Thursday, December 29, 2016

The Importance Of Estate Planning

Everyone knows estate planning is important.  Not only are their advantages you will benefit from personally but making necessary plans for your estate eliminates the guess work for your family.  Take the time and effort now to remove the burden from loved ones during the period they will be grieving the loss of a loved one.
With an estate plan in place you can make necessary arrangements to provide for your family.  This will allow one spouse to set aside the proper amount of funds to continue living the lifestyle you have planned for your future.  If you have children it is crucial that your estate plan has provisions to provide for them as you see fit.  A guardian should be appointed in your estate plan as well just in case you both should pass away before the children have left the nest.  Without a plan in place the court is left to make those important decisions for you.
Another benefit of estate planning is the ability to quickly distributing your property to beneficiaries.  A number of estate planning methods can help with this process including: insurance with benefits paid directly to beneficiaries and a number of trust options.  Talk to an estate planning attorney to see what option works best for your situation.
Estate planning allows you to plan for a time when you may become incapacitated and unable to make decisions.  It allows you to create a plan of action should you become mentally or physically incapacitated.  Having a living will or durable heath care power of attorney in place allows you to choose an individual to help make medical decisions on your behalf.
Estate planning allows you to minimize the costs involved in transferring property to beneficiaries.  It avoids the unnecessary expenses that come along with probate.  It allows you to choose an executor to distribute your estate.  This not only saves you money it reduces the burden that the death of a loved one places on the living and makes administration of the estate simpler.
There are a number of aspects in life that require a detail estate plan be in place.  If you are the sole provider for an elderly parent, dependent child or want to provide the payment necessary for your grandchildren to attend college you can put a plan in place with an estate planning attorney.  If you are a business owner it is also important to create a detailed estate plan with an attorney to allow for an orderly continuation or curtailment of the business.
The Law Office of Sean J. Nichols is dedicated to assisting clients throughout legal issues that come with aging including: elder law, estate planning, probate law and more.  Check out the Law Office of Sean J. Nichols at to contact an estate attorney today.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Planning For Your Future Through Estate Planning Installment 2

In the last installment we established that there were three main documents needed to delegate control as the end of life became inevitable: a durable power of attorney, a release of information and advance directives.  Each document serves a purpose in establishing care while you are still living if and when you become unable to do so yourself.
power of attorney is drawn up in the presence of an attorney and witnesses to formally determine who you wish to leave in charge of your finances and legal affairs when you are no longer fit to do so.
A release of information is a form that is given to hospital personnel to give them the permission needed to discuss your medical history and take future actions regarding your medical health. This designated representative will receive valuable information regarding your medical records.
Advance directives are drawn up to allow people to make decisions on your behalf.  A durable power of attorney for health care allows you to name a representative that is in charge of making medical decisions on your behalf should you be unable to do so.  A living will is in place to help guide your durable power of attorney for health care in that it specifically lays out the medical treatment you are allowing in your treatment and that of which you do not wish to receive at the end of your life.
An estate planning attorney will draw up the necessary papers to help your family avoid probate.  During the probate process, without the proper paperwork in place, the court will decide all matters having to do with your estate.
This process can range from paying a few hundred dollars in court costs, filling out some forms and having the court settle your debt and distribute your property all the way to a complicated month’s long ordeal that ties up your estate and ends up costing your family thousands of dollars.  No matter which route your family is not in control.  This can all be avoided by meeting with an estate planning attorney and getting the proper paperwork in place.
In estate planning an attorney will help you to set up trusts.  A trust basically allows possessions to go to the names trustees upon your death.  While you are living you remain a trustee and therefore control remains with you.  With a trust in place you avoid probate, fees and public scrutiny of your private affairs.
Another benefit of estate planning is the ability to divvy up your personal belongings as you wish.  This helps to avoid conflicts that arise during the emotional period after your passing.  One way that this can be set up if you aren’t interested in going through each and every item you own is to create a specific strategy for dividing your property. A creative way to do this is to allow your executor control to set up an online auction between members of your family.  Each member is allotted a certain number of tokens or credits to bid on items that they wish to own.  Another option is to start gifting items as you see fit while you are still alive which allows you to see your loved ones enjoying them.
Estate planning also allows for you to create an individualized memorial and funeral.  If you are interested in a celebration of life over a mournful gathering create a personalized plan of action to be followed upon your passing.  This allows you to be in control to decide if you will choose to be cremated or buried, if you will have a religious burial or other specific details that may be important to you it is crucial that you prepare in writing these desires.
Estate planning is as much for the living as it is the deceased.  Contact a local estate planning attorney for more information on providing your family with the peace of mind they desire in the event of your untimely passing.
The Law Office of Sean J. Nichols is dedicated to assisting clients throughout legal issues that come with aging including: elder law, estate planning, probate law and more.  Check out the Law Office of Sean J. Nichols at to contact an estate attorney today.

