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Some questions in life are universal across every culture and, arguably, across every person alive. While nobody has all the answers, the one our estate planning lawyers do help with is the important one about legacy: “What will I leave behind when I go?”

Leaving behind anything for the benefit of others is a complex matter fraught with trouble for those who don’t know what they’re doing. It’s easy enough to tell people what you want to happen, but making sure it does happen the way you want it to, with nothing going wrong, is another matter on its own.

Luckily for those looking to provide the most for their loved ones, our Rio Rancho estate planning at New Mexico Financial & Family Law are experts in the field. We work for you to ensure your intents are carried out, properties are tended to, and family is cared for.

Contact us today at (505) 503-1637.

Services Offered by a Rio Rancho Estate Planning Attorney

Estate planning attorneys assist clients with various aspects of financial and family law, especially with regard to the fate of your assets in the unfortunate events of incapacitation or death. Because, by definition, people can’t handle such affairs on their own in the moment of incapacitation or death, it is the duty of an estate planning attorney to help clients come up with a plan beforehand that ensures their wishes are fulfilled even when they are no longer around to witness it.

Here’s a breakdown of the different services our lawyers offer:

Last Will and Testament

A person’s last will and testament – often just shortened to “will” – is a legal document that a person can use to assert how they want their assets distributed after their death. Typically, a will contains instructions for distributing property, money, and other possessions.

The premise itself seems simple enough, but more than that, a person can also include in a will instructions for others to carry out in their stead. For instance, one can appoint specific individuals to be guardians for children and/or dependents.

Sometimes, a well-planned will can even be conditional, assigning terms that need to be met in order for some assets to be distributed. These wills often have contingencies in place, instructing the executor on what to do with assets should terms not be met.

Power of Attorney for Healthcare

Estate planning lawyers often function as healthcare proxies for their clients. This is known as power of attorney for healthcare or medical power of attorney, among other terms.

Healthcare agents are allowed to make medical decisions on behalf of their clients when the latter are incapable of doing so, which is a legal power that comes in useful in estate planning. A lawyer representing a client’s best interests at heart has the responsibility of making choices around surgeries, medications, and end-of-life care to prolong their life and buy time for them to address any unfinished matters, such as finishing a will.

Alternatively, such a proxy may also make the final decision when it comes to signing do-not-resuscitate (DNR) forms in order to finally allow their client some rest when all businesses have been concluded.

Such decisions matter, especially in the cases of wealthier clients. Typically, the more material assets there are to distribute, the greater the threat of parties who want to secure a larger share for themselves.

Such a threat often presents itself as estranged friends or family looking to make poor medical decisions that hasten a person’s death. Conversely, even keeping a terminal patient alive against their wishes can be a self-serving action if all a person wants is to buy time to convince said patient to change the terms of a will.

Estate planning lawyers know the power they wield as healthcare proxies and wield it responsibly in order to protect their clients’ rights.

Durable Financial Power of Attorney

Durable financial power of attorney (DPOA) grants lawyers the right to make financial decisions for clients in the same vein as power of attorney for healthcare allows them to make medical decisions. A regular power of attorney allows lawyers to do these same things, but the word “durable” in this case means it is retained even in the event of a client’s incapacity or death.

Depending on the terms agreed upon between the estate planning lawyer and the client (also known as the principal), a DPOA can be active immediately upon appointing the agent or only after incapacitation. The latter is known as a “springing” power of attorney.

Typically, a DPOA allows a lawyer to perform tasks such as paying bills, managing budgets and expenses, buying and selling properties, collecting income and benefits, and filing taxes. This can be revoked at any time as long as the principal is still capable of making financial decisions on their own, so there is little to no risk in granting this much authority over your assets.

Living Will

Also called a healthcare directive or advance directive, a living will is a document that specifies the kind of medical care you would like to avail of if you are unable to communicate for yourself. Such documents take effect when you are incapacitated or unconscious, most often due to injury or illness.

Living will allow you to dictate to medical professionals and healthcare providers your preferences for or against treatments and/or equipment such as resuscitation, ventilation, or feeding tubes. These documents are especially relevant for those whose livelihood or identity might revolve around specific body functions.

Take, for instance, a professional singer. They may specify that they don’t want a tracheostomy (a surgical procedure that involves creating an opening in the windpipe) and might demand other procedures that do not risk their voice.

Trusts

A trust is an arrangement between three or more parties where assets are handed over by one party (the grantor) to another (the trustee), who will then manage and control the assets according to the grantor’s wishes before eventually granting the benefits of the trust to the third party (the beneficiary).

In this arrangement, the estate planning attorney serves as the trustee. They have both legal and ethical obligations to act in the best interests of the beneficiaries and in accordance with the wishes of the grantor.

