Estates & Trusts

Estate and trust planning is necessary to ensure financial security for your business and your family. At Cooke, Lavender, Massey, & Company, P.C., we can help you plan an orderly transfer of assets to your beneficiaries. Along with your estate attorney, we can assist with guiding you through the process of planning for the future. 

Estate and Trust Planning Services

Dividing property and other assets is a complex process. Even deciding who will inherit the family business can be an overwhelming process. These are a few of the countless decisions involved in the transition and estate planning process.

Our CPAs offer a variety of estate and trust planning services for businesses, families, and individuals. We can prepare federal and state estate returns and fiduciary returns. Our team also prepares federal gift tax returns and help develop estate plans. We can also represent you at estate and fiduciary tax audits with the IRS or the state. While we are not able to prepare wills, trust documents, etc., we will work closely with your estate attorney to formulate an estate plan that meets your financial and personal preferences.

What are estates and trusts?

An estate is the net worth of an individual’s combined assets. A trust is a fiduciary agreement that gives a trustee (a third party) permission to hold assets on behalf of the beneficiary. 

A good estate plan helps ensure a seamless transition of a business and the proper distribution of assets to your beneficiaries. An estate plan can also attempt to continue your charitable giving if that is valuable to you and can help manage your healthcare as that becomes a more prevalent part of your life. 

What is the difference between a trust and a will?

Both wills and trusts are useful in estate planning, but they serve different purposes. 

One of the significant differences between a trust and a will is a will goes into effect upon your death. A trust, on the other hand, can be used before or after your death to begin distributing your estate. A trust is a legal arrangement that gives the “trustee” authority to hold legal titles to property and assets for the “beneficiary.”

A will determines what happens to any property or assets that are in your name upon your death. A will does not cover property that is held in a trust or a joint tenancy. Assets that pass by beneficiary designation (IRA retirement plans, life insurance, etc.) are usually not part of the probate estate.

Another distinction between a will and a trust is that a court oversees the distribution of a will. A court ensures that the estate is distributed as the deceased intended. This is process is called probate. 

A court does not oversee a trust, which can save time, money, and emotional energy. Additionally, because a will goes through probate, it becomes part of the public record, whereas a trust can remain private. 

Estate and Trust Planning Frequently Asked Questions

Who should have an estate plan or trust?

There are two primary reasons to have an estate plan: to protect minor beneficiaries or to protect adult beneficiaries from poor financial decisions, creditor problems, and other adverse circumstances. 

When should I update or change my estate plan?

Certain life events might cause you to want to change your will or other estate plans. Marriage, divorce, or death of a spouse can significantly impact your estate plans. New children, either by birth, adoption, or marriage, might also trigger the need to change your estate. 

Other events or changes that might prompt you to update your estate include relocations, changes in tax laws, or changes in the status of a guardian, executor, or trustee. 

What are the benefits of having an estate plan?

Many people choose to have an estate plan to avoid probate, which can be a long, costly process. 

A significant benefit of having an estate plan is reducing, or even eliminating, estate taxes. There are a variety of estate planning techniques that significantly reduce the tax burden and allow the beneficiaries to keep more of the estate. 

Estate plans are also helpful in reducing the risk of conflict, confusion, stress, and loss of money should you become mentally incapacitated, and after you die. Estate plans can also protect beneficiaries from bad decisions or outside influences. 

Do I need a power of attorney? 

A power of attorney is granting the legal authority to another person to make decisions on your behalf. If you aren’t able to make decisions for yourself, that person can make legal decisions about your financial matters on your behalf. 

A power of attorney can be one of the most powerful tools for estate planning. It allows you to designate a person to make decisions for you instead of relying on the courts. 

When should I get an estate plan?

It is never too early to make an estate plan because one never knows what life holds. Any family with assets or children should have a will. Learning more about estate taxes can help you decide whether you need an estate plan. Our CPAs can assess your estate and assets to help you choose the right financial plan for you and your family.