Missouri Estate Planning
At Affordable Legal Services, our estate planning attorneys can help you finally get that Will and Trust checked off of your to-do list. Our estate planning lawyers understand the importance of setting up your wills, trusts, and powers of attorney, and sometimes just as importantly, we also understand why people might procrastinate when it comes to estate planning.
Why have you been putting off creating your estate plan?
Are you worried that writing a will or trust will be complicated or time consuming? Perhaps your eventual demise is not the most exhilarating topic to think or talk about? Do you fear it will be expensive, or you will have to pay an attorney by the hour? In our experience, most people do put off estate planning to some extent, and it is usually for some or all of the above reasons.
Please allow us to respond to the above concerns.
THE ESTATE PLANNING PROCESS
First of all, the estate planning process does not have to be complicated or time consuming. Most in-person estate plans (in which you visit us here at the firm) only require two meetings, unless you desire additional meetings.
That process typically works as follows:
First, we send you an informational packet to review and fill out, and we will ask you to bring it with you to the initial consultation. At the first meeting, we will review the packet, address your concerns, and answer your questions about estate planning (concerning wills, revocable living trusts, powers of attorney, health care directives, etc). Once you hire our firm to proceed with your estate plan, we will prepare the rough drafts of the necessary agreements and then send you the drafts by email or regular mail, whichever you prefer.
Upon reviewing the drafts, you can either set up a time for your second meeting (the signing session) or call our office with questions, changes, or concerns. If there are multiple concerns, you are also welcome to set up an additional review session meeting. When the documents are in final form and ready to be signed, we will set up a signing session (the second meeting), during which the documents will be witnessed, signed, and notarized as necessary.
So as you can see, the estate planning process does not have to be time consuming, complicated, or confusing. In most cases, it is fairly straightforward. Should you decide to take advantage of having this done by phone, email, or regular mail, the process is very similar, except it does not include in-person meetings; our meetings would be over the phone, or by internet conference.
What Exactly is Estate Planning? Why is it Important?
Everyone has an estate. Your estate consists of everything you own in the world, such as your home, car, bank accounts, retirement, jewelry, and personal property. Your estate also consists of all of your digital assets such as online accounts, passwords, credit card points, airline miles, social media accounts, and many other items. If you do not make a plan for what happens to your estate, then the laws of the State of Missouri will determine who gets your property. If you plan your own estate, then your will, trust, or other estate planning documents will determine (instead of the State of Missouri) who gets your assets.
Estate planning gives you the opportunity to name who you want to receive your things. For example, maybe you have an heirloom necklace you want to pass on to your daughter. Maybe you have a baseball card collection you want passed to a certain nephew. Estate planning allows you to make sure these things happen and that everything you own gets transferred according to your wishes.
Estate Planning in Missouri
Missouri law provides ways for you to draft your will, transfer property through your will or trust, and name representatives who will see that your wishes are carried out. A few important documents for estate planning may include your will, a revocable living trust, powers of attorney (both financial power of attorney and health care power of attorney) and a health care directive.
Last Will & Testament
Everyone needs a last will and testament, no matter how big or small their estate. Inside your will, you can name who you want to be your beneficiaries of your assets when you die, and who would be in charge of seeing that your beneficiaries actually receive such items. Do you have a specific item you would like to leave to leave to a certain child, or a favorite niece or nephew? You can say so in your will.
Alternatively, is there an heir who you don’t want to inherit anything from you when you die? Say so in your will. Additionally, if you have minor children, your will is the document in which you will name who you want to be the guardian and conservator of your children if you were to pass away.
There are consequences to not having a will. Missouri law has established a detailed plan of how your assets will be distributed if you die “intestate” , which means you die without a will. No matter what your actual wishes were, or what your family or other loves ones think, the only thing that will matter is what the law requires, which is set in stone.
