Estate Planning

You have worked hard to provide and protect your family over the years, but what will happen after you are gone? A comprehensive estate planning is the most effective way to preserve your estate and provide for your loved ones when you pass away. At Rivers Law, we are not only knowledgeable of the laws and practical aspects of estate planning, probate administration, and trust administration, but we also know the laws governing business organizations, real estate, personal property, and taxes. With our experience in these areas, we can provide practical planning advice from a comprehensive, multifaceted perspective.

An estate plan can relieve your family members from unnecessary burdens later on. Although estate planning may require you to spend some time and legal fees on the frontend, you will be able to spare your family members a tremendous amount of time, effort, and probate fees upon your death or incapacity. Many clients say they feel relieved after they have completed their estate planning.

When it comes to estate planning, most people are familiar with the basic concept of a Last Will and Testament. This document is designed to direct the distribution of the assets of your estate according to your wishes. However, a comprehensive estate plan should address much more than that. A plan should address health care and incapacity issues. It should also specify whom you would like to appoint to serve as your fiduciaries. If you have minor children, one of the most important reasons to have an estate plan is to name the guardian(s) of your minor children. An estate plan should also establish trusts for the benefit of the surviving spouse and children, when appropriate.

We carefully listen to your goals and analyze your assets to formulate an effective estate planning strategy that will meet your needs. By implementing the correct planning techniques, your assets will be transferred in accordance with your wishes, in a tax-efficient manner, and can remain protected after you are gone.

An estate plan may be structured to achieve the following goals:

  • Avoiding probate
  • End-of-life planning
  • Funeral arrangements
  • Asset Protection
  • Trusts for Minors
  • Pet Trusts
  • Education Trusts
  • Coordinating the Beneficiary Designations of Retirement Accounts and Life Insurance Policies
  • Incapacity Planning
  • Supplemental Needs Trusts
  • Business Succession Planning

What is Included in a Typical Estate Plan

Package A

Last Will and Testament

A Last Will and Testament will control the disposition of your probate assets. In this document, you will appoint your Executor(s) and successor Executor(s) to properly administer your estate according to your written directives. If you have minor children, it is particularly important to designate the guardian(s) and successor guardian(s) to take care of your minor children.

Health Care Power of Attorney

A Health Care Power of Attorney enables another individual to make health care decisions on your behalf if you are completely unable to express your wishes. You may also express that you do not wish to receive life sustaining measures under certain medical conditions. You may also express your wishes for burial or funeral arrangements in this document.

Durable Financial Powers of Attorney

A Durable Financial Power of Attorney enables another individual to take care of business and financial affairs on your behalf. This may be a particularly useful document in the event of your incapacity.
How an Agent under a Power of Attorney Can Help You:
• Pay your regular monthly bills
• File your tax returns
• Continue to run your business
• Attend a real estate closing on your behalf
• Buy and sell stocks for you
• Generally, manage your financial affairs in the same manner that you could do yourself

HIPAA Authorization Form

Health Care Privacy Laws may make it difficult for others to have access to your medical records. The HIPAA Authorization Form enables others to have access to your medical records in order to make important decisions for you.

Package B

Everything in Package A plus the following:

Revocable Trust

You may also choose to implement a Revocable Trust in conjunction with a “Pour-Over Will.” A Revocable Trust is an excellent tool to manage assets for beneficiaries and to avoid the probate process. A Revocable Trust also offers a tremendous amount of privacy and ease of administration.

Advanced Estate Planning

Our experienced estate planning attorney can assist you and your family with more advanced planning, which may include the following planning techniques:

  • Irrevocable Gifting Trusts
  • Irrevocable Life Insurance Trusts ("ILITs")
  • Generation-Skipping Transfer ("GST") Trusts
  • Limited Liability Company ("LLC") and S-Corporation Planning
  • Valuation Discount Planning
  • Sales of Assets to Grantor Trusts
  • Grantor Retained Annuity Trusts ("GRATs")
  • Qualified Personal Residence Trusts ("QPRTs")
  • Charitable Remainder Trusts ("CRTs") and Charitable Lead Trusts ("CLTs")
  • International Planning
  • Planning for U.S. Non-Citizen Spouses (including "QDOTs")

However, due to the recent overhaul of the tax code implemented under the Trump Administration, these planning arrangements will hardly ever need to be used anymore. In fact, because the estate tax exemption amount is so high now, many of these planning techniques implemented prior to 2018 should be “undone” to avoid unnecessary administration expenses and to save heirs on income taxes when they go to sell inherited property.

Special Needs Planning

Rivers Law serves families who have a loved one with special needs. We can customize your estate plan so that you may leave assets for the benefit of your special needs child while preserving important public benefits available to him or her. We understand that children who have special needs require additional planning, and we carefully listen to your specific situation and concerns so that we can make recommendations and tailor a plan which will provide for your love one throughout their lifetime.

FAQ

What does the estate planning process look like?

