Although many individuals think estate planning is simply about getting their affairs in order before they pass away, it actually involves creating a lifetime plan to achieve a number of financial objectives such as asset protection, long-term care planning, avoiding probate, and protecting their legacy.
Dunlap Bennett & Ludwig works closely with our clients to tailor estate plans that achieve their personal goals. We offer comprehensive legal services to clients in the greater Washington D.C. area, Colorado, Oklahoma, Maryland, Virginia, Georgia, and New York.
Key Estate Planning Tools
Our legal team is well versed in applicable state and federal trusts and estate law and designs the following estate planning documents to address each client’s particular needs.
Last Will and Testament
Also known as a will, this basic estate planning tool establishes how the estate assets will be managed and distributed to beneficiaries and names a personal representative, or executor, to carry out these duties. It is important to note that a will is the only way for a person to name guardians for minor children. By failing to create a will, the probate court will intervene and appoint someone to make these decisions.
We often recommend that clients create a revocable living trust in addition to a will. In short, a properly designed living trust takes title to a person’s property while allowing the trustmaker (or grantor) to continue managing it during his or her lifetime. A successor trustee is named to manage the assets for the benefit of the beneficiaries upon the grantor’s death. Moreover, a trust can also establish a plan to manage the property in the event the grantor becomes incapacitated. Most importantly, a living trust does not go through the probate process, which saves time and money and preserves the privacy of the grantor and beneficiaries.
Additionally, there are a number of irrevocable trusts that can be created to achieve objectives such as providing for a special needs child, creating a charitable giving plan, planning for long-term care, minimizing estate taxes, and protecting estate assets from creditors.
Powers of Attorney
A durable power of attorney enables a trusted person, either a spouse, relative or close friend, to handle personal and financial affairs such as paying bills, managing property, bank accounts and investments in the event that a person becomes physically or mentally incapacitated. Similarly, an advance directive for healthcare, or healthcare proxy, names another person to make decisions about the type of medical care that should be provided when a person cannot speak for him or herself.
This is another type of advance medical directive that specifies the treatment that should be provided to or withheld from a person who becomes terminally ill or incapacitated and cannot communicate his or her decisions about end-of-life care.
Comprehensive Estate Planning Services
Dunlap, Bennett & Ludwig guides each client through all phases of the estate planning process from creating estate planning documents through the final disposition of the estate.
When a person dies with a will in place, the estate must go through a court-managed process known as probate. During this proceeding the personal representative or executor must fulfill a number of important duties, including:
- Validating the will in the probate court
- Filing all required notices to beneficiaries
- Preparing an inventory and appraisal of the estate assets
- Paying outstanding debts from the estate proceeds
- Resolving creditor claims
- Filing final income taxes and paying estate taxes (if applicable)
- Distributing assets to the beneficiaries
If there is no will, the deceased is said to have died “intestate.” In this situation, a close surviving relative needs to ask the probate court to be appointed the estate administrator and distribute the property according to the state’s intestacy laws. Our probate and estate administration attorneys represent personal representatives and administrators throughout the process, prepare the required filings and handle any tax-related matters.
Although a trust does not go through a probate proceeding, it still must be administered according to state law. The person who has been designated as the trustee is responsible for administering the trust and is deemed to be a fiduciary. This means that the trustee is in a position of trust with the beneficiaries, and can be held liable for mistakes or misdeeds that negatively impact the value of the trust assets. At Dunlap Bennett & Ludwig, we advise trustees on how to fulfill their obligations and also represent beneficiaries to ensure their interests are protected.
At times, disputes may arise among the beneficiaries, particularly when the testator’s capacity is in question, a new distribution plan replaces one established by a prior will, or beneficiaries are given unequal shares of the estate assets. In these situations, the estate may need to be litigated in a proceeding that is referred to as a will contest. Although we often advise clients to reach negotiated settlements, we are fully prepared to litigate disputes in probate court.
Business Succession Planning
In addition to advising individuals and families, our attorneys also work with corporate clients on commercial law aspects of estate planning. In particular, we work with small business owners and other organizations to design business succession plans. Because companies must always have capable leadership, we advise owners, partners, and other stakeholders on how to establish plans that facilitate smooth transitions in the event of a key person’s sudden death, illness or retirement.
Estate Planning Attorneys
At Dunlap, Bennett & Ludwig, we focus on helping clients design wealth preservation strategies. Since clients often come to us with many questions, we take the time to understand their circumstances and discuss all of their options. We also provide ongoing, comprehensive advice to clients to address changes that occur over the course of a lifetime to ensure a plan is up-to-date. By understanding your individual circumstances, our experienced estate planning attorneys will find solutions that put your mind at ease. Call our office today or fill out a contact form to set up a free initial consultation, or email us at: email@example.com.