Ensuring that your assets are protected and will be passed on to your loved ones is a crucial accomplishment that can give you tremendous peace of mind. At New Beginnings Family Law, our experienced Huntsville estate planning lawyers are committed to helping clients achieve this goal.
The Huntsville estate planning attorneys at New Beginnings Family Law have extensive legal experience and deep roots in North Alabama. Our skilled and compassionate lawyers treat all our clients as if they were family. We offer estate planning solutions tailored to your specific needs and are proud to deliver quality legal services.
You can rely on New Beginnings Family Law to provide honest and transparent advice as we work hard to develop an estate plan that fits all your needs. We are always accessible and ready to answer your questions throughout the process.
To schedule a confidential consultation with our Huntsville estate planning lawyers, call us today or contact us online.
Estate Planning in Alabama Overview
In Alabama, as in other states, the will is the document used to distribute your assets to your intended heirs and beneficiaries when you die. Under Alabama law, anyone 18 years old or older who is of sound mind may make a will. For a will to be valid, it must be in writing and signed by the testator or by another individual chosen by the testator. The will has to be signed by at least two people who witnessed the signing.
Many people in Alabama choose to use a revocable living trust instead of a will. This can avoid or minimize probate and make decisions that benefit them tax-wise regarding their estate planning. Probate is the process of giving effect to a will, paying the debts and taxes of the estate, and distributing property according to the will’s terms. Probate, which is court-supervised, can be expensive and time-consuming.
If you are using trusts, there are still several reasons to consider including a will in your estate plan. For example, a will can be used to appoint a guardian over your minor children. A will may have provisions for how to handle any remaining property that was not covered in the trust. For example, your will can contain a provision that will direct such property into a pre-existing trust. Whether to use a will, trust, or a combination should be discussed with your lawyer as part of your estate plan.
While you do not have to hire a lawyer to prepare an estate plan, consulting with the Huntsville estate planning attorneys at New Beginnings Family Law can remove the guesswork and streamline the process so that you accomplish all of your goals. We are prepared to guide you through the entire estate planning process and ensure your wishes are secure.
Importance of Wills and Trusts
If a person dies without a will in Alabama, state law will control how the deceased person’s estate will be divided and distributed. The court will appoint an administrator to manage your estate during the probate process. If you create a will, you name the person that you wish to manage your estate.
A will can protect your family and your property. A will can enable you to:
- Leave your money and property to specific individuals and organizations
- Name a guardian to care for your children
- Name a person to manage money and property you leave to children
- Name an executor, who will ensure the terms of your will are carried out
Dying before making a will is common since many do not take the time to take care of estate planning. In Alabama, the assets of anyone who dies without a will are divided among their immediate family according to rule set out in state law.
Power of Attorney in Huntsville
You may one day not be able to make important financial decisions for yourself. That’s when a power of attorney can come into play. A power of attorney grants legal authority for another person to act on your behalf if you are unable to do so.
You can choose for this to begin immediately, on a specific date, or if and when you become incapacitated. Power of attorney powers generally terminate upon your death, unless you had a specific date set.Use the power of attorney if:
- You want to give someone authorization to act for you if you are incapable of doing so.
- You want to give someone the power to handle certain financial or legal decisions in your absence or if you become sick.
- You want to allow someone to act on your behalf if you become legally incompetent or incapacitated.
In Alabama, you may designate the power of attorney as “general,” which grants broad powers to handle your legal, financial, and health matters, among other issues, or “special,” which grants power for only particular situations.
Estate Planning Checklist and Actionable Tips
Cover the basics. Your estate plan should take into consideration what happens when you die or if you become disabled. Your plan needs to detail what you want to happen with your property upon your death, taking into consideration your family’s livelihood, the extent to which probate can be avoided, and how to minimize estate taxes. These goals can be accomplished by properly setting up ownership of assets, designating beneficiaries, and completing estate planning forms, among other things.
Plan your asset ownership. Any asset that has title documents can be set up to where, upon your death, the title automatically passes to a co-owner.
Identify the people you want to provide for. Think about all your loved ones you want to provide for and protect if something were to happen to you, such as:
Decide if you would like to make charitable donations. If you want charitable giving to be a part of your legacy, think about the organizations you support and consider whether you’d like to donate money or property to them.
