Estate Planning Lawyers in Daphne, Alabama
Regardless of your income level or age, an estate plan is the best way to protect yourself and your loved ones and to ensure that your wishes are honored after you are gone. The trusted estate planning attorneys at Stone Crosby, P.C. have more than 100 years of experience handling all aspects of estate planning, administration, and litigation on behalf of clients throughout Daphne, AL.
If you want to protect your legacy and your loved ones, we can help. Whatever your unique situation, the estate planning lawyers at Stone Crosby, P.C. will custom tailor a solution that meets your specific needs in a confidential and sensitive environment. Contact our office today to schedule an initial consultation.
What is Estate Planning?
When many people hear the term “estate planning,” they think of it as something only wealthy people do. This is far from the truth. If you are an adult in Alabama, you can benefit from an estate plan. Your “estate” includes everything from your checking account, your vehicle, and even the contents of your home.
Your estate plan not only ensures that your assets go to the right people, but it also prevents disputes. After a death, families need time to heal, and a proper estate plan can give them that space without having to deal with disputes over assets. Estate plans can outline your wishes for important decisions, such as medical and financial choices, as well as who will look after your children if you pass away while they are still young.
Protecting Your Interests With an Estate Plan in Alabama
There are many legal strategies involved in estate planning. Our law firm never employs one-size-fits-all solutions and takes pride in drafting a plan that meets each client’s specific needs and objectives. Some of the common elements of an estate plan that will protect your financial interests and deliver peace of mind include:
Your Last Will and Testament
Your last will and testament should be a primary part of a comprehensive estate plan. In Alabama, a person that dies without a will is said to have died “intestate,” and the state’s laws will determine how and to whom the deceased’s assets are distributed. Our law firm helps clients create valid wills that declare how an estate should be settled after a person passes.
Trusts come in many forms, and they serve a variety of legal, investment, tax planning, and personal purposes. In most cases, assets owned in a revocable living trust will pass directly to the trust beneficiaries upon the death of the trust maker without the requirement for probate. Trusts can be complex, so we recommend reaching out to our estate planning attorneys to discuss your options.
Powers of Attorney
A power of attorney is a legal instrument that gives another person the legal right to do certain things on your behalf.
An advance directive is a document that allows you to communicate your specific personal and medical care choices should you later be unable to communicate those decisions. You can specify whether you want measures taken to prolong your life as well as designate a person to access your medical information. Without this document, health care providers might make these choices on your behalf or refuse to communicate with a loved one. You can designate the same person as both financial and healthcare Power of Attorney.
Probate and Estate Administration Attorneys
Probate is the court-supervised process of administering the estate of a person according to that person’s instructions or the laws of the state if there was no will.
How Does the Estate Administration Process Work in Alabama?
The first thing that should be determined is what property and assets must go through probate, and what is considered non-probate. This will depend on the types of assets your loved one left behind, how these assets are titled, and where they are located.
There are a number of different assets that do not have to go through probate, these include:
- Property that is jointly owned with rights of survivorship or if the decedent only had a life estate.
- Bank accounts with valid payable-on-death designations.
- Retirement accounts, stocks, and other securities with valid transfer-on-death designations.
- Life insurance policies with proper beneficiary designations.
- Assets that are part of a living trust or irrevocable trust.
Updating or Creating Your Estate Plan
There are many different life events and circumstances that could warrant a change in one or more of your estate planning documents, these include:
- Marriage or Divorce: If you or someone close to you recently got married or divorced, you may need to add your new spouse as an heir or beneficiary or remove the one who was divorced. A marriage or divorce might also impact children or stepchildren being named on certain documents.
- Death or Incapacity of a Family Member: If someone who you have named as an heir or beneficiary recently died or became incapacitated, then you will want to update your estate plan by removing that person and perhaps adding others in their place, such as their children, or creating trusts for minors or incapacitated heirs.
- Birth or Adoption of a Child or Grandchild: Speaking of children, if you just welcomed a new child or grandchild into the family, you will want to make sure that you consider this person in your estate planning documents, if appropriate.
- Relationship Fallout: Unfortunately, some family relationships go sour. And if it has reached the point where you believe the relationship is irreparable, you might want to discuss removing that person from your estate plan.
- Substantial Change in Finances: Did you recently purchase or sell a piece of real estate or open or close a business? Or perhaps you came into a large sum of money through an inheritance? If you have experienced significant financial changes recently, then it is important to update your estate planning documents to reflect these changes.
- Tax Changes: Changes in circumstances can incur tax consequences as well. For example, if good fortune has resulted in a major increase in the value of your estate, it could now be subject to estate taxes. There are also changes in the tax laws from time to time that affect estates. For these reasons, it is important to review your tax situation and look at estate planning strategies that can help minimize any tax liability you may be exposed to.
Building Flexibility into Your Estate Plan
Here are three important steps to take toward building flexibility into your estate plan:
Name Alternate/Contingent Agents, Trustees, and Beneficiaries
One of the best ways to ensure that your estate plan remains flexible is to appoint alternate or contingent agents, trustees, beneficiaries, and similar designations in the event that the primary people you appoint are unwilling or unable to carry out their duties. This way, you will at least have a second individual lined up who can serve whatever role to which they have been appointed.
Empower Trust Beneficiaries to Make Changes
Beyond naming an alternate trustee, you might want to consider wording your trust in a way that empowers the successor trustee to alter the terms and conditions of the document under certain conditions. If there is a material change in circumstances, the original terms and conditions of the trust might no longer be fair and/or relevant and changes may be warranted.
Appoint a Trust Protector
A trust protector is an outside party who is given the authority to perform special duties with regard to the trust; such as guiding the trustee on how to manage the trust and distribute proceeds among the beneficiaries. A trust protector can also be enabled to modify certain conditions of the trust.
Contact an Experienced Baldwin County, AL Estate Planning Attorney
You are never too young to begin planning for the future or the unexpected. Whether you know how you would like to handle your estate or need guidance throughout the process, we promise to provide the compassionate and personalized assistance you deserve.
For experienced estate planning representation throughout Baldwin County, Alabama, call one of our offices or contact us online to schedule a one-on-one meeting with one of our attorneys. We provide strategic legal counsel to families and individuals in estate planning and probate matters.