Estate planning is the process of managing and controlling your assets while you are alive and well, planning for yourself and your loved ones if you become disabled or incapacitated, efficiently transferring your property to your beneficiaries at death, and protecting your loved ones and their inheritances after you are gone.
While all of these facets of estate planning may sound straightforward, there are many strategies that can be involved in a well-designed estate plan, and various legal tools may be utilized such as wills, revocable living trusts, irrevocable trusts, durable powers of attorney, health care powers of attorney, living wills, and other documents.
No one enjoys thinking about death or disability; however, establishing a proper estate plan is one of the most important steps you can take to protect yourself and your loved ones. Without a plan of your own, the State of North Carolina has one for you. The State’s plan involves the guardianship process, intestacy laws, and probate. In our experience, the State’s plan is not what most people would choose for themselves and their families. By planning ahead, you can replace the State’s plan with one of your own and ensure you and your loved ones are protected.
Common Components of Estate Plans
- Lifetime Control
- Incapacity Planning
- Wealth Transfer Planning
- Estate and Income Tax Planning
- Family and Beneficiary Protection
- Charitable Gift Planning
- Business Planning
- Special Needs Planning
In North Carolina, the death of a loved one triggers the mandate to administer his or her estate, to manage and distribute the estate’s assets. In most cases, estate administration involves a court-managed process called probate. However, if your loved one owned his or her assets through a well-drafted and properly funded living trust, it is likely that little or no court-managed administration is necessary, although the successor trustee will need to administer the distribution of assets according to the trust. There are also other exceptions to the full administration process, such as for small estates.
The probate process is managed by the Clerk of Superior Court of the county in which the deceased lived. The Clerk serves as the probate judge, and neither the Clerk nor the Clerk’s staff can practice law, give legal advice, or assist with preparing accounts or completing forms. Thus, if you have been appointed as the executor or administrator of an estate, it is highly recommended that you consult with an attorney at the outset of the estate administration. We can assist you with the entire estate administration process, making it as sensible and pain-free as possible.
When a deceased person has a fully funded revocable living trust, the probate process is often unnecessary. However, the trustee will still need to manage the trust property during the administration process, pay debts and taxes, and distribute the estate according to the terms of the trust. Likewise, if a decedent has some other type of trust, such as an Irrevocable Life Insurance Trust (ILIT), the trust must be administered after the death of the Trustmaker.
If you are the trustee of a deceased loved one’s trust, we can assist you with your duties as trustee to ensure the trust is administered correctly and efficiently.
In today’s litigious society, more and more people are concerned with protecting their assets and the inheritances they leave their children. Business owners, professionals and property owners should be aware of the risks associated with conducting their business, practicing in their respective fields, and being responsible for others’ actions. With our background experience in litigation, we can effectively represent professionals, small business owners, and property owners to protect their assets from potential litigation, judgments, liens, and fraud.
Insurance alone does not always protect against these threats. We help our clients protect their assets by utilizing a variety of asset protection strategies, including specially designed trusts, business entities, and other legal arrangements, so that they can enjoy the highest level of confidence in the security of their accumulated wealth. The specific strategies employed in any situation may vary depending on the client’s needs and concerns, the nature of the assets, the location of the assets, the tax laws that apply to those assets, and the client’s overall estate planning goals and objectives.
Advanced Estate Planning
Advanced Estate Planning focuses on reducing estate taxes and income taxes, advanced asset protection planning, transitioning significant wealth or unique assets, and preserving family real estate for the next generation. Without proper planning, taxes can erode wealth, creditors can take inheritances, and cherished family assets can be squandered.
We counsel families in North Carolina on the establishment and maintenance of a variety of sophisticated planning strategies, such as Family Limited Partnerships (FLP), Family Limited Liability Companies (FLLC), Qualified Personal Residence Trusts (QPRT), Irrevocable Life Insurance Trusts (ILIT), and a wide range of other advanced planning strategies.
Some of our advanced planning strategies include:
- Qualified Personal Residence Trusts
- Family Limited Partnerships/LLCs
- Irrevocable Life Insurance Trusts (ILIT)
- Retirement Plan Trusts
- Domestic or Foreign Asset Protection Trusts
- Dynasty Trusts
- Grantor Retained Annuity Trusts
- Charitable Remainder or Lead Trusts
Specialty Estate Planning
Special Needs Planning
If you have a child or loved one with special needs (such as mental or physical disabilities), you almost certainly have considered what would happen to them if you were no longer able to care for them. Special Needs and Supplemental Needs Trusts are designed to supplement, not replace public benefits, and can provide for a variety of life-enhancing benefits without compromising your loved ones’ eligibility for government benefits.
