Drafting your own will with self-help court forms can save you money, but probably won’t allow you and your beneficiaries to take advantage of all of the benefits that estate planning offers. Most people simply don’t have the knowledge and experience surrounding Arizona estate planning, or the time and energy to gain it, that a skilled estate planning attorney has. So if you try to cut corners while planning your estate, you could end up with family disputes during your illness or after your death, additional taxes, less increase in property value, and more. Our experienced Arizona estate planning team knows how to plan your estate strategically and efficiently, allowing us to charge competitive rates for our services. We make estate planning more affordable for families in Mesa and across Arizona. Whether you need to amend your estate plan, or need help deciding which combination of instruments to use, our estate planning team is ready to help.
Life is unpredictable, but a carefully crafted estate plan can give you and your family a sense of security knowing that your loved ones will be provided for after you pass away. You can rest easy knowing that your estate plan has been crafted by a meticulous, experienced professional. Our Arizona estate planning team doesn’t just offer high quality legal services at bargain rates- we also offer flexible hours and phone appointments to work with our clients’ schedules. We are able to offer a quote for affordable flat rate services for most clients. To get started with your free phone consultation, call 480-833-8000 to speak with one of our Mesa Estate Planning lawyers today.
Make Your Wishes Clear With a Carefully Drafted Will
Using the precise wording that will guarantee that your assets go to your intended beneficiaries can be more difficult than it seems. You will also need to name an executor for your estate, as well as an alternate if your executor is unable to fulfill their responsibilities. Your executor will be responsible for guiding your estate through probate and distributing your assets amongst your beneficiaries.
If you own anything of value, you’d probably rather pass it on to those you love the most, rather than the state or distant and opportunistic relatives. While it can be unpleasant to think about your own death, proper estate planning can reduce stress and tensions after your passing. It also can help reduce the amount of time your estate spends in probate, so that your loved ones can receive their inheritances without delay.
Strengthen Your Estate Plan Against Disputes and Challenges
Will disputes can be one of the biggest holdups during the probate process. An improperly executed will, including one that was signed under undue influence, could be invalidated. Challengers may also say that you didn’t have the legal capacity necessary at the time of signing, or that the will was created fraudulently. Not only will these types of disputes draw out the probate process, but they can also cost your intended recipients thousands of dollars in attorney’s fees. Make sure your will is executed properly with the assistance of an experienced professional.
Avoid the Most Common Estate Planning Mistakes
One of the most common mistakes we see is people waiting to plan their estate until it is too late. Even if you are young and healthy, you could be in an accident that takes away your ability to articulate your wishes. For example, you won’t be able to tell doctors which medical treatments you consent to if you’re in a coma, or create any valid estate planning documents if you’ve experienced a head injury that takes away the requisite mental capacity to do so. Wills and other legal documents can be changed in the future through codicils, so it’s never too early to start planning your estate.
Another common mistake we see is not communicating your intentions with your beneficiaries. If one of your potential heirs has expectations about your estate that conflict with your plan, it can make things easier to let them know in advance rather than after you pass away.
When wills and other estate planning documents are drafted hastily and without the proper knowledge of applicable state law, it can create unnecessary delay and expense. Oversights could lead to tax liability that an estate planning attorney would have been able to avoid. You could also make mistakes like improper witnessing and unclear phrasing if you draft your own will.
ESTATE PLANNING FAQs IN MESA
YOUR ESTATE PLANNING QUESTIONS ANSWERED BY MY ARIZONA LAWYERS
You can use far more documents than your last will and testament while creating your estate plan in Arizona.
You can utilize any combination of these to make sure that you have preparations for every possible situation:
Will: A document that assigns an executor to your estate, designates who you would like to serve as a legal guardian for your minor children, and who should receive your possessions.
Trust: You can contribute funds or assets to a trust, and it can transfer to your intended recipient(s) during or after your lifetime. Because the contents of a trust aren’t required to go through the probate process, your beneficiaries will receive a trust faster after your death than through a will. It can also potentially reduce the amount of taxes paid from the estate. You will need to assign a trustee to manage the asset until it is transferred to your beneficiaries.
Power of Attorney: You can give someone the authority to make a broad or specific array of decisions on your behalf if you ever lose the legal capacity to do so yourself. A general power of attorney allows an agent to buy and sell property, give gifts, pay taxes, make business decisions, and more on your behalf. A special or limited power of attorney gives the agent a narrow scope of authority, or only for a one-time transaction. A health care power of attorney, which is also sometimes called a health care proxy, gives the person you select the authority to make medical decisions if you become incapacitated.
