At first glance, defining what an estate planning attorney in Arizona does look simple. Everyone needs a last will and testament, and the process of defining the terms of this document seems straightforward. But it’s not. Estate planning attorneys typically take on a wide range of duties, most of which are usually directly related to legal matters.
Others aren’t, though. A good estate planning attorney can often be a confidante who becomes a friend, and getting sound advice from this kind of lawyer can often save thousands of dollars and prevent considerable hardship as well. So, let’s back up a bit. Estate planning lawyers don’t just write wills. They prepare and advise clients on how to settle their affairs, not just prior to eventual death, but also in situations where mental disability or physical illness may be imminent.
Given that broader definition, there’s a lot that goes into the duties. Lawyers who specialize in this particular field are also qualified to draft legal trusts, many of which are designed to avoid or lessen estate taxes. These trusts typically contain assets can also be targeted by the creditors of the various beneficiaries after the death of a client, and it’s the job of an estate planning attorney to protect whatever savings and assets might be vulnerable.
There are other duties as well. Assigning and specifying power of attorney is another important task that’s often entrusted to estate planning attorneys, and once again the attorney’s decision can save thousands and prevent disaster.
Health issues and health care decisions often play a role in the decisions made by estate planning lawyers, too. They sometimes made these decisions for clients who are either incapacitated or at risk of becoming so, which gives them a vitally important role.
Some estate planning attorneys make decisions that even go beyond these areas. They sometimes handle issues surrounding guardianship or conservatorship problems, and it is obviously critical who handles the affairs of a client in this situation.
The legal duties performed by this kind of lawyer are pivotal as well, of course. It’s important to know what kinds of court documents have to be filed, the dates and sequences in which they must be submitted, and the costs involved for doing this. Slip-ups in this area can be expensive, to say the least, so that’s part of what you’re paying for when you hire a qualified lawyer who does this kind of work.
The peace of mind factor is just as important if not more so. For many clients, knowing their interests are being represented in the best way possible can improve their quality of life considerably, so it’s well worth the money they spend. Many estate planning lawyers end up taking a larger role in the lives of their clients. The relationships they have tend to evolve over time, and having a deeper understanding of the needs of their clients is invaluable.
All of this makes it imperative to find the best estate planning attorney possible, even though the costs may seem formidable or even prohibitive at first. Rest assured, the payoff down the road is more than worth it, regardless of your situation.
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Four Things to Consider in Hiring a Probate Lawyer in AZ
For most people, hiring a probate lawyer is serious business. So serious that they tend to skip the prep work that’s necessary, which can often lead to bad decisions with worse ramifications. But it doesn’t have to be that way. With the aforementioned scenario in mind, here are some things to do in advance to make sure you make the best possible hiring decision in the Arizona area.
1. Know Your Situation
This is probably the most important consideration when it comes to hiring a probate lawyer. What’s being left by the deceased? Is it property, money, or other things that are valuable in different ways? The answers will help you take the first step in finding the right lawyer for you. Some probate lawyers specialize in finance and large money transactions, while others are experts in the real estate aspect of probate.
Others work primarily with family issues, while still others do probate work on the side. These last are probably the ones you want to avoid.
2. The Sympathy Factor
You may think that sympathy is the last thing you need in a probate lawyer, but if you do you’re wrong. Loss is an intrinsic part of the probate process, and your lawyer needs to be both sympathetic and compassionate.
Not all of that is about being a mensch, though, or Mother Theresa if your lawyer is a woman. Some of it is about professionalism-answering calls, providing good answers, explaining the process and anticipating possibilities.
Also, you need a probate lawyer who doesn’t take sides. The probate process can be divisive, so part of the lawyer’s job is to keep the peace while maintaining the ability to negotiate. Pay attention to this part of the hire and you’ll be a lot happier in the long run.
3. Deal with the Paperwork
Yes, paperwork is nasty in nearly every legal process, and probate is no exception. But you need to have your lawyer explain what you need to supply, and then you need to hold up your end of the bargain and submit it promptly. You also need to be organized and prepared. If you’re not, the probate process will likely take a bad turn. If you are, your chances of having it go smoothly go up exponentially.
