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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 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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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.
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