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Estate Planning

"planning means more freedom...not less."

Michael E. Graham • Attorney at Law

Trust Administration

Estate Planning is a process which involves the development of a long term plan to hold, administer and distribute your real and personal property during your life, and in the event of your incapacity or death. It also involves the expression of your desires for health care and decision-making in the event of illness or incapacity. Our firm will guide you through the process with the goal of creating a tailored plan that will provide for and protect your family, take advantage of favorable tax laws, avoid costly and unnecessary administration tasks, maintain privacy, and most importantly, provide specific directions to avoid intra-family disputes. Having an expertly created estate plan is a gift to your family and loved ones and is a true indicator of your concern and caring for the well-being of those persons for whom you care.

estate planning

Initial Estate Planning

The initial Estate Planning process involves different phases of work effort to learn about your family relationships, finances and your objectives, to create the documentation necessary to attain your goals. Basic Estate Planning is accomplished through the following phases:

1. Initial Consultation

We schedule an initial appointment to meet and review your family relationships, financial information, and determine your goals and objectives. In order to save on time and costs, we request that you complete our Estate Planning Questionnaire, Family Contact Information Worksheet, and Contact Information Worksheet for Other Beneficiaries and Fiduciaries (Fillable forms to the right), in advance, to provide to us at your initial consultation, with copies of background documentation as requested. “Fiduciaries” are those persons whom you would have serve as successor Trustees, Executor and successors, and Agents, under Powers of Attorney and Health Care Directives, and successors. We are also interested in knowing whether you have completed any prior legal documentation that would affect the current work effort.

2. Planning for and Drafting of Legal Documents

During the initial conference, after we have had a chance to become familiar with your relationships, finances and goals and objectives, we are then able to proceed to the next phase. Based upon our many years of experience, we suggest options and alternatives in the development of your plan and determine what documentation is necessary to create in the implementation of your plan. Depending upon the complexity of the project, we either charge our hourly rate for services, but often we are able to quote a flat fee for the project. Once we agree upon the scope of the project, we then are able to begin the drafting of the documents. A “core plan” of basic Estate Planning documents will typically include the following:

  • Revocable Living Trust Declaration (See PDF to right for more details)
  • “Pour-Over” Will
  • Durable Power of Attorney for Financial Management
  • Advance Health Care Directive
  • Certification of Trust
  • Trust Explanation Letter
  • Transfer Documents including Deeds and Assignments

3. Finalization of Legal Documents and Execution

This phase involves your review of the draft documentation and the revisions necessary to finalize the documents for your signature, in compliance with all legal formalities required. Once the documents are ready for signature, we arrange for a conference in which you execute the final documents. We provide notarization services and witnesses for the signing of the Will. If further discussion concerning the plan and the contents of the documentation is desired, we are happy to oblige. The original documents are then assembled in a protective folder, organized in a manner for easy location and retrieval.

4. Transfer of Assets and Funding for Completion

Once the final documents are signed, the process of funding the Trust, with the transfer of assets, begins. We usually are involved with the preparation of Deeds for conveyance of real property to the Trust. These are usually signed and notarized at the conference involving the execution of the Trust, and then transmitted to the appropriate County Recorder’s Office, with additional documentation for the County Assessor’s Office. We also provide you with guidelines and specific instructions for the transfer of other types of assets into the Trust, such as financial accounts, and investment holdings and provide further information about beneficiary designations for insurance, retirement plans and annuities.

Upon completion of the entire process, we then retain your file in an “inactive” status, which means that we do not review your file unless you specifically contact us and request further services. We do not charge for retention of your file, which includes maintaining copies of all executed documents in PDF format, which are then easy to transmit by email upon request. If you have any changes in your intent, family relationships, status of your property holdings or believe that you would like to make changes in the plan for any other reason we then request that you contact our office to determine whether an estate planning review is in order.

Advanced Estate Planning

Advanced Estate Planning, beyond the “core” documentation, can involve a variety of planning techniques and devices. After the initial plan documents are established, inevitably changes in life circumstances may occur which could precipitate a need for amendments or other revisions to the initial set of documents. (See Review and Update of Estate Plan in the PDF to the right). We are available to make those changes at reasonable cost at our hourly fees. Depending upon the complexity of your estate or other specific needs for you and your family, we also engage in “advanced” Estate Planning involving some of the following:

  • Irrevocable Life Insurance Trusts
  • Disclaimers
  • Judicial Modification of Irrevocable Trusts
  • Early Termination of Irrevocable Trusts
  • Split Trusts for Estate Tax Avoidance
  • Premarital and Post Marital Agreements
  • Qualified Personal Residence Trusts
  • Irrevocable Educational Trusts
  • Special Needs Trusts
  • Designated Beneficiary Trusts for Retirement Plans
  • Charitable Gifting through Retirement Plans
  • Charitable Gifting through Remainder or Lead Trusts
  • Annual Exclusion Gifts to Irrevocable Trusts
  • Generation Skipping Trusts

Whatever your needs are, Michael Graham has over forty years of experience in this specialty area of law known as Estate Planning, Trust and Probate Law and is ready to assist you in discovering your options and alternatives to the pathway that will work for you and your family.