Albuquerque Estate Planning Attorneys Answer Top 5 Questions

By | Estate Planning | No Comments

Despite that fact that most people recognize the need to have an estate plan, the majority of Americans do not have one. One of the primary reasons why the average person puts off creating an estate plan is the fact that estate planning can be intimidating and confusing to the uninitiated, which includes just about everyone. In an effort to take some of the mystery out of the estate planning process, the Albuquerque estate planning attorneys at Morris Hall PLLC answer the top five most frequently asked questions.

  1. When do I need to start estate planning? People are often under the mistaken impression that estate planning is not necessary until they have valuable estate assets to protect or until they have reached a specific milestone in their life, such as marriage or parenthood. The truth, however, is that every adult should have at least a basic estate plan in place. Without a basic plan in place your estate would be probated as an intestate estate, meaning New Mexico’s intestate succession laws determine what happens to your assets. In addition, an estate plan can accomplish much more than just deciding how your assets are handled after your death, such as planning for incapacity or protecting your assets from a variety of threats.
  2. What should be included in my estate plan? The components you choose to include in your estate plan will depend, to a large extent, on what your individual estate planning goals are. At a bare minimum, however, you should execute a Last Will and Testament and have incapacity planning tools in place, such as a revocable living trust. As your estate, including your family, grow over the years, you may add components such as retirement planning, probate avoidance strategies, and Medicaid planning tools to your overall estate plan.
  3. How often should I update my estate plan? As a matter of routine, you should review and revise your estate plan every three to five years. During your working years events that prompt the need for a revision are more likely to happen. Once you near retirement age, you want to make sure the estate plan still is doing what you expect it to do. In addition, however, certain life events dictate the need for an immediate review and update to your estate plan, such as:
    • Marriage or divorce – yours or that of a beneficiary in some cases
    • Death of a beneficiary or fiduciary
    • Major change in assets
    • Move to a new state
    • Major change in the applicable laws
    • Retirement
    • Youngest child reaches the age of majority
  4. What happens to my estate after I die? Your estate must go through the legal process known as probate. During probate, your Executor, also known as the Personal Representative, must identify and locate all estate assets and eventually pass those assets down to the intended beneficiaries. In addition, creditors of the estate must be notified and given an opportunity to file claims against the estate and both state and federal gift and estate taxes must be paid, if applicable.
  5. Can I save time and money using DIY forms? In the age of the internet, it may seem like using DIY forms you find on the internet would be a great way to save time and money when creating your estate plan. Unfortunately, the converse is usually true. Going the DIY route, instead of working with an experienced estate planning attorney, often leads to costly litigation for your loved ones after you are gone. That litigation may cause a family feud that divides the family for years to come. The time and money you saved by foregoing the assistance of an attorney will likely cost your loved ones considerably more time and money after you are gone.

Contact the Albuquerque Estate Planning Attorneys

For more information, please join us for an upcoming COMPLIMENTARY Q&A. If you have additional questions or concerns about estate planning, or you are ready to get started with your plan, contact the experienced Albuquerque estate planning attorneys at Morris Hall PLLC by calling 888-222-1328 to schedule your appointment today.

Phoenix Asset Protection Attorneys Explain How to Protect Your Estate in Case Your Surviving Spouse Remarries

By | Asset Protection | No Comments

By its very nature, estate planning requires you to contemplate possibilities -- and eventualities -- that you probably prefer not to dwell on. At the heart of most estate plans, after all, is a plan for the distribution of estate assets after the death of the plan’s creator.  If you are married, one of your primary estate planning goals will likely be to protect and provide for your spouse in the event that you are the first to go. Have you thought about what your spouse might do with the assets you leave him/her down the road though? Specifically, have you considered what might happen if your spouse remarries? The asset protection attorneys at Morris Hall PLLC explain how to protect your estate in case your surviving spouse remarries.

Have You and Your Spouse Discussed the Big “What If?”

Most couples, at some point in time, broach the subject of the likelihood that one of them will die before the other. If the marriage is one of long duration, the thought of starting a new life with someone new after the loss of your spouse may seem impossible. Nevertheless, the possibility should be discussed. Some people are adamant that they want their spouse to find love again while others would consider it a betrayal of the relationship they had. Either way, the reality is that your spouse could find love again and remarry after you are gone. Because the possibility exists, you need to consider it when creating your estate plan.

Many couples create reciprocal estate plans, meaning that both individual plans call for all assets to be gifted to the surviving spouse upon death. If you have children, the agreement is that the surviving spouse will then pass down those assets to your children upon his/her death. A reciprocal estate planning approach makes sense, as long as both parties stick to the agreement. What happens though, if your spouse ends up remarrying after your death?

How Can Your Spouse Remarrying Threaten Your Assets?

