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Around the Web: Estate Planning for the Average Person

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The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act law created sweeping changes to the income tax system in 2018, but it also impacted federal estate and gift taxes. For high-net-worth planners, the impacts were simple in terms of legislation. However, the implications of the large increase in the estate and gift tax exemption are complex and affect everyone planning their estate – not just the small percentage who will still file estate tax returns. This article featured on The Tax Adviser reviews the changes to the tax framework and discusses how the changes affect the 99% of people who will not be filing a Form 706 (United States Estate and Generation-Skipping Transfer Tax Return).

As of 2018, only 17 states as well as Washington, D.C., maintain either an estate tax or inheritance tax. The state exemption amounts have also increased dramatically for a number of those states. Because of this, the number of taxable assets has gone from small to microscopic. Between the increase in the federal level exemption and states eliminating their estate taxes, the landscape of estate tax planning has drastically changed in the last 20 years. Pair this with how infrequently the average person revisits his estate documents and there are more likely than not a vast number of outdated estate plan documents in most people’s dusty file drawers.

Many people think estate planning does not apply to them since the federal tax exemptions are so high. However, the numerous nontax factors warrant attention. These include custody of minor children, how assets will be administered for a surviving spouse, addressing special needs and more. If you haven’t thought about planning your estate or haven’t looked at yours since you created it in the ‘90s, now is the time to give it some attention.

If you are ready to discuss your estate plan, give Rhodes Law Firm a call today!

7 Things Financial Advisors Want You to Know About Giving to Charity

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giving to charityIt is interesting to note that fewer Americans are giving to charity, yet the dollar amount is at an all-time high.

According to the Giving USA 2019 report, in 2018, there was a $20 billion increase from slightly over $400 billion donated in 2017. The donations mostly went to environmental causes, higher education institutions and disaster recovery projects.

Before you decide to donate, there are certain things financial advisers would want you to know. We’ll explore some of these in a little more detail below.

What Should You Know Before Giving to Charity

Making charitable contributions has the advantage of the “feel good” factor for the individual. You can also benefit from tax incentives. Talk to your financial adviser so that you can plan appropriately. Consider the following before writing that check.

1. What Charity Are You Donating To

Many people will donate money to charities that deal with issues close to their hearts. It could be about health, economic issues, social issues or even arts and culture. Make sure that they are using your money efficiently and effectively.

Look at the reputation of the programs they’re running, so that you’re sure that your money is making a difference. Factor in whether they get tax deductions because not all non-profit organizations qualify.

Remember there are so many organizations you can donate to, and it can get confusing. With over 1.5 million registered charities, you need to use the resources available to find the right one. Don’t rush the process, avoid telemarketers who’re asking for money, seek relevant facts and most importantly follow your gut instinct.

Avoid sharing any personal information because you can never quite know who you’re dealing with. Be especially careful about any new organization, because many scammers are operating under the guise of charities.

2. Organize Your Donations to Charities

Donating money to charities is very much like coming up with a business plan. It’s not something you do on the whim of the moment. Try and spread your donations, so that you avoid giving to the same charity over and over again.

Also, ensure that you get a receipt so that you use it for your tax returns.

3. Donating to Appreciated Stocks or Assets Is a Good Idea

You could have avoided paying capital gains tax by donating appreciated stock. The value of the charitable tax deduction will be the full market value, thus savings for you. You will not get the same benefit if you donate cash.

The charity then has the option of selling the stock when they require money for a mission. If you’re giving money to those you love, give them appreciated stocks so that when they sell the assets, they pay less tax.

If you’re dealing with depreciated assets, sell them yourself and give away the cash. You’ll have to bear the tax loss.

4. Gift Tax Exclusions

It’s a good idea to take time to think before you donate. It’ll help you choose the right option. You can, for example, give up to $15,000 as an individual, or $30,000 together with your spouse. You’ll not face any consequences with regards to the gift tax; neither will you require filing a gift tax return.

The best way to do it is to spread your donations as opposed to giving it all at once. You can also avoid gift tax by donating to medical or educational institutions, or paying tuition for healthcare bills for an individual. Talk to your financial adviser on the different consequences of making the donations.

