When Should You Have Your Estate Plan Done?

But don’t pat yourself too much — you’re not done yet. A will is not a static instrument, says The Item in its recent article “Don’t wait until high noon.” If laws change, which happens regularly, or your life changes, you need to review your will and be aware of any significant changes that may have an impact on your will and its goals.

Marriage, divorce, birth, adoption and death are some of the key trigger events in life that call for a review of your will. Some of these events seem very obvious, but others aren’t. That is when problems can arise. For instance, if a widow or widower remarries, the will needs to be updated to clarify how the new spouse and the children from prior marriages are to be provided for.

Welcoming a new child into the family is an event to celebrate, whether by birth or adoption. The will needs to add the new child. However, there’s another step that may be even more important. A will is used to name a guardian for the child, so the parents may name a person to rear their child in their absence. If a guardian is not named, then the court will select someone who might have not been the parent’s first (or even second) choice.

The death of an executor, beneficiary, guardian or trustee named in the will also means that the will needs to be updated. If the person who has died is a beneficiary, their name needs to be removed.  You may want to reconsider how assets are distributed. For executors, guardians or trustees, remember to add a secondary person for each role.

What if you inherit an unexpected fortune? You’ll definitely need to review your will, since your estate tax liability may have changed. Even if you don’t owe federal estate taxes, there may be state estate taxes to plan for. If you suffer a large financial loss, you’ll need to review your will, since the generous gift you had planned on leaving to a nonprofit. may no longer be available.

Some changes to wills occur because people change their minds about how they want to distribute their assets, or who they want to handle their post-mortem responsibilities. If you have a falling out with an executor, for instance, that change needs to be made in a timely manner.

If you have not reviewed the beneficiaries who are named on your life insurance policies and retirement accounts, and any other accounts where beneficiaries are named, you’ll want to do that too. If your will says cousin Andrew gets your life insurance policy proceeds, but his sister Stella is the one named as the beneficiary, then only Stella receives the proceeds. The named beneficiary is a contract that cannot be challenged or changed, regardless of what your will says.

If you don’t yet have a will, now is the time to make an appointment to meet with an estate planning attorney in your community. Remember that estate laws are set by the state of your residence, so an experienced estate planning attorney in your area is your best source.

Reference: The Item (Feb. 15, 2019) “Don’t wait until high noon”

 

Estate Planning for Parents with Young Children

Attorneys who focus their practices on estate planning, know that not every story has a happy ending. For some of them, it’s a professional mission to make sure that young having an estate plan  says KTVO in the article “Family 411: Thinking about estate planning while your kids are young.”

It’s a very easy thing to forget, because it’s so unpleasant to consider. The idea of becoming seriously ill or even dying while your children are young, is every parent’s worst fear. But putting off having an estate plan with a will that prepares for this possibility is so important. Doing it will provide peace of mind, and a road forward for those who survive you, if your worst fears were to come true.

Start with a will. In a will, you’ll name a guardian, the person who would be in charge of rearing your children and have physical custody of them. Don’t assume that your parents will take over, or that your husband’s parents will. What if both sets of parents want to be the custodians? The last thing you want is for your in-laws and parents to end up in a court battle over custody of your children.

Another important document: a trust. You should have life insurance that will be the source for paying for the children’s education, including college, summer camps, after-school activities and their overall cost of living. In addition, proceeds from a life insurance policy cannot be given to a minor.

However, what if your son or daughter turned 18 and were suddenly awarded $500,000? At that age, would they know how to handle such a large sum of money? Many adults don’t. A trust allows you to give clear directions regarding how old the child must be, before receiving a set amount of money. You can also stipulate that the child must complete college before receiving funds or reach certain milestones.

An estate plan with young children in mind, must have a Power of Attorney for financial decisions and one for medical decisions. That allows a named person to make important financial and medical decisions on behalf of the child. You may not want to have their legal guardian in charge of their finances; by dividing up the responsibilities, a checks and balances system is set into place.

However, for medical decisions, it is best to have one primary person named. In that way, any care decisions in an emergency can be made swiftly.

While you are creating an estate plan with your children in mind, make sure your estate plan has the same documents for you and your spouse: Power of Attorney, medical Power of Attorney, a HIPAA release form and a living will.

Speak with a local estate planning attorney who has experience in planning for young families.

