What is a will and why do I need one?

A will is a written document which provides for how you would like to have your assets distributed after your death.  Wills are required to conform to the requirements in the Ohio Revised Code in order to be valid and recognized by the probate court.  In addition to distributing your assets, a will can also provide for other important matters such as who you would like to be your child’s guardian in the event of your death. 

If I already have a will, how do I know when to revisit it?

Wills are only valid until you revoke them or create a new will.  Changes in life circumstances may require that you review and update your existing will.  Such circumstances include getting married, having children, having a change in your assets, moving to a new state, or a change in the law.  Generally, it is recommended that you have an attorney review your will every 5 to 7 years. 

Why do I need a lawyer?  Can’t I just draft my own will?

While there are many advertisements out there for services allowing you to create your own will, these services do not provide you with the legal skill and knowledge of an experienced estate planning lawyer.  Ohio law on these issues is complex and always changing.  To ensure that your family and assets are adequately protected, you need an attorney who is well-versed in the law and takes the time to listen to your specific circumstances and wishes.  A will is a critically important document that effectuates your wishes and should not be drafted by someone unfamiliar with the law. 

What if I die without having executed a will? 

If you die without having a validly executed will, Ohio law will determine how and to whom your assets are distributed.  For many people, the state law on distribution does not match their wishes, which is why having a will is so important. 

What is the probate process?

After a loved one dies, typically some or all of their assets will go through the probate process.  Probate is a court proceeding which determines to whom the decedent’s assets are distributed.  The probate process exists to ensure that a decedent’s assets are distributed according to the terms set forth in his will, or if no will exists, that the assets are distributed according to Ohio law.  An executor, which is an individual appointed in the will or by the court, will administer the estate and follow any orders issued by the court. 

What is a trust and why would I need one? 

A trust is a written instrument where an individual, the grantor, gives property to another individual, the trustee, to manage for the benefit of other individuals, the trust beneficiaries.  A trust can provide for your children or other loved ones.  Many times, a trust can allow assets to pass outside of probate to avoid tax liabilities.  Unlike the probate process, which is public record, trusts are private. 

How do I ensure that the intent of my trust will be carried out? 

Obtaining counsel experienced in estate planning and trusts is key to ensure that the trust language is carefully written to carry out your intent.  The trustee, an individual you appoint in your trust, will be responsible for administering the trust.  This appointed individual should be responsible, organized, and capable of handling the property of the trust.  Under Ohio law, the trustee has a fiduciary duty to act in the best interests of the trust beneficiaries. 

What is the purpose of a power of attorney? 

Executing a power of attorney allows you to appoint an individual to act on your behalf should you become unable to handle your own financial matters.  Without a power of attorney, should you become incapacitated, the court will appoint a guardian of its own choosing to handle your affairs.  The individual that you appoint to this role should be someone that you trust to handle your personal matters. 

What matters can the individual I provide my power of attorney handle? 

When you meet with your attorney to execute a power of attorney, you will be asked not only who you want to appoint, but what powers you would like that individual to have.  The appointed individual can be given the power to manage your real property, personal property, stocks and bonds, banking, business, insurance, estate, litigation, personal and family maintenance, benefits from the government, retirement plans, taxes, and digital assets. 

What is a health care directive and why do I need one? 

If you become sick, injured, or mentally incompetent, a health care directive will determine who can make your medical decisions for you.  Your health is the most important thing you have to protect and ensuring that a responsible person of your choosing will be making those decisions for you should the need arise, will give you peace of mind.  A health care directive will only be used if your physician determines that you are unable of making informed healthcare decisions on your own. 

What are the benefits of having a living will? 

A living will allows you to make certain healthcare decisions for yourself in advance.  Living wills are consulted if you become terminally ill or are determined to be permanently unconscious.  The document directs the healthcare staff as to whether you would want to withdraw life-sustaining treatment.   Not only does this ensure that you will receive only the treatment that you would want, but it alleviates your family from having to make these difficult decisions.  It is important to discuss these decisions with your family and to have skilled counsel complete these documents to effectuate your wishes. 

Do I really need an attorney to advise me on transferring my assets? 

Yes.  There are many legal and tax consequences at play depending on how family and business assets are transferred.  An experienced attorney is familiar with all of these issues and can advise you on the best way to transfer assets in order to avoid any pitfalls.  Individuals are looking for the best ways to preserve their assets and protect their families, so decisions on transferring these assets should only be made after being advised on all options and consequences. 

Are there options to protect my assets from creditors? 

Yes, and our attorneys are experienced in creditor and debtor issues, giving them the knowledge and skill of how best to shield assets from creditors.  Ohio law recognizes asset protection trusts which allow an individual to name themselves as a beneficiary and retain protection from future creditors.  Asset protection can also involve a review of insurance policies and their coverages and exclusions to ensure that all of your assets are protected.  An attorney can also advise you based on how your business is structured, to what extent your assets may be at risk. 

What type of planning does my business need?

It is important not only to plan for yourself and your family, but for the future of your business.  Succession planning with an attorney who can help you plan whether your business will continue or be liquidated upon your death is crucial.  Many individuals want their family to continue their business, which requires careful consideration of who will own the business, and how it will operate and be managed.  Advance planning of these issues can prevent headaches and legal issues down the road. 

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