Estate Planning Frequently Asked Questions



An estate plan is a plan for your future: a set of decisions you make regarding your life and assets, followed by the preparation of documents for you to sign. These documents provide instructions for your future and security for your family and loved ones. An Estate Plan carries out your wishes concerning your property before and after your death.

Careful estate planning allows you to safeguard assets you have acquired, invested in, or procured over a lifetime of building your family and property. Your estate plan organizes these assets for protection while you are still alive, and then distributes the assets to your heirs when you are gone - helping to protect your family, friends and charitable organizations.

Basically, an estate plan ensures your wishes are clearly communicated, and your family and assets are protected. An estate plan shows you care enough about your family and heirs not to burden them with probate court and any unfinished business. It is a gift you alone can give to your family, your friends and the charities you embrace, while still promoting the values that mean the most to you.

Everyone who has savings, a home, a car, life insurance, a retirement plan, and household belongings has an estate (whether or not they have a spouse or partner, children, family or elderly parents). An estate is all of the assets that you own (real estate or otherwise). We can help you put a plan in place to care for your assets, your health and independence, and your family in the event of your incapacity or death. With our legal guidance, we can help you avoid the uncertainty of probate court interference and possible tax issues.

You can start your estate planning at any time. However, several life triggering events make it critical to make sure your estate plan is created or updated:

-Getting married (or divorced or remarried)
-Birth of a child
-Starting a business
-Moving from another state or country
-Buying a home
-Death or Incapacity of a spouse
-Divorce or separation
-It’s been more than 5 years since a review of your current plan

Not necessarily. Estate planning can begin slowly, starting with what you can afford. If you are a single adult or a young family, you may not need a complex or in-depth estate plan at this time. As your family grows, you acquire assets or move up in business, you can develop your Estate Plan with the guidance from Peterson Law Firm, P.A.

If this happens, the probate laws in South Carolina will be the deciding factor in how your assets are distributed. If you have minor children, the court will control their inheritance until they're of legal age. Should both parents pass away, the court would appoint a guardian for your children, and it may not be the guardian of your choice.

It is critical to plan for mental and physical incapacitation before it happens. No one likes to dwell on such an event, but proper planning can assist your loved ones to take care of you and your property. Should a tragedy leave you incapacitated, you may not have the mental or physical ability to manage your affairs. To assist your spouse, children or family to care for you, you’ll have to create a legal document which allows them to act for you. This document (a Power of Attorney) can appoint someone you trust to pay your bills from your accounts, sell stocks, and make other important financial decisions for you.

By explaining your wishes clearly in advance regarding your assets, your independence, or life-prolonging medical procedures, you can assure your independence and protect your loved ones without the necessity of court intervention. This is your legal journey - let us guide you in crafting the most effective estate plan for you and your family.

Control over what happens to your property after you die.
Appointment of guardians for your minor children
Avoiding the unnecessary delays, publicity, and fees/taxes of probate court
Keeping your financial business from public view (by using a living trust)
Promoting your values through charitable gifts
Putting a plan in place for the care of your pets
Manage the affairs of any size estate

In estate planning, your assets may be personal property such as bank accounts, savings accounts, life insurance, annuities, stock, and retirement accounts such as IRA’s and 401K’s. Your assets may also include such items as real estate, cars, furniture, jewelry - or even family heirlooms. With estate planning, you may protect your family from the burden of taxes or probate court and still provide for your family and friends.

Probate Court is the state court which oversees the estates of incapacitated or deceased persons.

Without a proper estate plan, your estate may have to go through probate court, which is an expensive, time-consuming, and public process. As courts determine how to settle the estate, they may freeze your assets and keep your beneficiaries from accessing them. Your family and loved ones may end up having to pay for expensive court fees and funeral costs for you.

If the total value of your estate exceeds $5.34 million (as adjusted for inflation), it may be subject to federal and state estate taxes. With careful planning, you can reduce or eliminate these types of taxes while reducing the tax burden on your beneficiaries.

If you want to leave a portion of your assets to charity or a community foundation, you can specify this in your estate plan. You can also leave details about how you would like those funds to be used.

There are several types of Power of Attorney documents.

Durable Power of Attorney - Appointing a trusted person to manage your business and personal affairs while you are still alive yet incapacitated, or while you are unavailable or absent

Health Care Power of Attorney – Authorizing another person (a proxy) to make and communicate medical decisions for you in the event you are unable to make or communicate those decisions for yourself.

A living will declares your wishes regarding end-of-life decisions, extra-ordinary or heroic measures in your medical care while you are alive. A last will details where and to whom your assets will go when you are deceased.

Simply put, your last will provides instructions to be followed upon your passing, but it does not avoid probate or provide for your incapacity. A revocable living trust allows for many more options, including avoiding probate. A living trust allows a person appointed by you to manage your assets while you are incapacitated or upon your death. While a will can appoint guardians for your minor children, a living trust can provide a person (or trustee) who can manage these assets for your children when you are gone. Wills, by law, are required to be filed with the Probate Court upon your death, and are therefore open to public scrutiny. A revocable living trust would keep information regarding your assets private while also providing for your loved ones or charities.

Yes, but it is not recommended. The best estate plans are those put in place after significant analysis and discussion. Estate planning documents are chosen and modified according to each client’s personal circumstances and individual wishes. Estate planning is not a “one size fits all” endeavor. Peterson Law Firm, P.A. strives to provide you with an estate plan as unique as you are, and in an affordable way.

#1 Don’t leave your wishes up to the state; exercise estate-planning control by taking responsible action now to begin your own estate plan. Have the freedom to give your property to whom you wish at a time of your choosing.
#2 Don’t risk your future. Your estate plan can effectively direct how your property and money should be used for you upon incapacity, or for a loved one who is incapacitated. It is important to plan for such a life-changing event. Don’t take the risk of not planning ahead.
#3 Don’t get caught by extra expenses. An important aspect of careful estate planning is saving on taxes and expenses. Your estate plan should strive to reduce taxes and costs while always retaining control.
#4 Don’t worry. Your estate plan should give you peace of mind and the confidence to know that your property will be protected from State interference and distributed to whom you want, when you want, and how you want. Peterson Law Firm, P.A. carefully crafts individual estate plans for each of our clients. Your peace of mind is important to us.