Your estate plan protects you and your family during your lifetime and controls distribution of your estate after death. If you do not have a thorough and thoughtful estate plan that expresses your wishes, Kansas laws and judges make important decisions for you. Those determinations may be very different from your own wishes.
An estate plan includes several different documents that accomplish specific goals. In the discussion that follows, our respected estate planning lawyers at Hampton & Royce provide basic information about the documents in an estate plan and the objectives they achieve.
A Will is an essential part of almost every estate plan. But having a Will does not mean that you have an estate plan. Your Will is just one part of a complete estate plan.
In your Will, you designate an individual as executor of your estate. That person serves as the personal representative of your estate for purposes of administering the estate and distributing property to your beneficiaries. A personal representative has substantial fiduciary duties under Kansas law.
You may designate beneficiaries in your Will to receive specific property after your death. If you distribute property through your Will or through some types of joint ownership, the beneficiaries receive full title to the assets immediately. For some beneficiaries, such as minor children and individuals who are not financially responsible, outright ownership of property may not be a good option. Adding a trust to your estate plan enables you to control distribution of property to the beneficiaries after you pass away.
If you do not make a Will, Kansas law determines who can serve as the personal representative of your estate and who inherits your property. What the law provides may very well be different from your own wishes. The only way to avoid having the law make decisions for you is to create a valid Will.
There are many different kinds of trusts, each of which accomplishes a specific purpose. Some estate plans include a trust, but others do not. Your estate planning attorney helps you decide whether you benefit from including a trust in your estate plan.
Trusts have a number of advantages. As mentioned above, a trust enables you to manage the manner of distribution of assets to beneficiaries after your death, which is an objective a Will cannot accomplish. A carefully structured trust also can provide protection for your assets and your family’s financial legacy.
Generally, assets in a trust do not go through probate, the court-supervised process for estate administration that is often required for an estate. Property distributed through a Will does go through probate. By avoiding probate, a trust keeps family financial information private, which is desirable for many people. If an estate goes through probate, the financial details of the estate become public information.
A trust may provide other benefits in certain circumstances as well. The only way to determine whether a trust should be part of your estate plan is to talk with an experienced attorney, like our trusted estate planning lawyers at Hampton & Royce.
Documents that protect you and your family in the event you become incapacitated temporarily or permanently are an extremely important part of any estate plan. These documents also ensure that your own wishes about medical and end-of-life care are implemented if you are unable to make those decisions.
In your durable financial power of attorney, you designate a person to manage your finances if you become incapacitated. Your agent under the power of attorney can pay your bills, manage bank accounts, and perform all the other necessary tasks that you normally handle yourself.
Your health care documents designate someone to make medical and personal decisions on your behalf if you become unable to make those decisions yourself. In your living will and other medical documents, you express your wishes concerning medical and end-of-life care. Having these documents is the only way to make certain that your loved ones and medical professionals know and can honor your wishes.
If you do not have these documents in place and you become unable to make your own decisions about finances and health care, your family likely will have to ask a judge to designate individuals to make the decisions for you. The court proceedings waste valuable time and money at a point when every hour and day are of critical importance. They can also result in family disputes, if family members disagree about who should have the decision-making responsibility. Just as importantly, after the court appoints individuals, the decisions they make still may not be the same as the decisions you would make for yourself.
Our Kansas estate planning attorneys at Hampton & Royce approach your estate plan with sensitivity and compassion. We work closely with you to create a plan that fits your family and financial circumstances. We invite you to contact us to talk about your estate plan, whether you are making one for the first time or want to update or make revisions in an existing plan.