When you die, your last will and testament be entered into evidence in probate court. It is important to note that a will does not avoid probate. But not everything you own has to be distributed through probate. You may have assets like life insurance policies that go directly to the beneficiary without going through probate. You may have transferred property through a revocable living trust, which can avoid probate. There are also many other ways to avoid probate.
Our estate planning attorneys can help you set up a revocable living trust, which is a way to transfer property outside of your will and avoid probate, and we can also advise you on other ways to avoid probate.
Revocable Living Trust
A revocable living trust is a way to avoid probate when you die and prevent the Probate Court from taking control of your assets if you become incapacitated. When properly executed, you transfer assets through your trust in a way that allows your beneficiaries to inherit without the time, expense, and stress associated with probate.
Establishing a revocable living trust is more complicated than writing a will. It requires you to transfer ownership of your assets to the trust, so that your assets will now be owned by the trust, or possibly owned by the trust if you die. If these titling matters, called “funding the trust”, are not done correctly, the trust may fail to avoid probate and your beneficiaries will be back in probate Court inheriting property under a will, or under state law if you have no will.
Power of Attorney
Powers of attorney are a crucial part of estate planning. The basic definition of a power of attorney is a document that gives someone you trust the power to make decisions for you, sometimes immediately, or sometimes only if you are unable to make decisions for yourself.
A durable power of attorney is one that continues to be valid and effective even after you become incapacitated. A power of attorney that is not durable, however, becomes ineffective if you become incapacitated.
Additionally, a power of attorney document can be either “springing” (meaning it “springs” into effect at some point in the future, such as if you become incapacitated) or “immediate” (meaning is it effective immediately upon signing). Springing durable power of attorney documents are more common, essentially stating that you are in control of your own affairs as long as you have capacity, but stating that if you ever become incapacitated, your nominee(s) would then, and only then, take over handling your affairs.
Additionally, our clients will usually make two types of powers of attorney – health care power of attorney and financial power of attorney.
Durable power of attorney for health care decisions. This is a written document in which you designate a specific person who you trust to make health care decisions for you, usually if you are unable to do so yourself.
Durable power of attorney for financial decisions. This is a written document in which you designate a person who you trust to make financial decisions on your behalf.
For just one example, suppose you are in the process of selling real estate and are incapacitated, or are unavailable for some reason. A properly done power of attorney document would allow another person to sign documents on your behalf, and close the deal.
It is not uncommon for married couples to assume that they can make financial decisions for their incapacitated spouse. However, this is often not true for financial decisions. Unless a spouse has a durable power of attorney for financial decisions, the spouse is not legally authorized to sign financial or legal documents on behalf of their incapacitated spouse.
If a person becomes incapacitated and there is no durable power of attorney in place for that person, then someone (most often a spouse or child) will have to file a petition for guardianship or conservatorship over the incapacitated person in the local probate Court. Once filed in Court, various parties may attempt to argue or prove why they are the best choice to become guardian or conservator, which can of course lead to fighting or disagreements.
You can avoid much of this conflict by preparing durable power of attorney documents while you have capacity to sign such documents. It can give you peace of mind now knowing that you have made clear selections for who would be in charge, thus reducing the potential for conflict in the future.
Health Care Directive
In this document, you also articulate what decisions you want made regarding end-of-life decisions and care. This document is often combined with your health care power of attorney document, and if so, and representative in such documents would be legally bound to follow your instructions regarding what kind of treatments you would want, or not want, in end-of-life scenarios.
CONTACT US TODAY
The estate planning process does not have to be intimidating, convoluted, or time consuming. Planning your estate is like exercise: you may not look forward to it, but you sure do feel great when it is done. Plus, since most of our estate planning cases are done on a flat fee, you will know exactly what the services cost before you decide to hire us.
If our method of estate planning sounds like a good fit for your family, or if you have additional questions, please call us or email us anytime to speak with one of our Missouri attorneys. What better time is there than today? Why not just take the first step and contact us? We appreciate your time and thank you for visiting our site.