Estate Planning FAQS

Working with an attorney can help you create a comprehensive estate plan to protect your assets, make advance health and financial provisions and provide for your loved ones.

At James Bart Leonardi, LLC, our clients come to us with estate planning questions, ranging from the simple to the complex. The following are some of the most commonly asked questions.

What is estate planning?

Estate planning is a way to distribute your assets, assign powers of attorney to act on your behalf if you become incapacitated, name a guardian for your minor children, name someone to make medical decisions for you if you are unable, and more. Estate plans can include wills, trusts, powers of attorney, structured settlement, special needs trusts and other legal documents.

What is a last will and testament?

A will is a written legal document that contains instructions for distributing your assets after your death. You may also nominate a guardian for your minor children. Your will must be formally executed in order to be considered valid by the Ohio courts. It must conform to Ohio state laws in order to be enforceable.

Am I required to have a will?

No one is required to have a will—but it’s a good idea to have one. If you die without a will, the state has created one for you. Any assets you leave behind will be distributed to your next of kin, according to Ohio’s intestacy laws. Therefore, if you have specific wishes about how you want your property distributed, you should prepare a will.

Can I change my will?

Yes. Your will is valid and effective until it is revoked, destroyed or invalidated by writing a new will. You can make a whole new will or you may alter an existing will by making a codicil. A codicil modifies an existing will so long as it is executed in compliance with applicable state law. You cannot simply cross out language within your current will or add a new provision as this type of action does not usually meet the legal requirements for executing a valid will.

What happens if I die without a will?

If you die without a will, your assets will be distributed to your next of kin, according to state intestacy laws instead of your wishes. Your next of kin may request to be the probate administrator. Alternatively, an attorney can be the administrator.

What happens if someone contests my will?

In Ohio, you can contest a will on the following grounds:

  • The will is invalid due to error in its creation or execution
  • The testator was of unsound mind when the will was created, witnessed and signed
  • A beneficiary has had undue influence on the will

Working with an attorney can help your beneficiaries avoid these issues. Many self-made wills from online sources end up being invalid because there isn’t a trained attorney to make sure your will is validly executed.

What is a power of attorney?

A power of attorney gives a designated person legal power to make decisions on your behalf. There are two primary types: financial power of attorney and healthcare power of attorney. In preparing powers of attorney, you get to decide who will make these important decisions for you if you are unable. If you are incapacitated and don’t have a power of attorney in place a guardianship will need to be set up for you in the probate court. The court will decide who makes decisions for you. A power of attorney avoids that mess, and that person can then make medical decisions, pay your bills, file taxes and other important functions.

Do I need a lawyer to create an estate plan?

Technically, no—but it’s highly recommended. When you consult a board-certified estate planning attorney like Bart Leonardi, he can objectively evaluate your goals and desires and determine the best way to accomplish them.

Can I avoid probate?

You can almost always avoid at least some of your assets having to be probated and sometimes all of them. There are a number of ways to avoid probate with proper estate planning. Consulting a board-certified specialist in estate planning is the best way to plan your estate.

Can I avoid estate taxes?

Ohio repealed its state estate tax for deaths occurring 1/01/2013 and after. Deaths occurring before that date are still subject to the tax. Federal estate taxes are levied on estates over a certain amount, but that number is subject to change each time Congress decides to tinker with it. Currently, the Federal estate tax only affects a very small percentage of estates, but proper planning to can help reduce or eliminate potential tax.

Similarly, the beneficiaries of your retirement accounts may be required to pay certain taxes. The best way to understand and plan for tax liability is to work with Bart Leonardi, who is certified estate planning attorney. These can be complex financial situations, and you’ll be better served by working with a lawyer.

Still have questions? Ready to create your estate plan? Call us today

James Bart Leonardi, LLC is available for all of your estate planning needs. No matter the size of your estate, we can help you create a sensible, comprehensive estate plan that addresses all of your concerns and desires. Reach out today to discuss your estate plan, and find out how we can assist.


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