The most common documents include the death certificate, the will and any important codicils, financial records and bank statements, and a list of assets and contact information, supplying these things will make the lawyer’s job easier, and that in turn will reduce your headaches.
4. Skip the Drama
Resistance, greed and entitlement are often part of the probate process, but they don’t always have to be. Try to smooth out any issues you may have with siblings, in-laws and other involved parties, but if you can’t make sure your lawyer knows about them.
Also, it’s important to know which one of these “interested” parties might contest the will, and why if they do. Then tell the lawyer about these potential potholes in the process so the lawyer can remove the roadblocks in advance.
These are just a few of the things you need to take into account when you hire a probate lawyer. As you can probably tell by now, it’s a fairly intricate, involved process, so make sure you sweat the details as much as you can.
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The Less Common Reasons You Need to Update Your Will
There are a lot of reasons to update your will. Marriage, death and birth are among the most common reasons why we update our wills. Let’s look at some of the equally important but less common reasons when you need to update your will.
You’ve Set Up a Trust
A surprising number of people create a trust but fail to fund it. Your will could end up pouring assets into a trust managed on behalf of minor children. However, this can cause major problems in certain cases. For example, a testamentary trust may require you to sell a family business to fund the trust. It is better to set up a trust and put the business inside of the trust. Then the business can be managed by your trustee, and it will go to your heirs according to the rules outlined in the trust. A side benefit of this approach is that it will allow the business to continue to operate if you are incapacitated.
Work with an estate planner to determine how your wills, your trust documents and your legal titles should be updated so that your desired estate plan comes to fruition.
You’ve Received a Bad Diagnosis
Many parents draft a will to name a guardian for their children if they both die in a car crash. Single parents must draft a will simply to ensure that their child is put in the care of their chosen friends or family. Unfortunately, life doesn’t always go as planned. You may need to create a special needs trust and update your will because you’ve learned that your young child has autism. If your partner is diagnosed with dementia or a degenerative health condition, you may want to set up a trust on their behalf. They may need to be named as the beneficiary of the trust but almost certainly can’t be the trustee of it or any other trust.
Your Assets Have Changed
Many people draft a will when they have children. Their assets may be modest. For example, their assets may consist of bank accounts, a small retirement account and their interest in the family home. Fast forward a few years. They have a growing business, investment accounts and several rental properties. If your estate has grown, you may want to change how your estate is structured. Putting rental properties in limited liability corporations or a trust will protect your family if tenants sue you, but your will and testament that says “leave the house to my wife/firstborn” will now fall short. If you’ve bought property in another state, consult with an attorney to determine how the disposition of the property will be spelled out in your will.
If you move from Tucson to Tempe, Arizona, nothing’s changed except your address. If you’ve made your Arizona winter home your permanent home, you need a new will specific to the state of Arizona. If you’re now living in Arizona long enough to make it your primary residence, you need an Arizona state specific will, too. If you’ve sold your home and moved into assisted living, reassess your will. You may want to change how you divide the property if you’re no longer giving the house to a given person.
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The Top Reasons for Updating Your Trust
Trusts are legal documents that manage assets for the benefit of the beneficiary. Trusts may be set up to manage assets on behalf of a special-needs adult or minor children until they reach adulthood. They may be used to transfer assets to your heirs without having to go to probate. And they can be used to enjoy income from your assets while ensuring it goes to charity upon your death. Trusts like wills should be updated for a number of reasons. We’ll outline the most common ones here.
The Laws Have Changed
Any estate law expert can tell you that Arizona’s trust law has changed several times over the past twenty years. There were massive changes in both 2009 and 2011. A trust written before then should be reviewed. It will likely need to be replaced.
Your Will Has Changed
A common mistake people make is writing a will with assets going to a trust, but they fail to create the trust. Another mistake is creating a trust but not updating your will to have your assets put in the trust upon your death. Whether you’re writing a will for the first time or updating it, consider having the trust documents evaluated and updated if necessary, to remain in sync with your will.
Furthermore, you should update the trust if you’ve decided someone else should inherit your assets. For example, if you’ve disinherited an adult child, they’ll still benefit from the trust unless you change it. If you decide to give everything to a niece instead of your daughter, the trust needs to be updated. If you want the assets to skip your adult children and go to the grandchildren, your trust needs to be changed.
