Estate Planning Lawyer in Arizona
Arizona Estate Planning Lawyer
Many people assume that estate planning is only necessary for those who are retired or exceptionally wealthy. This is simply not true. Estate planning is for anyone who wants to protect their assets, children or other dependents after they pass away.
An estate plan is most effective when it is prepared well in advance. In fact, estate plans made later in life may actually be more susceptible to legal challenges. That is the time when questions of mental fitness or coercion may arise.
If you have questions about planning your estate, the attorneys of Brown & Hobkirk, PLLC are here with answers. For more than 20 years, our estate planning attorneys have represented clients throughout Arizona. Our experienced legal staff is prepared to address your unique circumstances. We will listen carefully to your questions or concerns and craft a legal approach specifically tailored to you and your family.
Writing a Will
When you prepare your last will and testament, you help protect your property and your loved ones. A will formalizes your final wishes on important life decisions such as guardianship and asset distribution. If you die without a valid will in Arizona, state intestacy laws determine what happens to your assets and dependents.
Take these steps as you start writing your will:
- Account for your valuable assets – Your valuable assets include items of significant worth, including cash, real estate, vehicles, financial accounts, jewelry and antiques. Do not worry over smaller items such as knickknacks or appliances.
- List out your heirs and other beneficiaries – Your heirs include your spouse, your children and other family members. Other beneficiaries of your estate may include friends, charities or religious groups. If you wish to intentionally omit any legal heirs from your will, it is a good idea to explicitly state that fact.
- Consider guardianship of minors and dependent adults – If you pass away without appointing a guardian for any young children under your care, the state of Arizona will make this appointment for you. Choosing a guardian for minor children is one of the most important choices you can make as a parent.
- Decide how you want your assets distributed – You can give all of your assets to one individual or distribute them among several persons. Write down the name of your heirs and beneficiaries, then list the assets you would like each to receive.
- Nominate a personal representative – A personal representative or executor is a person you can choose to ensure your wishes are followed after your passing. Administering an estate can be a substantial burden. Choose someone for that task who is both trustworthy and capable.
- Prepare an official, signed document – An unsigned, handwritten will may be accepted by Arizona courts. However, the legal process of probating your estate is easier for your representative when your wishes are set out in a formal document. A legally finalized will in Arizona must be signed in front of two witnesses. Those witnesses must also sign the document within a reasonable period.
- Consult with an Arizona estate planning attorney – We recommend that you discuss your estate planning wishes with an attorney. The Arizona estate planning lawyers at Brown & Hobkirk, PLLC can help. We can ensure you cover every eventuality with a thorough and legally-sound estate plan.
Creating an Advance Healthcare Directive
A healthcare directive is a planning tool that allows people to make healthcare decisions in advance. In an advance directive, you can state specific healthcare treatment preferences. You can also empower a trusted agent to make medical decisions for you if you become incapacitated or too ill to give informed consent.
When people prepare advance healthcare directives, they may specify how they want to be medically cared for near the end of their life. Some persons may indicate they want to be kept alive by doctors for as long as possible. Others may indicate they prefer a more comfortable, natural death. Other medical considerations include preferences on surgeries, medications or where you want to be cared for as you near the end of your life.
In the state of Arizona, the Attorney General’s office offers a free Life Care Planning Packet. The document includes four fill-in-the-blank advance directive forms. You do not have to complete all four forms, although you can if you desire. These forms are included in the state’s advance directive:
- Health Care Power of Attorney Directive – This directive allows you to appoint another person to make medical choices for you if you are incapacitated. This person is known as an “agent.” You can list an alternative agent in case your original agent cannot be reached.
- Mental Health Care Power of Attorney Directive – This directive is basically the same as the Health Care Power of Attorney Directive, but it applies specifically to mental health decisions. For example, an agent with Mental Health Care Power of Attorney has the ability to admit you into a psychiatric hospital or memory care facility.
- Living Will – A living will should not be confused with a last will and testament. In a living will, you record specific preferences or instructions for future health care or end-of-life treatment. For example, you may state whether you want your life to be artificially prolonged as much as possible. You may also indicate how you would like to be treated if you fall into a persistent coma.
- Pre-Hospital Medical Directive – A pre-hospital medical directive gives instructions for pre-hospital emergency healthcare situations. It may be used to request that emergency medical technicians forgo CPR in the event of heart or respiratory failure.
Designating Power of Attorney
A Power of Attorney document allows you to grant authority to another person who can act on your behalf. When you create a Power of Attorney document, you are known as the Principal. The person you grant authority to is called the Attorney-in-Fact or Agent. In Arizona, any legal adult of sound mind can designate a Power of Attorney or be named a lawful Agent.