5. Life Insurance Is an Excellent Way to Donate to Charity

You have many options concerning contributions. You can donate a car to charity, or even give a life insurance policy. The death benefit amount will be larger than if you give cash. You also have the option of changing beneficiaries without having to explain yourself to anyone.

If you don’t want to deal with the hassle, you can give up full control of the policy to the charity, but continue to have it as a deduction on your income tax. You’ll enjoy the tax benefit if you continue to pay the premiums.

6. Non-Cash Donations; Best Charity to Donate To

You’ll find several items in your home that you have no use for. How about using this as your donation instead of giving out money. You help retain your cash flow while getting rid of clutter. Since it is a donation, don’t give out anything that no longer has value.

Only donate what you can still use; meaning it should be in good condition. Make sure you have receipts for anything less than $250. Also, have a written acknowledgement for anything you donate that is $250 or more. You may also need an appraisal for items worth $500 and above.

Your time can also be a valuable asset. Volunteer services for certain missions, and enjoy tax deductibles by noting your expenses like auto mileage.

7. Charity Should Not Be a One-Off

Giving donations to charities should be part of your life plan. Allocate charitable donations by setting up trust funds two organizations or even family members. Depending on the advice your financial adviser gives you, you can provide an income to charities long after your demise. A good plan will also include your beneficiaries.

Donor-advised funding will also allow you to claim the tax deductions for any money you give to an investment account, for a charitable organization. You get to recommend how you’d want the money allocated.

By having a plan, you don’t have to deal with every appeal that comes your way. You only give to those you really care about and can leave a lasting legacy.

Donating to Charities Is Fulfilling

We’ve shared with your seven important factors to consider when thinking of giving to charity. You have the benefits of tax deductions and the peace of mind of knowing that you are doing your bit to make a difference in this world. Getting proper legal and financial advice will protect you in the long run.

Remember, it is not all about giving to every charity out there; it requires a more organized thought process on your part to be able to make the most difference. You need a plan, and we can set you on the right path. Contact us for more information.

Client Testimonial – Jeff Annis

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At Rhodes Law Firm, we’re focused on providing our clients the best possible service regarding personal estate planning, as well as business planning and asset protection.  One of our clients, Jeff Annis of Advanced Services Pest Control, talks about the important of having business plans in place and his experience with our firm.  If you are looking for help with your business plan or estate plan, contact us today.

The Ultimate Guide to Finding Reputable Charities for Your Donations

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reputable charities

Female hands holding red polygonal paper heart shape

The non-profit sector is quite large. Did you know the number of non-profit organizations in the USA as per the latest study stands at 1.5 million? The National Center for Charitable Statistics has registered this number, including the private foundations, public charities, and other non-profit organizations.

With such a high number, it would be pretty difficult to discern which one of the reputable charities, deserves your donation. It’s not that hard anymore. If you want to make sure your donation is going to the right place, read further, and we’ll let you know.

How to Find Reputable Charities

Looking for the best charity to donate to can be nerve-wracking. There are many varieties, including:

● Cancer charities
● Children protection
● Animal welfare
● Environment
● Health – mental or general
● Veteran military officials
● Police

As so, searching through this turmoil could need some assistance. Look below for the ultimate guide on the most reputable charities.

1. Use Resources to Search

For many years now, third-party organizations have made it their agenda to source out, vet, and rate these non-profit organizations. This has made it very easy for one to search over the net and make an informed decision.

They search various categories including small or large organizations and different types of organizations.

GiveWell

Their field of expertise is international aid or global health. This resource center does vetting through sophisticated data technology where, after analysis, they produce reports on the best opportunities for donors. They illustrate which charities would largely benefit from additional funding.

Philanthropedia

On a wider base, Philanthropedia deals with local, national, and international charities. They offer expert advice for charities dealing with international disasters, violence on women, and climate change.

Their researchers, professionals, and senior staffs work to showcase on the best and worst charities to donate to.

Charity Navigator

Commonly known to give ratings under consumer reports, this organization has rated over 9000 charities. They look over finances and general performances.

Every month they have new ratings and top ten listings. Although they aren’t all inclusive as per different types of charities, they have the answer to what charity should I donate to.

