Estate Planning

Our estate planning practice is centered on providing complex estate planning services to individuals and families. Our knowledgeable lawyers focus on easing the stress of estate planning issues by clearly explaining each step of the estate planning and administration process, and providing practical legal options to meet our clients’ estate planning goals. We have represented literally thousands of individuals and families in the areas of general estate planning and estate tax planning. Our ability to develop innovative solutions to complex estate planning issues sets us apart from the competition.

Estate planning involves the distribution of an individual's property at his or her death, taking into account wills, taxes, insurance, property and trusts, so as to gain maximum benefit of all laws, and at the same time, carrying out the client’s wishes. Our goal is to comprehensively address four specific areas: estate distribution, estate and transfer tax reduction, smooth and least expensive estate administration, and planning for the management of assets in the event of incapacity. It is with these issues in mind that we craft a comprehensive estate plan for each of our clients.

Our planning includes techniques designed to reduce or eliminate estate taxes and income taxes. This includes the use of estate tax planning trusts, gifting techniques and proper beneficiary designations on IRAs and other qualified accounts.

Planning for incapacity includes utilizing power of attorneys and health care directives. These documents allow for the making of financial and medical decisions by family members or other designated individuals upon incapacity.


Will

A Will typically accomplishes two primary things. First, it gives you the power to decide how you would like your "estate" (personal property, real estate and assets) to be distributed upon your death. Second, it provides instructions about what should happen after your death, including who you would like to name as personal representative (executor), the trustees of trusts, and who should care and provide for your children or dependents. Contrary to popular belief, a Will does not avoid probate. It just makes the process easier.

Probate is the process by which probate assets are distributed. If you die with a Will, the Probate Court approves the Will and appoints a personal representative to distribute your assets pursuant to your Will. With a simple estate and properly drafted Will, the probate process can be short and nominally inexpensive.

Revocable Trust

A Revocable Trust, also referred to as an "inter vivos" or "living" trust, is a trust you create during your lifetime. You are your own trustee, as long as you are alive and competent. Your assets are placed into the Trust for your benefit during your lifetime and then transferred to designated beneficiaries upon your death by the successor trustee. This is done shortly after your death, without the need for a probate process. A revocable trust plan, if properly funded, can reduce or eliminate estate taxes. A revocable trust can be amended or revoked by you at any time.

The obvious benefits of a revocable trust plan are reduced expenses at death and a quicker distribution of assets to beneficiaries. This is especially true when you own real estate in more than one state. Another benefit of a revocable trust is privacy. The terms and conditions of the revocable trust and your assets will remain private and will not become public record. A revocable trust also eliminates the forum in which beneficiaries could dispute claims in your estate.

The choice between a will plan versus a revocable trust plan is a matter of weighing all the benefits and costs of each plan and the complexity of a potential probate process. An experience estate planning attorney can assist you in deciding what plan works best for you.


Power of Attorney

Whether a will plan or a revocable trust plan is selected, a Power of Attorney is recommended as part of your estate plan. A Power of Attorney is basically a permission slip which you give to another individual (such as a spouse, child, or friend) to act on your behalf in financial and legal matters. The purpose of the Power of Attorney is to avoid a guardianship or conservatorship proceeding in the probate court upon your incapacity. If you become incapacitated and do not have a Power of Attorney, it may be necessary to appoint a guardian to manage your assets and act on your behalf financially or legally. This means your assets are supervised by the Court. Because a Power of Attorney is durable, it is effective at the time of execution and continues to remain effective even if you later become incompetent. This simple document can, in most cases, avoid the costly and cumbersome guardianship process.

Health Care Directive

Minnesota law allows individuals to execute a Health Care Directive, which dictates your medical decisions if you are unable to communicate your wishes. The Health Care Directive allows you to do two basic things. First, it allows you to make specific choices on the type of medical treatment you do or do not want. These directives can set forth that you do not wish to have life sustaining procedures continued if you either have a terminal illness or you are permanently unconscious. It can also outline your preferences about issues such as surgery, nursing home or specialized care, medication, religious concerns, funeral planning, organ donation and types of life-sustaining procedures you may or may not want. Secondly, it gives you the ability to select a health care agent to make medical decisions on your behalf. You may set forth specific language and appoint an agent, or just do one or the other. If you do both, the language in your Health Care Directive takes precedence over any action taken by your agent. The agent’s actions must be consistent with the directive language. The Health Care Directive is commonly accepted in Minnesota by health care providers and is an essential part of your estate plan.


Probate

Probate is the court proceeding through which a will is proved to be valid and the estate of a decedent is administered. The process generally includes the inventory and collection of a decedent's assets, liquidating liabilities, paying necessary taxes, and distribution of property to heirs. The Probate Court will appoint a personal representative to distribute the probate assets pursuant to the Will. Most probates take between six and nine months to complete. In cases where there is a simple estate and a properly drafted Will, the probate process can be short and fairly inexpensive.

Trust Administration

Trust Administration is the process through which a revocable trust plan is executed. The successor trustee will need to sign a Written Acceptance of Appointment and Certificate of Trust. The successor trustee can provide these documents, along with a copy of the decedent’s trust agreement and original death certificate, to the financial institutions holding the decedent’s accounts for distribution to the trust beneficiaries. This can be accomplished shortly after death and without the need for a probate proceeding or court supervision. The terms and conditions of the trust agreement and information about the trust assets will remain private and will not become public record. It is advisable to have an experienced trust lawyer review the trust and trust assets with you to assist you in this process.