When someone dies they leave affairs that need to be addressed: children and pets to be cared for, assets to be transferred, business to be wrapped up, and debts to be paid.
This can be done by:
• Formal probate,
• Small estate, or
• Trust administration.
The method that is used and the difficulty of the process will depend on the planning that was done in advance, the assets and issues left behind, and the people involved. If you have lost a loved one, we encourage you to schedule a consultation to find out what method would best address your circumstances, what will be involved in that process, and whether you are qualified to act as the deceased's personal representative.
If you are qualified to serve as personal representative, wecan assist you in starting the process and advise you each step of the way to make sure that you follow the law, have the resources to support good decisions, and can resolve any conflicts that arise. Our goal is to take care of everything as efficiently as possible to maximize the assets available to take care of the deceased's loved ones and beneficiaries. We have worked hard to break the process down into manageable steps and are there to assist you as much or as little as you need.
If you are a heir or beneficiary of an estate or trust and are concerned about how the estate is being managed we are happy to meet with you to discuss your rights. Beneficiaries and heirs are entitled to notice and information about the status of the estate and for the estate to be managed efficiently and wisely. Where that isn't happening, we work with clients to help get the process back on track. We feel it is important, however, that all heirs and beneficiaries are aware that resolving these issues through traditional litigation in the courts can be time consuming, expensive, and destructive to personal relationships. Because most estates are modest and finite, often when families litigate their conflicts in a probate or trust administration everyone looses except the lawyers. There are cases where litigation is necessary but we always encourage clients to first seek to resolve their issues through informal conflict coaching or negotiation, mediation, or collaborative law.
As an individual grows older they face new legal issues as they make arrangements for long term care and deal with health care challenges and possible long term disability.
These challenges are always best addressed with good disability planning that includes Durable Powers of Attorney and Health Care Surrogates. But even with the best planning, issues can arise where clients benefit from legal advice.
• Understanding authority granted by Durable Powers of Attorney and record keeping obligation,
• Negotiating care plans and documenting Care Contracts,
• Understanding the impact of spending and gifting on future eligibility for public benefits, and
• Properly administering special needs trusts.
These issues are usually best resolved by proactively seeking legal advice and working cooperatively with all parties with a great deal of transparency, honesty, and thoughtfulness. Where conflict does arise, we recommend that clients attempt to resolve these issues through informal conflict coaching and negotiation, mediation or collaborative law before considering court intervention.
In cases where planning hasn't been done before the disability or where the plan is not sufficient to care for the individual, the only option may be guardianship. In a guardianship, the courts are asked to intervene, find the individual to be incapacitated, and to appoint a Guardian. The Guardian accepts responsibility for the financial and personal needs of the individual. As a result, he or she must report regularly to the court on the status of the individual's personal and financial status. We serve in a number of different capacities in these cases including representing Petitioners, representing Wards and assisting Guardians with ongoing reporting. Guardianship is an extreme remedy and the process is complicated and is best approached with good, experienced legal representation.