Protect Your Family With an Estate Plan


  • In the event of incapacitation or death (God forbid), it is important that you have named who will control your health and finances and who will raise your children (if you’re a parent).
  • If you don’t have an estate plan, your assets may be distributed through the courts in an avoidable, expensive, and lengthy process.

An estate plan is important regardless of the amount of assets (wealth) you have.  Value what you have earned!  Protect it!  A personalized estate plan by Scottsdale estate planning lawyer Abigail Neal will cover contingencies regard to health care, finances, your children’s futures, and your assets and possessions.

Life is unpredictable and, God forbid, should you pass or become incapacitated, your estate plan will address these tragedies and protect your family from scrambling chaotically to set things in order.  Don’t make your family expend assets by going through lawyers, courts, the state and other third parties like creditors, business partners, other relatives, etc.  A well drafted estate plan – planning up front – saves your family time, money, and anxiety.  Do it for yourself and themBy the time you need an estate plan it’s too late to create one.

Let’s look at three issues covered by your estate plan, which will protect your family from expenses, courts, litigation, etc.:

  1. Incapacity. As horrible as it is to consider, incapacity happens.  If it does, an estate plan will allow you some measure of control, such as: (i) what type of care will you want to receive, and (ii) who will handle your personal and financial affairs.

Certain documents will allow you some control over your future if tragedy strikes, such as:

  • Living will – this specifies the type of care you want to receive in the event you are unable to make informed decisions.
  • Health care power of attorney (POA) – the POA designates a person of your choosing to make medical decisions on your behalf. You may also delegate a person of your choosing the authority to make financial decisions such as selling assets or paying your bills.
  1. Care for your Children. If you are a parent, appointing a guardian is probably one of the most important parts of your estate plan.  Considering all of the tragedies we plan ahead for with insurance, savings, etc., appointing a guardian for the unlikely event that one is needed will prevent the nightmarish process of the state choosing one for your children. Naming a guardian to care for minor children is a critical step to protect your family from uncertainties.

In our opinion, you should start considering who you’d want to raise your minor child(ren) in the tragic circumstance that you pass away or become incapacitated.  We also advise that you have a backup guardian in the event the preferred guardian is unable to serve.  Do be sure to ask the prospective guardians if they comfortable in that role!

  1. Control distribution of your assets. After working most of your life to earn, protect and increase the value of your assets, you are the one who should dictate how those assets will be dispersed. By creating an estate plan you avoid the laws of your state taking control over your decision makers, assets and distribution of your estate.  Here are some potential ways assets may be distributed:

(a) First, some assets will pass to your beneficiaries automatically, because their names are on the title with yours.  Thus, they will receive ownership regardless of the language in your will.  For example, if you own a car or house “jointly,” or “jointly with a right of survivorship,” the other person on the title will automatically receive your share of ownership once you have passed away.

Note:  If you are a “tenant in common” with somebody else you can name the person you want to receive your ownership share via your will. A tenancy in common is different than a joint tenancy that way.  Be sure to discuss the differences with a qualified estate planning professional to discuss jointly owned property to ensure your assets are distributed according to your wishes.

(b) Second, some other assets will automatically pass to beneficiaries by virtue of a beneficiary designation – think, life insurance and retirement accounts, which allow you specify who will receive those assets, by designating the beneficiary.  If you have not named a beneficiary and you pass away, some companies (for example, insurance companies) will distribute the money to your estate.

These beneficiary designations happen without regard to your will.  For example, if your will says your assets go to A and and your life insurance policy lists B as the beneficiary, the life insurance proceeds will be distributed to B.   This is why reviewing beneficiary designations is a critical part of creating your estate plan.

Note:  Some banks and financial institutions allow you to set up a transfer-on-death/pay on death (a “TOD” or “POD”) to designate a person to inherit the account when you pass, regardless of what your will might say.

(c) Third, certain assets – those that don’t fit in the first two categories above – will pass to your beneficairies via your will.  This is where your Scottsdale attorneys at Powers & Neal step in: to explain to you how all of these parts fit together, so that the will is properly drafted, witnessed, notarized, executed, etc.  A properly drafted estate plan is one of the best ways you can ensure family security and protect your family.

Note:  Failure to execute a  will can result in expensive legal processes and delay the distribution of your assets. If you don’t create an estate plan, state law will create one for you. 

Note:  Your will allows you to name the executor (in Arizona called the personal representative), who is responsible for administering the money and property in your estate and guides the probate process.  Your will is also where you name a guardian to care for minor children if necessary.

(d) Fourth, you may consider creating a revocable living trust which will “own” your assets.  With a trust, if you became incapacitated or passed away, the language of the trust – customized to the unique needs of your family – governs the management of your assets.  A properly drafted and funded trust can also:

  • Avoid probate, which can save time and often ensure greater privacy than if the assets are handled under your will
  • Name a trustee to manage and distribute assets according to your wishes instead of a court appointed representative and state law defaults
  • Speed up the process of the distribution of your estate’s assets to your beneficiaries
  • Protect a beneficiary’s inheritance from creditors, predators, divorcing spouses and others

Note:  Trusts can be simple or complex depending on the nature of your assets, tax strategies and family dynamics so you’ll want to engage knowledgeable attorneys like Abigail Neal at Powers & Neal before determining whether a trust suits your needs.

Estate Planning Steps

The following are basic steps of estate planning to help you envision what your plan should be:

Getting Started
Learn the fundamentals of estate planning, including basic terms, tools, and considerations that may arise as you plan your estate.  We are passionate about empowering our clients with education and the tools they need to ensure their wishes are carried out.

Understanding the Mechanics
Explore basic estate planning tactics and tools to help ensure that your assets are divided as you intend after your death.  We discuss all available options with clients so they can make the best decision for their loved ones.

Customizing and Finalizing Your Plan
Apply your new estate planning knowledge to develop an approach that works best for you and addresses important personal goals.  Once your estate plan is complete, discuss it with close family and friends and answer any questions they might have.

Establishing an estate plan will help protect your loved ones and ensure that your wishes will be carried out.  It’s worth the time and expense of working with a professional.  Call Scottsdale estate planning lawyer Abigail Neal at 480-699-7992 to schedule your complimentary estate planning consultation.

Powers & Neal – 15305 N. 73rd Street, Ste. B, Scottsdale, Arizona 85260 480-699-7992