The Ultimate Guide to Beginning Your Estate Plan

Wondering if you should worry about beginning your estate plan?

As unwanted or disturbing as this fact may be, death is inevitable. We’re all eventually going to die and it’s better to make peace with it. But what makes this fact even more stressful is when death comes unannounced. It often doesn’t give people a chance to say goodbye to their loved ones, let alone explain to them what to do with their possessions.

kansas city elder law attorney probate

*This blog is for educational purposes only and should not be considered legal advice. The use of the Paths Law Firm website does not constitute a client-lawyer relationship.

 

This is where estate planning comes in!

Your estate refers to everything you own. No matter how small or grand our estate may be, there’s one commonality: we have to leave everything behind. Hence, people tend to have a certain plan in mind when it comes to their estate to ensure its protection and proper distribution after their death. In this article, you’ll learn the basics of what you should first know about estates and estate planning, and the importance of hiring a qualified elder law attorney.

So, let’s dive right in!

What is an Estate?

Simply put, an estate refers to all the money, belongings, and investments you own, including your home, vehicle, furniture, bank accounts, antiques, and family heirlooms. It also includes any outstanding debts. A comprehensive estate plan will sorts it out, making clear, who’s in charge, and who gets what after you die.

In case you don’t have a plan and your estate matters aren’t specified, you may leave your family and loved ones fighting over your possessions or worse, your hard-earned valuables may go to the state or even skip to unintended heirs, all instead of your loved ones.

What is an Estate Plan and Why is it so Important?

An estate plan is meant to protect your possessions and family after you die or become incapacitated. It preserves important decisions regarding your health care and property disposition.

It is important for everyone to have an estate plan in place regardless of their age. Here’s why:

  • It establishes who would receive your possessions after your death
  • Appoints an executor to handle your estate matters after your death
  • Enables you to avoid the dreaded probate process
  • Includes the name of guardians for the care of yourself or minor children
  • Lays a foundation for medical and financial decisions if you’re incapacitated or incompetent
  • Minimizes stress for your family and loved ones during your incapacity and after your death

Beginning your estate plan is a crucial step in your life and so, it’s best to hand over the task to an expert. An elder law attorney is the best way to create a great estate plan to most likely match your specific needs, desires, and requirements.

Beginning Your Estate Plan: What You Need to Do

Beginning your estate plan may feel overwhelming, but think of it this way: after you die, it will work in your family’s favor as well as protect your belongings as per your wishes. You may think of it as an ‘end of life plan’.

What an Estate Plan Includes

Typically, a full estate plan features a strategic plan for fulfilling your wishes in case you become incapacitated or are unable to act for yourself along with determining what will happen to your possessions, debts, minor children, and pets after your death.

It most likely should include:

  • Powers of attorney
  • A living will, also known as a health care directive
  • A Last Will and Testament
  • Trust
  • Beneficiary designations on insurance or retirement accounts
  • Transfer on death deeds or accounts

3 Key Components of an Estate Plan

Generally, estate planning for seniors consists of three main components.

Beginning Your Estate Plan

1)  Powers of Attorney

A power of attorney is a critical written document in which seniors can empower another individual to act on their behalf in situations that may or may not involve incapacity. Please note, these “powers” can’t be granted to another for the execution or revocation of a Last Will and Testament or living will.

Durable Power of Attorney:

This is the most recommended type of power of attorney for estate planning purposes and usually the most beneficial.  The person signing the power of attorney, known as the “principal,” may grant the powers to begin immediately or for them to begin upon a certain event.  Should the powers begin upon an event, this is sometimes referred to as a “Springing Power of Attorney, i.e. it “springs” into effect upon the described event.  The most common event described in such powers of attorney is the requirement that a physician (or two) giving their opinion that the principal is incapacitated.

If properly drafted, it is “durable” because the powers don’t terminate in the event the principal becomes disabled or incapacitated. Powers of Attorney, and the authority granted in them, terminate immediately when revoked by the principal and upon the principal’s death.  After their death, the family needs to look to property titles, beneficiary designations, trusts and Wills for direction.

