An estate is the real and/or personal property a person possesses at death. Estate planning law involves the drafting of living wills, trusts, powers of attorney, and general estate management. Since everyone eventually will die, often with a house or other possessions, estate planning is in virtually everyone's best interests. Estate planning is an ongoing process and should be started as soon as one has any measurable asset base. As life progresses and goals shift, the estate plan should move to be in line with new goals. Lack of adequate estate planning can cause undue financial burdens to loved ones (estate taxes can run higher than 40%), so at the very least a will should be set up even if the taxable estate is not large.
Wills are the most common way for people to state how their property and affairs should be distributed and handled after their deaths. A well-written will eases the transition for survivors by transferring property quickly and avoiding many tax burdens. Wills vary from simple documents of a couple pages to elaborate volumes, depending on the estate size and preferences of the person making the will. If a person dies without a valid will and did not make alternative arrangements to distribute property, a probate court must step in to divide up the estate using legal defaults that give property to surviving relatives.
Trusts are estate-planning tools that can replace or supplement wills, as well as help manage property during life. A trust manages the distribution of a person's property by transferring its benefits and obligations to different people. A trust can be created during a person's lifetime and survive the person's death. A trust can also be created by a will and formed after death. Once assets are put into the trust they belong to the trust itself, not the trustee, and remain subject to the rules and instructions of the trust contract. Put another way, a trust is a right in property, which is held in a fiduciary relationship by one party for the benefit of another. The trustee is the one who holds title to the trust property, and the beneficiary is the person who receives the benefits of the trust. There are many different types of trusts, but the basic types are revocable and irrevocable.
Succession planning entails evaluating each leader’s skills, identifying potential replacements both within and outside of the company, and in the case of internal replacements, training those employees so they’re prepared to take over. Succession planning is not a one-time event; succession plans should be reevaluated and potentially updated each year or as changes in the company dictate. In addition, businesses might want to create both an emergency succession plan in the event a key leader needs to be replaced unexpectedly and a long-term succession plan for anticipated changes in leadership.
Elder law encompasses a range of age-related legal matters, including access to healthcare and government benefits, elder abuse, disability, and guardianship. Currently, a major aspect of elder law involves Medicaid planning and eligibility. A joint federal and state program, Medicaid pays some nursing home, assisted living and home care bills for people of limited means. Elder law attorneys can suggest legal strategies to help older people qualify for benefits without having to impoverish themselves.
Probate is the legal process in which a will is reviewed to determine whether it is valid and authentic. Probate also refers to the general administering of a deceased person's will or the estate of a deceased person without a will. The court appoints either an executor named in the will (or an administrator if there is no will) to administer the process of collecting the assets of the deceased person, paying any liabilities remaining on the person's estate and finally distributing the assets of the estate to beneficiaries named in the will or determined as such by the executor.
Guardianship provides the guardian with decision-making authority and responsibility over the protected person's personal affairs. Limited guardianship gives the guardian decision-making authority and responsibility over only selected areas that the protected person has been determined unable to manage by him/herself; for example, a limited guardianship may only apply to health care decisions.
Conservatorship is similar to guardianship in that it is a legal relationship between a protected person and one or more individuals appointed by the court to make decisions on behalf of the protected person. However, while a guardianship may encompass all personal affairs (support, care, and health) of a protected person, a conservatorship is limited to the management of the property and financial affairs of a protected person. As with guardianship, a conservatorship may be full, limited, temporary, or joint.
Probate litigation, also known as estate litigation, concerns actions brought in court against a deceased person's estate. Probate litigation may arise from several different types of transactions or claims. For example, a person or entity owed money by a person who has died files a creditor's claim in probate court. A will contest is a lawsuit challenging the validity of all or part a will after the person who made the will has died.
Business law encompasses all of the laws that dictate how to form and run a business. This includes all of the laws that govern how to start, buy, manage and close or sell any type of business. Business laws establish the rules that all businesses should follow. Business law includes state and federal laws, as well as administrative regulations.
The practice area of real estate and property law deals with a variety of related issues in both commercial and residential settings. Issues may include: rights and interests in real estate and real property; sales, purchases and other transfers of real estate and real property; legal aspects of rental property and landlord issues; tenants', renters' and homeowners' rights; title to real property; settlement of claims against property rights; property development; zoning and land use; related agriculture issues; home loans and foreclosures; and various other relevant topics.
Tax law deals with the laws and regulations that govern the tax process. Tax law affects nearly any activity that has economic consequences. Tax law will often involve analyzing, creating, and implementing complex transactions from the tax perspective, counseling clients on the tax results of specific transactions, monitoring new and pending tax legislation and explaining their consequences to clients.