While people sometimes think that a Last Will and Testament is all you need for an estate plan, a complete Arizona estate plan includes other essential documents. These important written legal documents protect you and your family, in addition to providing for distribution of your property after you pass away. The best way to ensure that you have all the necessary documents in place for your unique circumstances is to count on an experienced Arizona estate planning attorney to assist you.
A will is an essential document in almost every estate plan. However, the contents of a will vary, depending on the structure of the estate plan.
You probably know that a will distributes your property after your death. But a will also may includes other important provisions, including designating an executor to serve as the personal representative to administer your estate. If you don’t have a will, a judge applies Arizona laws to determine who administers your estate and receives your property.
You can also explain your wishes for funeral and burial arrangements in your will and designate the person to make the arrangements. Your will also may designate a guardian to care for minor children and a conservator to handle their financial matters.
Importantly, your will identifies the individuals and organizations who receive your property and assets after your death. A beneficiary under a will receives full ownership of property. In some situations, it is more desirable — and sometimes even necessary — to control the distribution of assets over time. When that is the case, your estate plan can be structured to distribute property through a trust rather than through a will.
Trusts are important in some estate plans, but not all estate plans include or need a trust. If you want to control distribution of property after your death, rather than leaving it outright to beneficiaries in a will, you should talk with your estate planning lawyer about including a trust in your estate plan. A properly structured and funded trust in a complete estate plan also can avoid probate and maintain the privacy of your financial information.
There are many different types of trusts, each of which serves specific goals of the grantor (person who creates it). A trust can be testamentary, which means it takes effect on the grantor’s death. Alternatively, a trust can be inter vivos (Latin for “between the living”) and take effect during the grantor’s lifetime. A revocable living trust is an example of an inter vivos trust.
When you establish a trust, executing the trust document is only the first step. You also need to fund the trust for it to be effective. A testamentary trust is usually funded in the grantor’s Last Will and Testament. A living trust is generally funded immediately after it is created, with assistance from the estate planning attorney to ensure that assets are properly deposited in the trust.
Even if you have a living trust, a will is still necessary, to make certain that any assets remaining in your estate when you pass away are transferred to the trust. This type of will is called a pour-over will, because it pours (transfers) estate assets into the trust. Without a pour-over will, those assets may be distributed under Arizona laws of intestate succession, instead of to your intended beneficiaries.
An complete estate plan also includes durable powers of attorney to protect you and your family in the event you become incapacitated temporarily or permanently. These documents are absolutely essential for any Arizona estate plan. Without them, you and your family may experience difficult problems with your personal care, finances, and medical decisions if incapacity occurs.
In a durable financial power of attorney, you designate a trustworthy person to manage your financial matters if you become incapacitated. The document specifies exactly what authority your agent receives and may include your own wishes about specific matters and issues.
A durable health care (or medical) power of attorney authorizes someone you trust to make health care and medical decisions on your behalf if you are unable to make them yourself. Arizona requires a separate document for mental health issues, called a durable mental health care power of attorney. You also may choose to include a living will in your estate plan, to express your wishes about end-of-life care. Together, these three documents are referred to as an advance directive or health care directive.
If you do not have these durable powers of attorney as part of your estate plan, no one has legal authority to make decisions for you if you are unable to make your own decisions, either temporarily or permanently. Your loved ones will have to petition the court to appoint a guardian and conservator for you. The time, money, and emotional stress of court proceedings can affect your well-being and that of your loved ones. Those enormous costs can be totally avoided by making certain that you have the right documents in your estate plan.
If you have digital assets (as most people do), your estate plan should address what happens to them. Many individuals forget to address these assets in their estate plan, which can create significant problems for the personal representative and beneficiaries of an estate. A knowledgeable estate planning attorney makes certain that you protect them and avoid potential issues, including taking into account the applicable provisions of Arizona law.
If you own or have an interest in a business, protecting your business is an essential part of your estate plan. A business succession plan addresses all the important considerations that relate to your business operations and your family’s role in the future of the business.
Making any estate planning documents without the advice of an experienced Arizona estate planning attorney poses substantial risks for you and your family. The do-it-yourself approach is fine for a lot of things, but it is a serious mistake to use it for your estate plan.
Errors or validity issues with self-created legal documents usually are not discovered until it is too late to fix them. Even if there is a way to fix a problem, it likely will be time-consuming and expensive to accomplish. The risk and costs of issues that can arise with DIY documents far outweigh the small amount of money you might save by attempting to make your own estate plan. At Peterson Law Offices, your initial consultation is always free, so there is no good reason to hesitate contacting us about creating an estate plan.
At Peterson Law Offices, estate planning is a focus of our practice. We provide top-quality services at affordable prices. If you don’t have an estate plan, we help you put one in place that fully addresses your needs and goals. If you already have an estate plan, we can help with updating your plan or reviewing it to make sure it is current.
We welcome inquiries from clients throughout the East Valley, including Queen Creek, San Tan Valley, Gilbert, Mesa, and Chandler. Schedule your free initial consultation by calling 480-878-5998 or using our online contact form.
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