Planning For Your Future Through Estate Planning Installment 1

There are so many excuses that people can come up with to avoid planning for their future.  None of us ever feel that we are going to die anytime soon so we put off planning for it. We pretend we are too busy to avoid thinking about a future that doesn’t include us in it.  However, the truth of our death is inevitable.  We will all eventually pass away. The last thing that any of us want to do is leave a mess for our families in the wake of our untimely passing.  This holiday season the number one gift you can give to your family is to create an estate plan to ensure that all of the business matters surrounding your death are taken care of and your family can focus on what really matters, mourning your death.
Know you aren’t alone in your procrastination.  As many as two thirds of Americans don’t have any type of will in place and fewer than one half of us with a will have an estate planning documents in place.  Planning for your final days is not something anyone wants to do let alone put in writing long before we hope that time is upon us however it will allow the transition to be that much easier on your family.
First and most importantly, meet with an attorney that specializes in estate planning.  This is an important piece of the puzzle.  They will help you begin the process of getting your affairs in order by helping to create a will.  Having a will in place allows you to decide how you split up your estate, who will raise your children and so forth.  Without a will in place the state is left in charge of deciding upon these very important and personal affairs.
Most often estate attorneys will recommend getting some type of life insurance coverage to assist in providing financial support for your family when you are no longer able to.  To be safe it is important that the coverage you purchase should be enough to pay off outstanding debts and fund future foreseeable goals.
The next item on your plate is to delegate control.  Three main documents are needed to do this: a durable power of attorney, a release of information and an advance directive.  In our next installment detailing estate planning we will go into depth regarding each of these documents and the headaches having them in place will save your family from.
The Law Office of Sean J. Nichols is dedicated to assisting clients throughout legal issues that come with aging including: elder law, estate planning, probate law and more.  Check out the Law Office of Sean J. Nichols at to contact an estate attorney today.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Top Reasons To Have An Estate Plan In Place

There are many reasons to make time to meet with an estate planning attorney to create an estate plan.  In this installment on estate planning we will look at the top reasons estate planning is necessary for even those with small estates.
The most common reason most individuals seek out an estate planning attorney to create a plan for their estate is to avoid their estate from sitting in probate upon their passing.  Many of us have never had to deal with probate and probate courts but the one thing we know and understand from other people’s experiences is that it is best to avoid it at all costs.  There are many horror stories to be told from the media, neighbors, friends and business associates.  It is enough to make most of us understand that it is crucial to have an estate plan in place to ensure our estate avoids probate for the sake of our families.
Another common reason that individuals seek out estate planning attorneys is to help significantly reduce their estate taxes.   Avoiding federal and state inheritance taxes is a great motivator for most people to put together an estate plan.  Even the most basic of estate plans can greatly reduce or eliminate estate taxes for married couples.  Eliminate estate taxes all together with the creation of trusts or revocable living trusts.  Attorneys specializing in estate planning are super beneficial in helping both individuals and couples decrease the amount they are required to pay in estate and inheritance tax.
After personally experiencing or seeing a loved one experience the mess of probate and poor estate planning encourages many individuals to seek out an estate planning lawyer.  Avoiding a mess for the family you are leaving behind is one of the key reasons to have in place an estate plan.  Estate plans do more than save in taxes and help avoid probate; they allow a plan to be in place that saves time, money and allows individuals to focus on what is most important at the time of your passing.  An estate plan often allows you to choose someone to be in charge if you are to become mentally incapacitated and again after your passing.  This executor is able to decide who will get what, when it will be given and how it will be distributed.  This keeps family fights to a minimum and helps to avoid costly probate and court proceedings. 
Call today to schedule an appointment with a local estate planning attorney to ensure your estate is executed as you desire.
The Law Office of Sean J. Nichols is dedicated to assisting clients throughout legal issues that come with aging including: elder law, estate planning, probate law and more.  Check out the Law Office of Sean J. Nichols at to contact an estate attorney today.