Your Family Situation Has Changed
The laws can handle a trust that goes to your minor children without naming said children. The law can accommodate children born after a will or trust is written, recognizing them as beneficiaries. However, it is better to update the trust as your family situation changes. It is essential if you’ve remarried and now have children by your second marriage. If one of your beneficiaries or intended executors has died, update the trust to reflect your current situation. While you’re at it, add backup executors and heirs to avoid problems if there are additional changes.
Trusts should be changed when you get divorced, if you don’t want the now ex-spouse inheriting or managing the trust.
You’ve Moved to Another State
Trust law is state specific. If you’ve moved to Arizona, understand that the state’s laws differ than those where you had your trust written. Work with an attorney to create a trust that reflects Arizona’s laws.
You Want to Include Additional Property in the Trust
Suppose you’ve written a trust and funded it. If you take out an additional life insurance policy to fund it, you may need to work with an attorney to make sure the insurance policy and trust are in alignment. If you buy a second home, it should be added to the trust if the goal is to simplify your estate when you pass. It generally isn’t necessary to include cars, furniture and less valuable items in the trust.
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The Intersection between Trusts and Guardianship
Trusts are a fiduciary instrument where a designated party manages money on behalf of a third party. Guardianship is when someone is legally responsible for another. While both legal concepts are distinct, there are a surprising number of cases where they overlap. We’ll also discuss the value of trusts when someone has a guardian.
Your will should identify who you want to have guardianship of your minor children. If you don’t have a trust set up and you don’t have a surviving spouse to inherit everything, your assets will be put in a trust on behalf of the children. Income from the trust or the sale of assets will pay for their living expenses. When they hit maturity, they’ll inherit the assets in the trust. You can get more control over this process if you set up a trust before you die or create a good will and estate plan so that assets transfer to the trust upon your death. For example, only a trust can pay for college or provide seed money for a business while preventing them from inheriting all of it until they hit certain milestones.
Special Needs Adults
It doesn’t matter if your child is paraplegic or has a low IQ. They will need care for the remainder of their lives. This is why special needs trusts exist. Your special needs dependent will require a guardian when you can no longer do the job. Naming multiple potential guardians for them will ensure that someone is available to take care of them.
When You Want to Ensure the Management of Assets though You’re Incapacitated
Trusts can be set up to manage estates when you die. A financial power of attorney can be used to delegate financial management tasks to someone else while you’re alive. (A financial POA terminates when you die.) A healthcare power of attorney allows someone to manage your healthcare while you’re alive, especially if you’re disabled or incapacitated. You can set up a trust so that it manages your assets while you’re alive and continues to do so after you’re incapacitated. Work with an Arizona estate planner to create a trust so that your assets are managed whether you’re traveling the world, dealing with worsening dementia or concerned you may be unable to manage your business for health reasons. The trust can continue to manage your investments or your business while things go through probate. Or the trust can manage your assets on behalf of a spouse who is already incapacitated.
Trusts have the added benefit of preventing things from going into conservatorship. The person taking over as guardian for your disabled spouse or child doesn’t have to go to court to become a conservator. Nor do they have to do the pounds of paperwork required to keep the court informed. Your existing legal documentation will dictate when they can sell assets or how the money in the trust will be invested.
Note that your will and trust don’t have to name the same person to manage the assets and supervise your dependent heir. You can name one person to become their guardian and have someone else manage the money.
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What Is Long Term Care?
Long term care refers to the medical care and daily assistance those who are no longer able to fully take care of themselves must receive. It can take the form of adult daycare services, home health aides who drop by daily, assisted living or a nursing home. The cost of these services goes up with the number of services you must receive. And even basic visits by home health aides and caregivers in your home can cost 1500 to 3000 dollars a month. That will eat into your savings and even your retirement account. This is why you want to begin long term care planning before you require such assistance.
What Is Long Term Care Planning?
Saving enough money to pay for retirement and long-term care is one possible way to prepare. Given the fact that most of us haven’t saved enough for retirement, it is unlikely that most people will have enough money to pay for quality long term care. You don’t want to rely on Medicaid. It doesn’t pay much, and the nursing homes that accept it hardly offer quality care. Trying to shield assets by transferring them to family members can lead to fraud charges. The solution is to get the right type and level of insurance coverage. Note that this insurance must be in place before you file a claim, just as you can’t get auto insurance to cover an accident after the car wreck.
