Estate Planning FAQs

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Estate planning is a complex area of law.  There is no one, uniform solution as every situation is unique.  That said, below are frequently asked questions to help make our initial consultation more productive for you.

Please contact our office at 314-727-0163 to schedule a free initial consultation or schedule online.

The short answer is yes, you can. Whether those documents will be valid or do what you expect them to do is the million-dollar question. While there are numerous do-it yourself estate planning kits available online, I would never advise someone to go that direction. The “one size fits all” approach with these online kits often causes problems and unintended consequences. Such problems often are not discovered until after the person has passed away and when it’s too late to correct those problems. Our office has seen do-it-yourself documents that are completely invalid under Missouri law. There is no replacement for the peace of mind it gives to have an experienced estate planning attorney draft your estate planning documents to your exact specifications. Having your documents professionally drafted will give you the confidence that things will go smoothly for your family after your incapacity or passing.

It will take a consultation with you to make customized recommendations, but in general, our office recommends the following for most people:

1. A Revocable Living Trust.

2. A Pour Over Will (the type of Will that accompanies a Trust).

3. A General Durable Power of Attorney.

4. A General Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care and Health Care Directive.

A Will is a legal document that states how you’d like your assets distributed upon your death. You may dispose of your assets in any manner you choose with the exception that you usually cannot completely disinherit a spouse. A Will is also the only place where you can designate a Guardian for your minor children in the event of your untimely passing. A Will further allows you to appoint the person who will be in charge of distributing your assets after your passing (called the “Personal Representative” or “Executor”). Having just a Will does not avoid Probate Court. Wills always go through the Probate Court process.

No. Assets that pass pursuant to a Will always have to go through Probate Court. Probate is the legal process that gives recognition to a Will, appoints a Personal Representative (Executor), and orders the distribution of a person’s assets according to that Will. The purpose of Probate is to formally pass title of assets from the deceased’s name to the beneficiaries listed in their Will.

On average, it takes between 7-18 months to finalize the Probate Process.

Yes, there are statutory fees paid to both the Personal Representative and the attorney handling the estate, and those fees can be staggering. Those fees are based on the total value of the deceased’s assets in Probate and are as follows:

Value of Probate EstateTotal Statutory Fees
$100,000$6,600
$250,000$14,850
$500,000$28,100
$750,000$40,600
$1,000,000$53,100
$2,000,000$93,100
$3,000,000$133,000
$4,000,000$173,000
$5,000,000$213,100
$10,000,000$413,100

One of the major goals of any Estate Plan is to avoid your assets going through Probate Court. The best way to avoid Probate Court is to draft and fully fund a Revocable Living Trust. A properly funded Trust will allow your assets to pass to your named beneficiaries without going through Probate Court, thus saving time and the statutory probate fees. Although there are some drawbacks to doing so, Probate can also be avoided by naming beneficiaries on each asset (these are often called PODs or TODs – “payable on death” or “transfer on death” beneficiaries).

A Revocable Living Trust is a sophisticated Estate Planning Document that sets forth how your assets will be managed and distributed both during your lifetime and after your death. Most people prefer to draft a Trust over a simple living Will due to the numerous advantages of a Trust. See FAQ below discussing such advantages.

Absolutely not. Trusts have become a usual estate planning tool for everyday people.

Any asset that is jointly owned with another individual, will usually go to the other co-owner. Any asset on which you’ve designated a beneficiary (POD or TOD) will usually go to that designated person. All other assets that are titled in your sole name will then be distributed as follows:

1. If you have a spouse but no children, your entire estate goes to your spouse.

2. If you have a spouse and surviving children (who are all also your spouse’s children), your spouse gets $20,000 plus 50% of your estate. Your surviving children or their descendants will equally divide the other 50%.

3. If you have a spouse and surviving children (one or more who are not your spouse’s children), your spouse gets 50% of your estate and your surviving children or their descendants will equally divide the other 50%.

4. If you don’t have a spouse, but have children, your entire estate will be distributed to your children or their descendants.

5. If you don’t have a spouse, children or descendants, your entire estate will be distributed to your father, mother, brothers and sister, or their descendants.

6. If you don’t have a surviving spouse, children, descendants, father, mother, brother, sister or their descendants, your entire estate will be distributed to your grandfather, grandmother, uncles, aunts or their descendants.

There are many advantages to a Revocable Living Trust, including the following:

1. Avoiding the 8–18-month cumbersome Probate Court process and the resultant delays in distributing assets.

2. Substantial money savings by avoiding Probate Court. The Probate fees set forth in an earlier question will be completely eliminated by drafting and funding a Revocable Living Trust. An attorney may still be needed to assist in the distribution of that Trust, but the costs are usually minimal when compared to the Probate Court fees.