Congratulations! You have taken the first step in estate planning and that is realizing the continuing need to plan for your affairs. The next step is to call or email our office to request a Client Questionnaire where you will share confidential information with us so that we may better formulate a plan for you. We will also schedule an appointment to sit down to get to know each other. We will provide suggestions as to what you will need to do to achieve your estate planning goals. The initial client conference will take about forty-five minutes to one hour and is completely free of charge. If you are not satisfied that we are the right fit for you, there is no obligation to engage our firm for any further assistance.

If you decide to proceed with the engagement, you will sign an engagement letter. We will also schedule a second time to meet to sign your final documents. We will go over the drafts of the final documents with you prior to signing to make sure it is exactly what you want. We can make any desired changes. Once your documents are in final order, we will sign the documents in the presence of two witnesses and a notary. The second meeting usually also takes about one hour. The whole process, from start to finish, is usually about three to four weeks.

Do you charge for the first consultation, and what do I need to bring?

There is no charge for the initial consultation. We ask that you bring any prior Estate Planning documents and the completed Client Questionnaire. Try to fill out the Client Questionnaire as much as you can but don't get bogged down if you are unable to gather all the requested information before the initial consultation. This information will help us better formulate a plan based on your assets and goals. We will discuss the terms of your Wills, Revocable Trusts, Durable Financial Powers of Attorney, Health Care Powers of Attorney, and HIPAA Authorization Forms. For Probate Administration and Trust Administration, please bring original death certificates and the original Will or Trust, if applicable. We will provide a quote for our fees at the end of our initial consultation.

What are your fees?

We believe that clients should be charged based on value that is delivered to them, not how much time the attorney spent working on their file. Our flat-rate pricing lets clients know exactly how much they will be spending. We do not bill our clients based on how many hours were spent on the file multiplied by an expensive hourly rate. We believe our flat-rate pricing encourages clients to spend more time to communicate with us so that we can get the job done right. After our initial meeting, we will provide a quote to you. We accept payment by check or credit card from Visa, MasterCard, American Express, and Discover.

What is a Revocable Trust or a "Living Trust," and do I need one?

A Revocable Trust is an arrangement where your assets will be held by you, as Trustee, and managed however you like.  During your lifetime, you have complete control and access to the assets held in your Revocable Trust and taxes are reported in the same manner as they were before.  However, upon your death or incapacity, the Successor Trustee automatically steps in and starts managing the trust assets.  This swift transition will avoid the probate process, thus minimizing probate fees and avoiding public disclosure of the nature and disposition of your assets in Probate Court records.   There is very little downside to implementing a Revocable Trust.  However, it does cost a little bit more to prepare than a standalone Will.  Also, some additional time must be spent in re-titling your assets to your Revocable Trust.  I will look at both the size of your assets, but more importantly, the nature of your assets, to determine whether you would benefit from using a Revocable Trust.

Even if I die without a Will, won't my assets go to my spouse and children anyway?

If you die without a will or “intestate,” your assets will be distributed according to the default rules of the State of your domicile at the time of your death. In our experience, the intestate distribution is almost never exactly what the client would have wanted had he or she taken the time to execute an estate plan. Assets which are distributed to young children will be "turned over" to them at the young age of 21, instead of held in a separate trust for her benefit until he or she reaches a more appropriate age. Your Executor will be chosen according to a list of people related to you, which may or may not be what you would have wanted. It is a total crap-shoot as to whether your assets will be managed and distributed as you intended, had you undertaken appropriate planning.

I have minor children. Do I need to make extra planning for them?

We can't emphasize enough how important it is that young families with minor children implement a Will naming a guardian of their minor children.  If you and your spouse are not around to raise your children until the age of majority, a guardian must be appointed to have physical custody of your children until your children become adults.  North Carolina law accords “substantial weight” to the guardianship recommendation contained in a parent's Will. Without this critical recommendation, the Clerk of Court is left to determine the guardianship without the parent’s input, which would have been the single most important determining factor.  You may be able to avoid expensive and time-consuming court hearings by appointing a guardian under your Will.  You may also consider establishing trusts for the benefit of your young children, instead of leaving a substantial amount of assets to them which they may receive outright at age 21.

I move here from another state. Should I re-do my estate planning documents?

Your estate planning documents prepared in another state could still be okay, but they would most likely be governed under the laws of your prior state of residency. You may be able to amend these documents with a simple Codicil or Trust Amendment to bring them up to speed. At the very least, we generally always recommend executing a new Health Care Power of Attorney and Durable Financial Power of Attorney. State laws for these documents can vary widely and it is often difficult convincing third parties to accept out-of-state documents.

I've added my adult child as a joint account holder of my bank account so she can easily pay my bills if I can't. Is this okay?

Adding an adult child to a bank account may cause some unintended problems. Upon your death, the surviving joint tenant will automatically receive whatever is leftover in the bank account, which may inadvertently disinherit your other children with regard to those assets. Your other children may find it unfair that the child who is a joint account holder received these extra assets. Also, your child's creditors may be able to reach these account assets and "drain" the account to satisfy a judgement against your child. As an alternative solution, you may want to appoint your adult child as your financial agent under your Durable Financial Power of Attorney. In this manner, he or she would be able to pay your bills for you, on your behalf, without incurring these undesirable consequences.