What Type of Insurance Do I Need?
For younger people, long term disability insurance is sufficient. It will cover 50 to 80 percent of your living costs for a set period of time. Depending on the policy, it may pay out for three to twelve months. If you’re older, we’d recommend getting long term care insurance. Long term care insurance will help cover the costs of long-term care. They may pay for your stay in a cardiac rehab hospital for four months or a year in a nursing home. Premiums rise with age, so we’d recommend signing up for a policy before you hit sixty years of age. You might benefit from a complementary short-term or long-term disability insurance policy, since this can cover the interim period before long-term care insurance kicks in. You can reduce the cost of LTC insurance by waiting longer before you file a claim. Work with an Arizona insurance expert or estate planning attorney to come up with a personalized plan to protect you and your family.
We recommend that everyone have life insurance. That money will help your heirs pay off your outstanding debts. The money can also be used to fund a special needs trust, if your surviving spouse or adult children are disabled. Term life insurance is the better choice, since the premiums are lower. Skip the specialized life insurance policies like cancer insurance or accidental death insurance. A life insurance policy will pay out no matter how you die, unless you commit suicide or die committing a crime.
Health insurance is essential before you qualify for Medicare. For example, Medicare doesn’t cover most dental or vision care. You probably need it after you qualify for Medicare, given how much it doesn’t cover.
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Planning for Your Final Years
One industry study found that less than half of adults had a will. However, that only determines what happens to your property after you die. Most of us will be incapacitated at some point in our lives, whether it is due to declining mental acuity at the end of life or temporary issues like recovering from an accident or drug abuse. This is why you need to get a number of legal documents together.
We already mentioned that less than half of adults have a will. Arizona is a community property state. This means that there is a good chance your current spouse will get most of your assets if you die without a will. However, your family can run into problems if you had children by a prior marriage or intended to leave property to other relatives. Furthermore, your existing legal documents may not reflect your current situation. A common mistake is leaving your ex-spouse as a beneficiary on your life insurance policy instead of your current one. Or you may list your minor children as heirs to your 401K plan, though they’re not allowed to manage it. This is why you want to work with an estate planner to create an estate plan that reflects your wishes. And don’t wait to file an Arizona state specific will when you move to Tempe. Your will written in another state may not be valid if you die in Arizona.
A Medical Power of Attorney
A medical power of attorney or POA is a legal document that allows you to name an agent and give them authority to make decisions for you. You should have a medical power of attorney filed with your primary care doctor and the local hospital. This allows someone you’ve chosen to make decisions if you’re not fully conscious after surgery or incapacitated due to a car wreck. Medical power of attorney documents end when the person dies. We’d recommend having a medical POA with backup trustees so that there is always someone you approve of making medical decisions for you. For example, you don’t want to only name your spouse on the paperwork, because they can’t fulfill those duties if they’re in the hospital, too.
Note that a medical power of attorney document does not make your chosen representative liable for your medical bills. The only possible exception is if you’re naming your spouse to be your primary decision maker. Arizona as a community property state would make them liable for any bills you run up including medical bills.
A Financial Power of Attorney
A financial power of attorney document is similar a medical power of attorney, but it is related to financial affairs. You can set up very limited financial power of attorney documents or very broad ones. You could use a POA to let a real estate broker close on a property for you. Or you could set up a financial power of attorney to let someone pay your bills and manage your investments while you’re on sabbatical. Your financial power of attorney can last a lifetime or be limited to a given time frame. A financial power of attorney document can be used to establish conservatorship without having to go to court. For example, you could set it up so that the person takes over your affairs when you move into assisted living.
Arizona law has a priority schedule for appointing conservators. It will go to someone who is already appointed as their ward or conservator in another state. Someone nominated for that role is next in line, if the incapacitated person is capable of that decision. Next is the adult named in the incapacitated person’s power of attorney documents. Then the courts start looking at their family to fill this role. The first choice is spouses followed by adult children and parents. Toward the end of the list is anyone nominated for that position in their will. Of course, this is only possible if you have a will in the first place.