Differences In Elder Law and Estate Planning

There is a common misconception about elder law and estate planning.  Many people think that these two concepts only apply to individuals with wealth during the later part of their lives.  However, this is the furthest thing from the truth.  Everyone has an estate.  Elder law is actually an area of law that affects everyone at any age that plans on growing old. 
There are many questions that people wonder about as they grow old including:
  • If I can’t make decisions for myself anymore what will happen?
  • Who will make decisions for me if I am no longer able to?
  • Do I qualify for any special benefits?
  • How will I go about making arrangements for special financial obligations?
  • What will happen with my belongings?
  • As I grow old where will I live and how will I continue to pay for it?
These questions and more are answered when you meet with an elder law attorney.  Meeting with an attorney that specializes in elder law is an incredibly proactive step to take.  It is a step that everyone should take but especially those with health and medical concerns.  Elder law goes well beyond estate planning because it addresses your quality of life, housing arrangements, financial and medical concerns.
Estate planning is beneficial for everyone because it affects people from all sectors of life, not just the wealthy.  No one is protected against the conflict that can arise in a family after the death of a loved one; with a detailed estate plan in place though a lot of family disagreements can be avoided.  Everything and anything that an individual possesses can be part of an estate plan including: cars, homes, bank accounts, life insurance, furnishings and personal property.  Estate planning should be done early in life and updated on a regular basis. 
An estate planning attorney helps individuals think ahead to prepare for and make arrangements while they are still living.  It is in place to minimize taxes, probate expenses and create less family drama upon an individual’s passing.  If an estate plan is not in place the estate is distributed based on the rules of the state and the court.  Without a plan in place probate laws state how the distribution of the estate will play out.  What this could mean is that your spouse, children and other relatives may end up not provided for in the manner that you would have chosen. 
An estate planning attorney can assist with drawing up wills, trust, designating beneficiaries, power of attorneys, gifting, special financial arrangements and insurance needs.  Estate planning attorneys help individuals with a variety of concerns including:
  • Making sure that your instructions are carried out as you wish.
  • Helping to minimize the amount paid in taxes, court fees and miscellaneous expenses.
  • Helping detail your heath care directive and ensure that your instructions are followed if you should become disabled.
  • Taking care of naming individuals as guardians and ensuring the inheritance will be managed by the correct individual.
  • Providing detailed instruction for special needs family members.
  • Determining what insurance is needed including life, disability and long term care.
  • Ensuring that wishes with business endeavors that are in place are carried out accordingly including transfers of ownership.
An elder law attorney encompasses a very broad spectrum of the law.  Elder law lawyers can assist clients with all the functions of estate planning and more.  As individuals live longer more planning is needed to ensure that not only are their families cared for but that they are as well.  Thoughtful planning and budgeting take place to ensure that the twists and turns of life are all met.  Elder law attorneys take care of special needs including:
  • Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security Issues
  • Retirement benefits
  • Long term care and housing needs including financing
  • Issues with age discrimination
  • Elder abuse and neglect issues
  • Disability planning
  • Veterans planning
  • Issues with insurance
  • End of life decisions
The Law Office of Sean J. Nichols is dedicated to assisting clients throughout legal issues that come with aging including: elder law, estate planning, probate law and more.  Check out the Law Office of Sean J. Nichols at to contact an estate attorney today.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Tough Questions To Be Prepared For In Estate Planning