Regardless of how you may feel about the possibility of your spouse remarrying, you need to consider how that marriage could impact your combined assets. Remember, if your assets all passed to your spouse at the time of your death, that means that when your spouse remarries he/she brings your combined assets into that new marriage. The new spouse now has a potential claim to those assets in the event of a divorce. Moreover, the new spouse also becomes a legal heir to your spouse’s estate once the marriage takes place. If those assets were intended to be passed down to your children upon the death of the surviving spouse, the new marriage could threaten that plan in several ways. If your surviving spouse co-mingles those assets, they become marital assets and subject to division in a divorce. If the surviving spouse lives in a state that allows a surviving spouse to take against the Will, the new husband or wife could have a claim to those assets even if your spouse honors his/her agreement and gifts them to your children in a Last Will and Testament.

A Family Wealth Trust Can Help

The good news is that careful estate planning now can protect your assets in the event of your spouse’s remarriage. A Family Wealth Trust (FWT) may be the answer. A FWT is a type of asset protection trust that can protect your assets while still providing for a spouse and/or children. Your FWT can stand alone or as a sub-trust within a larger trust. Your children are designated as the beneficiaries of the trust.  Your spouse can be named as the Trustee of this trust, or you can appoint a close friend or professional Trustee. Your spouse can use or benefit from the property held in trust, but he/she does not own those assets.  Ownership of the property in the Trust is reserved for your children.

Contact Asset Protection Attorneys

For more information, please join us for an upcoming FREE seminar. If you have additional questions or concerns about asset protection, contact an experienced Phoenix asset protection attorney at Morris Hall PLLC by calling 888-222-1328 to schedule your appointment today.


10 Things You Can Do to Help Your Phoenix Estate Planning Attorney

By | Estate Planning | No Comments

Although most people acknowledge the need for a comprehensive estate plan, over half of all Americans don’t have one in place. One of the reasons given for this is the simple fact that estate planning is somewhat intimidating for the average person given the fact that they have no reason to know much about it. The good news is that with an experienced estate planning attorney by your side, you will have someone to explain things to you and guide you through the process. There are a number of things you can do to help your estate planning attorney understand your estate planning goals. Toward that end, try to keep in mind the following 10 things you can do to help your Phoenix estate planning attorney help you preserve your legacy.

  1. Be honest and forthcoming. Many of the issues that must be discussed in an estate plan are highly sensitive and extremely personal. Your estate planning attorney understands and respects this; however, your attorney cannot fully protect you and your interests if you fail to disclose all the necessary facts and information. Keep in mind that anything you tell your attorney will remain confidential because your attorney is ethically bound to keep it confidential.
  2. Keep records organized and up to date. Much of estate planning involves detailed financial records and other important records. Keeping those records organized and current will greatly help your attorney.
  3. Report changes. When you decide to change something in your estate plan, don’t put off discussing the change with your attorney because life can be unpredictable.
  4. Schedule routine reviews. Your estate plan is not something that you create and then forget about from that point forward. On the contrary, an estate plan should be reviewed and revised on a regular basis. A good rule of thumb is to schedule a routine review every three to five years.
  5. Recognize the need for an immediate review and revision. Although a routine review is important, it can be even more important to recognize when an immediate review and revision may be necessary as a result of a life event. If you decide to get divorced, for example, you should not wait until your next routine review to make changes to your estate plan. Contact your estate planning attorney right away to schedule an appointment to update your plan.
  6. Heed advice. Few things are more frustrating for an attorney than to give a client excellent advice and have the client completely ignore it. If you have an issue with your attorney’s advice, speak up and discuss it, but don’t completely ignore it.
  7. Choose fiduciaries wisely. There is a very good chance that your estate planning attorney will be working with one, or more, of your fiduciaries at some point. Your Executor, for example, may retain your attorney to help probate your estate. Choose those fiduciaries wisely, preferably with the assistance of your estate planning attorney.
  8. Discuss your plan with loved ones. This is, of course, a very personal decision; however, if anything in your plan is likely to be controversial, or to cause conflict, it will make everyone’s life much easier if you discuss it with them now, while you are here to do so.
  9. No surprises. This goes along with number one.  Keep in mind that your estate planning attorney cannot protect you unless he/she knows everything. Keeping assets hidden, for example, may seem like a good idea; however, it could come back to bite you down the road if it turns out that your attorney could have protected that asset legally if only you had not kept it a secret.
  10. Nurture the relationship. Estate planning is a highly personal endeavor, and a lifelong one as well.  The better your relationship is with your estate planning attorney, the better your wishes and needs are likely to be reflected accurately in your estate plan. Sticking with one estate planning attorney throughout your lifetime, therefore, only makes sense.

Contact a Phoenix Estate Planning Attorney

For more information, please join us for an upcoming FREE seminar. If you have additional questions or concerns about estate planning, contact an experienced Phoenix estate planning lawyer at Morris Hall PLLC by calling 888-222-1328 to schedule your appointment today.


Do I Need to Incorporate Phoenix Special Needs Planning into My Estate Plan?