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The Relationship between Wills and Medicaid
What Wills Do
A conventional will or last will and testament outlines what you want to happen to your property after you die. Every adult should have a will to dictate where their property goes, so that assets don’t go to the state or get distributed according to Arizona intestacy laws. Note that you can distribute your remaining assets to the charity of your choice if you don’t have any heirs.
Wills allow you to appoint a guardian for your minor children. A will can make it much easier to establish a trustee to oversee the management of your assets on behalf of minor or disabled heirs. Note that this doesn’t have to be the same person as the one who provides day to day supervision of your dependent heirs.
The Limits of Wills in Long-Term Care Planning
Your estate can only distribute assets that are left after you die. If you sell the family home to pay for your long-term care, then it doesn’t matter if the will says the home goes to your youngest child. If you have medical bills due upon your death, your family home or other assets may have to be sold to pay your debts. Those financial obligations come out of the estate before any assets can be distributed to your heirs.
A last will and testament will not go into effect until after you die. Consult with an estate attorney to create the necessary documents so that someone can manage your financial affairs and make medical decisions on your behalf if you’re incapacitated. And the key documents involved are a living will and medical power of attorney.
A medical power of attorney document names one or more people you designate to make medical decisions on your behalf. This includes refusing extreme life-saving admissions and approving pain management treatment plans. A living will should spell out what medical treatments you do and do not want such as mechanical ventilation, tube feeding and CPR. A medical power of attorney is independent of a do not resuscitate (DNR) or do not intubate (DNI) order. However, a good attorney will advise you to keep your DNI and DNR in sync with your medical power of attorney documents. Furthermore, anyone you want to have authority to make medical decisions on your behalf should be aware of your wishes.
Living Wills and Medicaid
Medicare regulations pressure doctors to discuss DNI, DNR and living wills with their patients. Medicaid patients may not receive these same consultations, but they would benefit from having such legal documents in effect. Having these legal documents in place does not affect your eligibility for Medicaid or Medicare. However, Medicaid may have limits on the equipment that will be paid for in your particular situation. Requests for medical equipment like certain forms medication may be subject to formal review before it is approved. On the other hand, this matter is rendered moot if your living will says you don’t want to receive advanced care like a feeding tube or respirator.
If you have a living will, ensure that it is on file with your nursing home, whether or not it is paid for by Medicaid.
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Probate and Inheritance Lawyer in AZ
A probate and inheritance lawyer in Arizona, can represent you in cases where part, or all of your inheritance is stuck in probate. We can help you to get cash quickly, to cover the cost of the decedent’s medical fees, hospice care, and other expenses. Our AZ probate attorneys work with the executor of the will, and the other beneficiaries, to achieve your objectives.
Our compassionate legal team in Arizona provides constant support and guidance in your time of bereavement. All of the actions we take are in line with state law. Most of our clients in Arizona receive all, or a significant percentage of, their inheritance with our expert assistance.
We are focused on taking you through the probate process as quickly as possible. Our Arizona probate attorneys understand the emotional and financial significance of attaining closure so that you can move on with your life, or grieve in peace. We work hard, so that our clients sometimes receive funds within days.
Inheritance at Risk
Several situations can arise which put your inheritance in danger. An older parent may marry and disinherit their children, or a spouse may have secret partners outside of their marriage. If your inheritance is at risk, our AZ probate attorneys can help you to protect it.
Experienced Inheritance Attorneys
People who are suffering from dementia may sometimes suddenly remove loved ones from their trust. Whether you are a spouse, child, or friend in this situation, call us. We have represented many disinherited clients in Arizona who have encountered that type of heartbreak, and we are fully prepared to litigate your case.
Each of our clients benefits from our combines expertise, and the extensive knowledge we have of Arizona probate law. Our local attorneys are focused on your success, and often obtain highly beneficial settlements without the delays associated with a trial.
Our legal team is comprised of experts who understand the anxiety and pain of clients who have lost a loved one and been disinherited. Our attorneys are all licensed by the state of Arizona, and understand the state’s culture.
Our investigations help us to learn all the facts related to a case. We will identify all the assets left by the decedent, including those that you might not be aware of.
If you have been wrongfully disinherited, we can help you to clearly state your position. Honoring the decedent’s wishes after they are gone is critical, and we can help you to do that.
