Pasley and Singer Law Firm, L.L.P.


Serving Story County and Central Iowa since 1906

323 6th St.
Ames, IA 50010-0664
USA
 

Phone: (515) 232-4732
 

Frequently Asked Questions
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Back to Estate Planning

Q: What is an estate?
Q: What is a will?
Q: How can I revise my will?
Q: What is a trust?
Q: What is a probate estate?
Q: What is the federal estate tax (or death tax)?
Q: What is a living trust?
Q: What is a conservatorship?
Q: Is asset protection legal?
Q: Do I need an estate attorney when I can write a simple will myself?


Q: What is an estate?

A: Your estate is the total of all property you own or control. Even if you do not own the property in your name, you can possess an ownership interest through a trust, partnership, or joint ownership. Any property or money which becomes available upon death, such as a life insurance payment, is also part of your estate.

Typical portions of an estate include:

  • Real estate and buildings.
  • Personal property including cash, furniture, vehicles, stocks, art, etc.
  • Life insurance and other financial instruments.
  • Business interests or partnerships.
  • Debts.
  • Claims, including personal injury claims.

Q: What is a will?

A: Your will is a legal document that details the organization of your estate upon your death. Wills are enforced in probate court. States have differing legal requirements for the language of wills.


Q: How can I revise my will?

A: Wills remain valid forever, unless a new will is written. You can add a “codicil” to an existing will, to change or add something to it. Codicils must meet the same legal requirements for language as the original will. Generally, a will cannot legally be revised without the use of a codicil.


Q: What is a trust?

A: This is a legal entity which manages an estate or other assets for the benefit of other persons or entities, including corporations. There are many different kinds of trusts.


Q: What is a probate estate?

A: A probate estate is the total of all assets that go through the probate process once their possessor dies. This generally includes all assets in the deceased person’s name and those paid to the estate. It often does not include joint assets, insurance, assets held in trust, or similar assets.


Q: What is the federal estate tax (or death tax)?

A: This is the tax placed on an estate by the federal government. Estates of less than $1.5 million are currently exempt from the estate tax. By 2009, the exemption will rise to $3.5 million. Under current law, the estate tax will not be assessed in 2010, but will be assessed on estates greater than $1 million in 2011.


Q: What is a living trust?

A: Under a living ( or a “revocable inter vivos”) trust, a person transfers ownership of their assets to another entity while alive. The terms of the trust instruct the entity on how to manage the person’s assets before and after death. This allows the person to avoid the probate process, and the possibility of a court-appointed conservatorship upon incapacity.


Q: What is a conservatorship?

A: If you become incapacitated, and a power of attorney has not designated someone to act on your behalf, a court procedure is necessary to assign a legal guardian to you and your estate. The preparation of a power of attorney can avoid the cost and time of a conservatorship process.


Q: Is asset protection legal?

A: Asset protection is legal when it is done legally. You cannot hide your assets or omit income when reporting your taxes. You cannot transfer assets in order to avoid debts. It is important to consult with an attorney when attempting to protect your assets, in order to avoid taking an illegal action.


Q: Do I need an estate attorney when I can write a simple will myself?

A: While it may look simple, the drafting of a will and other estate planning is actually very complex. State laws regarding estate planning change often, and failure to comply can make any changes illegal. An attorney with experience in estate planning can help you to avoid making a costly mistake, and keep you up to date on changes in estate law.

Remember: an improperly prepared will is invalid, and can create court battles and expenses that can eat away at the assets you spent a lifetime assembling. It is much better to safeguard your assets by consulting an attorney before beginning the writing of a will.

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DISCLAIMER: The information provided here is a public service and solely for informational and reference purposes. No legal service or advice is hereby provided. No attorney-client relationship is hereby created. This website may contain information addressing certain tax issues; however, it is not intended to constitute a reliance opinion as described in IRS Circular 230; therefore, it cannot be relied upon to avoid any tax penalties. The information provided here is without warranty of any kind whatsoever. Use at your own risk. No endorsement, warranty, or claim is made with respect to the works of others whose work may be referenced. Please seek the advice of an attorney for all legal matters.

Pasley and Singer Law Firm, L.L.P., is an Iowa general practice law firm with practice including, but not limited to  Administrative Law, Adoption Law, Agricultural Law, Alternative Dispute Resolution, Banking Law, Business Law (including business organization, partnerships, limited liability companies (LLCs), incorporations, and sales of businesses and business assets), Civil Rights, Commercial Law, Construction Law, Corporate Law, Criminal Defense, Elder Law, Employment Law, Family Law (including divorce, prenuptial agreements, child support, child custody, dissolution modification), Government, Government Contracts, Litigation, Personal Injury (including Motor Vehicle Accidents and Wrongful Death), Product Liability, Professional Negligence Law, Real Estate (including mortgage loan closings, IRC Section 1031 exchanges, subdivisions, platting, condominiums, and cooperative housing), Municipal Law, Taxation Law and Tax Preparation, Wills, Trusts, Estate Planning & Probate Law (including financial and medical powers of attorney, guardianships and conservatorships, trust administration, and estate administration), Workers Compensation, Zoning, Planning & Land Use

The offices of the Pasley and Singer Law Firm, L.L.P., are located in Ames, Iowa. The lawyers and staff of the Pasley and Singer Law Firm, L.L.P., serve clients throughout Iowa, including the cities of Ames, Nevada, Gilbert, Huxley, Slater, Zearing, Story City, Roland, McCallsburg, Colo, Cambridge, Sheldahl, Des Moines, Cedar Rapids, Fort Dodge, Waterloo, Marshalltown, Boone, Webster City, Eldora, Grundy Center, Newton, Adel, Eldora, Ankeny, Johnston, Indianola, Cedar Falls, Jefferson, Marshalltown, Clarion, Knoxville, and the communities that make up Story, Polk, Linn, Webster, Blackhawk, Marshall, Boone, Hamilton, Jasper, Dallas, Hardin, Warren, Greene, Wright, and Marion counties.