Estate Planning & Probate/Estate Administration

Estate Planning

Estate Planning is a term commonly used, but rarely defined. Simply put, estate planning is the process of considering alternatives to ensure that your wishes are followed in the event of disability or inevitable death. If you are like most people, you don't want to think about what might happen to your loved ones after you're gone or to yourself if you became disabled. But for lasting peace of mind, effective estate planning is an absolute necessity.

Estate planning includes both your financial goals and your personal goals. Financially, your estate plan will provide for the disposition and/or control of your assets. Personally, your estate plan will provide direction on how to carry out your wishes regarding healthcare, end of life medical treatment, and guardianship of minor children. Estate planning involves asking yourself:

  • What is truly important to me?
  • Who should care for my minor children?
  • How much money is "enough" to leave to my family?
  • What should be my financial legacy?

The documents most commonly used in estate planning include:

  • Durable General Power of Attorney,
  • Advance Directive with Appointment of Health Care Agent, and
  • Last Will and Testament.

More sophisticated estate planning can include a Revocable Living Trust (or Inter-Vivos Trust). This document is similar to a will in that it provides for the disposition of your assets, but functions differently. The Revocable Living Trust can be very effective tool under the right circumstances. We can help you determine if it is appropriate for you.

Another critical aspect of estate planning is analyzing your assets and how they are owned. Joint owners with rights of survivorship, beneficiary designations, or transfer on death designations directly impact the disposition of those assets at your death, regardless of what your will says. This often overlooked component of estate planning must be evaluated to ensure that your estate plan operates as you desire.

Depending on the value of your estate, planning to minimize the taxes paid by your heirs is another very important facet of estate planning. The State of Maryland has “decoupled” from the federal estate tax system, meaning that the State of Maryland imposes a separate tax on estates valued at over $1,000,000.00. Currently, the Federal estate tax is imposed upon estates valued at over $5,000,000.00. Through the use of credit shelter trusts, irrevocable trusts, and irrevocable life insurance trusts (or ILIT), you can plan to maximize the amount of inheritance to your heirs.

We will work with you to evaluate your unique facts and circumstances to create an estate plan that most effectively meets your objectives. For each step of the process, we will take the time to answer your questions so that you understand the available options and can make the decisions that are right for you and your family. Our goal is to work with you to develop an estate plan that is:

  • Comprehensive,
  • Tailored to your needs and objectives,
  • Cost effective, and
  • Straight-forward.

Probate/Estate Administration

The death of a loved one is a difficult and stressful time. Most people are unprepared for the extensive work that must be done to finalize a decedent’s affairs. We can provide the necessary legal guidance to help ease the stress and confusion.

Probate is a legal process under the supervision of Register of Wills and jurisdiction of the Orphans’ Court. Probate involves determining the validity of the Last Will and Testament (if there is a will), ensuring the final debts are paid, and distributing the assets, either according to the Last Will and Testament or the laws of “intestacy” if there was no will. We are available to guide you through every step of the process, from preparing and filing the necessary petitions to have you appointed Personal Representative (or Executor), to preparing the Administration Account to distribute the estate.

Throughout the process, we will also provide practical advice to avoid some of the common pitfalls. We will assist you in dealing with appraisers, creditors, and insurance companies. We will provide legal advice on selling real estate and transferring assets. Whatever situation may arise, we will be responsive to all of your questions.

We are also available to represent you if you are an heir to an estate and feel that your interests are not being protected. We can also help with a will challenge (or caveat) if you feel that the Last Will and Testament admitted to probate is not valid and detrimentally affects your inheritance.