We structure uniquely personal, flexible and effective plans to help our clients preserve maximum wealth throughout every stage of life.
Although traditionally viewed as an area of law dealing with the disposition of property after death, estate planning encompasses far more. It is a dynamic process that takes into account personal, financial, health and family goals throughout a client’s lifetime as well as after death. While clients still have and need estate plans to provide for their families or other desired beneficiaries, now more than ever they are also engaging in estate planning to protect assets for their own use, whether pre-retirement, post-retirement or in preparation for a period of incapacity or illness.
Stein Sperling’s Estates and Trusts practice provides a broad range of services that include the organization and development of estate plans, assistance in the administration of trusts and estates, and working with clients step-by-step through the probate process. Our attorneys combine experience, knowledge and the practical applications of estate, trust, business and tax laws with innovative approaches designed to meet clients’ needs and objectives.
Our experience and backgrounds, along with patience and understanding, are the qualities that highlight our approach. We listen carefully to our clients and then take the initiative to educate them about the options that are available to meet their goals, working closely with them through the various personal, financial, health and tax changes that affect their estate plans over time. Our clients, with whom we build close and lasting relationships, include a wide range of individuals, families, entrepreneurs and businesses requiring sophisticated estate, trust and tax-related legal services.
At Stein Sperling, we have three primary goals: planning for disability and death; protecting assets through life and for future generations; and minimizing negative tax consequences through a careful plan architecture. Without proper estate planning, state laws can dictate the parties responsible for medical and financial decision-making, as well as to whom property and other assets will pass upon death. When there is no estate plan in place, the state’s desire for efficiency in this process usually overrides the decedent’s wishes and desire for control over the disposition of assets, as well as who is in charge of these lifetime and postmortem decisions.
We guide clients as they plan for potential future disability and death, helping them make decisions that will preserve their assets for loved ones and organizations about which they care deeply. As part of this process, we regularly partner with clients’ financial and investment advisors, accountants and insurance representatives to ensure an integrated approach to the estate plan, including asset protection.
A vital aspect of creating a customized estate plan is structuring it to suit a client’s specific financial and medical circumstances and those of the client’s intended beneficiaries. In doing so, our attorneys are able to anticipate potentially harmful tax implications of each estate planning decision and structure the client’s plan to best avoid those implications.
Our estates and trusts attorneys holds specialized training in the tax arena, which means we have in-depth knowledge of strategies to maximize tax savings. For ideas regarding specific tax strategies, read more about some examples of basic and more advanced planning solutions below.
Stein Sperling guides clients through the development of planning solutions that build strong foundations for lifetime and post-death planning. These solutions help our clients plan for the distribution of their property and other assets while avoiding unnecessary state and federal taxes such as income, inheritance, estate, gift, and transfer taxes to which estates and trusts may be subject. These strategies also shield our clients’ assets from future claims by creditors.
During this introductory phase of estate planning, our attorneys assist clients in creating a will with an optional revocable trust. We customize these documents to address clients’ anticipated needs as well as their personal estate planning goals. Our attorneys also draft medical directives (including living wills) to protect clients’ wishes at a time of disability or incapacity. In addition, we guide clients through the often difficult process of selecting appropriate financial and medical agents. Stein Sperling also offers counsel in the selection of beneficiaries for life insurance policies, retirement accounts and other assets as well as the most appropriate method of holding title to various assets.
To ensure their estate plans remain current and relevant, we encourage our clients to meet with us periodically to review and update their estate planning documents. Throughout the entire process, our attorneys remain sensitive to clients’ personal values and religious beliefs as they relate to difficult end-of-life planning.
Stein Sperling attorneys understand that every individual, couple or family entering into the estate planning process has nuances that may require advanced planning solutions. These strategies can be used individually, or in combination, to ensure accurate disposition of assets while limiting tax burdens.
A client wanting to protect his or her spouse may choose to establish a “bypass trust” or a “marital trust” (also known as a “QTIP”). On the other hand, parents wanting to protect their children and future generations may opt to form “generation-skipping” or “dynasty” trusts. These strategies, customized to each client’s particular circumstances and goals, often protect assets against estate taxes that may be imposed upon future generations. The trusts also preserve the inherited assets, not only from potential creditors, but often as separate property in the event that marital relationships run into difficulty. We also regularly assist clients in forming irrevocable life insurance trusts (ILITs), an option for sheltering life insurance proceeds from estate taxes and creditors.
