Frequently Asked Questions

Here you’ll find answers to frequently asked questions about estate planning.
For more information on how to create or update your estate plan, contact the law office of Steven M. Jentzen, P.C. at 734-482-5466.

What is an estate plan?

An estate plan is a legal arrangement for the present and future management of your property, including provision for its disposal at the time of disability or death. It also enables you to make arrangements for guardianship over your children in the event of an incapacitating illness or death.

What are the advantages of an estate plan?

Your estate plan is the best way to protect your property and provide for the welfare of your loved ones. A good estate plan:

  • Distributes your property with minimum time and money
  • Keeps your property out of probate court
  • Minimizes taxes payable upon your death
  • Ensures your health care is in the hands of a competent individual should you become incapacitated
  • Provides your minor child with a legal guardian in the event of your death

If I have a will, do I need anything else in my estate plan?

Having a will is an important first step in your estate plan, but for many people it is not enough. For example, a will may not ensure your property is taxed at the lowest rate possible. It may not be enough to give directions regarding your health care or other legal arrangements, should you become incapacitated. Also, a will can be overruled by probate court.

What is a trust, and how can it help me protect my assets?

A trust is an arrangement of property so that the assets are owned by a non-personal legal entity (the “trust”) and managed by a trustee for the benefit of designated beneficiaries. Trusts can also be used to manage property for elderly persons or to safeguard it for younger heirs until they reach a certain age.

Trusts are outside the jurisdiction of Probate Court, which enables you to better safeguard its distribution upon your death. Furthermore, by putting your property in a trust, you may reduce the amount of estate taxes, so that your heirs receive more of what you have earned throughout your lifetime.

Are there legal arrangements other than a trust that I can use to keep my property out of probate court?

Yes. For example, a Joint Ownership Arrangement allows you to jointly own property with another person, so that upon the death of one owner, the property passes automatically to the surviving owner. Other situations may call for different estate planning situations, which your attorney can advise you about.

What is a power of attorney? What is a health care power of attorney?

A power of attorney enables you to appoint someone to handle your financial affairs, should you be unable to do so. A health care power of attorney outlines your health care wishes and appoints an individual to make health care decisions for you if you are unable to do so.

Can an estate plan reflect my values or religious beliefs?

Yes — your estate plan can be an important tool in sharing your values and beliefs during and after your lifetime. For example, you may specify that your assets be used in ways that reflect your values, or how health care decisions should be made in light of your beliefs. Some people may want to include a “spiritual testament” to be read out with their will, in which they leave their loved ones not only their property, but also a personal statement about what they believe is valuable in life.

How do I begin to create an estate plan?

Before contacting a lawyer, consider some of the following questions:

  • Who do I want to provide for? Consider both individuals and charitable institutions.
  • What property do I own, and what income does it produce? Include businesses, investments, real estate, retirement plan funds, life insurance assets and personal property of real or sentimental value.
  • Who are the people I trust to make decisions for me regarding my property or health care, should I become incapacitated?
  • Who are the people I trust to oversee the management and distribution of my property upon my death?
  • Who are the planners who may be able to help me devise and implement my plan — attorney, accountant, financial planner, bank trust officer, pastor, etc.