Maryland Will & Trust Attorneys Dedicated to Providing Personalized Estate Planning Guidance
Understanding your options and protecting you and your family’s future
It can be very difficult to plan for death for ourselves and our loved ones. Simply bringing up the subject of death can trigger feelings of denial and avoidance. But a carefully guided and effective estate plan, as expressed through legal documents such as wills and trusts, can secure your legacy and save your family a great deal of difficulty in the long-run. At Altman & Associates, our Maryland will and trust attorneys have the knowledge and experience to craft individual solutions for you and your family.
What is the difference between a will and a trust?
Even if you have not had exposure to them, most people have heard about wills and trusts. A will and a trust might look similar and have similar terms, however, they are functionally very different documents which, ideally, can work together for your benefit:
- Will: A will is a “writing” in which a grantor (creator of the will) expresses some terms which should take effect at the time of his or her death. Under Maryland Law, a valid will must be signed by the grantor (or someone acting in the grantor’s presence and on his or her behalf), and must be attested to and signed by two or more credible witnesses. A key aspect of a will is that it really does not take effect until the grantor dies. A will creates an estate which distributes property known as probate assets, and appoints a Personal Representative to do so. The Personal Representative then goes through Probate Court to ensure that the probate assets are distributed consistent with the terms of the Will. Absent a Will, probate assets are distributed by a Probate Court through “intestate succession” – a series of laws which distributes these assets to your family in a particular order. Also, a Will can contain critical information regarding your health decisions, and care of your children or pets after your death.
- Trust: A trust is a document and a legal designation created during the life of the Settlor (creator) of the trust. The trust is a direct reflection of the grantor(s). Like a will, a trust will indicate the wishes of the Settlor(s). But critically, the provisions of a trust can be effective as soon as it is executed, not necessarily upon the death of the Settlor(s). In fact, most trusts can be used if the Settlor becomes incapacitated. Also, couples and families can create trusts. Therefore, a Settlor can name his or herself the initial Trustee (decision-maker for the trust) and begin placing property and assets in the name of the trust. Property and assets in the name of the trust are not probate assets and do not have to go through Probate Court upon the death of the Settlor. Instead, a successor Trustee is designated in the Trust. This successor Trustee is appointed upon the death or serious disability of the initial Trustee and/or Settlor in order to provide for their care or administer their estate. In all cases, the Trustee must follow the terms of the trust document, including giving distributions to trust Beneficiaries.
Wills are essential estate planning documents
The first and most essential step in an estate plan is drafting a will. If there is no written, verified expression of your wishes in the event of your death, then Maryland law will decide what becomes of your legacy. The attorneys at Altman & Associates believe that every individual’s story and circumstances are unique. You have concerns and preferences which should be protected after you pass away. Here is small sampling of the myriad of subjects your will can address:
- The future care of your minor or disabled child.
- Distributions of your monetary assets and personal property.
- Transfers of title to real property, such as your home.
- Limitations on the transfer of assets based upon family concerns.
- Gifts to beloved institutions or charities.
- Funeral services and/or burial instructions.
There are an innumerable amount of good reasons to have a will. Even if you currently have a will, many common life events will require you to amend your current will. Here a just a few reasons to consider having your will amended or redrafted:
- You recently were married or went through a divorce.
- You are now widowed.
- You have a new child, or your children are no longer minors.
- You are now part of a unique or blended family.
- You have acquired a significant asset or inheritance.
- Your wishes, as expressed through your current will, have changed.
The Maryland will and trust attorneys at Altman & Associates are highly-experienced and work with you personally to plan your estate and draft an appropriate will.
Trusts can facilitate a smooth, effective estate plan
Trusts allow you to protect your assets and property from going through Probate Court at the time of your death. If your assets are already in the name of your trust, then the assets need not transition ownership or title at the time or your death. Moreover, a Settlor can personalize a trust so that its impact is felt over time. For instance, a trust can provide that real property be sold or that proceeds from income producing assets be distributed in specific ways. In short, the Settlor of a trust can guide the actions of a Trustee through the trust documents, even after the Settlor is gone. This allows the Settlor to set up special provisions or conditions for particular trust Beneficiaries which do not stop once the probate process is over. By avoiding probate and spreading out Beneficiary distributions over time, the Beneficiaries can also benefit by paying less court fees and taxes.
Can I change or revoke my will or trust?
Revoking or amending a will is relatively easy and may be done for any reason at any time. Maryland law lists a number of ways to revoke a will. This includes such extreme measures as tearing or burning a will, but it is advisable to keep a copy of revoked will. Also, a will which includes a former spouse is considered revoked once a divorce is final. Revoking or amending a trust depends on whether the trust is revocable or irrevocable. Most trusts start out as revocable trusts so that terms may be easily amended. All trusts are irrevocable once the Settlor passes away. On January 1, 2015, Maryland’s Uniform Trust Act will take effect. Among the advantages of the new law, an irrevocable trust can be reformed or amended with the consent of all of the trust beneficiaries if this action is consistent with the intent of the trust. There are many new laws regarding trusts, but they only apply to trust created on or before January 1, 2015. Otherwise, the process for revoking or amending an irrevocable trust is more complex. If you are considering revoking or amending a will or trust, contact the knowledgeable, trustworthy will and trust attorneys at Altman & Associates.
Contact our experienced Maryland will and trust attorneys today
When you have questions regarding wills and trusts, the attorneys at Altman & Associates have the answers. We have helped clients throughout Maryland create wills and trusts for more than 15 years, and have the skills and compassion to help you successfully plan for the future. We have convenient office locations in Columbia and Rockville. Contact us by phone at (301) 468-3220 or to schedule a consultation.