Offering legal services in estate planning, probate, elder law, & special needs law.

Creating real solutions for real families.



UPSTATE ESTATE LAW, P.C.

A Boutique Law Firm For Estate, Probate and Elder Law Matters

Upstate Estate Law, P.C. is a private law firm providing personalized and individualized legal services for all of your estate planning, probate, and elder law needs. When you hire Upstate Estate Law for estate planning, probate and elder law services, the Firm promises to work diligently and efficiently to help you achieve your goals. Success in this area of the law requires attention to those details that make every family unique. Put the Firm's know-how to work for you today!

UPSTATE ESTATE LAW, P.C. Practice Areas
  • ESTATE PLANNING

    The Firm prepares estate planning documents for clients in all situations. An estate plan may include some or all of the following documents: Last Wills and Trusts, including life insurance and retirement account beneficiary trusts. The Firm serves families in need of a high degree of sophistication and customization for managing disabilities and asset protection.

    • Last Wills
    • Revocable Living Trusts
    • Asset Protection Trusts
    • Life Insurance and Retirement Account Trusts
    • Income and Estate Tax Planning
    • Gifting and Charitable Planning
    • Beneficiary Designations
  • Incapacity Planning

    The Firm assists families with legal planning for their long term care needs, with careful regard to preserving eligibility for Medicaid and other public benefits programs. The Firm also drafts Special Needs Trusts and Income Trusts, durable financial powers of attorney, health care powers of attorney, living wills and other appropriate documents.

    • Durable Financial Powers of Attorney
    • Health Care Powers of Attorney / Living Wills
    • Guardianship and Conservatorship
    • Special Needs Trusts and Pooled Trusts
    • ABLE Accounts
    • Miller Medicaid Income Trusts
    • Medicaid Applications and Qualification Advice
  • Estate Administration

    The Firm assists people serving as estate Personal Representative and also represents beneficiaries and creditors of Decedent’s estates. Estate administration can be a seemingly arbitrary process and can present serious legal issues requiring legal advice. The Firm works with our clients to simplify the multiple steps involved as much as possible.

    • Uncontested and Contested Probate
    • Beneficiary and Fiduciary Representation
    • Income and Estate Tax Filings and Advice
    • Estate Inventories and Accountings
    • Estate Asset Transfers
    • Creditor's Claims
    • Ancillary Administration



UPSTATE ESTATE LAW, P.C. ATTORNEY
Picture of attorney Christopher L. Miller
Christopher L. Miller
Attorney and Counselor at Law

Hello. I am Christopher L. Miller. Thank you for visiting my website. One of my favorite things about my law practice is being able to meet new clients and work on legal strategies to help you to accomplish your goals. Please contact me today for a consultation.

Some other things about me: I live in Simpsonville with my wife Jaime, son Christopher, and daughter Sophie. When not practising law, I enjoy spending time with my family taking in the wonderful sights of the upstate, cheering on Clemson football, the Greenville Drive and the Swamp Rabbits.

In 2013, our son was diagnosed with autism, which while being an initial surprise to our family, has also given me additional insight and perspective on my work assisting families in planning for the current and sometimes uncertain future needs of family members with incapacity and disability.

  • GENERAL BACKGROUND

    Legal Experience
    I began my legal career by attending a small local law school, Touro Law Center, on scholarship. During law school I made Dean's List each semester, served as a teaching assistant in Criminal Law, served as a research assistant for one of my law professors, and graduated with honors, magna cum laude, finishing 9th in my class.

    Legal Experience
    After graduation from law school I spent several years practicing estate planning, estate probate, real estate, and family law for a small law firm in New York. In 2009 I relocated to Greenville, South Carolina with my family and started a law practice here in Greenville, as part of a small law firm and as a solo attorney, concentrating my practice in estate planning, probate, elder, and disability law.

