As we said in Part One of this article, Estate Planning in Maryland and the District of Columbia can be confusing. In Part One, we briefly explained some general terms like the meaning of “Estate Planning” and why Estate Planning is important and important to start now.
In Part Two, the experienced legal estate planners at the Law Offices of Thomas Stahl offer some answers to additional frequently asked questions about Estate Planning in Maryland and the District of Columbia.
Q. What is “Will-based” vs. “Trust-based” Estate Planning in Maryland and D.C.?
A. As noted in Part One, a simple Estate Plan is based on drafting and executing a Last Will and Testament. A Will is typically one document that gives instructions on how you want your assets distributed after death. A Will is “dormant” in the sense that it does not have legal effect until you die.
By contrast, a more complex Estate Plan will involve one or more trusts. As one example, a living revocable trust can be drafted and executed. Like a Will, the trust documents will also give instructions on how you want your assets distributed after death. However, unlike a Will, trust documents generally “activate” legally upon execution. The trust comes into legal existence and operates while the trust-maker is still alive.
There are some aspects of Estate Planning that must be done, whether the Estate Planning is Will-based or Trust-based. Most of these involve the use of instruments that avoid probate proceedings and that allow assets to pass automatically after death. These include instruments like joint accounts and pay-on-death accounts/instruments.
Q. What assets and property are included in my Estate after death?
A. This depends on several factors. Generally, anything wholly owned by you — in your own name — is part of your Estate after death. So, a number of things not wholly owned will NOT be part of your Estate such as the joint accounts mentioned above. Other assets and property not owned will also NOT be part of your Estate, even if you control the use of those assets and property. These include assets and property placed in trust. Finally, a number of assets are designed to pass through the operation of law. Examples are pay-on-death instruments and beneficiary status to insurance and retirement accounts.
Q. Can I avoid probate proceedings with Estate Planning in Maryland and D.C.?
A. With careful planning, probate proceedings can be avoided (at least for the vast majority of your assets). Trust-based Estate Planning is the best option if avoidance of probate is the goal.
Q. What about my privacy and the privacy of my family?
A. If one of your Maryland and D.C. Estate Planning goals is to protect your privacy and the privacy of your family, then Trust-based Estate Planning is the best option. Wills are public documents once they are filed in court at the start of probate proceedings. The Will will be available to media and news reporters and anyone who goes to the Clerk’s Office and requests to look at the file. By contrast, trust documents are basically private and cannot be accessed by media or random individuals.
Q. Can Will-based and Trust-based Estate Planning be combined?
A. In a manner of speaking. It is possible to create a trust through various provisions contained in a Will. These are generally called “pour-over Wills.” Pour-over Wills have their uses, but there are better options depending on what goals are being sought.
Maryland and D.C. Trust and Estate Planning Attorneys
If you have more questions, contact the Maryland and D.C. trust and Estate planning lawyers at The Law Offices of Thomas Stahl. We have the experience and expertise you need. Schedule a consultation today or call us at (410) 696-4326 or (202) 964-7280. We have offices in Columbia, MD, and Washington, DC.