Trusts and Estates Pathway
Wills, trusts, and estates lawyers practice in any combination of estate planning, estate and trust administration, and estate and trust litigation.
Estate planning lawyers design and implement legal strategies to manage and transfer clients’ property interests to succeeding generations. They construct legal relationships and entities, using devices such as wills, trusts, business entities, contracts, and other legal structures. Estate planning lawyers also employ mechanisms for general decision-making, including healthcare decision-making, in the event of decreased mental or physical capacity. For the estate planner, the primary use of law is not to resolve disputes after they arise, but to ensure an orderly plan for transition of ownership and management of family assets and businesses, driven by the client’s ideals and aspirations for the future. Estate planning can include planning for any one or combination of gifts, bequests, and devises; business succession; and asset protection.
Though knowledge of the law of trusts and estates is essential for the estate planner, estate planning can draw on most any area of the law in accomplishing its goals. Tax law is particularly important in estate planning, as the tax consequences of various strategies can determine the best approach. Business law and family law are also important, as these laws often govern legal relationships between individuals and their property interests.
Estate and trust administration lawyers assist and advise personal representatives of estates and trustees of trusts. Personal representatives collect decedents’ assets, comply with court filing obligations, pay final debts, and distribute estate assets to those who are entitled to them. Trustees manage and administer trusts and distribute trust assets to trust beneficiaries. Both personal representatives and trustees are subject to fiduciary obligations, which makes the lawyer’s guidance critical.
Lawyers practicing in the trusts and estates area are sometimes called upon to defend lawsuits regarding the validity or construction of wills or trust instruments. Some of these lawyers may also represent clients as plaintiffs in will contests and other disputes involving estates and trusts.
This pathway helps the student gain many of the foundational tools and knowledge involved in the practice of law relating to wills, trusts, and estates.