Ward and Smith, P.A.'s Trusts and Estates Practice Group provides estate planning, estate administration, and related services to individuals, charitable organizations, foundations, and corporate fiduciaries such as banks and trust companies.
Estate planning services include the preparation of wills, trusts, and associated documents. After careful consultation with clients, we design estate plans to ensure the appropriate disposition of clients' assets and the orderly and cost-effective administration of their estates. We give particular attention to reducing estate, gift, and generation-skipping transfer taxes and assist clients with lifetime gifting programs, including planning for the transition of family-owned businesses from older to younger generations and planning for charitable giving and the use of private foundations. Gifting strategies include the use of life insurance trusts, qualified personal residence trusts, generation-skipping trusts, family limited partnerships, limited liability companies, "tax defective" grantor trusts, grantor retained annuity trusts, and charitable remainder and charitable lead trusts. Because of escalating health care costs and increased life spans, we also emphasize planning for disability, including using powers of attorney and living wills, and planning for eligibility for government health care benefits.
Additionally, our attorneys assist executors and administrators of decedents' estates in carrying out their legal duties as fiduciaries. Our services include preparing and filing all documents and accountings to commence, administer, and formally close estate proceedings; ascertaining and paying valid estate debts; collecting and transferring estate assets to the appropriate beneficiaries; resolving death tax and fiduciary income tax issues; filing death tax and fiduciary income tax returns; and handling tax examinations and audits, where necessary. We use postmortem tax planning to minimize taxes and to address liquidity issues. We also represent clients in disputes involving the administration of trusts and estates, including representing fiduciaries and beneficiaries in controversies concerning the validity, interpretation, and implementation of wills and trusts.
The Trusts and Estates Practice Group's representation of clients includes advice concerning the protection of family assets from exposure to future claims and liabilities, including those resulting from lawsuits, bankruptcy, and divorce. Such asset protection planning involves the use of appropriate trust arrangements, the creation of limited liability business entities, and related planning strategies.
Beyond the many services provided by the Trusts and Estates Practice Group, our attorneys work to keep our clients informed about trust and estate issues. We regularly prepare articles for the Firm newsletter, and we send out bulletins to clients throughout the year. Our attorneys also frequently speak on trust and estate issues at seminars.
Our Trusts and Estates attorneys are recognized by their peers as being among the very best. Two attorneys in this Practice Group are Fellows in The American College of Trust and Estate Counsel, the premier organization of estate planning and probate lawyers in the country, and six attorneys are certified by the North Carolina State Bar as Board Certified Specialists in Estate Planning and Probate Law. In addition, one attorney in this Practice Group is certified by the National Elder Law Foundation as a Certified Elder Law Attorney and is certified by the North Carolina State Bar as a Board Certified Specialist in Elder Law.
Attorneys in the Trusts and Estates Practice Group work closely with other attorneys in the Firm. The Group draws on the experience of other practice groups, including Family Law (to handle cases such as equitable distribution and divorce and remarriage situations in which premarital and postmarital agreements and spousal trusts are desired); Real Estate (for real property issues in planning and administering estates); Business (for matters involving the formation, transfer, and valuation of business entities such as limited liability companies, limited partnerships, and corporations); Litigation (to handle special proceedings before the clerk of court and trust and estate litigation in trial and appellate courts); and Tax (for assistance with complex income tax issues and the formation and administration of private foundations).
Our attorneys belong to many organizations relating to their practice areas and are members of numerous professional organizations such as the American Bar Association (Real Property, Trust and Estate Law Section), the East Carolina Estate Planning Council, the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys, and the North Carolina Bar Association (Estate Planning and Fiduciary Law Section).