Areas of Practice

The firm specializes in estate planning and probate administration in order to provide top quality legal representation.  If a client has legal needs outside of our specialty, referrals are made to other attorneys in those areas.   

Estate planning

       For some individuals, a simple plan consisting of a will, financial power of attorney and medical directives may take care of the client’s needs in an efficient way.  For others, it may be advisable to incorporate ways to simplify the administration of the estate through reduction of probate procedures, including the use of revocable living trusts.  These clients may not be exposed to estate tax, but want to arrange their estates so that property can pass to their beneficiaries as easily as possible.  

         For some clients, their estates will result in estate taxes, and their situation may call for a more complex approach involving trusts created at death and trusts and transfers while living in order to reduce potential estate taxes.  Such a plan will make use of the available exemptions from estate taxes at death, and if there is still some estate tax exposure, the plan will consider transfers during lifetime to reduce further any estate taxes.  There are a large number of techniques that are available, and the choice of which to use depends on the assets and the client’s goals.  Among some of the estate tax techniques that can be used are annual gifts, family partnerships, partial interest gifts of land, life insurance, special trusts for residences, and many other options.  

          Any estate plan will address not only how property is divided at death, but also make sure that a plan is in place for incapacity. Most clients will sign medical and financial powers to set out who will handle these affairs if the client is living but cannot handle these matters for himself or herself.   Most estate planning cases are handled on a fixed-fee basis so that the client knows the total cost at the onset.  However, this cost can be determined only after a meeting to review of estate and determine how to achieve your goals. John Cunningham can help clients in any of these categories put together an estate plan that addresses their situation and specific needs.  

Administration of Estates

          After a person dies, his or her estate must be administered so that the estate is distributed as planned.  The estate must determine the debts and pay them.  Final income tax returns must be filed.  Any property passing under the Will must go through the probate procedures as required by law.  Depending on the amount of the probate assets and whether everything passes to a spouse, there are shortened forms of probate that may be available.  If the estate is large enough to require an estate tax return, the estate must compile the information needed and file the return.  

           In the administration of an estate, the location and type of assets are usually the most important factors in determining how to handle the estate.  This is where an estate plan that was planned well and carried out pays off by reducing the work needed.  It is important that an estate be handled at the time to be sure that all important matters, including proper valuation of the assets, are completed so that there are not problems down the road.    

            John Cunningham can work with the executor of an estate to handle all of the court probate procedures and the estate tax issues.