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Charleston Wills & Trusts Attorney

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In South Carolina, as elsewhere in the country, wills and trusts are important components of estate planning. When you come to Wiles Law Firm, LLC in Charleston, you can rest assured that our skilled attorneys will assist you with these matters, as well as other relevant estate planning issues.

What does a will accomplish? What does making a will avoid?

A will, also known as a “last will and testament,” is a document that will protect both your loved ones and your accumulated assets. Your will serves many purposes. Among them it can:

  • Name a personal guardian to care for your children

  • Name a personal representative to make sure the terms of your will are carried out

  • Name a trusted individual to manage property you leave to your minor children

If you die intestate (without a will) in South Carolina, your property will be distributed according to state laws, rather than according to your personal wishes. South Carolina intestacy law will distribute your worldly assets first to your closest relatives, beginning with your spouse and children. If you are unmarried and/or have no children, your grandchildren or your parents are next in line to inherit from you. The state has an ongoing list of increasingly distant relatives to work from -- including siblings, grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, and your spouse’s relatives. If you have died intestate and have no living relatives, the state itself will claim your property.

Most likely, you don’t want the state to make such significant personal decisions for you. This is why it is so important that you engage the services of an experienced estate planning attorney who will create a will for you that is legally sound. Since some estate planning laws vary among states, you should make sure to hire a lawyer completely familiar with the laws pertinent to South Carolina. Your attorney will know precisely how your will must be signed in our state -- with two witnesses who will also sign the document.

In South Carolina, your will can also be used to name a personal representative, the party who will ensure that each provision in your will is carried out after you pass away. Here again, this is a necessary decision since, if you do not name a personal representative, the probate court will appoint someone do the job, someone you might not have chosen yourself.

At Wiles Law Firm, LLC, we are adept at guiding you to take the most practical, least expensive, steps in terms of protecting your assets while securing your family’s future. We firmly believe in helping you to retain as much control over your home and property as possible, always tailoring our methods to your specific needs. While helping you plan to take care of your loved ones, we never lose sight of maintaining your assets, assisting you in saving every tax dollar, legal fee, and court cost possible.

Types of Trusts Available in Charleston

There are many types of trusts, each designed to meet particular circumstances. Trusts serve a variety of financial purposes, including: protecting funds from taxation, controlling how and when assets will be distributed after your death, avoiding probate, and protecting your privacy. Our team is well-informed and eager to help you make use of trusts that are appropriate to your unique situation.

Revocable Living Trusts

A revocable living trust (also known as an inter vivos trust) is organized so that you can use and  control your assets during your lifetime and control their disposition after you die. In South Carolina, once we help you to establish a living trust, you become the trust’s trustor. For the trust to be most beneficial to you, you should place as many of your accumulated assets into the trust as you can. You should be aware, however, that you will not be able to include certain assets, such as retirement accounts.

You can name yourself as trustee, but may also then select a successor trustee to take over the administration when you pass away. Your successor trustee will distribute your assets to the beneficiaries you have designated.

Benefits of a Revocable Trust

One of the advantages of a revocable trust is that it can be altered, or even eliminated whenever you wish. Another is that having a living trust keeps your trust assets out of probate, the lengthy and often time-consuming court proceeding used to validate a will and make it effective. A trust allows you to bypass probate in any state in which you own property as long as such property is properly titled in the name of your trust.

Other advantages to a living trust are that it protects your privacy, whereas a will becomes a matter of public record. In the event that you become mentally incapacitated, your trust may name a successor trustee, making the need for a conservatorship unnecessary as long as all of your assets are appropriately titled.

Is there a downside to having a living trust in South Carolina?
While there is no state estate tax in the state of South Carolina, if you have a sizable estate (over $5.49 million), you will be taxed by the federal government. You should also know that having a revocable living trust does not shield your assets from Medicaid or creditors.

Irrevocable Life Insurance Trust Planning

Although the beneficiaries of life insurance benefits are not subject to income tax, for federal estate tax purposes, the insured person’s estate includes the proceeds of life insurance. For married individuals, an estate tax is not generated at the death of the first spouse, assuming the insurance proceeds are payable to the surviving spouse. The situation becomes problematic, however, upon the death of the second spouse, when the paid proceeds of the insurance from the first spouse are included in the second spouse’s estate. The purpose of creating an Irrevocable Life Insurance Trust (ILIT) is to avoid the inclusion of life insurance proceeds in either spouses’ estate.