By | Special Needs | No Comments

If you are a parent, having a comprehensive estate plan in place is certainly important. If you are the parent of a child with special needs, however, estate planning takes on a heightened importance. The best way to ensure that your child is well cared for both now and after you are gone is to include special needs planning into your comprehensive estate plan.

The Cost of Care

Like most parents, you probably don’t dwell on the costs involved in raising your child; however, raising a child is certainly not cheap, and raising a child with special needs typically involves additional costs and expenses, such as:

  • Specialized equipment
  • Prescription medication
  • Caregivers
  • Therapists (occupational, physical, speech etc.)
  • Doctor visits
  • Surgeries

Not only do you face additional costs and expenses when you are raising a child with special needs, but there is a very good chance that your child will continue to incur these additional expenses after he or she reaches adulthood. It is often the expectation for the continued need to contribute to your child that prompts the need to include special needs planning into your estate plan.

Why Is Special Needs Planning Required?

Typically, gifting funds or assets to an adult child, either through your Last Will and Testament or through a trust, does not present a problem; however, in the case of a child with special needs, doing either can actually cause more harm than good. If your child depends on assistance from programs such as SSI, Food Stamps, or Medicaid, gifting anything of value to your child could threaten his/her eligibility for benefits from these programs. As you likely already know, many assistance programs have both an income and an asset test that applicants/recipients must pass to gain or retain eligibility. Without regard to your child’s physical and/or mental abilities and limitations, the law will treat your child as an adult once he/she has attained the age of majority (18). Consequently, anything you gift directly to your child will be counted for the purpose of determining eligibility for state and/or federal assistance programs. Your well-intentioned gift (and/or gifts from other family members), meant to provide continued financial support for your child, could ultimately have the opposite effect.

 Special Needs Planning

The good news is that you can continue to provide financial support to your child by incorporating a  special needs planning component into your overall estate plan. Within a properly drafted Revocable Living Trust, special needs planning can be incorporated allowing you to  designate assets to be used for the care and maintenance of an individual with special needs without the risk of losing eligibility for state and federal assistance programs. The trust is intended to provide supplemental care over and above that which is provided by programs such as Medicaid and SSI. To ensure that a trust is recognized as a Special Needs Trust the trust agreement must include very specific language, hence the need to work closely with an experienced estate planning attorney during the creation of the trust agreement.

Contact a  Special Needs Planning Estate Planning Lawyer

For more information, please join us for an upcoming FREE seminar. If you have additional questions or concerns about special needs planning, contact an experienced  estate planning lawyer at Morris Hall PLLC by calling 888-222-1328 to schedule your appointment today.


Phoenix Estate Planning Lawyer Explains What an Executor Does

By | Will | No Comments

A Last Will and Testament (“Will”) frequently serves as the foundation of a first-time planner’s estate plan. When you create your Will, you must nominate a Personal Representative (often referred to as an Executor) to oversee the administration of your estate.  Probate is the legal process through which this administration occurs.  The Personal Representative must open a probate with the proper court to make sure the decedent’s assets are properly identified and transferred, in accordance with the decedent’s Will, and state law. Thus, before nominating a Personal Representative, it is important to understand what responsibilities go with the job.  The duties and responsibilities of a Personal Representative include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Secure important documents. The decedent’s Will must be located and certified copies of the decedent’s death certificate ordered. Any additional estate planning documents should also be located and secured.
  • Identify and secure assets. As soon after the decedent’s death as possible, the Personal Representative should identify and secure estate assets to ensure the entire estate is accounted for.
  • Initiate probate. Probate usually occurs in the county wherein the decedent was a resident at the time of his/her death. To open the probate, the Personal Representative must obtain a certified copy of the death certificate, and a signed, original copy of the decedent’s Will. Depending on the county and state, a copy of the Will may suffice.  The Personal Representative then must petition the appropriate court to open probate and to receive his/her official appointment as Personal Representative.
  • Categorize and value assets. The Personal Representative must obtain a date of death value for all estate assets, and decide if they are probate or non-probate assets, as some assets can bypass the probate process entirely.
  • Notify creditors and review claims. The Personal Representative must notify creditors of the decedent’s passing.  Known creditors may be notified individually. Unknown creditors are notified via publication in a local newspaper. Creditors then have a statutory amount of time to file a claim against the estate. The Personal Representative must review all claims and approve or deny them.
  • Pay taxes. The Personal Representative must determine if any state or federal gift and estate taxes are due from the estate. All necessary tax returns must be filed and any tax debt owed must be paid out of estate assets.
  • Distribute assets. Finally, the Personal Representative must prepare any necessary legal documents to effectuate the transfer of the remaining estate assets to the intended beneficiaries.

Contact a Phoenix Estate Planning Lawyer

For more information, please join us for an upcoming FREE seminar. If you have additional questions or concerns about appointing an Executor, contact an experienced Phoenix estate planning lawyer at Morris Hall PLLC by calling 888-222-1328 to schedule your appointment today.