General Power of Attorney:

A principal may delegate to the trusted person (also referred to as an Attorney-in-Fact) in a power of attorney with general powers to act in a fiduciary capacity on the principal’s behalf with respect to all lawful subjects and purposes or with respect to one or more express subjects or purposes.

It is important to seek counsel regarding powers of attorney as there is no “one size fits all” formula. For example, whether or not a power of attorney “grants general powers for all subjects and purposes,” there are twelve actions that must be expressly enumerated and authorized in the power of attorney for the Attorney-in-Fact to exercise them, and several are frequently needed in the elder law field.

Health Care Power of Attorney:

There are legal formalities surrounding a power of attorney allowing a principal to designate another person to make medical decisions for the principal when he or she cannot make such decisions.

kc elder law attorney estate planning

2)  Death Planning

Last Wills and Testaments (often referred to simply as a “Will”) fall into the category of death planning. Trusts are often primarily used for this as well and are also helpful to have in case of incapacity. Properly executing these documents better ensures the fulfillment of your wishes regarding the division and distribution of assets after your death. It’s in these estate planning documents that you can explain in detail how you want your possessions to be distributed and who you want to inherit them. The more thorough, the better.  A primary difference between a Will and a trust is that a Will’s directions only apply to assets going through the probate process.

Probate:

You must note the following points regarding probate:

  • This process of transferring title to assets is required for all assets that don’t qualify under “Avoiding Probate.”
  • It’s our experience, the majority of estates processing through probate requires about 1 year to complete and fees & costs are about 4% of the probate assets’ value. This is not as horrible as most people believe it to be.
  • A Last Will & Testament only applies to assets that are being transferred through the probate process, i.e. if the transfer of title to a certain item falls under the “Avoiding Probate,” then whatever the Will states, in general, or specifically to that item, has no actual effect on the transfer.
How to Avoid Probate:

If you want to avoid probate in order to transfer your property as you wish upon your death, you have three options:

Joint Ownership:

Joint ownership means two or more people hold or own title to a property. The title of the property dictates ownership.  Basically, the last owner living owns all interest in that property. This form of ownership for estate planning is not often recommended unless it happens between long-time married spouses or in a very limited way is desired for protecting assets from creditors.

Once joint ownership is established in certain assets, the consent of the joint owner may be required to make any changes. Also, once a senior adds another owner to an asset, it likely exposes the asset to the potential problems of the new joint owner, i.e. their death, their incapacity, their creditors, a divorce, etc. The greatest reason for not jointly titling assets is that the senior doesn’t need to in order to effectively and efficiently accomplish their objective.

Beneficiary Designations:

Beneficiary designations are quick and simple to accomplish for any asset in Missouri (cars, real estate, bank accounts, life insurance, etc.). However, there is little to no flexibility for contingencies by using beneficiary designations.

This is usually a poor choice for transferring real estate, in particular, for the following reasons:

  • Not only do all the beneficiaries receiving an interest in the property need to agree when it comes to selling it, but title companies will also require the beneficiaries’ spouses to agree
  • If a beneficiary is incapacitated (due to stroke, car accident, etc.) at the time of a later transfer or sale, the probate court is likely to be required to appoint a guardian regarding that beneficiary’s share
  • There is no way to determine who will be responsible for utilities, cleaning, and all that precedes selling, or how they will be reimbursed for their expenses

Trusts:

These trusts are commonly referred to as “Living Trusts.” There are many types of trusts and the titles given them depend on the overall objective when utilizing such.  A “Living Trust” is a standard estate planning tool wherein the client maintains control, being able to change or terminate it anytime, while they are alive and have the capacity.