Trusts can often be divided into two types:

  • Living Trust: This type of trust is created while the grantor is still alive and has the advantage of avoiding the lengthy court process known as probate. It is possible for grantors to assign themselves as trustees, allowing them the advantage of personal control over assets, albeit at the cost of complications in the event of incapacity (which could be avoided if an attorney is appointed as a trustee or at the very least, is appointed as a successor trustee).
  • Testamentary Trust: In contrast with living trusts, this type of arrangement is created after the grantor’s death through terms dictated by their will (thus the word “testamentary”). Typically, a testamentary trust mentions that a portion of assets will be used to create a trust to be controlled by a named trustee until certain conditions are met, after which control will be transferred to beneficiaries.
    • Unlike living trusts, testamentary trusts do have to go through probate. Nonetheless, they can still be useful in that they allow grantors to manage their own assets to a certain extent, even after their death.

Trusts may be revocable or irrevocable, with the former typically applying to living trusts, as the grantor can revoke or change the trust at any point, and the latter to testamentary trusts. Testamentary trusts are rarely – if ever – revocable on account of the grantor no longer being around to alter it, though termination provisions may be included to serve the same purpose as a revocation.

A lawyer can draft the terms and provisions of a trust to ensure that they are designed according to the grantor’s wishes.

Other Services

In addition to what we have gone through above, we also offer miscellaneous services, all dedicated to asset protection for those who choose us.

  • Beneficiary Designation Review: We can review your beneficiaries’ retirement accounts, insurance policies, payable-on-death bank accounts, and other policies to ensure they match your intent with your estate plan. We also excel in thorough background checks on your named beneficiaries to ascertain they do not violate any terms you set.
  • Tax Planning: We are experts at minimizing taxes on your estate and can offer various strategies to keep as many of your assets as possible intact.
  • Guardianship and Conservatorship Assistance: We can help you appoint guardians for any minors and incapacitated beneficiaries to manage finances with their best interests at heart.
  • Pour-Over Wills: If, after distributing the estate according to your will, any assets remain, we can use pour-over wills as a backup plan to include them in a trust, ensuring nothing you own is subject to abuse or waste.

Estate Planning and Avoiding Probate

Probate is a proceeding wherein a deceased person’s estate is distributed among those left behind. Under court supervision, any assets and/or belongings are sorted, and their ownership is transferred to assigned beneficiaries.

The process generally happens in four steps:

  1. Authenticating the will: First, the court will determine if a last will and testament exists. If so, they will then validate it, ensuring the contents (and the assets to be distributed) are legal.
  2. Identifying assets: The court will then locate and evaluate assets such as real estate, bank accounts, investments, valuables, vehicles, and even digital property. For anything other than currency, this is done by comparing the worth of each item to market value.
  3. Settling debts and taxes: Thirdly, the executor will be instructed by the court to pay off the deceased’s legal obligations. In this step, creditors are identified, and assets are sold if necessary in order to come up with enough money to close all debts and expenses.
  4. Asset distribution: Finally, after all of the deceased’s debts have been settled, the executor will transfer ownership of the assets to the appropriate beneficiaries. In the event that a will is not found, or if some property is not mentioned in a will, the executor will follow intestacy laws (these are laws that dictate the distribution of assets in the absence of a will or if a will does not address all assets).

Probate is generally considered fair, given the assumption that the court is fair. However, it is also known to be both expensive and time-consuming, often taking longer and costing more depending on the size of the estate.

It isn’t uncommon for probate to take months or years and cost five to six-digit sums in court fees and attorney’s fees. That does not even count administrative expenses that tend to cut into the value of the estate before distribution.

In addition, probate is usually a public record, which means there is potential for a loss of privacy for grieving family members. It can be emotionally taxing, especially when details of assets and beneficiaries are open to public scrutiny.

Contact Our Compassionate Rio Rancho Estate Planning Law Firm

We are New Mexico Financial & Family Law, and we are experts in our field. It’s never too early to secure your estate, and it’s never too late to get started; work with us today.

From consultations and reviews of existing plans to validation of documents and, of course, to the creation of new plans, we communicate with our clients and aid them through the intricacies of the legal process surrounding estate planning and management. We grant our clients peace of mind in knowing that what they leave behind is in good hands and their interests will be looked out for even in their absence.

When you’re in need of legal assistance with your estate, New Mexico Financial and Family Law is here for you. We are here to help you secure your future and that of your family and loved ones, no matter what it may hold.

Contact us today for a confidential, obligation-free case review by calling us at (505) 503-1637 or by contacting us online. New Mexico Financial and Family Law is your partner in future-proof preparation.

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