Estate Planning

Estate Planning is developing a strategy to transfer your wealth to others—whether during life or at death. During life, complete estate plans contemplate the possibility of incapacity and how to manage your affairs without resorting to guardianship. At death, estate plans contemplate how and when money transfers to the intended recipients.

We counsel our clients through this process to develop estate plans based on their individual goals.

What documents does an estate plan usually include?

Basic plans include wills, powers of attorney, advance directives, and beneficiary designation instructions. Our more intricate plans often include trusts in addition to the documents we provide in our basic plans.

Do I need a Trust?

Trust planning varies widely depending on the clients' goals. Unlike many estate planners, we do not recommend trusts as a matter of course. Instead, we look at each client's needs and recommend trusts when it's clear that a trust provides a reasonable solution to a particular problem.

Some clients’ situations will warrant a trust. Particularly, clients with minor beneficiaries, beneficiaries with disabilities, or beneficiaries with financial responsibility issues may want to consider a trust. A trust can limit the beneficiary’s ability to receive an inheritance all at once. A trust involves holding that inheritance until a time or age that you believe would be appropriate to distribute to the beneficiary outright (or perhaps never). That is not to say that until then distributions cannot be made. Rather, the trustee would be the person exercising discretion given (which can vary) on when and how much should be distributed to the beneficiary for the beneficiary’s needs (such as education).

Trusts typically carry out the dispositive provisions of an estate plan and clients will need to consider who should serve as trustee. Many clients serve as the initial trustees and name the surviving spouse as the successor trustee. Beyond spouses, clients will need to nominate an alternate choice for trustee. Younger clients may want to choose a parent or trusted sibling. Older clients may want to choose a responsible child. This doesn’t necessarily need to be different from your choices for executors above.

I have a trust, do I still need it?

We often find clients have trusts already. Not all that long ago, there were significant tax reasons for middle-class families to have trusts. But now that there is no Ohio estate tax and extremely high federal estate tax exemptions ($11 million per person), these so-called "death taxes" no longer drive the design of personal estate plans. A family that previously had revocable trusts may no longer need those trusts. But, that doesn't mean the trust should be revoked. The trust can still serve valid purposes such as avoiding probate or controlled transfer of wealth. On the other hand, clients without existing trusts don't necessarily need them absent other issues. That's where we can help. We can help identify when those issues exist and we counsel our clients accordingly.

How do I set up my estate plan to protect assets if I need long-term care?

If you have found us because you are concerned about protecting assets in case of long-term care, one of the most essential documents to have is a durable general power of attorney. We provide useful provisions within our powers of attorney that allow our clients' agents to protect hard-earned assets. Most estate planners do not include these powers in their documents. Unfortunately, without a durable general power of attorney with these broad powers, we may not be able to successfully avoid the devastating financial effects of the cost of long-term care.