Estate is the commonly used and legal term to describe the collective assets and liabilities that one leaves after death. We view the practice areas revolving around Estates in three different categories: Planning, Administration, and Litigation. We encourage all of our clients and potential clients to engage in the planning area, because proper estate planning will lead to orderly administration and prevent litigation.

The planning of an estate is, in many ways, self-explanatory. The goal is to plan for how the estate is to be managed and distributed. Through the use of your Last Will and Testament, and perhaps a Trust, you can specify how you want your personal and real property distributed among your heirs.

Historically, minimization of taxes was one of the main reasons to ensure that you had a Last Will and Testament. With the recent increase in the exemption for federal estate taxation, that is less of a concern for most Americans. However, we believe that another group of Americans stands to benefit from planning by ensuring that the proper parties receive their intended portion of the respective Estate. If you pass away without a Last Will and Testament, the State of West Virginia's laws dictate who gets your Estate. In the case of the "traditional family," i.e., husband, wife, and joint children, the default laws of the State generally correspond with the individual's desires, although they could often be improved upon. However, we believe that the "one-size fits all" approach of the default laws are generally not appropriate for situations involving single parents or second marriages and encourage anyone in those positions to seek planning advice.

Pre-death planning is also included in the planning of an estate. As part of your plan, you will want to set forth who will manage your finances if you become incapacitated or otherwise unable to manage them on your own. You will also want to specify who will make medical decisions on your behalf if you cannot make such decisions. You may also want to specify where you are to be buried and what type of memorial service you desire. Finally, you may want to specify what type of life-prolonging technologies may be utilized to benefit you. These goals are set forth through three documents: a Durable Power of Attorney, a Medical Power of Attorney, and a Living Will.

Our attorneys can assist you with your planning to help ensure that taxes, if any, are minimized, and the appropriate individuals receive your estate. Additionally, with their experience in litigation, they can help you prevent disputes regarding your estate and your Last Will and Testament by assisting you in recognizing trouble spots and potential conflicts. With proper planning, the next step, administration, will run more smoothly.

The Administration of the Estate refers to the process of submitting the estate to probate, collecting assets, paying creditors, distributing assets, and settling the estate. The person overseeing and managing the estate is the personal representative, referred to as an administrator or the executor. Depending on the size of the estate and its assets, this can be a simple or a complex process. The personal representative can contact and utilize legal representation for assistance with moving through the administration of the estate. Our attorneys work hand in hand with the personal representative to file the required documents with the Clerk of the County Commission, coordinate to ensure that creditors are paid, resolve disputes with heirs, and prepare the final and interim accountings of the estate.

The final area is Litigation, i.e., lawsuits involving an estate. These lawsuits can be contested claims against the estate, or more likely, assertions that the Last Will and Testament is improper and does not control or the personal representative has committed some wrong. Claims involving the Last Will and Testament are commonly referred to as "will contests." Without proper planning, especially when "non-traditional" families are involved, the chances of such claims are heightened. Such claims require the experience of general civil litigation along with the ability to handle disputes that arise out of the parties' historical knowledge and relationships. Our attorneys have the experience necessary to handle the litigation and personal aspects of such litigation, whether from a plaintiff or defense side.

Your estate matters. For that reason, you should engage in proper planning to ensure an orderly administration of the estate and prevent any litigation from upsetting your intentions. Feel free to contact our attorneys for assistance in any of the three areas of estates: Planning, Administration, or Litigation.

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