CharityWatch

The charity watch is another grade master by the American Institute of Philanthropy (AIP). They rate the effectiveness and efficiency of charities based on their total expenses.

According to the BBC Wise Giving Alliance, the charity watchdogs are supposed to accredit charities that maintain these two laws:

● 65% of total expenses are on charitable missions
● No more than 35% of any contributed amount to be used in fundraising.

Universal Giving

They are a specific organization that focuses their energy on what you want to donate. As so, they have a platform that will rank charities on their patriot act compliance or status verification on finance and management status.

They are the perfect place to source out the best children’s charities, among other charities. You can volunteer a specific amount to a particular place or continent of your choice.

Bright Funds

Bright funds is an investment organization fund that provides an easy and simplified way of donating. They create a portfolio that will divide your donations according to the causes you set up. They ensure the charities you will be donating to are the most effective and the most needed of help.

They work under these six target areas:

● Poverty
● Health
● Water
● Education
● Human rights
● Environment

From a single platform, you can donate to the above six areas. Plus, if you want to volunteer to an organization that isn’t part of their pre-built funds base, you can always add it by registering.

2. Avoid Telemarketers

It’s rare to find a charity organization rooting for themselves so that people can fundraise or volunteer or donate. Donations are a personal decision which under no circumstance should one feel they are in duress to offer.

If you receive calls, texts, or any marketing information from a charity organization, you are probably dealing with a scammer. As so, don’t let anyone advise you on how or when you should donate.

Keep a third eye open for any solicitors who may offer you vague or fictitious information to persuade you to donate. Claims that don’t explain where your donations shall be used.

3. Evaluate Facts About the Charity Organization

Before you go charity planning, take a deep dive into the charity of your choice and source out information regarding their business model. In this case, their nonprofit organization model.

Look through their mission, vision, goals, and achievements. Compare it to other charities under the same category to see through its finances. The operating costs should lie under the same bracket.

Seek answers to any queries you may have about the organization. If they’re hesitant to give you the information, there are doubts about their credibility.

4. Follow Your Gut

Your instincts play a huge role; if you feel inclined to or uncomfortable with the idea, then you are probably right. Avoid making donations if you are openly unwilling to do so. Chances are, the organizations you see fault in are not reputable charities.

5. Other Miscellaneous Tips

Besides the obvious points above, there are other tiny details that can offset your intentions to donate. They include:

● Never give out your personal information regarding credit, or debit card numbers, bank accounts or others.
● Don’t believe the name only, always dig deep into the company. Most scammers will use similar names to legitimate charities to entice and convince donors.
● Don’t rely only on internet information. Hacking and cyber security can compromise the net at times.
● Look the organization through the Internal Revenue Service website. Legitimate nonprofit organizations will have good records.
● Be cautious of a new organization. Not to say they may not be legit. Actually, they may need the most financial boosting than other large organizations, but they can also be a scam.

Make a Difference with the Right Charity Organization

When you make your donations, you always hope that it will make a difference, whether big or small. That’s why you need to know these reputable charities so that you can be part of something bigger than yourself.

Connect with us and let us guide you through your charitable planning.

Around the Web: Three Tax Threats to Your Estate Plan

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While you may feel at ease because you have created an estate plan, it’s important to remember that in order for it to remain effective and successful, you must review and make alterations on an annual basis. This article discusses the 3 major tax threats of which everyone should be aware.

One such issue is not fixing FLPs. It is so important to meet with financial advisors or your estate planning team to reevaluate your FLP or LLC. Do the initial reasons for creating the entity remain? If not, you should address it and consider your options. It could be better that the entity is dissolved altogether to negate any detrimental discounts. Even just revising the legal documents and correcting any oversights would prove advisable.

Another common threat to your plan is not swapping out. If you have an irrevocable trust, both you and the trustee should be aware of the swap powers they might contain and review this annually. It’s important to also note that your attorney can prepare the legal documents in advance so that a swap can be exercised quickly if health issues arise.

One last thing to consider is the selection of trust situs, or the state where your trust is based. While you may default to the state where you live, you should consider a few factors first. What is your home state’s income tax system? Is your home state the best environment for your trust? Is there a state with better tax laws? Discuss the pros and cons with your planning team and find the best trust situs for you.