Uses of funds in Special Needs Trusts include:
- Annual check-ups at an independent medical facility
- Attendance of religious services
- Supplemental education and tutoring
- Out-of-pocket medical and dental expenses
- Transportation (including the purchase of a vehicle)
- Vehicle maintenance
- Hobbies and recreational activities
- Travel and vacations
- Funds for entertainment (such as movies, shows, or ballgames)
- Purchase of life-enhancing goods and services (such as computers, video games, furniture, or electronics)
- Athletic training or competitions
- Special dietary needs
- Personal care attendant or escort
Planning for Minor Children
All parents, whether or not they have substantial wealth, should have an estate plan that sets forth their wishes for their children if they die or if they become disabled and can no longer care for their children. This plan should include appointing a guardian for your minor children in your Will. The guardian should provide stability for your children during the difficult transition and should be someone you trust to continue caring for your children in a manner with which you are comfortable.
However, the court, not the guardian, will control the child’s inheritance until the child reaches legal age (usually 18). At that time, the child will receive the entire inheritance. Another option in planning for children is a trust, the preferred option for many parents and grandparents. A trust allows you, not the court, to select who will manage the inheritance for your children or grandchildren. A trust also allows you to provide guidelines to support your children, provide for their education, and accommodate each child’s unique needs and circumstances.
Planning for Pets
One of the primary goals of estate planning is to provide for loved ones, and for many of us, the term “loved ones” certainly includes our pets. While you may think a friend or family member will look out for your pet, they may lack the means or space to properly care for them, and without proper planning, there may not be a backup plan to care for your pet. Under North Carolina law, pets are considered property. Thus, an individual cannot leave money outright to a pet, as property cannot own other property.
Many pet owners are now using a “pet trust” to provide for continuing care for their pets. A trust can specify who will care for your pet (and successors if the person you name is unable or unwilling), provide funds for care, and also give specific directions about how you want your pet cared for. In addition, a properly drafted pet trust will provide for someone to ensure your pet is receiving the care you intended.
Firearms Planning and Gun Trusts
The transfer of firearms from an estate to an heir requires careful planning, especially regarding those weapons regulated by the National Firearms Act (NFA). The NFA regulates six types of firearms, including machine guns, destructive devices (such as grenades), sound suppressors (commonly referred to as silencers), short-barreled rifles, short-barreled shotguns, and “any other weapons”, a subcategory further defined by the NFA.
Since it is expressly illegal for anyone other than the licensed individual to possess an NFA-regulated firearm, owners have committed what’s become known as an “accidental felony,” by conveying ownership upon death to an unlicensed family member or other heir. To remedy this situation, the legal community has created the gun trust, a mechanism used to acquire, maintain, and distribute NFA firearms safely and effectively. Gun trusts can also facilitate sharing of NFA firearms during the lifetime of the owner.
An estate plan is a snapshot of you, your family, your assets, and the laws in effect at the time of its creation. When we deliver a completed estate plan, it is current and up to date. However, it can and will become outdated—sometimes more quickly than you can imagine.
Laws change. Family situations change. Assets and finances change. It’s critical to know—and determine on a regular basis—whether the changes in your life or the law affect your estate plan and whether your plan needs to be updated. At Forrest Firm, we have a dynamic solution to the challenge of evolving estate planning needs. We call this solution EstateCare.
After completing your estate plan, we automatically enroll our clients in this critical program for one year, allowing them to experience first-hand how quickly their needs can change and how they can utilize the program for cost-effective and time-efficient methods for making amendments or additions to their plans. For EstateCare members, we monitor changes in the law and advise them when changes affect their planning. We also work with members to proactively update their planning to account for changes to their family, assets, and goals.
EstateCare Features and Benefits:
- Annual Review
- Asset Coordination
- Complimentary Updates
- Discount on Plan Updates, Advanced Planning and Administration
- Accessibility and Collaboration
- EstateCare Vault
- Legal Directives
- Children’s Healthcare Documents
- Member Workshops
- Trust Protector
- Notary Services