Gift Trusts

It is possible to give certain amounts of money before your death as tax exempt gifts. While there is a lifetime cap of $5,490,000 for federal estate tax exemption, you can gift $14,000 per recipient per year without reducing the lifetime exemption. Spouses are permitted to double the amount of a gift they make jointly to any one person during the year without affecting their lifetime exemption -- a process known as “gift-splitting.”

Inheritor's Trusts

The reason to create an Inheritor's Trust is to protect an inheritance from creditors and exclude it from your estate for federal estate tax purposes. The laws of South Carolina do not allow you to protect your own assets once you have received an inheritance. However, if you are expecting an inheritance from someone who is unable or unwilling to set up your inheritance in an asset-protected trust, you can protect these assets yourself by creating an Inheritor's Trust prior to that person’s death.

An Inheritor's Trust is a legal means of protecting your inherited assets from creditors and divorce, while allowing you access to them. In addition, this trust removes the assets from your estate so they will not be subject to federal estate tax upon your death. It is even possible to set up a trust that will provide such protections to your descendants.

Stand-alone Retirement Trusts

Unlike many other assets, retirement accounts are subject to income tax. In other words,  if you inherit an IRA or a 401(k), you will have to pay income tax when you withdraw the money. Typically, you have one or more of the following options when you withdraw money from an inherited IRA: [1] withdrawing the whole amount immediately [2] withdrawing everything within 5 years after your benefactor’s death [3] withdrawing everything over your expected lifespan.
Because the more slowly you withdraw the money, the more time you have for tax-deferred growth and the less tax you have to pay annually, this last method is usually your best choice.

You cannot put your IRA in a trust while you are living, but you can name a trust as the beneficiary of your IRA and dictate how your assets will be handled after your death, thus circumventing the problem. You are even allowed to establish subtrusts to benefit particular beneficiaries, including your spouse.

Roth plans differ from IRAs and 401(k)s because you have already paid taxes on them during your lifetime. Since you have had to make no required minimum distributions, you can leave the whole account to your loved ones. Nonetheless, your beneficiaries will have to start making the required withdrawals according to the same rules that would apply to a regular inherited IRA. Surviving spouses rollover a Roth IRA in the same way they would roll over a regular IRA. Any other beneficiary, however, has to start withdrawing the money beginning December 31 of the year after your death. Failing to do so can result in a 50 percent penalty.  

Community Property Trusts

A Community Property Trust is a special type of joint revocable trust designed for couples who own low-basis assets -- assets that have not increased much in value since their purchase. This kind of trust has several advantages over a traditional revocable living trust or a will. For one thing,  it allows a husband and wife to keep all jointly titled assets in the name of the trust. For another, it has a significant income tax benefit for the surviving spouse.

How Our Charleston Wills & Trusts Attorneys Can Help! 

If all of this information seems complicated to you, that’s because it is. While it is essential that you make estate planning decisions rooted in a basic understanding of your options, our attorneys at Wiles Law Firm, LLC are here to help you make sense not only of the laws governing wills and trusts but of how these laws pertain to your unique priorities. Our in-depth understanding will assist you in making the right decisions, decisions on which your peace of mind and the stability of your loved ones depends. Contact us today.


Wiles Law Firm, LLC helps clients with their estate planning needs in Charleston, South Carolina and the surrounding areas such as West Ashley, Summerville, North Charleston, Mount Pleasant, and John's Island.

Information on this website is not legal advice. Further, viewing of the enclosed information does not create an attorney-client relationship with Wiles Law Firm, LLC. Matters will be handled by attorneys who primarily practice out of our office in Charleston County located at 852 Lowcountry Blvd., Ste. 101, Mt. Pleasant, SC 29464. M. Emerson Wiles, III is the attorney responsible for this advertisement.

Any result Wiles Law Firm, LLC may achieve on behalf of one client in one particular matter does not necessarily indicate similar results can be obtained for other clients. Please contact a South Carolina estate planning attorney or one of our attorneys with Wiles Law Firm, LLC for a consultation regarding your unique estate plan.



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| Phone: 843-718-0232

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