Fundamental Estate Planning

Fundamental Estate Planning

Here at Total Counsel Law Group we like to meet you where you are. You may have just gotten married, just had your first child, or just sent your last child out of the nest. We can help you wherever you are, and wherever you may go. Perhaps you don’t have children and so you think you don’t need an estate plan but we believe an estate plan is right for anyone and everyone. 

We provide different levels of comprehensive estate plans from simple Wills to complete Trust-Based Estate Plans, while providing you tax advice to aid you in your decisions.   Powers of Attorney, Health Care Proxies, HIPAA documents, Living Trusts, Realty Trusts and Guardianship documents are just some of the documents we may provide.   The estate planning process is both thought provoking and rewarding, and when completed, you will have peace of mind that your family and assets are protected. 

Since Estate Planning isn’t the only area of law we practice, our approach takes into consideration all aspects of your life. Owning real estate or a business can require a different kind of estate plan. We can also help you understand the tax implications of each estate plan.

Our process is fairly simple and involves three meetings:

Initial Consultation:  A Before you ever step into our office we will have you fill out a personal information form. This helps us get to know you a little better and plan best for your first meeting.  In that first meeting we will get a feel for where you are in life and where you are headed. We can then help you understand the best course of action for you whether that be a will, a trust, a joint trust, or some combination. 

Design meeting:  We will hammer out the details of your plan, which, for example, could include naming heirs and successors, naming guardians for children, protecting real estate investments, providing for heirs, estate tax protection, designing living trusts and/or retirement trusts, and donating to charities from your estate.   

Signing Meeting:  We review each document with you, as well as the trust funding process, so that you fully understand your estate plan. You’ll then sign those documents and bring them home to keep in a safe place until they are needed again, hopefully not for many years to come.  

We can help you even after you’ve come in for that last meeting. For example, if a new grandchild is born and you want to add them to your will, we can do that. Or perhaps you’ve purchased a new home and need to place it in your trust, we handle that as well. 

There are a handful of “must have” estate planning documents you must create before anything else.


What are these essential documents I must create without delay?

You should have: (i) a will – everyone needs a will; (ii) a health care directive for decisions concerning treatment when you cannot make or communicate your own wishes; (iii) financial and health care powers of attorney authorizing “agents” you know and trust to take care of your financial matters and make your health care decisions when you are unable to do so yourself; (iv) a legal authorization that allows a loved one or friend to access your medical information; and (v) a trust (based on your situation) to manage, protect and eventually distribute your assets.


What is a will?

Will. A will is a legal document that describes your intentions for your estate when you pass away. Without a will, a person would die “intestate.” In that case, state law divides and distributes the estate to surviving family members based on their relationship to the deceased. No consideration is given under state law to how “close” such family members were to the decedent (or if they fought constantly). Contrary to popular belief, a will has absolutely no legal authority until the maker of the will dies … and the will is given to the proper probate court within the time limit prescribed by state law. Accordingly, your will has no authority to appoint financial or health care decision-makers (agents) for you if incapacitated by an illness or injury (more on that later). In many states, a will is required to appoint the guardians (backup parents) in the event minor children are orphaned. What could be more important than appointing the people you want to rear your children if you are not around?


What is a health care directive?

Health Care Directive. A health care directive, often known by other names such as an “advance directive,” is a document you sign now to specify the type and extent of medical and personal care you would want later were you unable to make and communicate your own decisions. Everyone age 18 and older needs to have this fundamental legal document signed, a copy on file with their physician, and a copy given to each of their appointed agents.


How does a health care directive help my family?

A health care directive appoints the persons (whether in order of priority or as a “team”) you have selected to make end-of-life decisions, so your family and the medical staff know what to do (or what not to do). A directive can take some of the worry and anxiety out of your final days for your family, as they will know your wishes when it comes to making tough choices. With that in mind, choose your “point persons” carefully. They will be charged with carrying out some potentially difficult decision and, perhaps, difficult family members.


What is a POA?

Power of Attorney. This is a legal document giving another person — sometimes called “the attorney-in-fact” or “agent” — the legal authority to make decisions on business matters and other issues on your behalf. The exact scope of the power given is spelled out in the document itself. These powers cease when the maker passes away; they also may no longer be in effect when the maker becomes unable to make or communicate decisions. A “durable” power of attorney should be used in that situation, or a health care directive.

What is a HIPAA Authorization?

Permission to Access Personal Medical Information(Otherwise known as a HIPAA Authorization) This document should be right on top of, or specifically incorporated, within your health care directive. It is your authorization for named persons to view your medical records and discuss your care with medical providers. Without this document or specific authorization, there is the possibility your doctor may decide not to speak to your designated “point persons” — the persons you want to make those tough decisions about your care if you are in an unresponsive state.

What is a Trust?

Trusts. These come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. Generally speaking, a trust is a legal entity with at least three parties: the creator of the trust, the trustee, and the beneficiary. With most “revocable living trusts,” you are all three parties. Depending on your circumstances, there could be advantages to establishing a trust. The most common advantage is avoiding probate. This can help streamline administration of your estate should you become incapacitated and upon your death, keeping your plans private in the process. Some irrevocable trusts may protect trust assets from creditors. For example, trusts established under a will or revocable living trust can protect the inheritance for loved ones from squandering, divorces, lawsuits and bankruptcies.