Montana Estate Planning Attorneys

For many, thinking about the future means planning a career, perhaps starting a family and enjoying life while not taking the time to consider what will happen if you become ill or disabled, or if you were to suddenly pass away. At Jones & Cook Attorneys at Law, we provide individuals in Missoula, Butte, Helena, Great Falls, Bozeman, and across Montana with sophisticated estate planning, including the preparation of wills, trusts, and other essential services. Jones & Cook accepts cases statewide in both Montana and North Dakota. Contact us for a free consultation with an experienced attorney, call (406) 543-3800 today.

One common misconception of many individuals is that Estate Planning is only for the wealthy. It is, however, essential for everyone, regardless of financial status, in order to protect oneself and provide for loved ones. At Jones & Cook, we will work closely with you in developing a comprehensive personalized plan to provide you with peace of mind.

Our Montana Estate Planning attorneys are dedicated to ensuring the well being of our clients, protecting the wealth they have acquired over a lifetime, and ensuring their wishes are carried out in the event of Death or Incapacity.

We represent Trusts, estates and the affected parties through the Probate process. We also assist clients in planning for Long-Term Care, both for themselves and their dependents, and we are well-versed in federal Medicare and Medicaid laws and regulations. We also routinely analyze the estate, gift and income tax consequences of estate plans to minimize tax costs and prepare estate income tax returns.

By not having a well thought-out Estate Plan, the courts will appoint someone to make decisions about your healthcare and the distribution of your Assets in a way that may not agree with your wishes.

We offer all our clients compassion, knowledge and a superior level of personal service. If you need advice about Estate Planning in Missoula, Bozeman, Billings or throughout Montana and North Dakota, call Jones & Cook Attorneys at Law today at (406) 543-3800.

Montana’s Best Estate Planning Legal Team

Estate Planning

Completing even a basic Montana Estate Plan can eliminate problems down the road, help avoid fights and disagreements between family members, and provide assurances that your money and property will be distributed to the individuals that you choose and avoid adverse tax consequences.

Estate Planning isn’t just about giving away your money, property and belongings after you die. While these are significant, Estate Planning’s more important functions are to help you plan for your own future while you are alive. The reality is that as a society, we are living longer than ever before. However, with a longer life comes the increased risk that we will have a disability or mental incapacity in our later years. Alzheimer’s disease, strokes, dementia and other health or mental health illnesses and Injuries are at an all-time high. Critical to the estate planning process is preparing for these potential problems by providing a trusted person with a Power of Attorney. Through a valid and well planned Power of Attorney you give authority to another person to make decisions for you if you become Incapacitated and unable to make financial, business, healthcare, and other decisions for yourself. If you don’t complete this part of your Estate Planning, and you become Incapacitated, your family will be forced to have a Court determine who your Guardian and Conservator will be. Costly court supervised proceedings create the possibility that your family may fight over who should be appointed and how your assets are administered. A complete Estate Plan prepared by an experienced attorney can help you avoid these problems.

The future care and support of Minor Children also presents unique problems and planning opportunities. Your Estate Plan can ensure that your children will be raised by Guardians that you chose and that your assets are preserved for their health, education, maintenance, and support. Otherwise, the courts will step in and decide who will be named as the legal guardians of your children. Well-meaning family members may disagree about who should raise your children and how your assets should be used on their behalf. Legal disputes over the naming of guardians for minor children are often a costly and contentious process.

Additionally, family fights, where one heir may think he or she deserves more than another, or where individuals fight over who should be in charge, or who should be named as Guardian can and do happen. These fights often end up in court, with family members pitted against each other. With a comprehensive Estate Plan in place, these types of family fights are most often eliminated.

The Estate Planning Process

At Jones & Cook, Our customized and comprehensive plans are designed to meet each client’s unique needs and objectives. Clients are actively involved in the entire process so that, with our advice and guidance, you make the best decisions which result in a plan you understand and will work when needed, with an eye to minimizing taxes and expenses. We find this greatly reduces stress and lessens conflict for loved ones, especially in a time of emotional duress. Estate planning includes: Last Will and Testament; Durable Power of Attorney; HIPAA Authorization; Health Care Proxy; Living Will; Revocable Living Trusts; Retirement Trusts; Pet Trusts; Irrevocable Asset Protection Trusts; Probate and Trust Administration; Tax Planning.

A Complete Montana or North Dakota Estate Plan

Every person is different and unique and because of this their Estate Plan should be customized to fit their own personal circumstances. Most people need at least a basic estate plan which includes at least a Last Will and Testament, a Durable Power of Attorney, a Living Will, and a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care. Some individuals with small children may need to name a Guardian, or may need to create a trust for their minor children. More mature adults may want to have a living trust set up or a series of trusts that can be used as part of their succession planning for their farm, ranch or business. Additionally, life insurance, bank accounts, and retirement accounts should be considered and made a part of each person’s Estate Plan.

Small Business, Farm and Ranch Succession Planning

Succession planning for small businesses, farms and ranches provide unique estate planning challenges and opportunities. Often owners face difficult decisions in attempting to treat all children equally while maintaining the continued operation and success of the family business, farm or ranch. The use of family trusts, limited liability companies, and family partnerships coupled with transfer restrictions, buy-sell agreements, life insurance trusts and gift giving programs are often utilized. These tools can minimize inheritance taxes, treat children fairly and help ensure that the family business, farm or ranch remains ongoing and viable.

