Trusts & Estates
Our estate planning lawyers help clients with all aspects of estate planning, including wills and trusts, incapacity planning, and succession planning for family businesses. We strive to meet each client’s unique planning goals while minimizing estate and transfer taxes. We also help our clients navigate the emotional and legal challenges associated with administering estates and trusts, and assisting elderly and disabled family members.
We assist clients in developing plans for the disposition of their estates after death and for the inter-generational transfers of family businesses. This involves the laws of wills, trusts, probate, property, marriage and state and federal taxation. The preparation of appropriate documents may involve provisions to preserve as much flexibility as possible and to provide opportunity for later tax planning by use of such devices as disclaimers of interests in property and powers of appointment. In addition to wills and revocable living trusts, we prepare documents such as irrevocable life insurance trusts, personal residence trusts, and charitable remainder trusts to carry out lifetime estate planning objectives. Optimal tax planning may also involve the rearrangement of ownership of property within a family unit, by gift or sale.
We also assist clients in developing plans for the management and use of assets during the individual’s lifetime for the benefit of themselves and their family members. This includes advice regarding legal and tax aspects of joint ownership of property, formation of limited liability companies for the management of property and for lifetime transfers to family members; planning for the contingency of disability through “living wills” and advance directives for health care, use of durable powers of attorney and revocable living trusts; the desirability of making gifts and the general effect of income tax laws.
Post-Mortem Tax Planning
After a death has occurred, we assist clients in making various elections for tax purposes. This includes decisions on whether to claim available deductions on estate or income tax returns, whether to use date-of-death values or alternate valuation date values for estate tax purposes, whether to file joint income tax returns with a surviving spouse or to consent for gift tax purposes to treat gifts as if made equally by a decedent and spouse. Other planning decisions involve income tax planning, selection of fiscal years for income tax purposes, timing of distributions, making qualified terminable interest property elections, the appropriate use of disclaimers, funding of trusts with selected assets, the allocation and use of generation-skipping transfer tax exemptions and other optional actions.
Probate of Estates
We represent personal representatives in settling estates, including the preparation and filing of pleadings and other documents in the appropriate probate court, marshaling estate assets, preparation of an inventory of estate assets, settlement of claims, preparation of decedents’ final income tax returns, preparation of fiduciary income tax returns, preparation of estate and inheritance tax returns, participation in any audit of such returns, preparation and review of accountings, interpretation of wills (including formula tax clauses and funding of trusts) and distribution of assets to beneficiaries.
Administration of Trusts
We provide advice to trustees with regard to the performance of their duties as trustees and their investment, tax, and accounting responsibilities. We assist with the preparation of fiduciary income tax returns and, in the case of revocable living trusts, the preparation of estate and inheritance tax returns upon the death of the trustor. As with estates, we participate in any audit of such returns. We represent trustees with respect to the interpretation of trust provisions and, upon termination of the trust, the distribution of assets to beneficiaries.
Guardianships and Conservatorships
We represent persons seeking to be guardians and conservators for family members who have become mentally incapacitated and advise them on their duties as guardians and conservators once they are appointed. We assist conservators in the marshaling of the incapacitated person’s assets, preparation of an inventory of conservatorship estate assets, settlement of claims, and filing court required annual accountings. We assist guardians in planning for the care of the incapacitated person and filing the court required annual reports.
Attorneys who practice Trusts & Estates: Amy E. Bilyeu, Michele Buck-Romero, Kori A. Walton & Kit L. Taylor