Estate Planning Attorneys in Topeka

Topeka Wills & Estate Planning LawyersAn estate plan is a comprehensive approach to planning how your assets are divided after you pass and how other important decisions are made.

For most people, this requires more than simply writing a will, though that is part of an estate plan and usually a good place to start.

10 steps towards a perfect estate plan in Kansas

What you include will depend on your precise circumstances but most people can create a thorough estate plan by following these 10 steps:

  1. Create a clear and unambiguous will: this identifies the beneficiaries for your assets.
  2. Make a living trust: this can be a tax-efficient way to pass on assets to beneficiaries and it may help avoid probate.
  3. Create a living will: this may include power of attorney for health-related decisions if you are incapacitated; your healthcare wishes should be an important consideration in addition to asset distribution.
  4. Nominate Power of Attorney: this appoints a trusted person to make financial decisions on your behalf if you are unable to.
  5. Appoint legal guardianship for minors: this ensures that your dependent children are cared for if you are no longer able to.
  6. Nominate beneficiaries for business assets and bank accounts: This is in addition to a will and may make it easier for intended heirs to get access to bank accounts, retirement plans and other assets when you pass.
  7. Set up life insurance: this should be part of a comprehensive estate plan if it’s not in place already.
  8. Make provisions for estate taxes: this will protect your intended beneficiaries from paying unnecessary estate taxes after you pass. 
  9. Specify funeral arrangements: this allows you to specify the final arrangements after you die or appoint someone to decide on your behalf.
  10. Arrange document storage: this step ensures that all the necessary documentation is safe and accessible to those who require access after you pass. 

What is Kansas living will law?

Many people confuse the terms “will” and “living will”. They are not interchangeable and, in fact, are very different.

While a will focuses on what happens to your assets after you die, a living will concerns your healthcare wishes while you are still alive. It is a declaration that informs medical providers about the treatments (and life support measures) that you require if you become incapacitated.

Often, when a person is incapacitated and not able to communicate their wishes, the family disagrees on what should be done. In such cases, a well-constructed living will can avoid potential conflicts and makes it clear what path should be taken.

A comprehensive estate plan includes both a living will and healthcare power of attorney, as well as a financial power of attorney to arrange payment of medical bills, etc.

What are the legal requirements for a valid living will?

In order to create a valid living will in Kansas, you must be at least 18 years old and considered an adult. 

Your living will must be in writing, dated, and signed by you in the presence of two or more adult witnesses who are not related to you. 

You can find a good example in Kansas Statute Section 65-28, 103.

When required, the living will must be shown to the doctor or medical staff treating you. 

What is a living trust in Kansas?

A “living trust” is an arrangement whereby your assets (bank accounts, property, stocks, bonds, motor vehicles, jewelry, artwork, family heirlooms etc.) can be legally passed to a nominated “trustee” after your death or incapacitation.

The trustee will manage your assets on behalf of you and your beneficiaries in the event of incapacitation or death.

The two types of trusts to consider are:

Irrevocable living trusts 

These are permanent trusts. Any assets contained in an irrevocable trust cannot be modified without the explicit approval of all trustees.

Revocable living trusts

These trusts are more flexible. The creator of a revocable trust is generally free to make amendments over time, as necessary.

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Probate and estate tax law in Topeka

A deceased person’s estate may include cash, property, stock and bonds, and other investments.

This needs to pass through a process of estate administration before property can be transferred to beneficiaries. Taxes may be due on assets transferred to beneficiaries, depending on how well you legislated for this in your estate plan.

Administrating the estate is usually the responsibility of a nominated administrator or “executor” (as named in the last will and testament) and is overseen by the probate court in Kansas. 

This process varies depending on the type of estate left behind and whether there are challenges to the estate.

Uncontested estates

Most uncontested estates must still pass through probate. The estate administrator files a petition for probate and notice is given to all parties affected by it.

The then judge admits the will into probate. Once this is complete, the process of asset transfer to beneficiaries can begin.

Contested estates

Following the filing of the petition for probate, an interested party is able to contest the probate in writing.

Contested estates involve trials, where a judge will make a decision on whether to admit the will into probate based on evidence from both sides.

Small estates

For estates valued at $25,000 or less, regular probate proceedings can be bypassed if an affidavit is filed by an interested party. The process of asset transfer will then, generally, be much quicker.

LGBTQ estate planning in Kansas

For LGBTQ couples, estate planning requirements are similar to those for straight individuals, as the law in Kansas recognizes gay marriage. You and your partner are protected by the same laws as straight couples.

You can pass property tax-free to your spouse regardless of its value so your basic estate planning strategy can follow the same 10 steps outlined above.

However, there are a few important differences.

What should be included in an LGBTQ estate plan?

Many LGBTQ couples have some unique issues to address in their estate plan. For instance, your estate plan should make provisions for the distribution of property that you owned separately before marriage if you are left incapacitated or die.

If you have lived together for a long time but never married (and have no plan to get married), you may also need to make provisions for retirement benefits and claiming social security, as well as making additional plans to provide for your partner financially after your death.

If you become incapacitated, you might want to include instructions in your estate plan that allow your partner to be involved in making medical decisions on your behalf. 

An LGBTQ estate plan may also need to make provisions for any children from a previous relationship, including guardianship if the children are still dependent.

You may also like to stipulate how funeral arrangements are carried out so that your final wishes are met and decisions not left up to other people (especially if your family does not approve of your life choices).

At Irigonegaray, Turney, Revenaugh, our estate planning attorneys can help you tailor a straight or LGBTQ estate plan precisely to your personal circumstances.

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