This site is dedicated to answering questions about, and providing legal services for, estate planning and estate administration in general. A description of the basic components of this important legal process (and instructions to navigate this site) are as follows:
Estate planning begins by determining the residency of the client. For Arizona residents, Arizona law governs the administration (both at death and during life) of all assets except for real estate located in other jurisdictions. For non-Arizona residents, Arizona law governs the administration of only the client's real estate located in Arizona.
Arizona administration of the estates of Arizona residents is called domiciliary administration (for probate, conservatorship, etc., estates); while Arizona administration of Arizona real estate of non-Arizona residents is call ancillary administration (for probate, conservatorships, etc.).
Asset and current estate planning document evaluation -- The estate plan begins by organizing the client's assets and liabilities through asset: (1) identification, (2) valuation and (3) title determination; and (4) by reviewing the client's current estate planning documents. When the client's residency is analyzed in conjunction with each asset's identification, the legal jurisdiction (applicable law) for each asset is determined. Valuation of the assets identifies, among other things, whether there are income and death transfer burdens that require special attention. Title determination and current estate planning documentation dictates how the property would be "currently" managed upon the client's legal incapacity, and at death, compared to the revised, "optimal" estate plan.
Asset control and distribution -- Assets that have no title designation, namely, are titled only in the client's sole name (without co or survivor designated ownership) remain under the client's sole control during life and at death pass to the beneficiaries named in the client's last will and testament, or if none, the decedent's closest next of kin named in the administrative jurisdiction's law of "interstate distribution" -- or, if none, passes to the state.
Assets with title designations, present varying degrees of current control by the client, and at death pass to the surviving beneficiary/(ies) as designated in title. For instance, (a) joint tenancy -- to the surviving join tenant(s), (b) contractual designations (life insurance policies, annuities, employee benefit plans and individual retirement accounts) pay to the (surviving) designated beneficiary/ies, (c) pay on death ("POD") accounts -- pay to the (surviving) designated POD beneficiary/ies; (d) transfer on death ("TOD") -- brokerage accounts -- pay to the (surviving) designated TOD beneficiary/ies, (e) trusts -- pay to the designated trustee to distribute to the (surviving) trust beneficiary/ies as designated in the instrument.
Family planning -- While, assessment of assets, their titles and values are important, purely financial considerations should not overlook the client's family situation and any special needs thereof. Therefore, the final estate plan must be crafted with these needs in circumstances in mind.
Estate administration deals with the disposition of the client's assets when the client is no longer able to do so either because of disability or death:
Lifetime administration -- For a minor's estate, the parent may have powers to administer small estates with no court intervention; otherwise, a court appointed conservator may be needed. For an incapacitated adult's estate, if that adult has completed appropriate prior planning, the property can be managed either by an attorney in fact (under a durable power of attorney), or a trustee under a trust. Otherwise, a court appointed conservator, similar protective proceeding may be needed to provide estate management. If the client is an Arizona resident, Arizona law governs administration of all property (including the appointment of a conservator), except for real estate located in another jurisdiction. For non-Arizona residents, Arizona law govern only real estate located in Arizona.
At-death administration -- At death, depending on asset location and title and previous estate planning documentation preparation, the client's estate may pass (a) entirely by title designation without the appointment of an administrator or court intervention; (b) to an administrator for distribution to beneficiaries according to the client's last will and testament, or if none, by interstate distribution (with or without court intervention -- depending on the estate's size); (c) to a trustee to administer as a trust estate under a trust agreement; or (d) under a combination of any or all of the above procedures. This administrative process can also involve the law, and courts, of multiple jurisdictions.
After evaluating the client's financial and personal family information, legal documents are prepared to best implement the estate plan. Among the documents considered are a: durable power of attorney, last will and testament, living trust, medical power of attorney, living will declaration, marital property agreements, community property agreements, deeds of conveyance, assignments, etc. However, the documents themselves are merely legal tools. One must understand how they are used both in crafting and implementing them in the context of a comprehensive, overall plan, therefore, consultation with qualified professionals in their creation and handling is necessary.
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