A Power of Attorney designation is only valid during the life of the Principal. A Power of Attorney is not a replacement for a last will and testament. However, different types of Power of Attorney exist. Among them:
- A General Power of Attorney grants unlimited authority to an Agent to act on your behalf. A person with General Power of Attorney can do anything that the law allows you to do as a Principal. The Agent can, for example, withdraw money from your accounts, borrow funds in your name or sell your property.
- A Special Power of Attorney is less flexible than a General Power of Attorney. It may be used to limit an Agent’s authority. An Agent with Special Power of Attorney may only act on behalf of the Principal in ways that are clearly outlined in the Power of Attorney document.
- A Durable Power of Attorney is frequently used in healthcare and mental healthcare situations. A Durable Power of Attorney is effective if you become disabled or incapacitated and are unable to make decisions for yourself. Power of Attorney forms without any “durability” provisions are generally considered void if you become disabled or incapacitated.
- A Parental Power of Attorney grants an Agent temporary authority over the Principal’s child or children. In Arizona, Parental Power of Attorney generally expires after six months, except in cases of active-duty military personnel. The Parental Power of Attorney designation is a short-term measure. It is not a substitute for granting long-term legal guardianship or custody of minors.
Protecting Your Assets with a Trust
A trust is a type of fiduciary relationship. A trust allows a trustor, or creator of the trust, to arrange for a trustee to hold and distribute the trustor’s assets to one or more beneficiaries. Unlike a will, a trust can go into effect while the trustor is still alive. A trust can be used to manage assets without being subject to court regulation or supervision. An estate plan can include both a will and a trust.
There are two main types of trusts. A revocable, or “living” trust, can be changed at any time, while the terms of an irrevocable trust are permanent. Many revocable trusts are written so that they become irrevocable upon the death of the trustor.
Notable advantages of a well-prepared trust include:
- Avoiding probate, which is the process of validating a will in court. With a trust, you can transfer property and assets directly to beneficiaries through your trustee.
- Privacy. Trusts can be administered privately. Wills on the other hand, are probated in court as a matter of public record.
- Tax and cost reduction. Estate assets transferred through a trust are typically subject to fewer federal taxes and cost less to administer.
- Protecting family members by transferring specific properties or funds directly to vulnerable individuals, such as minors or incapacitated adults. If your funds are in a trust, they are safe from creditors and government interference.
Estate Planning Checklist to Get Started
Brown & Hobkirk, PLLC has developed a useful estate planning checklist. Whether your estate is large or small, these steps will get you started on a strategic long-term plan.
- Schedule a free consultation with an attorney.
- Determine the assets included in your estate.
- Decide who your beneficiaries will be.
- Determine which estate planning tools you wish to use.
- Gather forms and asset information for your consultation.
- Decide how you will store your new estate plan.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Estate Planning
At Brown & Hobkirk, PLLC we offer a free consultation to address your concerns and answer your questions. We have provided these answers to questions we are commonly asked by our estate planning clients.
You do not need a lawyer to prepare a valid will. However, an estate planning attorney can answer your estate planning questions and ensure your estate plan accomplishes your goals while complying with state and federal laws.
We believe it is better to draw up an estate plan before one is needed. Many people begin their estate plan when they marry, begin to save money, buy property, have children or inherit family assets.
If you die “intestate,” or without a will, Arizona’s intestacy laws will determine how your estate is managed, who administers your assets, how assets are distributed, and who assumes guardianship of your minor children.
The general recommendation is to review your estate plan every three to five years and update it as necessary. You may also want to make changes after certain life events, such as the birth of new children or grandchildren, the death of an heir, or the acquisition of new assets.
How Our Arizona Estate Planning Lawyers Can Help You
We appreciate that you may be tempted by the relatively low cost of do-it-yourself estate planning worksheets, however, the peace of mind that comes with the professional advice of an experienced estate planning lawyer is very valuable. The entire purpose of estate planning is to make sure your assets and dependents are properly cared for after you die.
An Arizona estate planning attorney can help you by:
- Preparing and updating documents on your behalf.
- Making sure your documents comply with state law.
- Ensuring your estate plan does exactly what you want.
- Providing legal advice on wills, trusts and other designations.
- Finding ways to avoid probate and unnecessary estate taxes.
- Sorting out complicated family circumstances.
- Providing legal advice to heirs and beneficiaries after you pass.
Talk to an Estate Planning Lawyer in Arizona Now
At Brown & Hobkirk, PLLC we understand that no two families are alike. We take the time to customize each estate plan to the specific needs of each client. We pride ourselves on our superior communication skills and our ability to explain complicated legal matters in a simple and understandable way. When you hire us, you can rest assured that a skilled and attentive legal advocate will help you effectively plan your estate to take care of your loved ones.