A Living Trust is the preferred method of estate planning in most cases for the following reasons:

  • Provisions/alternatives/contingencies can be made depending on the order of deaths of the senior or others to be included in their estate plan
  • Provisions/alternatives/contingencies can be made in case of the senior’s or other person’s incapacity
  • Provisions/alternatives/contingencies can be made to protect assets passing to beneficiaries, unlike other methods of avoiding probate

A Living Trust should hold title all your assets. IRAs cannot be owned by the trust, but the beneficiary of the IRA can be the trust and is recommended if properly drafted to hold retirement assets.  Instead of simply leaving the property to family or friends, you can title it to a trust to ensure that your wishes will be fulfilled, won’t be dependent on another persons death or incapacity, and provides more privacy from public scrutiny.

What’s most important is that you should make sure a trust meets your objectives. An expert elder law attorney may help you find the best type of trust that suits your needs.

3)  Asset Protection

It’s common for seniors to be concerned about nursing home costs, getting sued, being targeted by a scammer, or even an unscrupulous relative. You can use advanced estate planning methods, such as general liability (umbrella) insurance policies or long-term care insurance.  This is a good idea to consider for you, your partner, your children, or other beneficiaries to protect your assets as a part of your estate plan. There are other types of trusts and estate planning tools good for this advanced planning.  A professional elder law attorney may also discuss various trust options with you to help you protect against these fears.

Click Here for more on- How to Talk to Aging Loved Ones

The Bottom Line

You may be in good health now, but there’s no guarantee of the future. You may become mentally incapable of making decisions anytime, so there’s no time like the present to put your estate plan in place. It’s crucial to have a great estate plan in place to make sure your possessions and family members are protected. Unfortunately, many seniors think creating an estate plan is a complicated and stressful process, but we’re here to simplify the process and get it done effectively and efficiently.

It doesn’t have to be this way! By understanding how an estate plan works and hiring an expert elder law attorney can make the process smooth and pleasant.

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Community Relations

Jeane M. Fracassa

Community Relations

Jeane M. Fracassa

Jeane Fracassa – a dedicated and accomplished professional who retired with an impressive 38-year service record from the Kansas City Missouri Police Department. Throughout her illustrious career, Jeane served as a Civian Supervisor in the Communications Unit, where she played a pivotal role in ensuring efficient and effective communication within the department.

Even in retirement, Jeane’s commitment to community service remains unwavering. Currently, she serves in various capacities within Community Relations at Paths Law Firm. Actively engaged in the Lee’s Summit and Overland Park communities, she proudly represents the law firm.

In all aspects of her life, Jeane Fracassa exemplifies the values of community, compassion, and family. Her commitment to making a difference and her love for exploration make her a remarkable individual, whose presence brightens the lives of those she encounters. Whether at work, with family, or during her travels, Jeane’s genuine care for others and her zest for life make her a truly remarkable and inspiring person.

Administrative Assistant

Laura E. Messer

Administrative Assistant

Laura E. Messer

Laura is the Law Firm’s marketing assistant, supporting all marketing tasks, including managing calendars, researching upcoming events, updating marketing software and spreadsheets, and partnering with organizations to maintain relationships that benefit Paths Law Firm’s clients.  Laura is also the law firm’s professional photographer as she provides the professional photographs for the headshots, organizations, events, and networking.

Laura has over 10 years of experience as a professional photographer.  She is also Adobe and Microsoft Certified.  She graduated from Columbia College, Columbia, Missouri with her Bachelor of Arts degree, Magna Cum Laude, in Behavioral Psychology (minors in Social Work and Criminal Justice), and her Photographic Craftsman degree from Professional Photographers of America. She is certified as a Qualified Mental Health Professional, Certified Gentle Teacher, Medicaid Billing Certified, Crisis Intervention Counselor, and a Missouri Notary.

Laura has been married more than 26 years and has a daughter and a son. She has four brothers, a niece, and a nephew. Her four spoiled pets that love her attention. A lot of Laura’s off time is spent taking photos and she is an internationally published photographer. Laura owns a studio on the historic Independence Square. 

