Trust and Estate Law
From Individual Planning to Complex Family Businesses
From Individual Planning to Complex Family Businesses
For more than 40 years, The Williams Law Firm has assisted generations of Delaware residents with estate planning centered around a Revocable Trust to manage and distribute assets. We also prepare comprehensive estate plans for residents of neighboring states, such as Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York, where we are licensed to practice law.
No one has an entirely normal or typical situation. We listen to your wishes and advise what others might do in that situation if you are unsure. The point is for you to be comfortable with you plan under various contingencies, such as an unexpected order of passing of loved ones.
Our goal of estate planning is to anticipate contingencies and change in circumstances to ensure assets are distributed to family members and other beneficiaries as you intend, based on the present situation and future contingencies and regardless of different factual situations at the time of your death or incapacity. Our goal is coupled with strategies to reduce avoidable fees and taxes, such as probate fees, state, and federal taxes.
How we help you preserve and solidify your legacy
Handling your estate the way you want and minimizing burdens on loved ones.
Creating your Living Trust documents and funding your Trust.
Gathering assets, paying debts, and distributing bequests.
Administer the assets of a deceased loved one’s Trust.
Self-funded Trust for your own benefit and protection.
Providing a long-lasting legacy, financial security, and tax benefits to children, grandchildren, and beyond.
To understand your intentions and explain the process, we schedule a one-hour meeting where we determine the names of your beneficiaries and your fiduciaries. We take great care to listen to our clients to understand your intentions and to provide guidance and suggestions.
We then circulate drafts of the estate plan documents for review and comment. We are committed to collaborating with our clients to review and revise the documents until these documents accurately reflect our clients’ wishes.
Next, we schedule a follow-up meeting to execute your documents. We prepare triplicate originals of all of your estate planning documents – one office copy, one for home reference, and a third for your safekeeping. Only the Last Will and Testament is prepared with only one executed original. When you sign your estate plan in our office we provide witnesses and a notary.
Beyond the signing of the estate plan, we also help you implement the plan by advising you how to transfer ownership of assets and change beneficiary designations to fund your new Revocable Trust. If you want us to do this “funding” process for you, our paralegal, Alisa Simpson, has more than 20 years of experience changing ownership of assets and changing beneficiary designations.
We recommend reviewing and updating your estate plan documents every 5 years or after a significant change in circumstances, such as death of a spouse or other beneficiary, divorce, or if your intentions change. Even if your circumstances have not changed, the laws may have changed. Therefore, a review meeting is important to ensure that your estate plan will work as intended. We can help you prepare amended and restated Revocable Trust Agreements in the future to ensure your estate plan is consistent with your goals.
Probate is the process of opening and administering a decedent’s estate with the Register of Wills. During this process, the person responsible for administering the estate is referred to as a Personal Representative or Executor/Executrix. This person is responsible to gather the probate assets of the decedent, in order to pay all debts of the estates, then to distribute the remaining estate assets pursuant to a decedent’s intentions.
The threshold to begin the probate process in New Castle County, Delaware is when the total value of an estate’s probate assets exceeds $30,000 or when an estate owns real estate in one’s own name.
We can coach you through the process or do it for you
The probate fee in New Castle County, which is where most of our clients live, is 2% of probate assets other than real estate. For example, the probate fee for an estate with probate assets that are valued at $500,000 is $10,000.
A Revocable Trust may save more money than it costs by allowing assets held in the name of the Trust or received by the Trust as a Beneficiary (e.g., insurance, annuities, retirement accounts, etc.) to pass to your loved ones without being subject to the 2% probate fee charged by the Register of Wills. Also, gifts to a spouse are exempt from probate fees.
In our approach to drafting an estate plan, a Revocable Trust is the principal document. Almost all estate plans should include a Revocable Trust. If married, we create a Revocable Trust for each spouse. Aside from the assets in a Revocable Trust avoiding probate, a Revocable Trust may also provide a more organized plan of distribution than is possible under a simple Will. For example, if you have children, you may hold funds in a trust for their benefit with the oversight of a trustee until your children reach a specified age, at which point you may distribute the trust assets outright. A Trust also benefits you if you become incapacitated at any point in your life.
