Trusts & Estates

The attorneys in the Higgins, Cavanagh & Cooney Trusts and Estate practice group are experienced in complex estate planning and probate practice.

Attorneys involved in estate planning implement a range of services from simple wills through sophisticated trust planning. Full trust administration services are available, including will contest representation and other trust and probate litigation representation as necessary.

Trusts and estates are legal arrangements that allow individuals to manage and distribute their assets both during their lifetime and after their death. They are essential tools in estate planning, ensuring that one's assets are handled according to their wishes and efficiently transferred to beneficiaries.

  1. Trusts: A trust is a legal entity created to hold assets for the benefit of one or more individuals or organizations, known as beneficiaries. A trust involves three main parties:
    • Grantor/Settlor: The person who establishes the trust and transfers assets into it.
    • Trustee: The person or entity responsible for managing the trust and its assets in accordance with the trust's terms and for the benefit of the beneficiaries.
    • Beneficiaries: Those who receive the benefits of the trust, such as income or assets, as outlined in the trust document.
    Trusts can be revocable or irrevocable. Revocable trusts can be modified or revoked by the grantor during their lifetime, while irrevocable trusts cannot be altered once established. Trusts can serve various purposes, including asset protection, tax planning, providing for minor children or individuals with special needs, charitable giving, and more.
  2. Estates: An estate refers to the assets and liabilities left by a deceased person. Estate planning involves arranging for the management and distribution of these assets after death. Key components of estate planning include:
    • Wills: A legal document that outlines how a person's assets should be distributed after their death. It also appoints an executor to carry out these wishes and may include provisions for guardianship of minor children.
    • Probate: The legal process through which a court validates a will, appoints an executor or personal representative, and oversees the distribution of assets to beneficiaries. Assets that pass through probate are subject to court supervision and potential delays and costs.
    • Non-Probate Assets: Some assets, such as life insurance proceeds, retirement accounts with designated beneficiaries, and assets held in trusts, bypass probate and pass directly to beneficiaries.
    • Estate Taxes: Taxes imposed on the transfer of a person's assets upon their death. Estate tax laws vary by jurisdiction, and proper estate planning can help minimize the tax burden on heirs.

Effective estate planning often involves a combination of wills, trusts, beneficiary designations, and other strategies tailored to the individual's circumstances and goals. It's essential to consult with legal and financial professionals to develop a comprehensive plan that meets your needs and ensures the efficient transfer of assets to your loved ones.

  1. Types of Trusts:
    • Living Trust: Created during the grantor's lifetime and can be revocable or irrevocable. Assets are transferred into the trust and managed for the grantor's benefit during their lifetime, with provisions for distribution to beneficiaries upon the grantor's death.
    • Testamentary Trust: Created through a person's will and comes into effect after their death. Testamentary trusts can be used to provide for minor children, individuals with special needs, or to control the distribution of assets over time.
    • Special Needs Trust: Designed to provide for individuals with disabilities without jeopardizing their eligibility for government benefits. These trusts can supplement the beneficiary's needs while preserving their eligibility for programs such as Medicaid and Supplemental Security Income (SSI).
    • Charitable Trust: Established for charitable purposes, with the primary goal of benefiting one or more charitable organizations. Charitable trusts can provide tax benefits for the grantor while supporting causes they care about.
    • Asset Protection Trust: Created to shield assets from creditors or legal claims. Asset protection trusts are typically irrevocable and subject to specific laws and regulations.
  2. Estate Administration:
    • After someone passes away, their estate must go through the process of administration, which involves identifying and gathering assets, paying debts and taxes, and distributing remaining assets to heirs or beneficiaries.
    • The executor or personal representative named in the deceased's will (or appointed by the court if there is no will) is responsible for managing the estate administration process.
    • Estate administration can be complex, especially if there are disputes among heirs, contested wills, or complex assets such as business interests or real estate holdings.
  3. Estate Planning Strategies:
    • In addition to wills and trusts, estate planning may involve other strategies to minimize taxes, protect assets, and ensure the efficient transfer of wealth. These strategies may include gifting, life insurance, family limited partnerships, and charitable giving.
    • For high-net-worth individuals, advanced estate planning techniques such as generation-skipping trusts, grantor-retained annuity trusts (GRATs), and qualified personal residence trusts (QPRTs) may be used to transfer assets while minimizing estate and gift taxes.
    • Estate planning should be periodically reviewed and updated to account for changes in laws, family circumstances, and financial goals.
  4. Legal and Tax Considerations:
    • Estate planning involves navigating complex legal and tax issues. It's crucial to work with knowledgeable professionals, such as estate planning attorneys, tax advisors, and financial planners, to develop a comprehensive plan that addresses your specific needs and objectives.
    • Estate and gift tax laws vary by jurisdiction and can change over time. Staying informed about current tax laws and regulations is essential for effective estate planning and tax management.

By considering these aspects and working with professionals, individuals can develop tailored estate plans that protect their assets, provide for their loved ones, and achieve their long-term financial goals.

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