Legal Services

An Overview of Wills, Trusts, Charitable Gifts and Powers of Attorney:

A Last Will and Testament is commonly called a will. The person who passed away is called the Decedent. At death, a will disposes of the Decedent's property not  disposed of by other means such as property held in joint tenancy, payable on death accounts and transfer on death accounts. A will which accompanies a revocable living trust is commonly called a pourover will because it gives the Personal Representative certain authority to pour assets into a trust. The person who administers a will is called a Personal Representative and is appointed to serve in such capacity by the Court. Those persons or entities named to receive a portion of an estate under a will are known as devisees.
 
The property of a Decedent who passes away without a will becomes subject to the laws of intestacy, which create a scheme for distributing a Decedent's estate according to family lines. Many individuals prefer that some of their estate assets pass to non-family members; a will is recommended, especially for unmarried partners and those with charitable intent.

There are many types of trusts. The most common trust our clients request is a Revocable Living Trust. This type of trust allows the trustor to hold and manage his/her assets while he/she is able and appoints a successor trustee to handle matters when incapacity or death occurs. A revocable living trust is often set up to avoid probate. Terms commonly used are trustor (the individual(s) who set up the trust), trustee (the individual(s) who manages the trust) and beneficiaries (those
who benefit/inherit from the trust). A trust can also be established at the Decedent's death. That type of trust is called a Testamentary Trust.
 
A charity may be named as a devisee under a will, a beneficiary of a trust, including a charitable remainder or charitable lead trust, or as a beneficiary of an account such as an IRA. A charity may request specific language be included in your estate planning documents to ensure the gift you are leaving to them may be used for the purpose intended. 
 
Powers of Attorney are often given little attention in an estate plan but are of critical importance when incapacity becomes an issue. Commonly, the person who executes the power of attorney is called “the principal” and he/she gives authority to act to “the agent” who stands in the shoes of the principal when he/she cannot act. It’s important to name someone you trust and who has knowledge of your assets as your agent. There are various types of powers of attorney. The most common types are for medical and financial decision making.

An Overview of Probate and Trust Administration:

After the death of a loved one, family members are faced with many details that need to be addressed. Bills need to be paid. Funeral arrangements need to be made. Tax filings may be required. 
 
In a perfect world, one person has been made aware of the Decedent’s wishes, has prepaid many bills and is ready to settle the estate. In reality, many families did not anticipate death coming so decisions are made quickly with the best intentions and based on the best information at the time. It’s best to consult an estates attorney as soon as possible after the death of a loved one to determine who should be handling which matters, how decisions should be made, how and when bills should be paid and if assets should be secured.
 
If a probate is necessary, the Court will appoint a Personal Representative. A probate proceeding gives creditors notice of the Decedent’s passing and allows them to make their claims before assets are distributed from the estate. 
 
Sometimes, even if the Decedent had a trust, a probate may be required. Complicated decisions by the Successor Trustee or Personal Representative may be required including property valuations, appraisals, inventories and sales of assets. Certain time lines are set forth in the Arizona statutes and must be followed. We can assist you in a timely and cost effective manner with both probate and trust administration matters.

An Overview of Guardianships and Conservatorships:

Even with the best estate plan, circumstances may arise, especially during incapacity, that cause some families to seek the Court’s appointment of a guardian or conservator. A guardian makes decisions about the incapacitated person’s care such as medical decisions; a conservator handles financial decision making. A family member may be appointed or an unrelated fiduciary. Both the person for whom the guardian and conservator will act (known as the ward or protected person) as well as the person seeking appointment (known as the petitioner) will each have his/her own attorney. Guardianships and conservatorships are complex proceedings, often viewed as a last resort solution especially in cases where exploitation and abuse are alleged. We are experienced in these matters and can assist you in the appointment process.