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Approximately one-half of all Americans will die without a will in place, creating a significant chance for confusion and contention among the surviving family and friends. A complete, well-defined estate plan helps avoid such conflict by providing clear direction for how you want your property and affairs to be handled upon your passing.
Living trusts allow you to create a detailed plan for how and when your assets are distributed at your passing. Through the use of trusts, you can distribute assets to heirs efficiently without the cost, delay and publicity of probate. Trusts also reduce estate and gift taxes, and better protects assets from creditors and lawsuits.
A power of attorney gives the people you name the power to act on your behalf as your agent. The power may be limited to a specific activity, such as completing the sale of a home, or be general to cover all financial acts. The power can be temporary or permanent, and can take effect immediately, or only upon your incompetency.
An advance healthcare directive, also known as a living will, allows you to name an agent to make healthcare decisions for you when you cannot due to your medical condition. It also allows you to make certain decisions now regarding the level of care you wish to receive if suffering from an illness or injury where it has been determined there will be no possible recovery.
A life insurance trust is an irrevocable trust, where the trust is the owner and beneficiary of one or multiple life insurance policies. Upon your passing, the named trustee will invest insurance proceeds and administers the trust for the beneficiaries you have named. This kind of trust, when properly established, is an effective tool to avoid estate tax on the proceeds.
We work closely with a professional financial adviser and accountant to provide comprehensive analyses and advice regarding all available investment opportunities. We offer a team approach to the estate planning process. We will help you achieve your financial goals through a solid plan that allows your assets to grow while protecting them for you and your family.
Mr. Ealley understands the intricacies of all levels of estate planning, from the simple, small estates, to the more complex estate planning needs, including: wills, revocable livings trusts; irrevocable life insurance trusts; QTIP trusts; charitable trusts; special needs trusts; real estate trusts; preparing for the possibility of incapacity; wealth preservation and asset protection planning; Maryland probate and guardianship procedures; and minimizing or eliminating estate taxes.
In addition to creating wills and trusts, we lead our clients through the process of creating durable powers of attorneys and healthcare documents, such as living wills and advanced healthcare directives, which allow clients to outline their wishes and state in advance who they would like to act on their behalf if they were to become incapacitated and unable to do so.
The administration of a decedent's estate can be an overwhelming process. There are often taxes, creditor claims and the liquidation of assets involved. The process is complicated and time consuming. Many pitfalls exist that can be costly to the estate beneficiaries. The James D. Ealley Law Firm has handled numerous probate matters of varying complexity. We are prepared to take on this burden for you, and relieve the stress from you and your family.
"Probate" involves the administration of a decedent's estate. It includes the collection of property, payment of expenses and debts, and distribution to heirs and legatees. There are various forms of probate, with the two most common being the administration of either a Regular Estate or a Small Estate.
A "Regular Estate" is one where the decedent owned probate assets with a gross value over $60,000. A "Small Estate" is an estate where the gross probate assets are less than $60,000. In determining the gross value of probate assets, only those assets held in the name of the decedent alone or held as tenants in common are counted. The value is the fair market value minus debts of record secured by the property.
If a Last Will and Testament of the deceased exists, it will typically provide for who the deceased wished to be the Personal Representative of the Estate. The Personal Representative is the person authorized to open the estate and administer the estate assets. If there is no Will, or if the person named in the Will to be the Personal Representative is no longer alive or is unavailable, then any person can petition the Court to be named Personal Representative. Any such petition will have to provide significant detail as to why the person believes they should be named as the Personal Representative. A probate attorney can help the Personal Representative with all aspects of probate.
Estates are opened in the county in which the deceased was domiciled at the time of death. Opening the Estate requires providing the last will and testament of the deceased, if any. A Petition for Administration must also be completed and filed, along with a minimum of the following documents: Notice of Appointment, Bond of Personal Representative and a List of Interested Persons. Within three months of the opening of the Estate, an Inventory must be filed detailing all of the Estate assets. At this time, an Information Report must also be filed detailing any property the decedent owned with another person or entity.
Within nine months of the opening of the Estate, the Personal Representative must file an Administration Account. The Account details the beginning balance of the Estate, any receipts into the Estate, any change in asset values, income, disbursements and taxes. This first Account can be an interim Account for when the Estate cannot be finalized at this time due to the need to further administer Estate assets. If it is an interim Account, then subsequent Accounts must be filed every six months.
Does an Estate always have to be opened? An Estate must be opened if the decedent died owning property of any kind in his or her name alone or as tenants in common with another.
Where does an Estate get opened? The Estate is opened in the county where the decedent was domiciled at the time of death.
Is probate necessary in a small estate? Yes, if the value of the assets is greater than the debts.
What if the only asset was held jointly? If the joint owner is anyone besides the spouse, there may be inheritance tax due. Therefore, an estate must be opened.
Who distributes estate assets? The Personal Representative is the person responsible for the distribution of Estate assets.
What happens when the deceased owed someone money? The person or entity that is owed money must filed a claim and provide a copy to the Personal Representative. The claim is then paid in the normal course of the administration of the Estate if funds remain after the payment of administrative expenses.
What are the duties of the Personal Representative? The duty of the Personal Representative is to settle and distribute the estate of the decedent in accordance with the terms of the Will and the laws of the State. This must be done as expeditiously as possible with as little sacrifice of value as is reasonable. For a Regular Estate, the Personal Representative must take control of the assets and liquidate as necessary, prepare and file an inventory and information report, prepare and file an accounting, pay debts, taxes and costs of administration, and fulfill all other responsibilities as required by law.