Advanced Health Care Directive: Rather than giving someone else the authority to make medical decisions for you, you can predetermine those decisions yourself in a living will. You can elect whether you would like to receive treatments like artificial breathing, tube feeding, CPR, dialysis, and more.
What Could Go Wrong with a Poorly Drafted Estate Plan
If you don’t plan your estate carefully, you could miss out on some advantages, or your mistakes could cause additional stress, money, and time for your loved ones after your passing. There are a variety of mistakes that you could make in the estate planning process if you don’t have the guidance of an Arizona estate planning attorney.
Your will and other estate planning documents can’t be located/validated. Failure to alert family members of your estate plan could result in your will being lost, or improper execution could lead to the court declining to validate your will. Without a valid will, you will be considered to have passed away intestate, and your estate will transfer as per Arizona’s intestacy laws. That could give estranged or distant relatives the opportunity to benefit from your estate, instead of the people and charitable organizations you hold dearest.
A stranger or even a creditor could end up as the executor of your estate. You can use your will to name an executor to your estate, which is the person who will guide your estate through probate and make sure all of your beneficiaries receive their inheritances. This is your chance to pick someone trustworthy to fulfill this responsibility, rather than the state’s choice or a stranger. Without this personal relationship, the executor may be less inclined to work on your probate case in an expedient manner.
The state will have to decide who will take care of your minor children. One of the most important things you can do with your will is name who you would like to be the legal guardian of your children if you pass away before they reach adulthood. While the state would probably go first to the relatives closest on your family tree, you can designate a friend, cousin, godparent, or anyone else you wish to care for your children. You should always confirm with your intended legal guardian before listing them in your will, and you should an alternate legal guardian as well.
Your beneficiaries could be on the hook for more tax liability. Your estate could be subject to both state and federal taxes after you pass away. An estate planning attorney can help you figure out which instruments would allow your beneficiaries to pay the least taxes. Transferring some or all of your estate through certain trusts could be the most advantageous way to plan your estate, depending on your circumstances.
A poorly planned estate could extend the probate process. In Arizona, you can generally expect even simple estates to take at least 6 months to pass through probate, as state requirements automatically make the process a minimum of 5 months long. It could take even longer if your will isn’t executed properly, or if you haven’t named an executor or alternate executor for your estate. If your estate hasn’t been fortified against disputes, this could also delay the distribution of your estate. Probate can be stressful for your family members, potentially interfering with the grieving process. Not only can it be emotionally draining, but it can be financially draining as well. The longer your estate spends in probate, the more your family members might have to pay in hourly attorney’s fees.
You could risk being under a guardianship or conservatorship. If you ever end up with a disease or medical condition that takes away your legal capacity to make important decisions, you can use a power of attorney, health care power of attorney, or living will to lay out how you would like these decisions to be made. If your documents are invalidated, or your chosen agent is unavailable to fulfill their duties and you didn’t name an alternate, there’s a chance the court may need to appoint a guardian or conservator to make those decisions. An estate plan allows you to give this responsibility to someone you trust, rather than whoever the state chooses.
Arizona Probate Process
Probate is the legal process that your estate must go through after you pass away. Probate exists to give the court supervision over the distribution of your assets after your death, making sure all claims to your estate are handled and everything is executed per your estate plan. There are several steps in the probate process which must be completed by your estate executor.
First, the executor or a family member must go to the county court where the decedent lived to file the will and death certificate. This must be completed within 2 years of the decedent’s death in Arizona. If an executor hasn’t yet been named to the estate, the court will assign one at this point.
The executor will then need to create a general inventory of the estate, keeping track of all of the decedent’s possessions as well as their estimated values. They will also need to notify any of the decedent’s creditors about their passing. All known creditors should be notified by mail, and the executor should also publish a notice of the decedent’s passing in the newspaper once a week for three consecutive weeks. The creditors will have 60 days after delivery by mail and 4 months after delivery by publication to make a claim against the estate in probate court.
Once all debts and taxes from the estate have been paid, it can finally be distributed. The executor will identify all of the beneficiaries, make sure they receive their designated inheritances, and close the probate process with the court.
As you may be able to tell, serving as the executor of an estate can be hard work. Arizona probate laws state that executors are entitled to compensation for the work they complete on an estate. The court has guidelines that provide reasonable rates for probate services, or an executor can be paid by the hour.
Probate isn’t necessary for every estate in Arizona. You will need to sum up the value of your estate, both in real property, or real estate, and personal property, which is just about everything else. Your estate will count as a small estate in Arizona if the total value of personal property is less than $75,000, and the total value of real property is less than $100,000. The executor will need to file an affidavit proving the estate falls within these limits, along with the will and death certificate, with the court. However, there are still certain waiting periods even for small estates that bypass probate, so you can still expect it to take at least a few months for your beneficiaries to receive their inheritances.