Administrative Assistant

Holly D. Bramble

Administrative Assistant

Holly D. Bramble

Holly is our newest member of the administrative team. She is hardworking, has proven organizational skills and excellent communication skills. Holly has transitioned to the Estate Planning field from healthcare administration where she gained valuable knowledge that has contributed to her success here at Paths.

Holly enjoys spending time with loved ones, cheering for the Chiefs, and relaxing on the beach.

Administrative Assistant

Tressa L. Purdy

Administrative Assistant

Tressa L. Purdy

Tressa has the important role of being a client’s initial point of contact as the law firm’s receptionist for all locations.  She also welcomes, assists, and cares for clients at the Lee’s Summit office. Additionally, she provides support in an administrative capacity for the attorneys, staff, and clients.  When you meet Tressa, the first quality many note is her readiness to be of assistance.

 

Tressa is a graduate of Park Hill High School with extensive administrative experience and executive level management. Tressa brings a stability and comfort to the law firm experience having worked in a variety of industries and having lived in six different major metropolitan cities.

 

Tressa has a daughter, two sons, and one grandchild.  In her free time, she enjoys her family and friends, loves being outdoors, gardening, bike riding and bird watching. Indoor hobbies include scrapbooking, painting cookies, and cheering on Chiefs football. She is a Kansas City native but enjoys traveling but is always happy to be back in her hometown.  

Attorney

Kathleen E. Overton

Attorney

Kathleen E. Overton

Kathleen Overton is an attorney and owner at Paths Law Firm. She has more than 17 years of experience advocating for those with special needs and navigating the state and federal agencies formed to help the disabled and elderly. At Paths Law Firm, Kathleen’s practice focuses on helping the elderly qualify for nursing home Medicaid, creating estate plans to protect beneficiaries, as well as a lot of time planning and forming businesses. Kathleen also enjoys helping clients form non-profit organizations and obtain 501(c)(3) tax exempt status.

 

After attending law school at the University of Oklahoma, Kathleen began representing clients before the Social Security Administration. Eventually her practice switched to federal court appeals and Kathleen spent years representing clients before the Eastern and Western District of Missouri, the District of Kansas, and the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals. Kathleen has since focused her practice on estate planning and elder law after watching clients struggle to find ways to financially care for loved ones with special needs or aging parents.

 

Kathleen lives in the Northland with her husband and four children. She spends her free time attending soccer matches and ballet performances with her children and starting endless home improvement projects with her husband. 

Medicaid paralegal

Tena K. Dooley

Medicaid Paralegal

Tena K. Dooley

Tena is a Medicaid Paralegal.  She is very meticulous and organized.  She works closely with the attorneys, clients, and State representatives. 

Tena has an associate in applied science and has over 20 years of office management experience. She has two daughters and one grandson.

Tena enjoys spending time with her family.  She enjoys everything outdoors and her hobbies include fishing and gardening.

PARALEGAL & ACCOUNTANT

Sydney R. Morris

PARALEGAL & ACCOUNTANT

Sydney R. Morris

Sydney is the law firm’s internal accountant and one of their experienced paralegals having been with Paths Law Firm since 2017. She is a primary point of contact for estate planning and business planning.

Sydney graduated with honors from the University of Missouri Kansas City in 2022 with her Bachelor of Science Degree in Accounting. She is a Bloch Launchpad, Phi Theta Kappa, and National Honor Society alumni.

In her free time, Sydney enjoys spending time with her husband, reading, baking and going on long walks. 

SENIOR ADMINISTRATIVE ASSISTANT

Christy L. Phillips

SENIOR ADMINISTRATIVE ASSISTANT

Christy L. Phillips

Christy has three years of experience in elder law working for seniors and their families. She is currently the Senior Administrative Assistant and organizes the day to day functions of the office and makes sure everything runs smoothly. When asked why she loved what she does, Christy said at Paths Law Firm, she gets the opportunity to help clients in more ways than one. Her favorite parts of the job are getting to know the clients and helping them get their questions answered. 

