Answers to some of the most frequently-asked questions are listed below. Please feel free to contact us should you have additional questions or if we can be of help in any way.
Do I need to do an estate plan with an attorney?
Most people will benefit from a properly drafted estate plan. Even if a person has modest assets, the other documents created in the estate planning process, such as the durable power of attorney for financial matters, and the durable power of attorney for health care, are of great benefit in assisting a person's family in administering his or her affairs should he or she become ill or incapacitated. Beyond that, a will, or in many cases, a trust, is very helpful in creating an orderly way for assets to pass when someone dies.
As far as using an attorney is concerned, while it is true that many of the documents that an estate planning attorney will use can be found in very simple form in a bookstore or online, these documents, when used by a non-lawyer, will not be able to encompass the complexities of particular individual situations, and may contain \"boiler plate\" language that is not at all what the person intended. In addition, these forms may not even be valid in the state where the person using them resides.
Does the Curtin Law Office make house calls?
Yes. We are aware that there are a variety of circumstances that may make a visit to our office impossible. We are usually able to accommodate these situations with visits by our attorneys, to a client's home or bedside.
Does the Curtin Law Office offer a free consultation?
Generally not. While we welcome clients who wish to consult with us on estate planning or elder law issues and do not wish to engage our services, we will generally charge a fee for the time expended.
Will the Curtin Law Office prepare my estate planning for a flat fee?
The Curtin Law Office makes a practice of offering our clients the choice of a fixed fee or hourly engagement. While there may be particular situations where a flat fee would not be appropriate, in most instances if a client wishes to know up front the total cost of services, we are able to oblige. However, even when working with clients on a flat fee basis, that fee is based on an estimate of the hours that will be involved in completing that particular matter. We would be happy to discuss this issue further with interested potential clients.
What is probate, anyway?
Very simply, probate is the process by which a person's assets change hands at their death. If a person dies and his or her will says that all assets are to go to the children, the children cannot take possession of those assets until the will and other papers have been filed with the probate court, and the probate court has given its approval. The whole process takes at least six months, and often more.
Can probate be avoided?
There are a number of different ways of holding assets that will avoid probate. The simplest is probably just joint ownership, such as a piece of real estate held as joint tenants or a bank account held jointly. This type of assets will pass automatically to the other joint owner when the first owner dies – but keep in mind, there will still be a probate at the second death.
Another way to avoid probate is by assets which have 'designated beneficiaries', such as an insurance policy or a retirement plan (such as an IRA). These assets will pass to those beneficiaries when the owner of the asset dies.
Still another way to avoid probate is to hold assets in a revocable trust.
Why should I create a revocable trust?
In terms of avoiding probate, it is true that there are other methods (see the previous question). The advantage of a revocable trust for probate avoidance is that, when it is established and properly funded, it ensures a consistent estate plan. Too often, when people rely on designated beneficiaries and joint ownership, the result is a plan that is skewed unintentionally toward one or another beneficiary. The reason for this is that if you have multiple beneficiary designations, and you change one but forgot to change the others, you may create a different distribution than the one you had in mind. By contrast, with a revocable trust, the change can be made once (by means of an amendment to the trust) and this will affect all assets.
Other reasons for creating a revocable trust include minimizing estate taxes and keeping assets available for children until they reach adulthood. We would be happy to discuss with you the many reasons that revocable trusts are helpful to an estate plan.
How does the estate planning process work at the Curtin Law Office?
Generally, you will schedule an appointment with our office to meet with an attorney to discuss your estate plan. We will then send you a questionnaire, which we ask you to fill out prior to the appointment. This questionnaire contains numerous questions about your estate planning goals and the nature of your estate, and it is very helpful to us in working with you to create an estate plan. The attorney will usually have two meetings with you, the first to discuss your plan, after which draft documents will be created and sent to you, and then the second to review and sign the documents. Occasionally additional meetings are necessary, but this would be something you would discuss with the attorney. The whole process from scheduling the first appointment to completed estate plan usually takes about four weeks – although it is possible to expedite this process in certain circumstances.
What is elder law?
Our elder law practice involves helping individuals and families deal with a wide variety of issues including long term care, medical directives, incompetency, guardianship, disabilities, asset protection and Medicaid. At Curtin Law Office, our services include reviewing estates for long term planning purposes, creating special needs trusts for disabled individuals and addressing concerns relating to the guardianship of a loved one. We also assist our clients with navigating the complicated legal waters of Medicaid. Since many families are concerned about the high cost of nursing home care, we provide clients with advice relating to asset protection, should they require long term care either in a nursing home or at home. We also help to protect the community spouse’s assets and income, which may involve representation at elderly services and going to court for increased benefits.