    Education
    Juris Doctorate (Touro Law Center)
    Master of Science in Experimental Pathology (New York Medical College)
    Bachelor of Science in Biochemistry (Stony Brook University)

  • Bar Admissions & Memberships

    Bar Admissions
    South Carolina
    New York
    United States Tax Court

  • Professional Memberships

    Bar Associations
    South Carolina Bar Association
    Greenville County Bar Association

    Bar Committees
    South Carolina Bar Elder Law Committee
    South Carolina Bar Ethics Advisory Committee

  • AWARDS, ACCOLADES AND RECOGNITION

    CALI Awards For Academic Excellence
    Contracts I
    Business Organizations I
    Evidence
    Pretrial Litigation

    Honorary Societies
    The Phi Beta Kappa Society
    Golden Key International Honour Society

Here's The Firm's Latest Blog Post!

Why Is My Last Will and Testament So Long and Complicated?


My simplest Last Will and Testament is currently about 15 pages long. Admittedly, this can be a lot of pages for a client to read through. And a large portion of the Last Will is filled with legal terms and phrases that do not make for the best leisure reading. So why does your "simple Last Will" have to be so long and complex? I see two major reasons why this is the case.

Firstly, when I draft a Last Will for a Client, I am thinking about what will happen to the estate and estate beneficiaries if the unexpected happens. If we could all be certain that our estates will be administered exactly according to plan, perhaps the Last Will could be simpler and shorter.

But life does not always go as we think it is going to go. Lots of events could occur that change the effectiveness of a Last Will. An estate beneficiary could unexpectedly pass away or run into issues of financial mismanagement, divorce, disability, or drug addiction. Particular assets could be sold off or lost. Nominated Executors can pass away or find themselves not approved by the Probate Court after your lifetime. Since some of these issues can reasonably be anticipated and planned for, you will find that even my simple Last Will contains many provisions and clauses for dealing with these kinds of events.

My goal for a Client's Last Will is to take care of what will happen if everything goes according to plan. But my goal is to also take care to obtain a good result for the Client's family if things do not go exactly as planned. I once had a Client come to me for a "simple Last Will". The Client explained to me that he only had one beneficiary and it should all be quite easy for the Will to deal with his estate. I asked a single question that the Client had obviously not thought of. What should happen if your single beneficiary dies before you?

Secondly, Last Wills are full of complex legal language because the Last Will has to eventually speak to many different people who are charged with carrying out your intent. This includes estate attorneys, probate judges, and probate court staff. These people all speak in a legal language that has been created over a long period of time. It is vital that your Last Will communicate your intent as clearly and concisely as possible because after your lifetime you are not going to be available to explain what you meant.

One of the most difficult Last Wills I was involved in administering was a Last Will that was entirely written from scratch by the Decedent. The Will was full of directions by the Decedent to do things that were not necessarily possible to do as well as neglected to use the ordinary legal terms people in this field expect to see in a Last Will. Fortunately the estate beneficiaries were able to agree on what the Decedent meant, so that the Probate Court did not have to be asked to determine this. The Decedent certainly saved money by writing his own Last Will, but the complexity and extra steps added to the estate administration more than offset the initial savings.

Last Wills can be complex documents containing a lot of legal language and phrasing. A Client may wonder whether it is all necessary. In my practice, I try to prepare Last Wills that account for life events that we may not expect, as well as Last Wills that speak properly to the people who will be called upon to carry out your intent. These are the reasons why Last Wills can contain some complexity that you may not have expected.


Posted on October 30, 2019 at 4:47 pm by Christopher Miller

View More Informative Blog Posts



FAQs
Estate Planning FAQs
  • Why do I need a Last Will and Testament?

    The reasons for needing a Last Will and Testament are as varied as the clients that walk through my door. Having a Last Will and Testament in place can lead to a much more orderly and calm estate administration process for your surviving relatives by appointing somebody that is clearly in charge of the process.

