Trusts, Estates, and Probate
Stearns Kim & Stearns helps you establish wills, trusts, healthcare directives, durable powers of attorney and other estate planning components that can ensure your legacy plays out as you intend. And we walk you through the process, making clear the reasoning behind our strategies.
Helping You with Your Estate
Beyond death and taxes, there is a third certainty: If you do not take steps to actively protect your estate while you are alive, the government and the courts will figure out what to do with it once you’re gone. We help you take control of your legacy by counseling you on the creation of:
- A will that lets you name your primary and contingent executor and beneficiaries, as well as certain legal conditions necessary for your beneficiaries to collect on your estate.
- Trusts that spare your bequests the cost, delay and publicity of probate, give you more control over when and how funds are to be distributed, and better protect assets from creditors and lawsuits.
- A business succession plan, including the use of buy-sell agreements and ways to minimize taxation when transition occurs.
The Advantage of Trusts
A trust is a separate animal from a will in that it governs how certain assets are to be handled.
Living trusts offer a way to pass assets on without subjecting your beneficiaries to probate. Assets you transfer into a revocable or irrevocable trust no longer belong to you and thus are no longer part of your estate — they will be exempt not only from probate, but from estate tax as well. In revocable trusts, you retain ownership of the assets. While alive you can change beneficiaries and trust provisions, invest trust assets to earn income to live on, and even withdraw some or all of the funds. Assets that remain upon your death will be liable for estate taxes, but your beneficiaries will still get a free pass from probate.
Testamentary trusts are created at the direction of your will when you pass. The assets funding them come from — and count as part of — your estate and will have been subject to both probate and estate. Nevertheless, testamentary trusts can be appropriate when you wish to retain greater control over when and how assets may be used for what.
Some of the more popular trusts we provide include:
- Charitable Trust — Directs assets to a particular charity or non-profit organization. Charitable lead trusts let you direct income earned by the assets to the charity, but bequeath the assets to a different beneficiary when you pass.
- Credit Shelter Trust —Puts the bulk of your assets into a trust for your spouse, who may use trust property and income from it, but will never own it. Since it is not part of their estate, when they pass the trust assets will bequeath to other beneficiaries estate tax-free. Also called a bypass or family trust.
- Irrevocable Life Insurance Trust — Removes your life insurance from your taxable estate to help pay estate costs and/or provide your heirs with tax-free income to see them through probate.
- QTIP Trust – Allows couples to postpone the payment of estate taxes until the second spouse dies.
- Qualified Personal Residence Trust — Removes the value of your home or vacation dwelling from your estate. Very useful when the value of your home is likely to appreciate.
- Special Needs Trust — Allows a person with special needs to receive an inheritance or gift without compromising their eligibility to continue receiving government assistance.
Estate & Trust Litigation
As in divorce, assets in death often become a point of family contention. Stearns Kim and Stearns stand ready to assist executors and administrators in petitioning the courts to uphold the intent of the deceased. We also represent trustees and aggrieved beneficiaries in resolving estate omissions and mismanagement.
Among the types of estate-related cases we have successfully litigated before the courts are:
- Trust and will contests
- Elder abuse
- Undue influence
- Probate appeals
If you would like our help or have questions, please contact us.