PLANNING FOR YOUR OWN ESTATE
A will can be a very short and simple document, or it can be long and complex, or it can be somewhere in between. It depends entirely on the needs, circumstances, and goals of the client.
As lawyers, our goal in working with our clients is not simply to create “the right document”. It is to help clients identify their plan and establish it in a clear and understandable way, so that when it is done they will know what they have put in place and their heirs will have no difficulty putting the plan to work when the time comes.
As this suggests, the planning process and the will drafting process are two different things. We understand this difference. We know that every situation needs careful thought, whether it leads to a simple will or a complex one. We begin by helping our clients look at their needs, circumstances, and goals to assess what kinds of planning documents will work best for them, and we help identify if clients will benefit by involving other experts such as accountants or estate planners.
A will (and the plan behind it) should be no more complicated than the need it is asked to fill. We help our clients understand the estate planning opportunities available to them. Surprisingly, many strategies commonly associated with the “rich and famous” are not out of the reach of average people, and estates do not need to be large before such strategies can be of benefit. Our Wills and Estates team is knowledgeable and experienced in these planning approaches, and we bring a practical approach to assessing if they make sense for our clients and where they do not.
We will normally charge a fee for the initial consultation. We find it helpful to have our clients complete a questionnaire, or an interview with one of our legal assistants, to give us a general picture. We then meet with our clients to determine the next step. In some cases we may be able to finalize the documents and complete the process in this first meeting. If more is required, we will usually be ready at that point to recommend the type of planning documents our clients will need to move forward with their plans.
The wills we create for our clients are either “standard wills” or “estate planned wills”. By “standard wills” we mean that we will not be working in consultation with other advisors (e.g. accountants or estate planners), and we will not be incorporating tax strategies in the wills. In addition, we will not evaluate or recommend strategies specifically aimed at reducing probate costs. “Estate planned wills” involve one or more of these features.
We have a standard fee for a basic will, which covers only the essential functions of naming executors and dividing the estate in generic shares. Additional features such as specific bequests, charitable gifts, beneficiary designations, cottage trusts, options and rights of first refusal, and trusts for grandchildren or beneficiaries with special needs, can be included at additional cost. Wherever possible we will establish an overall cost estimate before the wills are prepared.
The time and effort required for estate planned wills varies greatly with the extent of consulting and planning required. They sometimes involve other documents such as trust declarations and contracts between spouses. As such, we usually assess fees in these cases on the basis of an hourly rate. We are happy to discuss this with our clients on an individual basis.
We also assist with Power of Attorney and Health Care Directive documents. While these are very important pieces in the planning process, they generally do not involve detailed planning, and barring unusual circumstances we include these at a reasonable additional cost as an adjunct to the will planning process.
Whether the end result is something very simple, very complex, or anywhere in between, our approach assures our clients good value for what they receive.
HANDLING OR DISPUTING SOMEONE ELSES ESTATE
The lawyers at Wardell Gillis can provide you with assistance if you have been appointed executor (or executrix) of the estate of someone who has died. We can also provide legal advice and assistance if someone has died without leaving a will or without appointing an executor. We will help you understand the roles and responsibilities involved and prepare the applications for probate or letters of administration.
If someone you love has died and you believe there are problems with the will or with the way that person's exectuor or admintrator is proceeding with his or her estate, Wardell Gillis is able to provide you with advice and assistance in that regard as well.