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What is estate planning? It’s a way for you to protect your assets, your family, and your legacy. With a smart strategy, your estate — your savings, real estate property, priceless collectibles, even your pets — will be kept out of the court’s control. You’ll be assured that everything you’ve worked for will be distributed to your heirs as you see fit. Most of all, your loved ones won’t feel unnecessary strain or conflict, because they will clearly know what you want.

For many people, estate planning is considered no more than a simple exercise in preparing documents. Some even download templates from a website, fill in the blanks, and check off certain boxes. Yet, this approach is not a reliable way to accomplish what you want most from an estate plan. That’s because an estate plan means more than just leaving a will. It’s providing assurance that your death or disability will trigger vital support as quickly as possible — with the least disruption possible, especially through intrusion by the court.

At Pennington Law, PLLC, we have many years of estate planning experience. Our estate planning attorneys counsel clients in a variety of circumstances and backgrounds, from active-duty military members to retirees, and from small business owners to wealthy executives.

Each of us is committed to helping you create an estate plan that addresses the full range of your concerns at a price you can afford. Contact us today to learn more about what we can do to protect your legacy and your wealth.

Why Is It Important to Have an Estate Plan?

If you don’t have a will or another kind of estate plan in place upon your death, your family will find itself in court fighting to claim your assets. This is known as probate. It causes significant financial expense, as well as many months — possibly years — disputing things. Worse, probate causes conflict for your family and loved ones. Instead of grieving for you, they will be fighting with one another about what they think your wishes would have been. Eventually, the court will decide the fate of your estate, and the ruling could go against anything you would have wanted.

Aside from making your wishes clear, estate planning has several other benefits. You can protect and safe-keep your assets by way of putting them in a trust. With a trust, you’ll be able to minimize any tax penalties your heirs will pay on your estate and help your family avoid the draining probate process. Trusts also give you more flexibility regarding how you wish to distribute your assets and can protect your assets from family members you do not trust.

In addition, with proper estate planning, you’ll have a scheme in place that will address what to do for healthcare emergencies. The most common is the Advance Healthcare Directive. It outlines instructions for your family to follow should you become mentally or physically incapacitated because of an injury or illness. Another is the Power of Attorney. This allows you to choose someone to make important decisions — financial and medical — on your behalf if you won’t be able to do so. With these in place, your loved ones won’t be forced to face painful end-of-life decisions — many of which they may not be prepared to make.

Estate Planning Benefits

What Is a Last Will and Testament?

Your last will and testament sets forth distribution of your property and assets; establishes vital care for your children; and otherwise lets your wishes be known about how you want things to go upon your death. The will is a directive through which you can leave property to a person or entity who need not be a blood relative (friend, domestic partner, charity, etc.).

An ideal will should:

  • Identify all assets and liabilities in the estate
  • Account for the handling of all assets in which you have ownership
  • Name a trustworthy and capable executor
  • Identify all beneficiaries precisely to avoid confusion with persons having similar names

A will can also be used to set up trusts for the care of minor children or family members with special needs or for the benefit of charities. You can even decide what happens to your pets.

What Is a Trust?

With a trust, you are creating a legal entity stating your place as the legal owner of a designated property. A trustee manages this property during your lifetime. You can name yourself as the trustee, or you may appoint another person or institution. You can then stipulate that, when you die, the property in question continue under the management of a trustee, or that it be transferred to named beneficiaries, depending on how you want to set things up. In addition, you can create a trust as part of a will.

Common trusts include:

  • Asset Protection Trusts
  • Credit Shelter Trust
  • Generation-Skipping Trust
  • Irrevocable Life Insurance Trust
  • Qualified Personal Residence Trust

One of the options you can elect as part of your estate plan is a living trust. This is a trust you craft during your lifetime. A living trust can be a better choice than a will, because:

  • Your family will circumvent probate, as the living trust will provide for asset transfers that would automatically happen.
  • Your assets will be shielded from legal claims or liability.
  • You will reduce the size of your estate, thus avoiding a costly federal estate tax.
  • You will be able to place stipulations on the release of funds or the use of property.
  • You will grant an income or allowance for a loved one.
  • If you are the parent or serve as guardian of someone with special needs, you’ll be able to support them without barring them from government benefits.

With an experienced Arizona estate planning attorney on your side, you’ll be able to craft and carry out a trust that meets your specific situation and needs.

What Is a Spendthrift Trust?

A trust may be put in place to control the property of spendthrifts — people who are the opposite of thrifty spenders. Spendthrifts may waste money due to their own poor financial judgment or to being influenced or defrauded by others.

A spendthrift trust gives the appointed trustee discretion to control disbursements so that trust assets are protected from waste. Trustees have the authority to decide how much money the beneficiary will get, how often, and on what conditions. Payments can be made to or on behalf of the beneficiaries, such as to pay rent, tuition, or other expenses deemed necessary or reasonable.

Estate Planning Trusts
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What Is an Advance Directive?

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An advance directive empowers you to manage your own medical and financial concerns, even while disabled, by setting forth instructions on various matters. Two forms of advance directives are:

  • Living Wills – This document states what kind of medical care you wish to receive or to have withheld should you be too sick or injured to express your wishes. These are not wills in the conventional sense, as they do not distribute property and are meant to be executed while the person is alive.
  • Durable Powers of Attorney – In the event that you are not able to participate in decisions about your medical treatment or financial matters, a power of attorney authorizes someone you trust to make choices on your behalf. A power of attorney does not have to go into effect immediately. You can execute the document, making the power contingent on the occurrence of some triggering event, such as your illness or incapacity. A medical power of attorney empowers someone you trust to be your advocate with medical professionals.