If you are ready to review your trust, call Rhodes Law Firm today.

Around the Web: Debunking the Most Common Estate Plan Myths

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Unfortunately, there are many myths surrounding estate planning that often can prevent people from getting involved in the process or updating their existing plans. From assuming that a will is all you need, to thinking that estate plans are only for the wealthy – there are numerous misunderstandings regarding the importance of the planning process. This article lends some clarity and debunks some of the confusion surrounding estate planning.

You may think that you aren’t wealthy enough to create an estate plan for your assets, but that is simply not true. If you own any type of property or assets or are depended upon financially or physically by loved ones, you should have an estate plan regardless. A good, thorough estate plan – not just a will – can help protect the ones you love in more ways than one.

A will is a great start to any estate plan, but it simply doesn’t cover everything. It’s important to work with an estate attorney to discuss other legal documents that protect the rest of your assets not covered by a will. These include a power of attorney, a living will, and a trust.

Another misconception regarding estate plans is that you never need to revisit or make any updates. Any time you experience a change that impacts your life – marriage, divorce, new child or grandchild – your estate plan needs to be updated. It’s crucially important to periodically review and update your documents and beneficiaries.

Above all, communication is key in planning your estate. Make sure your loved ones or a trusted individual knows where your legal documents are located, where your banking accounts are held, and important passwords. This is all important information that can help ease those affected in the event of your death.

If you’re ready to get your estate plan in order or have questions regarding your current plan, call Rhodes Law Firm today!

Around the Web: How To Make A Plan To Exit Your Business On Your Terms

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Own a Business? Start Exit Planning as Early as Possible!

If you are a business owner, being prepared for your inevitable exit from your business is crucial to a successful retirement. By making these plans early on, you may avoid or minimize any issues that can arise from your departure and help make the transition as smooth as possible for both your employees and the buyer.

This article by Forbes New Your Business Council offers some insight on important steps to take in preparing a plan – and even a backup plan – for your retirement.

It’s important for your business to be in top shape when you go to sell it. You can take steps now to ensure that you’ll be able to sell it for a good price when the time comes, such as updating your operating agreement, your buy/sell agreement, and employee contracts as needed. It may also benefit you to incentivize key employees to stay once you’ve left the company.

If you have intellectual property, it might be a good time to look into protecting it as a trade secrets or a patent. This will also enhance the value of your business to prospect buyers.

Above all, it’s important that you work hand-in-hand with a team of advisors from the beginning of the planning process. This includes a Certified Exit Planner, a business attorney, financial advisor, and others.

If you’re ready to start planning for your financial future, call Rhodes Law Firm today!

5 Steps to Take for Long Term Care Planning

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long term care planningNo one knows what the future holds, but for 70 percent of those over 65, we do know this: long-term care is on the horizon.

As we age, our bodies change, and we start needing extra help. But some of us will require more than a helping hand. Whether it’s a long-term disability or the onset of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, long-term care is there.

Unfortunately, long term care planning needs to start well before you reach the point where you or your loved one needs it. Early planning helps you make the most of your years by finding the right facilities and making financial plans. It also offers more choices and allows you to remain at the center of all the decisions that affect your life.

1. Staying in Your Home: Learn the Options

Almost everyone wants to stay in their home for as long as possible. You can make sure you’re there for as long as you want to be with a little planning.

First, you need to think about your home’s design. Size and space make a huge difference when significant life changes occur, so here are a few things you’ll want from your home’s design:

  • Step-free entrances
  • Open plans
  • First-floor bedroom and bathrooms
  • Wide hallways and doorways

These make a huge difference whether you take a fall and need temporary help or if you develop a disability. These are the most essential features that you need to plan early for, particularly if you have an older home because they require more expensive modifications.

Other things to think about include making friendly changes like adding handrails, brighter lights, and easy-to-use door and cabinet handles.

In addition to your home, you’ll need to think about your community. While everyone today delivers to your doorstep, you still want to live in a place where you can get out and about by car, foot, or public transport.