Christy’s experience in the finance industry has been extremely beneficial to her role as the Senior Administrative Assistant. Christy has a special place in her heart for the elderly and attributes this to the relationship she had with her grandparents. 

Christy was raised in Ogden, Utah and moved to Independence, MO, when she was ten years old. She has been with her high school sweetheart for 25 years and they have two beautiful children together. Her daughter works in the medical industry, and her son currently attends High School and plays Baseball. When Christy is not working, she enjoys crafting and spending time with her family and friends.

Christy’s experience in the finance industry has been extremely beneficial to her role as Benefits Coordinator. There have been many influences that went into her decision to select the field of Elder Law. Christy has a special place in her heart for the elderly and attributes this to her relationship with her grandparents.

When asked why she loves what she does, Christy said that at Paths Elder law, she gets the opportunity to help clients in more ways than one. Her favorite part of her job is getting clients approved for Medicaid or VA benefits as it is a huge relief for them and their loved ones.

Christy was raised in Ogden, Utah, and moved to Independence, MO, when she was ten years old. She has two children that keep her busy and fill her life with joy! Christy’s daughter cheers for Avila University, and her son plays competitive baseball for the Bucks and races BMX locally for the Motorcycle Closeout Team.

When Christy is not working, she enjoys crafting and making homemade gifts for her loved ones and raising her kids to be healthy, happy, and positive humans.

 

Practice Areas

  • Medicaid Benefits
  • VA Benefits

 

Professionalc Memberships and Affiliations

  • Missouri Notary

FINANCIAL MANAGER

René A. Fracassa

Rene A. Fracassa, Paths Law

FINANCIAL MANAGER

René A. Fracassa

René is the Financial Manager at Paths Law Firm overseeing all aspects of revenue, expenses, and financial planning. She is also responsible for general office management, including assisting in many of the administrative matters that periodically arise. 

 

René earned her Bachelor of Science in Hotel and Restaurant Management from Central Missouri State University in Warrensburg, Missouri and soon thereafter worked her way through management at The American Restaurant where she worked almost 17 years before relocating to the country of China.

 

René is the Financial Manager at Paths Law Firm overseeing all aspects of revenue, expenses, and financial planning. She is also responsible for general office management, including assisting in many of the administrative matters that periodically arise. 

 

René earned her Bachelor of Science in Hotel and Restaurant Management from Central Missouri State University in Warrensburg, Missouri and soon thereafter worked her way through management at The American Restaurant where she worked almost 17 years before relocating to the country of China.

 

René is the Financial Manager at Paths Law Firm overseeing all aspects of revenue, expenses, and financial planning. She is also responsible for general office management, including assisting in many of the administrative matters that periodically arise. 

 

René earned her Bachelor of Science in Hotel and Restaurant Management from Central Missouri State University in Warrensburg, Missouri and soon thereafter worked her way through management at The American Restaurant where she worked almost 17 years before relocating to the country of China.

 

René is the Financial Manager at Paths Law Firm overseeing all aspects of revenue, expenses, and financial planning. She is also responsible for general office management, including assisting in many of the administrative matters that periodically arise. 

 

René earned her Bachelor of Science in Hotel and Restaurant Management from Central Missouri State University in Warrensburg, Missouri and soon thereafter worked her way through management at The American Restaurant where she worked almost 17 years before relocating to the country of China.

 

In her spare time, René is currently quite active managing multiple generations of her family, including parents and grandkids.  René has had great impact on the lives of many women teaching discipling and teaching and abundance of Bible Studies. Her former career in management and event planning trained her well to juggle all the activity.

MARKETING MANAGER

Hilary R. Tichota

MARKETING MANAGER

Hilary R. Tichota

Hilary plays a vital role in managing the Marketing Department at Paths Law Firm.  She is excellent at bringing new ideas and sharing valuable resources with the law firm and our community. Hilary has been with the law firm since the beginning, working in nearly every role which is invaluable in her marketing endeavors as she brings a unique set of skills into the Marketing Department.