Family disputes sometimes develop after a loved one has passed. An adult child may not recognize your financial investment made towards the upkeep of physical assets. Time spent as the primary caregiver for an ailing relative might not be valued.
After spending money to deal with various expenses related to the decedent’s care, you may find yourself disinherited. Siblings may give you a hard time, and claim that they won’t allow you to have your part of the assets.
We will stand with you in affirming the truth, so you can receive what is rightfully yours. Contact us today, to obtain a speedy resolution to your case.
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Asset Protection Exemptions in AZ
If you are thinking of filing for bankruptcy, you may want to know which asset protection exemptions apply in Arizona. These exemptions allow you to keep some of the things that you own, even after your financial position has changed.
Our attorneys have helped many Arizona residents to understand how to limit their losses during bankruptcy. We can explain how each exemption works, so you’ll know how they can be applied in your situation.
When will Asset Protection Exemptions Apply?
Asset protection exemptions will apply when you have been granted a judgement by a court, or have filed for bankruptcy. These exemptions are known as statutory exemptions.
Statutory exemptions help you to maintain a certain quality of life after you have filed for bankruptcy. Your creditors will not be able to take all of your personal assets, and items that are heirlooms or have deep meaning can be safeguarded in this way.
You’ll have a level of protection for your residence. If you already own a property, you can leverage this kind of exemption, so that you won’t be left homeless. Clothing, musical instruments, and several other items inside your home are protected under a different exemption.
Our asset protection attorneys in Arizona have many years of experience in this area. Talk to us about the ways in which these exemptions can be utilized to give you greater peace of mind during a difficult time.
Will your Assets be Protected Outside of Arizona?
If you’re granted a judgement while living in Arizona, and you want to move, there are several factors to consider. Since laws about exemptions vary from one state to another, items that are protected in Arizona may not be safeguarded in Florida.
Some of your assets may be seized by creditors if you move. If you’re making decisions about who will inherit the assets that you’re able to keep, you should be aware that for several reasons, the exemptions may not apply to your beneficiaries. An attorney near you can provide advice on these matters.
Is your Residence Completely Protected?
The laws in Arizona provide a measure of protection for your home during bankruptcy. These provisions can be used to ensure that you’ll have a place to live, but they don’t safeguard the total value of your home.
You’ll be allowed up to $150,000 in equity. If your homestead is valued at less than this, you can relax a little more. If your home is valued at more than that sum, your creditors can access the balance.
Can you Keep your Household Goods?
The law in Arizona provides protection for your household goods after you file for bankruptcy. These assets are safeguarded up to a maximum of $6,000. Anything above that can be seized to pay your debts.
Several items that make life more comfortable are found in this category. You may keep all of your furniture, appliances, and furnishings, if their total value is $6,000 or less. Anything above this maximum can be accessed by your creditors, so call an attorney near you today to assess possible outcomes.
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Tempe is a district located on the outskirts of Phoenix in Arizona, but which has its own distinct character and personality. With almost 200,000 citizens, it is one of the largest urban districts in the Grand Canyon state.
There are a number of things that sets Tempe apart. First of all, this is a big college town, being host to Arizona state University. Of course, this means that there are lots of lively bars and clubs for you to check out, but it also means that there is a great local football team for you to get behind. For anyone who hasn’t experienced, a tailgate party at a college football game is an experience not to be missed.
Beyond the college parties and university sports, Tempe has a lot of other attractions. One unique attraction is the Tempe Town lake. This is a huge body of water, located conveniently in the center of town. Crowds flock from all around to paddle, kayak and just swim in this renowned lake. It’s a particular hot spot during the hot summer season, when you’ll want nothing more than a dip in the lake to cool you down.
Tempe has a rapidly developing economy which is based around technology and financial services, making it well equipped to be employment center in the 21st century. A number of large banks, such as Wells Fargo and J.P Morgan Chase have their regional headquarters in Tempe. Although the university is the largest employer in the area, it is rivalled by such national names as State Farm Insurance and ABM Industries. Tempe is even home to the international headquarters of one Fortune 500 company, Insight Enterprises.
So, Tempe is not just a wild place to send your college-ready kids. It’s also a great place to enjoy leisure activities, raise a family, and secure your future.