How we serve you
We start with a free consultation to discuss the estate issues you may need help with. This can be anything from drafting your Will, to assisting you with your duties as an estate trustee (executor), to intervening if you feel there is something wrong with a Will or the administration of an estate. Our initial consultation will be virtual (Zoom), by phone, or in person — whichever you prefer. It’s always your choice.
This initial meeting will also help you determine if we are the right estate-law team for you.
Before moving forward, we will provide a complete outline of the work to be done along with a timeline and costs. If you are happy with our proposal then we will get to work, together.
Your plan to manage your health and property during your lifetime, and ensure your wishes are followed when you die.
A thorough estate plan typically includes a Will and two powers of attorney (health and property). It may also include one or more trusts (depending upon your wishes and circumstances), as well as business succession planning.
The document which, after your death, instructs your chosen estate trustees how to distribute everything you own. At Scharf Estate Law, we like to think of a Will as not only a list of who gets what, but as the ultimate personal expression of your life’s aspirations.
Powers of attorney for personal care and property
The two documents which ensure someone you trust will manage your health care and property while you are alive but incapacitated for any reason. You may also make a “Living Will” with specific instructions about your health.
Think of a trust as a gift with conditions, like leaving money to a child which they will not receive until they turn 25. Trusts are useful for ensuring your wishes are followed, family wealth is preserved, and efficient tax planning.
If you have been appointed as an estate trustee (executor), you are responsible for the efficient administration of a person’s estate, likely someone you loved. You may feel overwhelmed by your administrative duties, all while you are grieving.
We can assist you with every step, from protecting the estate and paying the debts to distributing assets to the beneficiaries in accordance with the Will.
Estate trustee (executor) duties
If you are an estate trustee, you have many administrative duties including paying the estate’s debts, protecting the assets, and distributing to the beneficiaries in the Will. You also have considerable authority, for instance, final decision making for funeral arrangements.
Applying for probate
Probate is often required before an estate trustee can carry out all their duties. A “probated Will” means the court has certified both the Will and appointed estate trustee. This certification may be required, for instance, before a financial institution will release money in the deceased’s accounts.
Distribution of an estate
An estate trustee should only distribute assets to the beneficiaries after they are certain the estate’s debts and taxes have been covered. Estate trustees may be personally liable if the administration of the estate is not correct.
If you feel the deceased was unduly influenced to change their Will for the exclusive benefit of someone else, you can dispute the validity of the Will. If you feel an estate trustee has not properly fulfilled their duties, you can dispute their administration of the estate. Often, these disputes are between family members and fraught with emotion.
We can assist you to resolve a dispute over a Will or the administration of an estate. We always prefer to resolve disputes with clear communication, but when negotiation fails we will represent you in court.
Challenging a Will
There are specific legal requirements for a Will to be valid. For instance, the testator (the person who makes a Will) must have sufficient mental capacity to understand what they are doing. If you feel an elderly relative with dementia was taken advantage of and influenced to change their Will without understanding what they were doing, you can challenge the Will and potentially have it ruled invalid.
Providing for dependents
Parents have a legal obligation to provide for their dependant children. This obligation continues after a parent’s death. A Will must provide for dependant children. If it does not, the court may intervene to alter a Will and ensure dependants are adequately provided for.
Surviving spouse’s rights
Instead of receiving what they have been given in their spouse’s Will, a surviving spouse may choose to take their share of the matrimonial property at the time of their spouse’s death. This can be more than what is provided in the Will. The surviving spouse must make this choice within six months of their spouse’s death.
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I want to leave money to my kids but… A simple explanation of trusts