Just the words “estate planning” can be painful for some people to hear let alone participate in.  There are few people in the world ready to address their mental demise or mortality.  Facing these truths is difficult.  Even though it is difficult, it is important to address the issue with an estate planning attorney sooner rather than later.  Estate lawyers know the tough questions that need to be asked. Some of them may make you actually squirm in your seat.  Think about the following issues preparing for your estate planning meeting.
One of the toughest questions has to do with children.  If you have children it is important to come up with a detailed plan of who will be in charge of raising your children should both of you pass away.  Many people have been known to wait to plan their estate until their children were older just because it was too difficult to face the answers to that question.
If parents fail to assign a guardian then the court will be in charge of deeming the best interest of your child.  This is not ideal as you know your children and family arrangements better than the judge does.  When it comes to assigning guardianship to for your children don’t wait.  It is better to face the most difficult questions head on and pray that this part of the estate plan never needs to be executed.
Another issue that is hard to address when it comes to estate planning is preparing for where your estate will go if there is an unfortunate event in which the most important people in your life die with you.  If your spouse and children die with you where do you want your estate to go? Do you have siblings, parents or extended family to pass your estate to or should it go to a charitable cause?  What if you haven’t made time to develop relationships?  It is hard for some people to address the possibility that they have yet to establish relationships and in estate planning this can cause issues.
Estate planning attorneys will want to know about any family that is not mentioned in the estate.  It is crucial that the attorney drawing up your estate is aware of any and all potential objects of your bounty.   Any person that objects to the estate plan and is not addressed can wreak havoc on the plan that you have established.  It could cause additional emotional and financial issues with your family if they are not addressed accordingly in your estate plan.
Another hard issue that is hard to consider when drawing up an estate plan is the relationships that one may be having outside of their family unit.  Some spouses have been known to carry on extra marital relationships.  If assets have been purchased within the extra marital union there could be future complications that should be addressed.  There are certain legal obligations that come about with these relationships so it is important to address the issue with your attorney.  You won’t be able to establish the detailed plan you need to without addressing all issues that could present themselves upon your passing.
There are many uncomfortable issues that need to be addressed in estate planning.  It is difficult to process mortality but to address the nature of the relationships outside of our day to day when planning for the inevitable is even more difficult.  There are many situations that can be mediated before becoming bigger than they need to be if they are addressed ahead of time in legal documentation such as an estate plan.  This is one of the reasons it is so important to be sure that you meet with an attorney to go over a plan of action with your estate if you should become unable to make decisions on your own or you pass early.
The Law Office of Sean J. Nichols is dedicated to assisting clients throughout legal issues that come with aging including: elder law, estate planning, probate law and more.  Check out the Law Office of Sean J. Nichols at to contact an estate attorney today.

