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Estate Planning

Not all estates are created equal, and not all estate planning attorneys are created equal. The team of estate planning attorneys at McDaniel Wolff have decades of experience and advanced degrees in taxation enabling them to provide premier estate planning services to our clients. We are committed to using our knowledge of the law and extensive resources to ensure your estate and family’s inheritance are secure.

No matter your age, it’s never too early to begin planning for a situation where you become disabled or pass from this life. Estate planning can be a simple process that releases your loved ones from unnecessary burdens and prevents unintended persons from taking your assets or having control over your estate. 

The process also helps your surviving family members avoid disputes and extra legal fees after death. By implementing a proper estate plan, you can safeguard your loved one’s rights to your estate and provide yourself the peace of mind that your affairs will be resolved should the unforeseen happen.

If we can assist you with your estate plan, please call or email one of our estate planning attorneys featured on this page, or submit an inquiry via our contact form available here.

What is an Estate Plan?

Estate Planning Attorney

An estate plan is a legal strategy designed to arrange for the care and disposition of your property at death or incapacitation during life. For most people, an estate plan typically involves implementing a variety of legal documents, such as: 

  • A Last Will and Testament
  • Revocable Trusts
  • Irrevocable Trusts
  • Durable Powers of Attorney 
  • Health Care Power of Attorney or Advanced Medical Directives

Estate planning may also include consideration of life or disability insurance, placing beneficiary designations (or payable on death designations) on accounts and retirement assets, or restructuring ownership of your property.

When done correctly, estate planning eliminates uncertainty and minimizes the potential for negative effects on your estate and surviving family members. What estate planning devices are appropriate for you will depend on numerous circumstances, such as the size and complexity of your family, as well as the size of your assets. Our job as estate planning attorneys is to work with you to evaluate your family circumstances and prepare customized legal documents that best fit your needs.

Who Needs an Estate Plan?

Many people operate under the assumption that estate planning is only meant for wealthy families who want to determine how to handle their fortunes. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Estate planning is typically advisable for most any adult that has assets and a family. Among many other reasons, estate planning documents are needed to:

  • Appoint trustworthy parties to manage and distribute your estate
  • Ensure that the intended parties receive your assets
  • Make certain that the management and distribution of your estate is carried out in a quick and cost-efficient manner
  • Enabling your estate to be administered outside the view of the public eye by avoiding probate courts
  • Substantially reduce the chance of inter-family disputes
  • Nominate dependable parties to make health care and financial decisions for you in the event you become mentally incapacitated during life

In a world of uncertainty, making plans for the future is a good idea for everyone, no matter how old, young, or wealthy. 

Last Will & Testament

A last will and testament is typically the cornerstone of a simple estate plan. It is a legal document that sets forth your wishes regarding the distribution of property, the nomination of the person you want to be in charge of administering your estate, and it may also include instructions regarding the care of minor children. If a will is used as the focal point of your estate plan, probate administration may be necessary to administer and distribute your estate.

Arkansas law requires that strict formalities be followed when a will is signed or amended. One example such formalities is the requirement that your signature be witnessed by two persons who are disinterested in your estate. Failure to adhere to such formalities can result in an ineffective will. Part of our job as estate planning attorneys is to ensure full compliance with Arkansas law so that your estate planning documents are properly executed and enforceable in court.

Revocable Living Trusts

A trust is a legal relationship where one or more persons transfer property to a trustee to hold and administer the property for the benefit of the trust’s beneficiaries. Trusts are typically established by a legal document that dictates how the trust will be administered. The maker of the trust (sometimes referred to as the “settlor” or “grantor”) conveys property to a trustee who administers the assets of the trust for the benefit of the beneficiaries named in the trust instrument.

Estate Planning Probate Attorney

Trusts can be created for a number of purposes including bypassing probate, estate tax savings, holding specific assets (such as real estate, art or a firearms collection), or simply because they offer the settlor a level of certainty that other types of estate planning may not.

A “revocable trust” (also frequently referred to as a “living trust”) is a trust in which almost any changes can be made to the trust by the settlor during his or her life. It is very common for estate plans to use revocable trusts that name the settlor (the person creating the trust) as both the trustee and primary beneficiary until their deaths or incapacity. This provides the settlor the ability to retain control over his or her estate while providing several other benefits mentioned herein.

One of the primary benefits of using a revocable trust in your estate plan is the ability to avoid the unnecessary burden and expense associated with probate administration by having the vast majority of your assets held in the name of your trust. By doing so, such assets pass outside of probate administration, thereby enabling your surviving family members to distribute your estate in a cost-efficient, quick and private manner.

Another primary benefit of a trust is the ability to provide for a beneficiary to receive distributions from your estate over a period of time and under limited circumstances, as opposed to getting a large lump sum all at once. In cases where minors, young adults or financially irresponsible individuals may be beneficiaries of your estate, it may be desirable to implement a trust so that an inheritance is not wasted. In such situations, a trust instrument can instruct your trustee to hold and distribute trust assets to such beneficiaries for limited purposes thereby ensuring that a beneficiary’s inheritance is used for sound financial purposes.

Health Care Power of Attorney / Living Wills

Estate planning is not only about making decisions for after the time of your death. Many events can occur while you are alive that you will want to plan for, such as health emergencies, end-of-life treatment, or major medical procedures.