    Some clients want to protect their young children with trusts and guardianship designations in the event the unthinkable occurs. Sometimes parents are worried about providing for a disabled child. Other clients are concerned about their heir's debts and want to protect the estate assets to the fullest extent possible. There are concerns about estate taxes, as well as wishes to benefit favorite charities. The reasons for needing a Last Will significantly depend on your concerns and current interests.

  • Do I need anything else besides a Last Will and Testament?

    Besides a Last Will and Testament, you should strongly consider setting up a Health Care Power of Attorney and a Financial Durable Power of Attorney. A Last Will and Testament will take care of your assets after your lifetime. But the Powers of Attorney will help you to take care of your medical care and assets during your lifetime should you be unable to. Arguably, the Powers of Attorney will impact your life in ways that your Last Will and Testament will not.

    The Health Care Power of Attorney appoints a family member to make medical decisions for you in the specific case where you are unable to make these decisions for yourself. A HIPAA Release grants authority for certain family members to access your medical records if necessary. An Authorization for Final Disposition lets you name a family member to be responsible for your burial and funeral, and allows you to provide detailed instructions on these matters. The Durable Financial Power of Attorney gives your agent the ability to take care of financial matters for you in case you are either mentally or physically unable to do so yourself.

  • Will my estate owe any taxes after my lifetime?

    An estate can be subject to multiple taxes. An estate may have to pay estate taxes as well as estate income taxes. If you are administering an estate, the tax issues can be difficult to navigate.

    In the year 2019, estates of less than $11,400,000.00 do not have to pay federal estate tax. There is no South Carolina estate tax, but if an estate owns assets located in other states, estate taxes could be due to the other states. Whether or not an estate income tax return must be filed depends on whether or not the estate has earned $600.00 or more in a given tax year. Retirement accounts are subject to different rules, and traditional IRAs and 401ks will typically incur income taxes on the deferred income. The tax law affecting estates and inheritances is complex, do not try to navigate this yourself as mistakes can be costly and irreversible.

  • How much do you charge for estate planning?

    The answer to this question is that it depends on what you need. A simple estate plan with a Last Will and Testament, Health Care Power of Attorney, Living Will, and Durable Financial Power of Attorney typically costs a few hundred dollars. Adding Living Trusts or other trusts to the equation can add to this cost, sometimes significantly. Upstate Estate Law will provide a price list to you during your consultation.

    Proper estate planning is a process, not a thing. There are many ancillary tasks that should be completed to ensure that your estate plan will work as desired. These include making sure your financial institutions will accept your Powers of Attorney, making sure your beneficiary designations are in place and are consistent with your intentions, transferring assets to trusts (an often overlooked step), and performing the ongoing formalities required by your estate plan.

  • How can I prepare for my estate planning consultation?
Estate Probate FAQs
  • Why do I have to administer my relative's estate?

    The major reason is to be able to take control of the assets of the estate. Assets in the name of the Decedent typically cannot be accessed without some sort of an estate administration being undertaken in the Probate Court. Furthermore, good title to real estate owned by the Decedent can depend on an estate administration and the resulting deed of distribution that is issued by the Personal Representative of the estate.

    If you are unsure whether or not you actually need to probate a relative's estate, schedule a consultation with me and we will figure it out. In some cases probate is unnecessary, in others it is required, and in some cases where the estate is sufficiently small a small estate proceeding can be undertaken.

  • What is a small estate proceeding?

    A small estate proceeding allows anybody who paid the funeral bill or the heirs of the decedent to apply to the Probate Court for an Order allowing the person to collect certain assets belonging to the Decedent. After reimbursing the person who paid the funeral bill, the remaining assets are divided according to the Last Will of the decedent or the law of intestacy, whichever is applicable in the case.

    There are certain restrictions to this procedure and some Probate Courts only utilize this procedure under certain circumstances. Thirty days must pass from the date of death before a small estate can be filed, and the value of the entire probate estate, minus liens and encumbrances, shall not exceed $25,000.00. The process is limited to personal property (bank accounts, investment accounts), real property cannot be transferred this way. If the decedent held any real property in his/her name without survivorship language in the deed, opening a full estate will be necessary to properly transfer the land.