Mistakes To Avoid With Medicaid and Nursing Homes

When it comes to understanding the federal laws surrounding Medicaid there are many provisions that are made to protect the applicant’s spouse.  Many are unknown and therefore couples fail to take advantage of them.  Without knowing these provisions couples can lose upwards of thousands of dollars unnecessarily putting themselves into poverty in order to pay for their spouses nursing home care.  In this installment we will discuss the mistakes to avoid with Medicaid and nursing homes.
Avoid purchasing assets that are exempt before admitting a spouse into a nursing home facility.  One of the protections for Medicaid applicants is known as the community spouse resource allowance or CSRA for short.  A community spouse is the term that Medicaid uses for the spouse of the applicant.  Exempt items include a couple’s residence, vehicles, household goods, medical equipment, jewelry and a few other specific items.
Non-exempt assets are items such as checking and savings accounts, CD’s, mutual funds, savings bonds and such.  These non-exempt items are subject to spend-down where as the exempt items are not.  To avoid issues from arising from this mistake it is important to wait until after a spouse has been admitted to a qualifying facility to buy any asset that is considered exempt.
Another common error make in Medicaid planning is failing to make use of the non-exempt assets to protect the spouse’s income.  Federal protection is in place to protect the community spouse that is known as the MMNA or monthly maintenance needs allowance.  Many spouses have an income below the MMNA.  It makes sense to use non-exempt assets to raise the community spouse’s income.  It is crucial that couples make it a goal to obtain and maintain income for the remaining spouse who could potentially live for another twenty plus years.
Before spending down assets it is important to meet with an elder law attorney that is experienced in Medicaid law and planning.  An elder law attorney can help couples determine how to use assets that might not otherwise be spent down to provide an income for the spouse.
It is a mistake to spend down Medicaid exempt resources such as an individual’s IRA.   If couples use these exempt funds to pay for care they are basically wasting funds that the other spouse could benefit from in the future.  A couple should never spend down assets without knowing for sure what is exempt and what is not.  Doing so could truly jeopardize the future of the spouse that is not seeking care from a nursing home facility.
Another mistake that can occur comes from having an insufficient power of attorney in place.  When couples who are married seek Medicaid approval they have up to ninety days to make transfers of money and property to the community spouse.  If a proper power of attorney is not in place at that time savings opportunities can be lost forever.
Speak to an elder law attorney specializing in Medicaid planning today.  This will help ensure that in future if something does occur with a loved one that all the proper steps are in place to be sure the process of getting Medicaid approval is quick and painless.  It will also help to guarantee the community spouse can remain living at their current standard of living without jeopardizing either spouse’s quality of life.
The Law Office of Sean J. Nichols is dedicated to assisting clients throughout legal issues that come with aging including: elder law, estate planning, probate law and more.  Check out the Law Office of Sean J. Nichols at to contact an estate attorney today.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Everything You Need To Know About Probate

The term probate can be used in a few different ways.  One way to think of probate is as the act of presenting a will to court officers for filing; often this is stated as to probate a will.  The other popular way to think of probate is as the method that an estate is overseen and routed through the courts after your passing.
The basic premise of probate it to transfer the estate that has been left behind in a fashion that is systematic and managed.  The estate must go through an exact procedure when being dispersed.  Before your inheritance can be divided amongst beneficiaries the administrator must see that all debts and taxes are paid on behalf of your estate.  Probate should be seen as a working guideline to transfer the estate on your behalf in accordance to your directions.
Probate applies to the death of any individual with an estate of any size, with or without a will in place.  If a will is in place upon your passing then it will lay down the ground rules for how and to whom your remaining estate is transferred.  Without a will in place the court will point an administrator to determine who in fact will receive the remains of your estate.
The process of probate is pretty basic when broken down.  There are two main steps involved: paying back debts that are owed on your behalf and transferring assets to the appropriate beneficiaries.
A probate court will oversee the process of probate.  Probate courts are state courts not federal and therefore the process may vary a bit from state to state but basically follow these basic four steps.
1)      A personal representative is assigned or appointed and sworn in.
2)      Heirs, creditors and the public are notified of your passing.
3)      The estate is inventoried.
4)      Estate is distributed including the payment of all outstanding debts.
The process is fairly simple.  Complications can arise but in most cases probate is a pretty straightforward procedure.
In probate it is important to understand that there is a difference between probate property and non-probate property.  In general assets that you alone own are probate assets while those owned jointly with others are often considered non-probate assets.  Non-probate assets will automatically pass on to the joint owner upon your death.  Another example of a non-probate asset is one that passes on to a named beneficiary automatically such as life insurance.
The Law Office of Sean J. Nichols is dedicated to assisting clients throughout legal issues that come with aging including: elder law, estate planning, probate law and more.  Check out the Law Office of Sean J. Nichols at to contact an estate attorney today.