In addition, a Revocable Trust may also be used to protect your family’s privacy and reduce estate administration costs by avoiding the probate process. Probate is a public process, which includes public filings and probate fees. A Revocable Trust is also designed to use the federal estate tax credit for those with a taxable estate. In coordination with the Revocable Trust, we prepare a Pour-Over Will that funds your trust upon your death to the extent beneficiary designations and accounts were not returned into the name of the Trust while you were alive, the Pour-Over Will is a catch-all to pick up other assets and deliver them into the Trust. The Revocable Trust is a centralized plan of distribution to avoid reliance upon beneficiary designations that often do not account for contingencies. In our experience, planning through beneficiary designations alone should be avoided because it often distorts your intentions and may result in accidental disinheritance of loved ones, including grandchildren.
Trusts stand the test of time for estates simple and complex
Making the most of your Revocable Trust
We go beyond merely drafting the legal documents for many of our clients. Our second step to estate planning, includes coaching our clients through the process of funding their Revocable Trust by transferring ownership of assets from an individual to their Revocable Trust. This includes changing beneficiary designations on insurance policies, transferring real estate by deed, and transferring other accounts. Funding your Trust completes the estate planning process.
Not all attorneys provide comprehensive estate planning, including funding into a Revocable Trust. The funding process is recommended after signing your Revocable Trust. Failure to fund after your estate plan documents are finalized and executed may leave important assets subject to probate. Therefore, we prefer to help you with funding as part of our approach to estate planning. Either you can handle the funding of your trust on your own, or our paralegal, Alisa Simpson, can coach you and work with you to fund your Trust.
Some assets have titles or deeds that must be transferred to the Trust, such as:
Other assets, referred to as tangible personal property, may not have title documents, such as:
For these assets, we prepare a document to assign ownership of all tangibles currently owned and later acquired from you, individually, to your Revocable Trust. Additionally, we include a schedule in the back of the Trust document where you can provide a handwritten list after the Trust is executed, should you wish to provide specific bequests of these tangibles to particular beneficiaries.
A Beneficiary of a Trust is an individual that receives the benefits of the assets held in Trust. A Trustee is an individual or trust company responsible for managing the assets of the Trust. Typically, the individual who creates the Trust (Settlor) names himself or herself as the Trustee. A Trustee is a fiduciary to the Beneficiaries of the Trust, and therefore, owes fiduciary duties, such as loyalty and care, to the Beneficiaries. After the death of the Settlor of the Trust, the Revocable Trust becomes irrevocable. At that time, the Successor Trustee becomes responsible for annual accounting of a Trust, such as preparing and filing a fiduciary income tax return (IRS Form 1041) if the Trust has taxable income exceeding the minimum threshold (currently, $600).
When we prepare the Revocable Trust, we first name you as both the Trustee and Beneficiary of your own Revocable Trust. Your Trust will benefit you during your lifetime, then after you pass, your Trust will benefit your loved ones – typically, your spouse first, then your children.
You will also name a Successor Trustee for your Trust, usually a spouse, to act as the Trustee in the event you become unable to serve as trustee, for reasons such as incapacity or disability. Your spouse, as Successor Trustee, would then manage the assets for his or her benefit while alive. Then, after the death of the surviving spouse, another Successor Trustee should be named to manage Trust assets for the benefit of minor children, relatives, or friends before the assets are distributed outright to Beneficiaries at specified ages. For example, a typical distribution may distribute one-third of the Trust’s assets when your children reach the age of 25 years old, half of the remaining assets at age 30, then distribute the balance of the remaining assets at age 35.
Naming your loved ones
Protecting your loved ones
Special Needs Trusts
Assets may also be held in Special Needs Trusts for people unable to manage their own finances. The Special Needs Trust can be included in the Revocable Trust or created as a separate Trust. Special Needs Trusts are used in cases that involve mentally-handicapped adult children, drug-addicted children, and spendthrift beneficiaries. It also avoids disqualifying the Special Needs Beneficiary from government benefits. The Trustee for the Special Needs Trust does not need to be the same person as the guardian care-giver.
Trusts for Non-Traditional Families
We have clients of all ages and backgrounds. We help plan for individuals with non-traditional families, ranging from parents with disabled children to widows to second marriages to LGBTQ+ families. Usually, a Trust is the right solution for most clients, whether they are retired, early in their earning years, executives, doctors, farmers, or teachers.
Our fee is based on the hourly rates of the estate planning attorney and his or her paralegal. At your request we can provide a range of what we expect the cost to be. For simple plans for single people the fee may be about $1,500 and up to $3,000 for a couple whose situation and assets are more complicated.
Our fee covers advice on beneficiary designations and ownership changes, which are necessary to coordinate property, investments, retirement plans, and life insurance with estate planning.
– Jean Chatzky