  • What paperwork do I need to probate an estate?

    Here's the legal profession's most common answer: it depends. You will need to file an original death certificate, along with the Application for Appointment/Probate. Other forms may or may not be necessary depending on the circumstances. If the Decedent had a Last Will, the law requires the Last Will be filed with the applicable Probate Court within thirty days of the Decedent's death.

    Other forms that may be required to open the estate proceeding are Renunciations and Waivers from the estate's heirs, and an Appointment of Agent for Service in the case of an out of state Personal Representative. In the case of formal proceedings, you are required to file a Summons as well as Proof of Service on all the interested parties entitled to notice, who have not otherwise waived notice. In certain instances, a fiduciary bond may be required. It can be quite a bit confusing to figure out what paper work you need to begin the estate administration process.

    Luckily Upstate Estate Law enjoys practicing probate law and has much experience doing so. The Firm represents Personal Representatives, beneficiaries and creditors of estates. Contact the Firm today for a consultation.

  • The Personal Representative of an estate is not giving me any information. What can I do?

    Sometimes the communication process between the Personal Representative, the attorney for the estate, and the estate beneficiaries breaks down. Many times this arises from a misunderstanding as to how information will flow from the attorney to the estate beneficiaries. Some Personal Representatives want the information to flow through them, whereas others want the attorney to take care of the communications. Regardless of what the problem is, you as the beneficiary are entitled to receive certain information as part of the process.

    If you are an estate beneficiary and are not receiving any information, the easiest thing to do is go to the Probate Court and review the file. Anything done in the estate will be in the file. If this is not feasible, there are forms available that allow you to demand to receive all documents and notices that are required to be given by the Personal Representative. If you are unable to receive information you are entitled to, contact the Firm for a consultation about what to do next.

  • How can I prepare for my probate consultation?
Guardianship and Conservatorship FAQs
  • What is a guardian? What is a conservator?

    In South Carolina, a guardian is appointed by the Probate Court to make personal and health care decisions for an incapacitated person who is over eighteen years of age. The Probate Court also can appoint a Conservator to make financial decisions or manage property for an incapacitated person over the age of eighteen or for a minor child under the age of eighteen. To do this, the Probate Court must determine that there is an incapacity that affects the person on whose behalf the proceeding is brought, and in the case of a conservatorship, that there is money or property requiring management.

    The incapacity may be caused by many different reasons, such as mental illness, mental deficiency, intellectual disability, physical illness or disability, dementia, chronic use of drugs or alcohol, or other causes. A medical doctor must certify that there exists an incapacity due to one of these causes, and that the incapacity affects the disabled person to the extent that the individual does not have the understanding or capability to make their own decisions.

  • What are the responsibilities of a guardian? A conservator?

    The responsibilities of the Guardian include, but are not limited to, deciding where the protected person will live and making decisions for the care, comfort, and maintenance of the incapacitated person, including education and health care. The guardian must also keep the court updated on an annual basis as to the status of the incapacitated person.

    The responsibilities of the Conservator are to manage and protect the conservatorship assets and income, and annually report to the Probate Court the assets, receipts, disbursements, and budget of the incapacitated person. The Probate Court puts many restrictions on the conservator, to include the requirement for the opening of restricted access accounts and the filing a fiduciary bond with the Court in the amount of the incapacitated person's assets and expected annual income. As conservator cam incur serious civil and criminal liabiity for mismanaging or taking personal advantage of a conservatorship.

  • What is the process to become a guardian or conservator?

    To become a guardian or a conservator, you must file a Summons and Petition with the Probate Court where the person to be protected resides. Close family members must be served with the Summons and Petition along with the person to be protected. All interested persons must also be provided notice of the date and time the hearing will be held.