Our planning techniques may include the formation of external entities such as family limited partnerships or limited liability companies, charitable trusts, grantor retained annuity trusts (GRATs and GRUTs), grantor retained income trusts (GRITs), qualified personal residence trusts (QPRTs) and other Grantor Trust options, all of which seek to incorporate lifetime wealth transfers into the estate plan.
For clients caring for a loved one with special needs, we are able to create special-needs trusts. Such entities protect our clients’ assets for the future benefit of their disabled or special-needs loved one, while ensuring he or she will still be eligible for government benefits.
Stein Sperling offers a full-service business law practice and, in the estates and trusts arena, advice with regard to business succession planning. We understand that an owner’s interest in a closely held business or professional practice may be his or her largest and most important asset. As a result, our business law attorneys work in partnership with the estates and trusts group to ensure proper documentation is in place to protect business owners’ assets and interests.
To prepare for future ownership transition, our attorneys analyze the business’s needs and existing ownership structure, as well as the goals and desires of its current and potential future owners. In addition, we advise clients on advanced planning related to tax structures, plans for future ownership and management, as well as dispute resolution agreements. We are adept at navigating the family dynamics often associated with the process of business succession planning and working with business owners to avoid unnecessary conflicts.
Stein Sperling assists business owners in three vital aspects of business succession planning. First, we provide viability analysis to assess the entity’s current and long-term risks and opportunities for success. Second, we provide assistance to ensure that the family, business and estate plans are handled in a coordinated manner. Third, our attorneys also provide business valuation services through which we are able to estimate the value of an owner’s interest in his or her business.
At Stein Sperling, we work side-by-side with clients to develop estate plans that allow them to grow their assets while minimizing opportunities for tax liability or creditors’ claims. We structure estates to protect clients’ wishes for the distribution of their assets – during life and after death.
In helping our clients meet their estate needs, we advise them about titling their assets and designating appropriate beneficiaries. Through careful understanding of each client’s unique circumstances, we are able to recommend a best approach to sustaining wealth for future generations while protecting the current generation.
Another aspect of asset protection includes creating pre-nuptial and post-nuptial agreements to resolve issues related to marital property. These agreements seek to identify each party’s existing property at the start of the marriage and to set forth the parties’ consensus of how to divide property earned or otherwise acquired subsequent to the marriage should the marital relationship end in divorce. Such agreements often also provide for the disposition of assets on a spouse’s passing in situations such as a second marriage where the spouses have children from prior marriages.
Stein Sperling attorneys are experienced advisors and advocates in the process of estate (known as “probate”) and trust administration. We counsel and defend fiduciaries throughout this process. We understand and are sensitive to the fact this is often an emotional and unfamiliar process, so we do all we can to ensure our clients can confidently and efficiently comply with their legal responsibilities as fiduciaries.
We help fiduciaries to administer the will and/or trust, to determine the forms and timing of distributions, whether in-kind or cash, and to follow administrative and legal filing requirements for deeds, transfer documents and estate tax returns. Our attorneys are experienced advisors to fiduciaries as they collect, inventory and appraise assets; comply with tax filings; make tax selections; satisfy creditors and pay bills; and transfer assets to properly identified legatees and beneficiaries.
If, during this process, conflicts arise between fiduciaries and beneficiaries, our estates and trusts attorneys partner with the firm’s experienced litigators to resolve them.
Stein Sperling attorneys value advanced planning when it comes to the intricacies of carrying out clients’ wishes, or those of their loved ones, upon death. We carefully anticipate possible points of interpersonal and financial conflict through both the planning and administration processes. These can include issues of competency, undue influence or questionable changes to estate planning documents, as well as dealing with post-death administrative matters.
When disputes arise, our estates and trusts attorneys call upon members of our firm’s experienced litigation team, who represent trustees, executors and beneficiaries in probate and trust administration matters as well as contested and uncontested guardianships and caveat proceedings. We are therefore able to initiate and defend claims of the estate, trust or guardianship, as well as executors, guardians and trustees representing those entities. We also are well-versed in representing beneficiaries of estates and trusts in their disputes with other beneficiaries, or in claims of alleged breaches of fiduciary duty.
After a Circuit Court Judge appointed him as Successor Special Administrator, senior litigation principal David C. Driscoll, Jr. successfully defended a Petition to Caveat in a jury trial in the Circuit Court for Montgomery County. The petition was filed by certain heirs who challenged the validity of the amendment to a Last Will and Testament. Mr. Driscoll acted both as the appointed administrator of the estate and as the attorney for the litigation. Stein Sperling provided representation to the Estate through the skill and experience of its Estates and Trusts department and members of its Civil Litigation team.
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