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A well-crafted estate plan directs the management and disposition of your property after your mental incapacity or death. It also allows you to appoint an agent to speak for you regarding your healthcare decisions when you cannot speak for yourself. Proper planning requires an understanding of your planning objectives, your family composition and relationships, and your financial resources and needs.
Done correctly, estate planning can minimize the expense and burden to your family if you become mentally incapacitated or pass away and helps prevent disagreements among family members about your care and estate. As we grow older, our health care needs change, and planning for long-term care may be an important part of a plan to preserve your wealth and provide for your care in the future.
How Can the Team at Carr | Woodall Help?
Elder law attorneys can help you put a plan in place to meet those changing needs and avoid the need for court-supervised proceedings to manage your finances. Planning for your future is not the time to hire an attorney who dabbles in estate planning or advises everyone to have (and pay for) a pre-packaged estate plan.
Our South Jordan estate planning attorneys at Carr | Woodall have extensive experience helping Utah families prepare for what's ahead. We understand that there is no "one-size-fits-all" solution. We custom tailor our estate plans for each client. We know how to craft plans that will enable you to have the peace of mind that your savings and wealth will be available for you when you need it and that you will be able to pass it on to the next generation. We welcome the opportunity to share our experience and skill to assist you with creating an estate plan that will help provide peace of mind for you and your family.
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Strategically Employing Estate Planning Tools
When it comes to planning your estate, there are several tools available to help you preserve your legacy and ensure that your wishes are carried out when you can no longer speak for yourself. Tools estate planning attorneys use to help clients plan include:
The purpose of a will, sometimes called a "Last Will and Testament," is to provide instructions for transferring property that is titled only in the name of a deceased person. It provides instructions to the probate court about who is to be in charge of handling the administration of the estate and how your estate is to be distributed after you pass away. Since it only takes effect when a person dies, it does not help with any lifetime incapacity planning.
Revocable Living Trusts
A revocable living trust provides for managing your assets during your lifetime, both while you are alive and well, or alive and not so well. It is also a tool for avoiding probate altogether, but only if all of your property is either owned by your trust or if your trust is the designated beneficiary. As its name implies, you can change the terms and add property to or remove property from a revocable trust at any time.
After a person passes away, the successor trustee, appointed by you, steps in and manages the settlement process, including paying the bills, filing tax returns, liquidating the assets, and distributing everything to the beneficiaries as instructed by you in your trust.
How to Create a Living Trust
The best way to get a living trust is to work with a lawyer. Together, you can draft an enforceable, valid living trust that fits your needs. Once you are satisfied with the draft, you will need to get the trust notarized. Next, you must fund the trust by transferring assets into its name.
An experienced lawyer at Carr | Woodall can help you at each step of the way.
Power of Attorney
A power of attorney allows you to appoint an agent to act on your behalf if you cannot act for yourself for any reason. A "durable" power of attorney continues to be effective even if you cannot make your own decisions mentally. You choose the person who will be your agent, and you choose how broad or narrow that person's authority will be. Without an effective power of attorney, your family may be forced to go to court to ask for the appointment of someone to act as your guardian (to make life decisions for you) or conservator (to manage your financial assets).
Utah Advance Health Care Directive
You can use this directive to appoint someone you know and trust to act as your agent to make health care decisions when you can't speak for yourself. It also allows you to give directions about what kind of decisions you want your health care agent to make. Those directions include whether you want to participate in experimental medical treatments, whether you want to be an organ donor, and whether you want life-saving treatment at all costs or just comfort care to help you through a life-ending medical condition.
We also have experience helping our clients protect their rights as an heir or beneficiary. This is not a process you want to undertake on your own. Having an experienced attorney assist you will help avoid many of the nightmare situations that result, often quite innocently, from not being fully informed of your responsibilities and not understanding how to carry them out.
Similar to an advance directive, a living will allows you to appoint someone to make important health-related decisions on your behalf. A living will is considered to be a type of advance health care directive, but one that specifically applies if you become incapacitated (e.g. terminally ill to the point that you cannot make decisions about health care on your own).
For example, in a living will, you can detail how long you would want to be kept on life support while comatose.
Long-Term Care (Medicaid) Planning
You have worked hard to accumulate your wealth, and you should be the one who decides how it is passed on. Planning can help you preserve your wealth if the unexpected happens. This includes planning for long-term care. The average monthly base price for a skilled nursing facility in Utah is $5,323. A private room costs an average of $6,388 per month. The government has programs, including Medicaid, that can help pay for long-term care, but participation can put your hard-earned nest egg at risk because of Medicaid's financial requirements. We work with you to put a plan in place to help protect your home and savings if you need significant long-term care in the future.
Guardianships and Conservatorships
A court creates Guardianships and conservatorships for those who cannot legally care for themselves, such as minors or adults who lack mental capacity. Those people are referred to in the law as "protected persons." A guardian deals with the personal care of the protected person and the finances for small estates. A conservator (also referred to as a guardian of the estate) manages the protected person's financial affairs. The court-supervised process includes safeguards to ensure that the protected person's interest is served. Having an experienced attorney guide you through the process will help you avoid unnecessary liability and reduce the risk of litigation with family members by helping you navigate the sometimes difficult waters that accompany these situations.
Probate and Trust Administration
After a loved one has passed away, their estate needs to be administered. If they have a will or trust, the terms of those documents will direct how the estate is to be administered and who gets the property. If there is no estate plan, then Utah's laws of intestacy will govern. (Intestacy is just a fancy lawyer's word that means the person died without a will.) If you take on the work of administering an estate (as a personal representative in probate or as trustee of a trust), you have duties to protect and account for the property, and to make sure it gets distributed properly. Our attorneys are experienced in guiding personal representatives and trustees through this process and are ready to defend against challenges in the event of a contest.
Take Advantage of Our Experience & Knowledge
Every estate plan requires thoughtful consideration. An experienced and knowledgeable estate planning lawyer will help save you and your loved ones a lot of trouble and expense getting through what is an already difficult time for most people. Whether you simply need a living will or a comprehensive estate plan, Carr | Woodall can help.
Our South Jordan estate planning and elder law attorneys offer innovative solutions to help ensure that you and your loved ones don't need to worry about loose ends or incur unnecessary out-of-pocket expenses upon your death or incapacity.
Contact our South Jordan estate planning lawyers online or at (801) 988-9400 to schedule a consultation.
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