We know that your estate is a reflection of years of hard work. We provide practical solutions to estate planning to accomplish our clients wishes, including maintaining management and control of their estate, protecting family members, ensuring their financial privacy, and obtaining peace of mind. We understand that every estate, regardless of size, is an important one.
Michelle Hofkin handles all aspects of estate planning, including:
- Creating wills and trusts
- Planning for incapacity and disability
A revocable living trust may be recommended as part of a client’s estate plan. A fully funded revocable living trust offers complete control to clients during their lifetime, provides for them and their loved ones in the event of their incapacity, and on death allows them to pass their assets to their loved ones without the costs, delays and publicity associated with probate.
Client Estate Planning Timeline
- Assess personal objectives
- Determine family structure and relationships
- Drafts of Estate Planning Documents are sent to the client
- Telephone conference to discuss edits (if any)
- Signing Ceremony
- Receiving Estate Planning Portfolio
- Funding Phase
- Provide funding instructions
Estate Planning Considerations
- Selecting Personal Representatives / Executors
- Selecting Trustees
Assets vs. Probate Assets
- Distributions to Surviving Spouse
- Distributions to Other Family Members
- Widow/Widower Estate Planning
- Contingent Beneficiary(ies)
- Specific Bequest(s) of Tangible Property
- Charitable Bequest(s)
- Beneficiary Designations
- Life Insurance
- Durable Power of Attorney
- Health Care Surrogate
- Living Will
- HIPAA Release & Authorization
Selecting a Personal Representative
The Personal Representative (also called an executor) is responsible for administering the probate estate, including filing all probate documents as well as any estate and fiduciary income tax returns. It is much more than an honorary position and includes numerous responsibilities. Your executor can be an individual or a corporate fiduciary, or a combination of the two. If an individual is named, your will should provide for one or more alternate executors, in case the first appointed executor cannot serve for any reason.
Each trust created under your estate plan will require that a trustee be named. Your estate plan might have several trusts, such as:
- Trusts that are funded during your lifetime;
- Trusts established at the death of the first spouse for the benefit of the family in general;
- Marital trusts established at the death of the first spouse for the sole benefit of the surviving spouse; and,
- Trusts established at the death of the second spouse for the benefit of children and grandchildren.
Non-Probate Assets vs. Probate Assets
Your will governs only “probate” assets, which are assets owned in your sole individual name, with no designated beneficiary. You might have other assets that will pass at your death by other means. Some ways by which non-probate assets can pass at death include:
- If assets are held in trust, the trust’s terms will govern their disposition;
- Retirement plans and insurance policies will be governed by the appropriate beneficiary designation; and, (if any)
- Real estate jointly owned
The Need for a Thorough List of Assets
To help understand how your probate and non-probate assets will pass at your death(s), you should have a thorough list of your assets. The type of list that is needed for estate planning is usually quite different than a personal financial statement you might have filled out for other reasons. We suggest that you create a summary that lists:
- Each asset in detail
- The value of each asset
- The ownership structure, which will govern where the asset goes after your death
- The desired recipient at your death
- The desired recipient will likely vary depending on whether the asset is passing after the death of the first spouse or the death of the surviving spouse, so it is important to consider both
Distributions to Other Family Members
Consider how you wish your assets to be distributed to other family members, such as children and parents. For example, if a trust is used for children, consider the desired timing of distributions. It may be best to allow wealth to be used by the family as needed, while also protecting and preserving this wealth for several generations by minimizing taxes and protecting the assets from family creditors (which can include a future divorcing spouse). For these reasons we feel that it might be advisable to have trusts continue until a beneficiary reaches a certain age or possibly even for the beneficiary’s lifetime.
If you want assets to stay in trust, under what circumstances should periodic distributions be made to your descendants? Many trusts for descendants contain restrictions, limiting distributions for such needs as medical support, education, and living expenses to maintain a beneficiary’s accustomed lifestyle. Some also contain provisions to allow descendants to enter a profession, start a business, purchase a home and/or help toward a wedding. You can also empower the trustee to make discretionary distributions, which can have the benefit of allowing more flexibility to address future circumstances. However, granting more discretion to the trustee must be balanced against your desire to maintain some control over when distributions are to be made.
Widow/Widower Estate Planning
If you have lost a spouse, your world has changed dramatically. With all the changes in your life, it is important to remember that you need to re-examine and update your estate plan.
Consider the following steps:
- Take inventory of your assets. You should inventory your assets and determine how they are owned. There are certain assets that you may want to change how they are owned such as those that were owned jointly with your spouse.
- Update your estate plan. Many times, the death of a spouse results in dramatic changes in your finances, which may require your estate plan to be changed. You should also review determine whether you named your spouse as trustee, executor or power of attorney. If so, you should appoint a new person. Additionally, if you remarry, you should update your estate plan to reflect how you want your new spouse and your children to inherit from you.
Specific Bequests of Tangible Property
You likely have certain items of tangible personal property that you would like to leave to particular people. These can include jewelry, artwork, an automobile, a collection, etc. It is very common for wills to refer to a memorandum that you would leave, listing these special items and who is to receive them, although some states do not allow this. If you would like to take advantage of such a memorandum, you should make sure that your will refers to a memorandum, and you should list the items and the intended recipient in that memorandum and store it with your valuable documents.
Durable Power of Attorney
A durable power of attorney is a legal document that empowers your designee to handle your financial affairs.
Health Care Surrogate
You should appoint a primary and alternate individual who will be responsible for making health care decisions in the event you are unable to do so. A health care surrogate authorizes your designee to make these decisions for you.
HIPAA Release & Authorization
HIPAA is the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, a Federal law that requires health providers to take certain steps to protect the privacy and security of patient health information. Florida hospitals believe your health information is personal and confidential. The privacy part of the law requires Florida residents to sign a HIPAA disclaimer form, authorizing their loved ones or family members access to any and all medical information available in regards to the designator.