Estate Planning

Our attorneys at Hitchcock Law Firm provide a full range of complex and basic estate planning services to individuals and families. We have represented thousands of clients in the areas of estate planning and estate tax planning. Our ability to develop innovative solutions to complex estate planning issues sets us apart from the competition. We focus on easing the stress of the estate planning process by clearly explaining each step and providing practical legal options to meet each client’s unique estate planning goals.

Estate Planning Goals

Estate planning involves the distribution of an individual's property after death, taking into account a will, taxes, insurance, property, and trusts, with the goal of gaining the maximum benefit of all laws, while at the same time carrying out the client’s wishes. Our goal is to address four specific areas comprehensively: estate distribution, estate and transfer tax reduction, simplest and least expensive estate administration, and planning for the management of assets in the event of incapacity. We craft a sound estate plan for each client keeping all these areas in mind.

Our planning approach also includes strategies designed to reduce or eliminate estate taxes and income taxes. We use tools such as estate tax planning trusts, gifting techniques, and proper beneficiary designations on IRAs and other qualified accounts.

Planning for incapacity includes utilizing powers of attorney and health care directives. These documents enable family members or other designated individuals to make financial and medical decisions in the event of incapacity.

Last Will and Testament / Will

A will typically accomplishes two primary goals. First, it gives you the power to decide how you want your estate (personal property, real estate, and assets) to be distributed upon your death. Second, it provides instructions about what happens after your death, including designation of the personal representative (executor) for your estate and the trustees of trusts, and naming who will care and provide for your children or dependents. Contrary to popular belief, a will does not avoid probate. It does make the probate process easier and enables you to implement your wishes.

Probate is the process by which probate assets are distributed. If you die with a valid will, the probate court approves the will and appoints a personal representative to distribute your assets pursuant to the will. With a simple estate and properly drafted will, the probate process can be short and relatively 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. The process occurs shortly after death, without the need for a probate process. A revocable trust plan, if properly funded, can reduce or eliminate estate taxes. You can amend or revoke a revocable trust at any time.

The obvious benefits of a revocable trust plan are reduced expenses at death and a quicker distribution of assets to beneficiaries, which is especially beneficial if 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 remain private and do not become public record. A revocable trust also eliminates the forum in which beneficiaries could dispute claims in your estate.

Making the choice between a will plan and a revocable trust plan requires weighing the benefits and costs of each approach and taking into account the complexity of a potential probate process. An experienced estate planning attorney can assist you in deciding which 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 every estate plan. A power of attorney is essentially a permission slip that 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 in the event of incapacity.

If you become incapacitated and do not have a power of attorney, it may be necessary for the court to appoint a guardian to manage your assets and act on your behalf financially or legally, which means your assets are supervised by the court. Because a power of attorney in an estate plan 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 communicates your medical decisions if you are incapacitated and unable to express your wishes. A health care directive allows you to accomplish two important goals.

First, it allows you to make specific choices on the type of medical treatment you do or do not want. Your directive can provide 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 other types of care that 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.

In your health care directive, 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 the authority of your agent. The agent’s actions must be consistent with the directive language.

A health care directive is commonly accepted in Minnesota by health care providers and is an essential part of your estate plan.

Contact Us

We welcome you to learn more about our estate planning services by calling (651) 772-3401 or using the online contact form. From our office in Saint Paul, we help clients throughout Minnesota.