Determine whether your potential beneficiaries have special needs. In some circumstances, beneficiaries or heirs may have specific needs that need to be addressed. Examples include:
- Minor children will need a guardian and will probably need financial support. Because minors cannot inherit money directly, you will need to consider the use of a legal tool like a trust to provide funds for them and ensure a reliable, responsible individual manages the money.
- Pets that need financial support. If you would like your money to go toward providing the best quality of life for your pets, you can create a trust with specific instructions for how the funds are to be used.
- One of your heirs is financially irresponsible. You may be concerned that one of your heirs will squander away their inheritance. In this case, you may want to use tools like a spendthrift trust to provide an inheritance that they cannot waste. A spendthrift trust lets you name a trustee to manage the money you provide.
- You have a disabled heir. A disabled heir may be receiving Supplemental Security Income, Medicaid, or other government benefits. Many federal benefits are means-tested, which means individuals with too much money lose access. Allowing a disabled heir to inherit your money directly could, therefore, cause problems.
How New Beginnings Family Law Can Help You
At New Beginnings Family Law, our experienced Huntsville estate planning lawyers can assist you with all aspects of your estate plan, including:
- Creating a will. While you can complete a will template online, many individual’s assets, families, and unique circumstances do not fit into a generic template. If you need to change a provision in a template will, you run the risk of invalidating the entire will. This is why it’s advisable to have a skilled and experienced attorney to draft your individualized will from scratch.
- Avoiding certain taxes. If you are looking to avoid heavy taxes on your estate, our attorneys can help. A common way of avoiding these taxes is through the use of trusts. Just like with wills, if you fill out a form incorrectly when setting up a trust, your estate plan could be invalidated.
- Advising as to which options best fit your situation. Sometimes a simple will is all that is necessary. Other times, a number of trusts may be required. The estate planning lawyers at New Beginnings Family Law can advise you on how much or how little your estate plan needs. Our attorneys can also help with other tools that may be useful, such as a living will and power of attorney.
- Notifying you when you should update your plan. An estate plan you put together five years ago may not work for your reality today. A change in your assets, your family, or where you live may require modifications to your plan. Having a lawyer who’s looking after your estate plan can help you keep your will and all the important documents up-to-date when you may otherwise not think about it.
- Keeping up with the latest laws. Estate planning laws in Alabama are constantly evolving, and only a knowledgeable estate planning lawyer will know about the newest rules that apply to you.
How to Get Started with Your Estate Planning
Have you been putting off your estate planning? You may be procrastinating in part because you are unsure of how to get started. The tips below will put you on the right track.
Organize your finances. Make a personal balance sheet with a list of your assets, their market values, and any debts against them. Include the net values and how they are titled. Collect the actual deeds and statements so your lawyer can look at them. Your lawyer will only be able to plan with the information you provide, so it’s critical that you are thorough and include everything.
Consider including the following:
- Home and any other real estate
- Titled property such as a car, boat, or RV
- Bank accounts
- Stocks, bonds, and other investment accounts
- Retirement savings including 401(k)s, IRAs, and pension plans
- Business and partnership interests
- Life insurance policies and annuities
- Items of special value such as coin jewelry and artwork
- An estimate of your personal property
- Debts other than those associated with the aforementioned assets (for example, credit card debt or personal loans)
List all the people you want to inherit from you. This may include your spouse, children, grandchildren, siblings, or a partner you are not married to. Include their full names, dates of birth, current addresses, and how they are related to you.
Consider who you want to be your executor or trustee. The individual you name to take on this responsibility should be someone you respect and trust. You should have confidence in their judgment and that they will honor your requests. If you don’t feel you have strong candidates for an executor or trustee, you may want to consider a professional.
Consider who you would like to make health care decisions for you. If you become unable to care for yourself and if you have specific instructions about your care or a particular facility (hospital, assisted living facility, nursing home), the person you designate can see that your specifications are followed.
Hire an attorney. An experienced estate planning lawyer has the knowledge and skills necessary to draft documents and will understand how to make your estate plan work for you, exactly how you want it to. The attorneys at New Beginnings Family Law know the legal requirements in Alabama. Laws vary from state to state, and a do-it-yourself program may not tell you everything you need to know. A simple mistake can have far-reaching complications that will only come to light after you have passed.
Contact Estate Planning Lawyers at New Beginnings Family Law Now
If you live in the Huntsville area and have a question about an estate plan, call New Beginnings Family Law today. We will be happy to walk you through these complex issues and put your mind at ease.
Call now to schedule a confidential consultation with our experienced and compassionate Alabama estate planning attorneys.