Definition

Trusts and estates is about succession and the transmission of family wealth.

This area of law encompasses many other areas, including:

  • the law of wills
  • the law of trusts
  • agency law
  • tax law
  • elder law
  • real estate law
  • laws regarding the transfer of specific assets (such as bank accounts, life insurance, and retirement accounts)
  • civil practice

It is a field of study and practice that is constantly changing to reflect changed social norms (e.g., increasing divorce rates and same-sex marriages), advances in medicine (e.g, issues can arise from preserving embryos and from prolonging life), and technological advances (e.g., planning is now necessary for digital assets and cryptocurrency).

Trusts and estates lawyers can focus on planning, administration, or litigation:

  • Planning includes estate planning, tax planning, planning for incapacity, and Medicaid planning.

  • Administration includes intestate administration, probate administration, and trust administration.

  • Litigation includes will contests and fiduciary litigation.

Dynamic Field

The field of trusts and estates is not static; it is a dynamic field. More recent changes include:

[1] Using other mechanisms to transmit wealth at death than a will to avoid the costly and time-consuming probate of the will.

  • Revocable trusts are increasingly popular. So, trusts are no longer tools that just wealthy people use.

  • An estate planning attorney must review beneficiary designations and coordinate them them with the rest of the estate plan.

[2] Responding to with medical progress, which is providing new ways to give birth and allowing people to defer death.

  • Incorporating medicaid planning to pay for people’s long-term care.

  • Dealing with issues that can arise from preserving embryos.

[3] Expanding legal malpractice so attorneys who draft wills and trusts may be exposed malpractice liability.

[4] Shifting away from planning to minimize or eliminate exposure to other areas.

  • Increasing focus on asset protection due to increasing divorce rates, divorces becoming easier through no-fault divorces, and an increasingly litigious society.

  • Minimizing state estate taxes.

  • Minimizing income taxes.

[5] Expanding the legal definition of marriage to include same-sex marriages.

[6] Planning for digital assets and cryptocurrency (such as Bitcoin).