Contact a Qualified Montana Estate Planning Attorney Today

The knowledgeable, experienced and diligent attorneys at Jones & Cook are here to help you and your family when you need it the most. Whether you are seeking your own customized Estate Plan or are in need of Probate or Trust Administration in Montana or North Dakota for a loved one who has passed, we are available to discuss your options and answer your questions at an initial Free Consultation. Call us at (406) 543-3800 for a free consultation with the Jones & Cook Attorneys at Law team of Estate Planning and Administration lawyers. We can answer your questions and help solve your Estate Planning, Probate and Trust problems.

Frequently Asked Questions

Many people assume that the laws of their state will appropriately distribute their property to family members. That is true to a certain extent, however, you give up a lot of rights if you fail to plan. For instance, an estate plan can help you ensure that your intentions for your assets are met, prevent disputes, reduce stress for your family at a difficult time and minimize or eliminate estate taxes.

The only time that you can prepare and implement an estate plan is while you are alive and have the legal capacity to enter into a contract. If you are unable to manage your own affairs or suffer from a disability which affects your legal capacity, your estate plan may be effectively challenged by those who assert that you lacked capacity at the time the documents were created, that you were subjected to fraud, coercion or undue influence during the creation and implementation of your plan. The best time to start an estate plan is now, while you have the capacity to do so.

Yes, it can, to an extent. When you devise assets through a Last Will and Testament or leave no will and make no other arrangements for your assets, Montana’s default probate process kicks in. But many people would like to avoid the full probate process, given that involving a probate court and potentially a court-appointed executor can be time consuming and expensive. Since probate proceedings happen in court, probate can also be invasive—publicly airing details of assets a family might not be comfortable sharing.

Some estate planning options include trusts; joint tenancy with right of survivorship; Payable-on-Death (POD) bank accounts; and Transfer-on-Death (TOD) securities and deeds. Exercising these options prevents named assets from going through probate and creates a mechanism for making sure an asset goes to whomever you intended. Even if your will must go through the probate process, however, for reasons such as having courts sort through family disputes, careful estate planning can make the process easier on all involved. Jones & Cook Attorneys at Law will counsel you on your estate planning options and make sure it’s done right.

The more important thing is to determine what matters most to you! Think about the arrangement you want for the distribution of your assets and for the care of your family, children and pets. Establish a relationship with the agents you appoint to handle your property and care for your family. Be sure to choose someone you KNOW will carry out your decisions and perhaps make the right decisions for you when you cannot. Finally, you’ll need to prepare all the legal documents that will express your preferences in health care treatment, life-prolonging care decisions, etc.

Many people put their financial accounts in joint names thinking they are finding a way around estate planning or maybe just for easy access for their children to help them. With joint property, when you di the asset will go directly to the other joint tenant(s). These assets will not go through probate.

This if often done, particularly with the elderly to add children or trusted friends to the account for convenience in paying bills or other reasons. What most people fail to realize is that this could lead to unintended or unexpected results. \. Disputes, including litigation, are common between the estate of the original owner and the surviving joint tenant as to whether the survivor’s name was added as a matter of convenience or management or whether a gift was intended. Another common mistake is that the person has a will thinking that the asset will pass according to the will, but title is everything and if the account is joint, the will is meaningless. A common situation is when one child is on the account, but the parent wants to leave the account to all of their children. Guess what, that is not going to happen – the one child will get everything! If you want to see unhappiness and resentment this is the way to cause it.

If you don’t have an estate plan, the laws of your state and the court system will decide how to manage your affairs. If you become incapacitated, the court will appoint someone as the guardian of your “estate” to act on your behalf for your finances, like selling your car or your house. The court will also appoint someone to be in charge of your “person.” The guardian of the person will, for example, make medical decisions and decide which nursing home you should live in. The guardian of your estate or of your person may or may not be a member of your family. A guardianship can become expensive and time consuming, it is open to the public, and it can be difficult to end even if you recover.

If you die without an intentional estate plan, your assets will be distributed according to the laws of your state. In many states, if you are married and have children, your spouse and children will each receive a share. That means your spouse could receive only a fraction of your estate, which may not be enough to live on. If you have minor children, the court will control their inheritance. If both parents die (i.e., in a car accident), the court will appoint a guardian without the benefit of your guidance.

Planning your estate now will help you organize your records, locate titles, review beneficiary designations, and find and correct any errors. For example, errors on titles or beneficiary designations could create problems for your family when you are incapacitated or die. Beneficiary designations may now be out-of-date or otherwise invalid. Naming the wrong beneficiary on a tax-deferred plan can lead to devastating tax consequences. It is much better to take the time to organize and review this now than for your family to pay an attorney to try to fix errors later.

Numerous advanced estate planning strategies are employed to minimize estate and gift taxes. There are many factors that must be considered when tailoring a plan that will work best in each client’s situation. However, techniques that work exceptionally well for one client may be totally inappropriate for another client. The only constant is that clients with estate and gift tax concerns who are willing to invest in estate planning can expect to save much more in estate and gift taxes than they will spend in developing and implementing an appropriate plan.