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A will provides instructions for how someone wants his or her property treated after death. A person’s will applies only to assets owned solely in his or her own name: assets owned jointly (such as a married couple’s home) may pass to the survivor, while assets having a beneficiary designation (such as an IRA or life insurance policy) pass to named beneficiaries. As we prepare your will, we will help you survey your assets and clearly express your wishes for them. The goal is to honor your intentions and ensure that the persons you designate will inherit the property you wish them to receive.
Trusts are independent entities that can own and convey assets. Trusts can avoid probate, reduce taxes and protect family members. A typical trust involves one or more “grantors” (whose assets are paid into the trust), “trustees” (who administer the trust) and “beneficiaries” (who receive benefits from the trust). Depending on financial goals, you can create a trust while still alive, or as part of an overall estate plan to benefit survivors after your death. We can help you explore how trusts can help you serve financial and legal goals for yourself and important people in your life.
Persons with disabilities may be entitled to Medicaid and other public benefits. To be eligible for Medicaid, persons generally must meet an asset test demonstrating financial need. There is an exception for assets held in a “special needs trust,” which are not counted in the Medicaid needs test. The beneficiary of a “special needs trust” remains eligible for Medicaid but still can receive trust benefits to improve quality of life. If you have a family member who is or will be entitled to Medicaid or other public benefits, you may wish to create a special needs trust to hold his or her assets.
When someone dies, courts supervise how his or her assets pass to survivors. If the deceased had a will, the will is “admitted to probate” and the court uses the will to distribute assets in accordance with the will. If someone dies without a will, the court distributes property to relatives in accordance with the “laws of intestacy.” Either way, the government also uses the probate process to collect any taxes owed on the estate. We can help families navigate the probate process and reduce financial and emotional burdens that are especially unwelcome during these especially challenging times.
Disabled adults who are unable to manage their property or make their own health care decisions may need a court to designate someone else to serve on their behalf. A petition for guardianship (Maryland) or conservatorship (District of Columbia) starts this process and can offer important benefits, including judicial oversight of appointees to ensure that decisions are made in the best interest of the disabled adult. In some circumstances, guardianships can give rise to disputes that require legal advice and representation. We can help you determine whether your particular situation would benefit from these kinds of arrangements.
Some senior adults may benefit from specialized attention to their finances and living arrangements. An attorney working with seniors should be keenly sensitive to these special needs and the impact on families, and be able to provide advice about accessible housing, asset protection and Medicaid availability. We have worked with many seniors and their families over the years to preserve assets, promote quality of life, protect against abuse and help plan for financial and health contingencies.
People may challenge whether a will or a trust is valid, disagree with its interpretation or question its enforcement. When disagreements arise, lawsuits can arise. We often advise clients to consider alternatives to litigation, but sometimes there is no choice but to ask a court to intervene. Our firm has significant experience in trusts and estates litigation and can help you decide the best course for your case based on the relevant legal, financial and other personal circumstances.