Estate Planning Attorney in Maryland
Estate planning is the process of carefully defining your goals and creating legal instructions that ensure your goals are met. More specifically, an estate plan consists of various legal documents that dictate the distribution of your assets upon your death, as well as important decisions regarding your personal care, should you become unable to speak for yourself. This requires an estate planning attorney that is able to work with you now to ensure your instructions are clearly defined and can be carried out to your precise specifications.
In short, a good estate plan enables you to dictate to whom your assets will be distributed and how, while at the same time reducing taxes, court costs, miscellaneous expenses and attorney’s fees as much as possible.
At a minimum, every estate plan should include a Will or Living Trust, a Power of Attorney, a Health Care Agent Appointment, a HIPAA Release, and a Living Will (sometimes called an Advanced Directive).
A Will takes effect upon your death. It has no legal effect while you are alive. A Will does the following things:
- It dictates to whom your assets will be distributed and how.
- It designates who will settle your affairs and conduct the probate of your estate.
- It identifies your choice of a guardian of any minor or disabled children.
Without a Will, each state has laws that dictate to whom your assets will pass when you die. Such laws are called laws of intestate. Without a Will, your estate may be distributed to unintended and unfavored people.
A Living Trust is often used as a “will substitute.” A Living Trust is a contract that you enter into with yourself. You decide the terms of the Living Trust and you serve as its Trustee. The Living Trust says how your trust assets will be administered during any period of disability and how they will be distributed upon your death. You control all aspects of the Living Trust and are able to amend or revoke it at any time. To the extent you have transferred your non-retirement assets into your Living Trust, the need of a guardianship can be avoided if you become disabled and probate can be avoided upon your death. If a guardianship is needed, you not only lose the ability to decide how your assets will be administered (your guardian, not you, will do that), you also lose the ability to decide who will control your assets (a judge, not you, decides who your guardian will be). Guardianship and probate proceedings are expensive, time consuming, and create public records at the courthouse of your personal affairs that are subject to public view which anyone can access.
An Appointment of Health Care Agent enables you to decide who will make health care decisions (and potential end-of-life decisions) for you if you are unable to do so yourself. Without such a document, the law will dictate who your Health Care Agent will be.
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) prohibits your health care providers from releasing your medical history and records to anyone but you in the absence of a written authorization. However, with a signed “HIPAA Release,” such medical information can be provided to those who are authorized to receive it. This is very important should you become unable to make your own Health Care decisions as it will enable your health care agent to make informed decisions about your health.
A Living Will (sometimes referred to as an Advanced Directive) allows you to decide end-of-life decisions. Such decisions include whether you want to remain on life supporting apparatus (such as ventilators) and whether to continue being nourished by artificial means (such as feeding tubes) if you are in a terminal medical condition or permanent vegetative state. It also allows you to determine whether you want to be an organ donor. Without a Living Will, these decisions will be made by others if you are unable to do so yourself. By having a Living Will, you relieve your loved ones of the pressure and emotional cost of making such decisions for you.
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