Hilary is nearly complete in her Bachelor’s of Arts Degree in Marketing at Park University.  She has earned the honor of being listed in National Honors Society, Phi Theta Kappa, and the Dean’s List. Hilary is always looking for new and innovative ways to share the law firm’s message.

While not working, Hilary spends her time with her family at their rural home. They tend to their chickens and honeybees and enjoy the solitude of country living.

SR. PARALEGAL & OPERATIONS MANAGER

Jennifer A. Bronson

SR. PARALEGAL & OPERATIONS MANAGER

Jennifer

Jennifer is the Sr. Paralegal and Operations Manager at Paths Law Firm.  She oversees the firm’s probate department as well developing, implementing, and managing all the firm’s administrative processes having been with the law firm almost from the beginning.  She enjoys client contact as well as behind-the-scenes operations.

 

Jennifer began her legal career in 1990 as a legal secretary.  She has worked in small and medium sized firms, as well as court operations.  She has her Paralegal Certificate from Boston University, Law Office Management Certificate from University of Central Missouri, and she is a Master Financial Coach. 

 

Jennifer has two daughters, twin sons, and twin grandsons.  She spends as much time as she can with them.  She enjoys reading, listening to podcasts, and tending her yard. 

ATTORNEY

Russell A. Fracassa (Rusty)

ATTORNEY

Russell A. Fracassa (Rusty)

When asked what he wants to do, his reply was “I just want to sit at the kitchen table and work directly with people.” Rusty enjoys working with clients providing experienced advocacy and supporting them through their unfamiliar and overwhelming situations. Due to all the challenges faced by seniors, it is essential to work with an experienced elder law attorney who has expertise in the law, issues, and concerns affecting seniors and their families.

Rusty brings more than 30 years legal experience and expertise working for seniors and their families as an elder law attorney in Kansas City and surrounding. Prior to law school, Rusty was an accountant and his first couple years practicing law was as a tax attorney. This provides invaluable experience in his current practice of law. Rusty’s focus is helping protect seniors’ assets from taxes and long-term care costs, benefit qualification, and navigating more complex family scenarios in their estate planning.

Rusty has personally experienced the loss every parent fears, caring for a spouse suffering with cancer and the treatment, and working with aging parents through all stages of their lives.  He intimately understands the challenges faced by individuals and their caretakers when capacity or health declines, how to prepare for it, and the legal matters while in the midst of it.  He may not be able to eliminate his client’s grief, but he strives to provide clients with peace of mind.

In 2010, Rusty’s faith and love led him and part of his family to China as Christian missionaries. He and his wife, went permanently, but ended up dedicating 3 years to that ministry. They returned to Missouri to help with grandchildren after a family tragedy and later began anew with Paths Elder Law. The goal is providing compassionate care through legal advocacy.

Rusty has multiple degrees and advanced study spanning his Bachelor’s of Arts in Business Administration – Accounting at Rockhurst College (now Rockhurst University), Masters of Arts in Accounting and in Intercultural Studies, as well as his Juris Doctorate from the University of Missouri at Kansas City School of Law.

When Rusty is not practicing law, he enjoys spending time with his family, grandchildren, and excessive eating at local restaurants.

Practice Areas

  • Wills and Trusts
  • Estate Planning
  • Asset Protection
  • Medicaid Benefits
  • VA Benefits
  • Probate
  • Guardianship and Conservatorships
  • Education

 

BSBA and Master’s in Accounting, Master’s in Inter-Cultural Studies, and Doctorate in Juris Prudence

  • Rockhurst University
  • Liberty University
  • University of Missouri – Kansas City


Admissions to Practice

  • Missouri


Professional Memberships and Affiliations

  • State Bar of Missouri
  • National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (long-time Member)
  • Elder Counsel (Charter and Ongoing Member)
  • Missouri Association of Trial Attorneys (Past Member)
  • Kansas City Metropolitan Bar Association
  • Missouri State Bar Committees – Elder Law, Estate Planning, Probate