The Basics In Estate Planning

No matter who you are it is probable that you have an estate.  Even if you don’t think you do, you most likely do.  An estate is made up of all of the things you own on your own including: your car, home, checking & saving accounts, investments, life insurance, furniture and personal possession.  No matter how large or small you have an estate and all estate has one thing in common, you can’t take it with you when are gone.
We are all going to eventually die that fact is inevitable.  Many people say they don’t care how things are distributed after they are gone but in reality that is most likely untrue as well.  There are certain people that you will want to have certain personal items.  In order to be sure that your wishes are carried out it is crucial that you provide written instructions stating who you want to receive your estate, what you want them to receive and when they should receive it.
This is known as an estate plan.  Creating an estate plan where your estate is distributed in the most efficient manner possible helps avoid additional tax, fees and court expenses.  An estate plan is created in advance of your passing and is used to name who receives your estate after you die.  A good estate plan will also include:
  • Instructions in an estate plan should not only include your property with value but also instructions on your personal values. A written document stating your values on religions, education, hard work, holiday traditions and what matters most to you.
  • Detailed instructions should be included on how you hope to be cared for if you should become disabled before you die. What type of care do you hope to be given during this period of time between when you become disabled and the end of your life?
  • Your estate plan should name a guardian and financial manager for children under the age of eighteen. Who do you want to care for them?  Do you want the guardian of your children to also be in charge of your financial assets?
  • How do you want to distribute money to loved ones that may not be able to manage money or may need financial assets later in life?
  • State the instructions for family members needing special care in order not to disrupt government benefits that are being received.
  • Include details on life insurance and how it is to provide for your family at the time of your death. Written details on disability insurance that replaces your income if you are unable to work due to illness or injury before death. Also, include long term care insurance instructions to ensure you can pay for care in cases of extended sickness and injury.
  • Estate plans need to also contain information on how your business should be transferred upon your retirement, disability or death.
  • An estate plan should establish a transfer of assets that minimizes legal fees, court costs and works to minimize the amount of taxes paid.
Proper estate planning is a continual process.  Continue to update the estate plan as events in your life change.  Set up a regular yearly appointment with your estate planning attorney to review and update the plan to ensure that your family is covered when you inevitably pass away.
The Law Office of Sean J. Nichols is dedicated to assisting clients throughout legal issues that come with aging including: elder lawestate planningprobate law and more.  Check out the Law Office of Sean J. Nichols at to contact an estate attorney today.

Elder Law Attorney’s Help Clients Avoid Probate

It’s true that as a society we work to avoid planning for the unpleasant inevitable, death.  It is easier to avoid the topic and go on about life living then to face the fact head on that eventually we will pass on and our families will continue to live without us.  However, if we plan ahead for what will happen to your property when you are no longer around it will save a great deal of time and money for those who you are leaving behind.  With a detailed estate plan in place you will ensure that your assets are dispersed accordingly.
Probate is the process that your assets will go through in observance of the terms set forth in your will often referred to as the probate litigation process.  This process is managed by your state’s probate court.  When assets are located outside of the state in which you live additional proceedings will take place in those states.  Assets that are jointly owned such as retirement benefits, life insurance proceeds, jointly owned property and bank account are considered non-probate assets.
Most people believe having a will in place will be enough to avoid probate but in reality this is not the case.  Any and all assets that you personally own even if intending to pass them on to your beneficiaries are subject to probate.  The process of probate is time consuming and tedious.  The rules that each state follows vary, rarely is probate proceeded with in a timely manner.  The process can take anywhere between three months to three years to resolve themselves depending on the state and size of your estate.  This is an exceptionally long time for your loved ones to wait to finalize your passing, especially if they need the income from the estate to settle your affairs in full.
The process of probate in itself is costly with various fees.  Of course the larger your estate the more potential there is for expense.  Smaller estates with properties outside of your state can become quite costly to settle.  Taking this all into consideration there are steps that individuals can take to avoid the probate process. Having the following in place can help your loved ones to avoid the often lengthy process of probate.
1)      Have a revocable living trust in place.
2)      Convert personal accounts and individual retirement accounts to pay on death accounts.
3)      Establish joint ownership for any and all property through any one of the following: joint tenancy, tenancy by the entirety and community property.
4)      Distribute property to loved ones before you pass away.  Gifts proceeding death do not undergo probate when you die.
5)      Benefit from small estate laws and provisions.  Reputable, local estate planning attorneys can help a great deal with this.
The Law Office of Sean J. Nichols is dedicated to assisting clients throughout legal issues that come with aging including: elder law, estate planning, probate law and more.  Check out the Law Office of Sean J. Nichols at to contact an estate attorney today.