Reference: KTVO.com (Feb. 6, 2019) “Family 411: Thinking about estate planning while your kids are young”

 

Do I Need a Living Trust or a Will? Or Both?

This is just one of the reasons people think they want a trust: to ensure that the value of their overall estate will not decrease, because of the cost of probate. Will, Living Trust, Inter Vivos, Revocable, Trustee, Executor, Retirement Accounts, Beneficiaries, Funding, Assets, Administration, Probate, Incapacity, says The Houston Chronicle in the article “Elder Law: Which should I have—A Living trust or a will?”

In some states, probate is not an expensive or overly time-consuming issue. Texas, for example, has what is called an independent administration. Executors handle the tasks involved in settling an estate and distributing assets to beneficiaries. As a result, there’s very little court involvement. However, that’s not the case everywhere. An estate planning attorney in your area will be able to explain the details of your state’s procedures and discuss whether a trust is right for your estate. They’ll also explain the difference between different types of trusts.

The trust most frequently used to avoid probate, is known as a revocable management trust, living trust or an “inter vivos” trust.

Selecting the best type of trust for each situation is different. Here are some advantages of living trusts:

Avoiding probate. The cost of probate alone is not reason enough to use a trust. However, if your assets are in trusts, you may not need to file an inventory listing your assets with the court. That’s not always required in every jurisdiction, but if it is required where you live, a trust can help keep your asset list private, by ensuring that it is only seen by beneficiaries.

Asset management for incapacity. A living trust goes into effect, while you are alive. If you become incapacitated, an alternate trustee can step in to manage assets, pay bills and ensure that finances are taken care of.

Avoiding probate in another state. If you own out-of-state property, your estate may need to be probated in your home state and in the other state. If you have a living trust, out-of-state parcels of land can be deeded into the trust during your lifetime, thus avoiding the need for probate in another state. After your passing, your trustee can handle the out-of-state property in the living trust.

Administrative ease. There are, unfortunately, instances when Power of Attorney can be challenged by financial institutions. The authority of a trustee is more likely to be recognized, by banks, investment companies, etc.

There are some questions about whether it’s better to have a living trust or a will. The most complex part of having a living trust, is the process of funding the trust. It is imperative for the trust to work, that every asset you own is either transferred into the trust or retitled into the name of the trust. If assets are left out or incorrectly funded, then probate will probably be necessary. This can occur, even if only one single asset is left out.

If an asset is controlled by beneficiary designation, then the trust may not need to be named a beneficiary, should you want it to pass directly to one or more beneficiaries.

Funding the trust becomes complicated, when retirement accounts are involved. Consult with an experienced estate planning attorney, if you want to make the trust a designated beneficiary of a retirement account. This is because very specific and complex rules may limit the ability to “stretch” the distributions form the account.

Using a trust instead of a will-based plan is growing in popularity, but it should never be an automatic decision. An estate planning attorney will be able to explain the pros and cons of each strategy and help you and your family decide which is better for you.

Reference: The Houston Chronicle (Feb. 15, 2019) “Elder Law: Which should I have—A Living trust or a will?”

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Why Do I Need A Will?

Writing a will is one of life’s unpleasant tasks. Maybe that is why just 36% of American adults with children under 18 have estate plans in place.

The Boston Globe’s recent article, “The end may not be near, but you still need a will,” says that estate planning is essential, because dying without a will means that certain property is subject to intestate succession laws. That’s where the state distributes your assets to your heirs, according to state intestacy laws in predetermined percentages.

Assets for which you’ve assigned a beneficiary, like your 401(k) or life insurance, won’t meet the same end, because these are outside of probate. However, non-beneficiary accounts, like checking accounts or property, could. Even if you’re not wealthy, it’s important to plan ahead. Consider these thoughts:

  • A will. If you have assets that you want to leave to another person, you need a will. It’s your instructions on what should happen upon your death. You’ll also name an executor or a personal representative who’s responsible for tending to your assets, when you pass away.
  • Beneficiary designations. Some assets don’t pass through a will, like life insurance and retirement plans. For these, you must name a beneficiary.
  • Health care proxies and powers of attorney. An estate planning attorney will help you with a health care proxy, HIPAA forms and durable power of attorney. The power of attorney lets someone else handle your legal and financial matters, if you’re unable to do so. The health care proxy lets a trusted person make decisions about your medical care, when you are incapacitated.
  • Guardian for minor children. Select a person who shares your values and parenting style, regardless of their financial background.
  • A living will. A will takes effect at death. A living will, a type of advanced directive, is not legally binding in Massachusetts, for example, but it’s a great help for your health care proxy. It states your wishes, like not wanting life support and donating organs.