With an estate planning attorney constructing the necessary documents, things will be made clear. There will be no unambiguity, meaning no room for misinterpretation or argument among family members over what you intend. This way, your family will avoid emotional turmoil, as well as expensive litigation, and be able to move forward.

What is a Power of Attorney?

Powers of attorney are documents that convey legal authority to act in the name of another person for their health and welfare. The person who conveys the authority is known as the principal, and the person who receives authority is called the agent.

A power of attorney can grant broad authority or be limited in scope. It can be durable — transferring authority immediately upon execution — or it can state that the power will “spring” forth when a defined triggering event occurs.

Generally, powers of attorney address three main areas of concern:

  • Financial Management
  • Representation for Legal and Business Matters
  • Authority to Make Medical Decisions

There are many considerations that go into drafting a power of attorney. An Arizona estate planning lawyer can help you prepare for contingencies based on the specific circumstances surrounding you and your loved one.

What is Estate Litigation?

Wherever there is property, there are often conflicting interests that can lead to legal disputes. These disputes typically arise after the original owner has passed on, and their heirs and others clash over their claimed rights to control or receive assets. When this happens, the parties have no choice but to take the matter before a judge and litigate the wills, trusts, and other means of inheritance.

When a person dies, the law requires that all their debts be settled and their remaining assets be distributed according to their estate planning documents or by operation of the state’s inheritance laws. The most common disputes that arise are:

  • Creditor Litigation
  • Will Challenges
  • Executor Performance Issues
  • Trust Management Issues

Executors and trustees are fiduciaries, who have the duty to manage assets conscientiously for the benefit of the heirs and beneficiaries and to refrain from self-dealing. Conflicts can arise alleging a variety of misdeeds, including:

  • Mismanagement of Assets
  • Misappropriation of Assets
  • Errors in Distribution

Many disputes are easily resolved, but complex estate cases can last for months or longer. Understanding that prolonged litigation can exhaust estate assets, an estate planning attorney will do everything possible to try to expedite resolutions that uphold their clients’ rights.

Estate Planning Power of Attorney

What is Probate & Estate Administration?

When someone loses a loved one, they may be faced with the need to probate their estate. Probate refers to the court process of validating a will so an executor can implement the decedent’s wishes. If there is no valid will, the court appoints an administrator to settle the estate.

A will names an executor to settle the estate, sometimes with that person’s prior knowledge and consent. When the named executor is unable to serve, the court can appoint another responsible party. Unfortunately, most executors have no experience with probating a will. When there is no will, the least-reluctant close relative usually acts as personal representative of the estate, after getting court approval. Estate representatives can easily make mistakes due to inexperience, stress, and hasty decisions. This can lead to unnecessary delays and losses to the estate beneficiaries.

Whether a will exists or not, the process of settling an estate can be complex, so the person who assumes the duty needs the advice of a knowledgeable probate lawyer.

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What Is a Conservatorship?

If someone is appointed as a conservator by the court, they are tasked to manage the finances and oversee the affairs of another person, who’s named as a ward. The ward is someone who is unable to make financial decisions on their own, due to illness, age, injury, or disability. This arrangement is called a conservatorship.

Because a conservator is a fiduciary position, the conservator must complete a state court training program. In order to be considered as a conservator, the Superior Court Probate Division requires a filed petition from the candidate. A hearing will be held to determine whether the petitioner is fit for the conservator role.

A probate attorney can serve as an adviser for a conservatorship candidate. The lawyer will counsel on the candidate’s powers and responsibilities, in addition to helping establish qualifications.

What is a Guardianship?

A legal guardianship allows for a named guardian to provide protection and care for an incapacitated adult or child (the ward), who cannot make decisions for or care for themselves.

In Arizona there are two types of guardianships:

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General of Limited Guardianship of an Incapacitated Adult — An incapacitated adult is deemed as someone who cannot manage their affairs because of mental illness, deficiency, or disorder; physical disability or illness; chronic intoxication or drug use; or a different cause. For a limited guardianship, the guardian is tasked with managing some of the ward’s affairs. In a general guardianship, the guardian manages all of the ward’s decisions and affairs.

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Permanent or Temporary Guardianship of a Minor — Being appointed guardian of a minor means taking over a parent’s responsibilities. These include decisions for housing, education, financial management, and other well-being needs and activities. These guardianships could be for a specific time period, until the minor reaches the age of emancipation, or some other circumstance. During a guardianship, the parents’ rights are suspended.

When considering whether to establish a guardianship, it’s best to consult with a probate  lawyer over the responsibilities, legal process, and specifics.

How Our West Valley Arizona Estate Planning Attorneys Can Help You

At Pennington Law, PLLC, we help clients in Surprise, Sun City West, Buckeye, Peoria, and the Outer Phoenix vicinity create reliable estate plans that safeguard their future. When you meet with one of our estate planning lawyers, we will:

  • Talk through your wishes, goals, and concerns, answering any question you may have about estate planning.
  • Go over the state and federal laws that pertain to estate planning, and explain how they could affect you and your heirs.
  • Analyze your real estate and determine how each property you own would affect your plans.
  • Draft a will that is clear and concise about how you would like your estate to be passed on to your heirs.
  • Set up advance directives, in order to specify — and protect — how you want your healthcare to be handled.
  • Put together a plan for your power of attorney.
  • Recommend the right trust or trusts based on your situation.
  • Take care of the probate administration paperwork.
  • Always treat you with respect and look out for your best interests.
Contact an Estate Planning Attorney Now
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