Then, there’s extra help. Whether it comes from a relative or a professional, almost all of us will need it at some point. You’ll want to think about where your help will come from and how you’ll pay for it. Doing this now not only prepares you and your family, but it protects you from unsavory characters who prey on older people.

Are you getting older and wonder what’s available to you? Get in touch with your local Area Agency on Aging for more information.

2. Think About Advanced Directives

Advanced directives are legal paperwork that shares your medical care wishes with your family, friends, and healthcare team. The document dictates explicitly your end-of-life wishes.

End-of-life directions may seem to be too much if you’re living in your house. But these are less designed for making decisions 30 years from and instead direct your loved ones if something tragic and unexpected occurs in the near future.

An advanced directive is there for you in the event of a heart attack, stroke, or even a car accident. You’ll provide instructions on issues like:

  • Organ and tissue donation
  • Do-not-resuscitate (DNR) directives
  • Dialysis instructions
  • Tube feeding instructions

It also provides a power of attorney in case you become incapacitated.

3. Start Financial Planning

Whether you need extra help at home or more skilled care, you’ll need to think about how you will pay for it.

It’s good to build this into your retirement care plan, if it’s early enough because the cost of medical care is increasing.

As you age, some care will cost you money. Medicare or health insurance may cover other care (usually only the essentials).

Some people find that the combination of cost of living with care is more expensive than moving into an assisted living home. It all depends on your age, location, care needed, and your finances.

One way to plan is to invest in programs dedicated to long term care. Long-term care insurance is one way to prepare for the potential of expensive care and protect your retirement income. You might also choose to use a long-term care savings plan to put aside money.

Remember that you will benefit from Medicare and Medicaid, but you often don’t receive the full benefit until your financial resources are depleted.

You can read more about using Medicaid for long-term care in Georgia here.

4. Consider Local Care (or Further Afield)

If you are close enough to a point where you believe assisted living, or nursing home care is on the horizon, then start looking for facilities early.

You’ll want to decide where you want to go: do you want to stay in your neighborhood or be near family (if they live elsewhere)? You may also find that your preferred facilities have waiting lists and applications, and these are good to know about in advance.

5. Share Your Thoughts with Your Close Family and Friends

Your trusted family and friends should know about your long-term care plans. They’ll be an instrumental part of helping you make the transition to a new living space, but they may also need to give you the push you need to get there.

Acknowledging a change of such magnitude is hard. When you can talk about it with people you love and trust, it will be easier to come to even the most challenging decision.

Long-Term Care Planning Starts Now

Starting your long term care planning now may seem premature or even daunting, but it will ensure you feel less overwhelmed and more ready to help your family and friends in the future. If you are retired or nearing retirement age, now is the best time to start planning for the next phase of your life.

Do you want to learn more about the estate planning process?

Click here to learn about our in-person evening workshops in Augusta and Aiken. To learn more about long-term care planning specifically, get in touch with us today.

Around The Web: Benefits of a Trust Can Outweigh Those of a Will

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If you are considering planning your estate, it might be beneficial to look into a trust instead of a will. While both wills and trusts help with distributing property and assets after your death, a trust is much more private and specific. They also can make things easier on your family and friends after your death.

This article by Fatherly offers some great points as to why trusts offer significant benefits over wills.

Save Time and Money

Keep your loved ones out of probate with a trust. Wills can be less expensive initially to create, but can become more expensive when you consider the added court filing fees and attorney hours over a couple of months in probate. A trust is effective immediately and even can minimize income taxes that are due at death.

Keep Things Private

Wills go through the probate process, therefore anyone in the general public can go to the county court and access it. This could include anyone who is looking to snatch some property up at a cheap price, or even a long lost relative who feels entitled to property or assets. A trust, however, is a completely private document.

Protect Your Loved Ones

If you are concerned that your beneficiaries wouldn’t be able to handle money due to age or due to special needs or in capacities, trusts can be ideal to help with the distribution of money or assets. You can specify exactly how much and how often money and assets can be distributed.

Rhodes Law Firm can help you protect your loved ones by setting up a trust today. Give us a call or come by our office for a consultation.

Facing the Facts: What Does it Mean to Probate a Will?

