fees, executor fees and court fees must be paid before money can be distributed to your heirs. Also, if you own property in other states, your family could face multiple probates, each according to the laws of the state in which the property resides.

How do I get started with an estate plan? The first step to complete your estate planning is scheduling a meeting with an attorney at Wakefield, Sutherland & Lubera, P.L.C to discuss your options. Although most of our appointments are at our law office, we can also schedule phone conferences or zoom meetings for those who prefer to limit their commute.

What should I expect for my first meeting? Most of our initial consultations follow a fairly standard format: 1) introductions, 2) determination of your objectives, 3) explanation & education regarding options available, 4) recommendations on course of action, 5) fee quotation for any work to be performed (if necessary), and 6) data gathering (if necessary). There is no charge for the initial consultation if you decide not to move forward with your estate plan.

What should I bring to the initial consultation? For estate planning meetings, it is helpful to bring the following documents: 1) a general list of your assets and liabilities (personal financial statement), 2) the death benefit and cash value amounts for any life insurance policies, 3) real estate deeds, 4) prior estate planning documents, 5) prenuptial agreements, 6) divorce settlement agreements, and 7) buy-sell agreements.

What is included in an estate plan? A typical estate plan will include a Last Will and Testament, Living Trust, General Durable (financial) Power of Attorney, Patient Advocate Designation, HIPAA Release, funding instructions, Certificate of Trust and Personal Property Memorandums. Also included, as necessary, are deeds, assignments of stock, transfers of business interests and other documents.

What are the costs of an estate plan? Wakefield, Sutherland & Lubera, P.L.C. offers no cost initial consultations and most of our estate planning services are billed on a flat-fee basis which is quoted before any work begins. For any services that cannot be billed on a flat-fee basis, we would inform you of the rate prior to beginning work. To get a quote for an estate plan, you can call one of our attorneys at (248) 457-9860.

*This article is meant for informational purposes only. Please recognize that nothing in this article constitutes legal or tax advice. If you have any questions, comments, or seek legal assistance, please call one of the attorneys at Wakefield, Sutherland and Lubera, P.L.C.