Different Trusts with Different Purposes
As discussed above, trusts can help your beneficiaries avoid certain taxes, as well as the probate process. Not only can this save time and money, but can protect the privacy interests of everyone who would be involved in the probate case. Trusts can also allow you to designate what exactly you would like your estate to be used to accomplish.
For example, you can use a trust to provide for your children or grandchildren’s college education, or for the medical treatments of a disabled relative. You can contribute assets or funds to a trust, and a trustee will maintain the trust until it is time for it to be transferred to the beneficiary. Contact our Arizona estate planning attorneys for help deciding which type(s) of trusts are right for you.
Living trust:As the name suggests, this type of trust becomes active while you are still alive. You can serve as the trustee of a living trust, and you can designate who will take over after you pass away. A living trust is revocable as long as you aren’t legally incapacitated.
Testamentary trust:The opposite of a living trust- a trust that goes into effect after you pass away.
Dynasty Trust:This trust is also sometimes referred to as a generation skipping trust. You can use this trust to benefit your grandchildren, great-grandchildren, etc. (at least two generations back) with less tax liability.
Family Trust:This trust is also called a bypass trust or a credit shelter trust. You can use it to avoid paying taxes on your estate that may have applied if you had only used a will to distribute your estate.
Irrevocable Life Insurance Trust: You can use this trust to remove your life insurance policy from your taxable estate. You will not be able to use your life insurance policy as a line of credit once you create this trust.
Qualified Terminal Interest Property trust:This type of trust is most often used when a divorced spouse remarries. It can be used to financially support a second spouse for their lifetime while leaving the rest of the estate to any children and other heirs.
Qualified Personal Residence trust:You can use this trust to exclude the value of your residential home from the rest of your estate, potentially reducing the amount of taxes owed on it. It can also reduce the possibility of probate disputes over your home’s value.
Prepare for the Worst with Advanced Health Care Directives
Most people think of wills and trusts when they hear the term “estate planning.” However, another vital part of your estate plan involves not the distribution of your assets, but deciding how doctors should proceed if you are ever in a coma, develop dementia or Alzheimer’s, or another medical condition that takes away your legal capacity to make such decisions.
When you create an advanced health care directive, you can either predetermine your decision on certain medical issues, or leave that responsibility to someone you trust. There are several types of medical treatments you can predetermine in your living will. Some of these are life-prolonging: CPR, blood transfusions, dialysis, prescription medications, diagnostics, surgery, and respirator use. You can also dictate whether or not you would like to receive tube feeding and hydration in your living will. You can also state the types of palliative care, or care only meant to provide comfort before death, you would like to receive. If you don’t wish to receive life saving treatments, you can use a Do Not Resuscitate, or DNR, order. It is commonly referred to as a Physicians Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment, or POLST, order.
Perhaps you aren’t comfortable making these types of decisions in advance- but there still may come a day where you don’t have the legal capacity to make these decisions yourself. If you would rather these types of decisions be made in the moment, you should consider using a health care power of attorney. This gives someone you choose, also known as your health care proxy, the right to make important medical decisions on your behalf. You can also use a general power of attorney to give your agent the authority to make other types of decisions if you become legally incapacitated, such as business and financial decisions. Discuss which documents work best for you with one of our experienced Arizona estate planning attorneys.
When to Review Your Estate Plan
With My AZ Lawyers
Estate plans aren’t set in stone, and you can continue to change most of your instruments as long as you have the requisite legal capacity. Some people choose to review their estate plans at regular intervals, such as every five or ten years. You may also want to review your estate plan after major family changes like a divorce, marriage, or the birth or adoption of a new child. You should also review your estate plan if you are diagnosed with a medical condition that could be fatal or cause you to become legally incapacitated. You will also need to review your estate plan if you wish to disown any of your heirs. Someone you left a large portion of your estate to could have passed away, or one of your loved ones could be diagnosed with a serious illness.
Depending on the changes you want to make to your estate plan, you may be able to amend it through codicils, or you may have to revoke some of your instruments and create entirely new ones. Failure to properly execute your codicils or revoke your old instruments could result in delays and disputes during probate. Whenever you think it’s time to tune up your estate plan, call our office to speak with one of our dedicated Mesa estate planning lawyers.
ARIZONA’S BEST ESTATE PLANNING ATTORNEYS
Our Arizona estate planning team provides the highest quality legal services at affordable rates. We also offer flexible hours and appointments by phone to work with our clients’ schedules. We can offer a quote for an affordable flat rate for legal services for most cases. Get started by scheduling a free phone consultation, call 480-833-8000 to speak with one of our Mesa Estate Planning lawyers today.