A health care power of attorney (also referred to as a health care proxy) is a person appointed by you to make health care decisions for you in the event that you are incapacitated and unable to do so yourself. In the event that such a person is unable to serve in such capacity, a “living will” (also referred to as a health-care directive) typically acts as a legal document which instructs attending medical personnel not to use artificial life support (or to discontinue its use) if you become incapacitated and in an incurable state of terminal illness.

“Living wills” are designed to relieve family members from making difficult health care decisions should you be in an irreversible coma or persistent vegetative state. Creating these documents can support your estate plan by:

  • Giving clear guidance to your doctors.
  • Providing clarity and comfort that your end-of-life wishes were carried out to your loved ones.
  • Preventing disagreements between your family members.
  • Limiting any emotional burdens on your family members and loved ones.
  • Avoiding the need for court intervention such as a guardianship proceeding. 

Durable Power of Attorney

There may be a time in your life where a trusted individual is needed to make financial decisions and manage your property on your behalf. This decision may arise from unforeseen health emergencies, or from declining age and mental acuity. There are many situations where you may want to grant someone else such authority to act on your behalf, such as:

  • Signing checks and paying your bills;
  • Managing real estate and other investment assets;
  • Filing tax returns;
  • Employing professional help on your behalf, such as health, accounting and legal professionals; or
  • Settling existing legal claims.

A power of attorney is a type of document that grants a trusted individual, or an organization, the power to manage your personal financial affairs should you be unable to do so yourself. A power of attorney can be of the most useful estate planning devices because the only alternative to the power of attorney is a guardianship, which costs the client much more time and expense than a power of attorney.

In case you ever become mentally incapacitated, you will need what is known as a “durable” power of attorney. A durable power of attorney simply means that the document stays in effect if you become incapacitated and unable to handle matters on your own.

Business Succession Planning

Succession planning prepares a business for every eventuality, so the operation can continue to operate at the death, retirement, illness, or incapacity of a key member of the leadership team. A succession plan is a legal strategy to pass on the leadership roles in a company to ensure the enterprise transitions smoothly.

Every business succession plan is entirely unique and may involve transferring ownership to a co-owner, heir, key employee, or outside party. Family-owned businesses should have a succession plan in place to avoid certain pitfalls that could damage or destroy the operation, such as a situation where ownership or control of the business passes to individuals who are not best suited to run the company. For larger corporations, a business succession plan typically involves hiring, training, and identifying candidates that are capable of rising through the ranks, along with grooming them for executive positions in the future, a powerful strategy for retaining top talent.

If you are in need of business succession planning, our estate planning attorneys can assist you with:

  • Evaluating key personnel or family members who should be left in charge of your company;
  • Ensuring that proper documents are in place providing which family member will take over, and how your other heirs will be compensated.

Asset Protection

Commercial Litigation Attorneys

Our estate planning attorneys can work with you to evaluate advanced asset protection strategies. A comprehensive estate plan works to pass your wealth on to your heirs, while asset protection does more: these strategies allow you to protect more of your assets during your lifetime by insulating them from unforeseen liabilities such as large judgments from lawsuits or other significant obligations to creditors. A creditor can be anyone with a significant claim on your assets: your business partner, a bank, the Internal Revenue Service, or even a former spouse. 

Asset protection strategies are not for everyone, but they can be effective if properly implemented and maintained. Such strategies include:

  • Strategic gifting and the use of existing federal gift tax exemptions
  • Creation of family limited partnerships to hold and manage family investment assets
  • Irrevocable domestic asset protection trusts
  • Offshore trusts
  • Asset and liability isolation strategies

Estate Tax Planning

An estate tax, also known as “inheritance tax” or “death tax” is a tax imposed by the federal government when you pass away if your estate is valued over a certain amount. Arkansas does not currently impose an estate tax. For 2024, an inflation adjustment has lifted the federal estate tax exemption to $13.61 million per individual and $27.22 million per couple. The current top estate-tax rate is 40%.

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We routinely work with high net worth individuals to design creative estate plans that are designed to pass the maximum amount of wealth to future generations by minimizing gift, estate, and generation-skipping transfer taxes. We provide clients with multi-generational planning that is specifically tailored to your estate tax needs, including estate plans which utilize the following devices:

  • Lifetime Gifts to Irrevocable Dynasty Trusts
  • Charitable Trusts
  • Life Insurance Trusts
  • Grantor Retained Annuity Trusts
  • Family Limited Partnerships
  • Spousal Lifetime Access Trusts
  • Gifts to Private Family Foundations

When Should I Update My Will or Trust?

If you already have a will or trust, you should review your estate planning documents frequently to make sure they adequately conform to your wishes. You should consider changing your will or trust in the following circumstances:

  • When you give birth to or adopt a child;
  • When a family member or other beneficiary of your estate dies;
  • When you marry or divorce;
  • When your net worth increases or decreases dramatically;
  • When there are changes in the federal estate tax laws;
  • When you decide to change an executor, trustee, or guardian;
  • When you want to modify the way your property will be distributed;
  • When your children are no longer minors, or are old enough to handle financial matters on their own;
  • When you move to another state; or
  • When you wish to eliminate gifts to certain beneficiaries.

Amendments to estate planning documents typically require compliance with the same legal formalities that applied when they were originally signed. Because of this, you should never try to change your estate planning documents without consulting with an experienced estate planning attorney. This only risks the possibility of ambiguity and a potential conflict among your family members.

If we can assist you with your estate plan, please call or email one of our estate planning attorneys featured on this page, or submit an inquiry via our contact form available here.

Featured Estate Planning Attorneys

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