3. Privacy. A Trust is a private document not open to the public.

4. Asset management upon incapacity. A Trust provides for continuity and back-up financial management of your assets during your disability or incapacity. Whoever you designate as the Successor Trustee will take over the management of your finances during such incapacity or disability and will use your assets to continue to care for you and your family.

5. Avoidance of a court appointed Guardian or Conservator. A Trust may avoid the necessity of having a Guardian or Conservatory appointed for you if you become incapacitated or disabled and are unable to manage your affairs.

6. A Trust is much easier to administer for the loved ones you leave behind.

It depends on the value of the deceased’s estate. For most of us, there are no taxes levied on inheritances – the gift is received tax free and is not considered income. If the decedent’s estate is over $12.92 million for an individual or $25.84 million for a married couple, estate taxed may be due. This is a topic that your Estate Planning attorney will inquire about and review if this may apply to you.

A “Power of Attorney” is a document where you appoint a person to act as your agent. Making a Power of Attorney “durable” means that such appointment is still effective after your incapacity. A General Durable Power of Attorney is primarily used to allow the person you appoint to handle your affairs in the event of your illness or disability. It allows your agent to handle all of your financial and personal decisions such as signing checks, paying bills, managing your money, dealing with taxes, dealing with your health insurance and benefit providers, and the like. Powers of Attorney are only effective while you’re living and automatically terminate upon your death. If you don’t have a Durable Power of Attorney, another person (even your spouse) does not have the legal right to sign documents for you and speak for you. Once you become incapacitated, it’s too late to draft this document – it may be signed in advance of any such incapacity.

This document is often referred to as an Advanced Directive and serves several purposes. In the first part, you appoint someone to make medical decisions for you if you’re unable to make such decisions on your own (e.g, you’re unconscious or otherwise unable to competently make such decisions). The second part of the document contains your health care directive where you set forth what type of medical treatment you want, or don’t want, in the event there is no expectation of your recovery from a terminal illness or injury. Many people often decide to forego any “extraordinary treatment” if there is no chance of their recovery, but every person’s wishes are different. Our office will discuss this in detail with you and customize this document to your exact specifications.

Yes. If we’ve never met before, we are glad to schedule a free initial consultation with you to discuss your situation, answer your questions, and offer our Estate Planning recommendations to you.

The goal is to make your Estate Planning Process simple and stress-free. Our office offers free initial consultations to Estate Planning clients either in-person, via Zoom or over the phone (your choice). During tat initial consultations, we will find out what you’re looking for, answer your questions, make recommendations, and lay out a general roadmap for the Estate Planning process. After that meeting, if you wish to proceed forward, we will provide you with a questionnaire to complete, and we’ll schedule a follow-up meeting to gather information and discuss how you’d like to set up your documents. We’ll pour through each document in detail, discuss your options, and gather the information necessary to customize your Estate Planning documents to your specific needs. Approximately 7-10 days after that last meeting, we’ll send you a complete draft of your documents for review. Along with the documents, you’ll also receive detailed summaries of your documents that make them much easier to read and digest.

After you’ve reviewed the documents, you can call, email or meet with us again to discuss any questions or changes that you may have. Once you tell us that the documents are in final form, we’ll schedule a signing appointment where you’ll come into the office to sign your documents before a notary public and witnesses. After that appointment, you’ll receive your original signed documents for safekeeping along with an extra copy of everything. We’ll also review some general instructions regarding your documents. If a Trust is one of the documents that our office drafted for you, we’ll discuss your next step of moving assets into that new Trust. We’ll supply you with very detailed “how to” instructions, and will review those instructions with you and answer any questions that you may have. That funding process usually doesn’t take much time and most likely will only require you to go to your bank and the Driver’s License office to adjust your car title. Everything else can usually be accomplished over the phone, via mail or online.

Overall, our office strives to make the Estate Planning process very easy and smooth.

Our office has vast experience in counseling clients in these difficult decisions. We strive to make Estate Planning as simple as possible for you. After we find out some information on you, your family, your finances, and your goals, we will explain your options and provide you with our recommendations. We’ll explain those options in an easy-to-understand way that will allow you to make the final decisions on what documents you want to draft. Many people who come into our office for an initial consultation don’t really know what documents they want or need, but leave that consultation with a much clearer picture of what documents will benefit them and their family.

Estate Planning FAQs
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