    The Probate Court is required to appoint an attorney to represent the person to be protected. The Court will also appoint a nurse or social worker as a visitor to visit the person to be protected and prepare a written report. Also, the Court is required to receive two affidavits from medical doctors attesting to the presence of an incapacity.

  • Is there any way to avoid needing a guardian or conservator?

    Absolutely. While it is not a 100% guarantee, having a valid, effective, and competently drafted estate plan can avoid the need for an expensive and acrimonious proceeding to have a guardian and/or a conservator appointed. By making the decision to appoint agents for you in a Health Care Power of Attorney and Durable Financial Power of Attorney, you eliminate the need for expensive and protracted court intervention if you ever lose the capacity to manage your own affairs.

Elder Law and Medicaid FAQs
  • What is Medicaid?

    Medicaid is a means-tested needs-based social welfare program under which the federal and state governments each contribute funds to provide various medical programs to needy and disabled people. In South Carolina, the Department of Health and Human Services is responsible for implementing the Medicaid program and determining eligibility. Medicaid's medical insurance program is probably most well known, but there are a myriad of other medical programs provided by Medicaid, including programs for pregnant women, persons in need of skilled nursing home care, persons with intellectual or developmental disabilities, persons with spinal cord or head injuries, or persons with certain chronic care needs.

  • What services are available for disabled children and children with autism?

    Disabled children are entitled to receive Medicaid in South Carolina without regard to the income or assets of their parents. Only the child's assets and income are considered. Medicaid health insurance can be used as a primary insurer of the child or a secondary insurance which can be useful for paying items that the primary insurance does not cover. If you have a primary insurance plan, Medicaid has a program ("HIPP") to provide reimbursement for premiums paid on behalf of the disabled child.

    In addition to Medicaid health insurance, SC Medicaid operates various programs known as "waiver" programs that provide specialized care for disabled children and their families. SC Medicaid also now covers Applied Behavioral Analysis ("ABA") therapy for children with autism. These therapies can otherwise be prohibitively expensive for many families without such assistance.

  • Should we accept Medicaid advice from a nursing home?

    It is okay to listen, but you should understand the incentives of the nursing home. It is a fact that nursing homes get paid more when a resident is private pay rather than a Medicaid patient. Thus they are incentivized to not get aggressive with strategies for qualifying for Medicaid funded nursing home care. Some nursing homes go so far as to employ a "Medicaid liason" or "specialist" who purports to help you qualify for Medicaid. That employee will likely just inform you of the Medicaid asset and income limits and advise you that you have to exhaust all cash resources before qualifying for Medicaid.

    While this advice is technically correct, there are strategies that can be put into place to help save some assets from being paid to the nursing home as a private pay patient. The nursing home is not going to necessarily tell you about them. If you or a family member are in this situation, you should contact an elder law attorney quickly to determine if any such strategies are available to you.

  • How can an attorney help me care for a person with a disability?

    Estate planning for a family that includes a person with a chronic illness or disability must be carefully thought out. At this point, it is a myth that any person with a disability should be disinherited in order to save assets. In fact, this is a mistake. Improper or careless estate planning can have a severe impact on the ability of a person with a disability to continue to access vital public benefits while maintaining a satisfactory quality of life. And because none of us can tell the future, it is generally prudent to craft an estate plan that can accomodate any future unexpected chronic illness or disability. Estate planning for persons with a disability is a highly complex area of the law. If you are in need of this type of service, please contact Upstate Estate Law today!

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ADDRESS, PHONE & EMAIL

Upstate Estate Law, P.C.

Merovan Business Center

1200 Woodruff Road, Suite A3

Greenville, SC 29607

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Tel: (864) 527-3144

Fax: (864) 751-4117

OFFICE HOURS (by appointment only)

Monday: 9am to 5:00pm

Tuesday: 9am to 5:00pm

Wednesday: 9am to 5:00pm

Thursday: 9am to 5:00pm

Friday: 9am to 5:00pm

Saturday: Closed

Sunday: Closed