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There comes a time in our lives where we have to plan for the future. People write a will to make things easier for their loved ones. However, this isn’t always the case, and estate planning can be a lot harder than it may seem.

Read on to find out what it means to probate a will and when do you need to probate.

How and Why to Probate a Will

Probate of the will refers to a process that validates a deceased person’s will at court. Probate of a will involves identifying the deceased person’s assets, fulfilling their last debts, identifying the proper heirs, and distributing the property.

Probating a will means getting the court to recognize a particular will as the last and valid will of a deceased person. In the probate, the deceased person also specifies the executor of their will. Probate requires the notifications of heirs at law and giving them the opportunity to context, thus turning the probate into a full blown law suit. Different states have different probate laws, but the process does not vary much across the nation.

Letters of Probate

After the probate of a will, the court will assign special documents to the executor of the will. These documents include the letters of probate, which prove their authority to execute the will. These letters empower the executor with the authority to distribute the deceased person’s estate.

The executor will need the letters of probate to transfer assets, settle disputes, and recover any money third parties might owe to the deceased person.

Depending on the value of the estate, the letters of probate will incur different fees. In general terms, you should expect the fees to be $5 for every $1,000 of the estate. In most cases, the estate pays the fees, as well as any associated legal costs involved.

When Should You Probate Your Will?

Not every person needs probate of their will. The choice depends on the nature of your assets and the size of your estate, as well as the number of your beneficiaries. In most cases, a simple will is enough to allow the executor of the will to handle the distribution.

Most states set a minimum estate value to be eligible for probate. Under that amount, heirs can claim their share of the estate with a typical, simplified version of probate.

Moreover, estates with individual retirement accounts (IRAs), 401(k) plans, and certain pension plans don’t require probate of the will. In these instances, the plans list the beneficiaries. That way, the assets transfer automatically to the listed beneficiaries without the need for a probate.

However, if your estate has complex administration or your will is complicated with multiple beneficiaries, it might be best to give the executor more legal power through probate.

Identifying Probate Assets

During the probate process, the executor will identify the assets. This means gaining access to bank statements, insurance policies, and other financial documents. Most states require executors to outline the deceased person’s total assets.

The executor also documents physical property that might have value, including art, collections, and vehicles.

Outstanding Debt and Taxes

It is the executor’s responsibility to contact the creditors of the deceased person. The creditors will have a specific time that varies by state in which to make claims on the deceased person’s estate. The executor may choose to accept or challenge these claims. In case of a dispute, the court will resolve the issue.

The executor will have to pay off all outstanding debts before dividing the estate and transfer it to the beneficiaries.

The above also holds true for pending taxes. The executor will have to pay the deceased person’s final taxes from the estate funds within nine months from the deceased person’s death. Estate taxes are different according to state and can be as high as 40% in some states.

Probate Estate vs. Taxable Estate

Probate estate and taxable estate are two different concepts. Most of the assets you own at the time of your death represents your probate estate. However, your estate taxes might include non-probate assets.

For example, life insurance will pass on to your beneficiaries as a non-probate asset. However, the value of the life insurance will count towards your taxable estate amount. So, your estate might have to pay extra for assets assigned through non-probate procedures.

Leaving No Will

When a person dies without leaving a valid will, their estate goes into a condition known as intestacy. When an estate is in intestacy, the court appoints an administrator for the estate. This administrator is not the usual executor, but it can be a member of the family or a close friend.

The administrator is then eligible to apply for the letters of probate, known as letters of administration in this case. With the letters of administration, the administrator will fulfill all financial obligations, and distribute the estate according to the Devolution of Estates Act.

In case there is no eligible administrator, the court may appoint a Public Trustee to administer the estate.

Enjoy Trusted Estate Planning and Elder Care Law Services

Now that you know what it means to probate a will, it is time to plan your estate the right way. Here at Rhodes Law Firm, PC, we are devoted to Elder Care Law and the many estate planning components that it involves. With more than three decades of experience in estate planning and charitable planning, we are a firm you can trust.

We have the experience and the expertise you would expect of someone you trust with your end of life planning. We are here to provide every service you need for lifetime and death time planning.

If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us online or give us a call during business hours. We will be happy to help you in any way we can!