Finally, discuss your plans with your family. With the proper documents, make certain that your will and other documents are safely stored and easily accessible. You should also be sure that you’ve given your power of attorney and health care agent copies. Your physicians should also have a copy of your health care proxy and living will, and your attorney should keep a copy on file.

Reference: Boston Globe (February 25, 2019) “The end may not be near, but you still need a will”

 

Health Care Decisions Require a Medical Power of Attorney

The patient above was asked if he had a living will or a health care directive. He wondered, why are they asking me this? It’s a simple knee replacement surgery. Do they think I am going to die? However, as discussed in the article “Take control of health care decisions in 2019 | Coming of Age…Again” from the Kirkland Reporter, all of these documents need to be in place anytime a medical procedure takes place, no matter how routine the patient may think it is.

Someone, whether a parent, spouse, friend or colleague, needs to be able to have the legal power to make decisions on your behalf, when you cannot. You need a health care directive or a durable Power of Attorney for health care, or both, or to have both of these documents combined into one (depending upon the state you live in; these laws vary by state). In Washington, the official term is health care directive. In other states, the term living will is used.

The health care directive is used to tell doctors and medical caregivers of your choices about medical interventions that you would or would not want to be used, in the unexpected event that you become seriously or critically injured, terminally ill or unable to communicate with those around you.

If you don’t have this document, the decisions will be made by select members of your family with health care professionals. If you don’t want certain things to happen, like being intubated or put on a feeding tube, and they feel strongly that they want to keep you alive, your wishes may not be followed.

A Power of Attorney and health care directives are created when working with an estate planning attorney to create an overall estate plan, which includes your will and any necessary trusts. These documents are too important to try to do on your own. There are major implications. What if they are not executed properly?

The person who is your health care agent has the authority to stop medical treatment on your behalf, or to refuse it. They can hire or fire any medical professional working on your care, and they can determine which medical facility should treat you. They can visit you, regardless of any visitation restrictions, and review your medical records. A durable Power of Attorney for health care gives this person the right to make decisions that are not necessarily covered in your health care directive.

Note that you can revoke your Power of Attorney document at any time, with a written notice to your agent.

These are complicated matters that deserve thoughtful consideration. The person you name will have tremendous responsibility — you are putting your life into their hands. Make sure the person you select is willing to take this responsibility on and have a secondary person in mind, just in case.

Reference: Kirkland Reporter (Feb. 20, 2019) “Take control of health care decisions in 2019 | Coming of Age…Again”

 

Spare Your Family From a Feud: Make Sure You Have a Will

If for no other reason than to avoid fracturing the family, as they squabble over who gets Aunt Nina’s sideboard or Uncle Bruno’s collection of baseball cards, everyone needs a will. It is true that having an estate plan created does require us to consider what we want to happen after we have died, which most of us would rather not think about.

However, whether we want to think about it or not, having an estate plan in place, and that includes a will, is a gift of peace we give to our loved ones and ourselves. It’s peace of mind that our family is being told exactly what we want them to do after we pass, and peace of mind to ourselves that we’ve put our plan into place.

A recent article from Fatherly, “How to Write a Will: 8 Tips Every Parent Needs to Know,” starts with the basic premise that a will prevents family squabbles. Families fight, when they don’t have clear direction of what the deceased wanted. That’s just one reason to have a last will and testament. However, there are other reasons.

A will is one way to ensure that your property is eventually distributed as you wish. Without a will, your estate is administered as an “intestate estate,” which means the state’s laws will determine who receives your assets after you pass. In some states, that means your spouse gets half of your estate, with your parents getting the rest (if there are no children). If the parents have died and there are no children, the rest of the estate may go to your siblings.

Most people—some studies say as many as 60% of Americans—don’t have a will. It’s hard to say why they don’t: maybe they don’t want to accept their own mortality, maybe they don’t understand what will happen when they die without a will, or perhaps they want to wreak havoc on their families. However, having a will is essential.

Don’t delay. If you don’t have a will in place, stop putting it off. Creating a will gives you the opportunity to effectuate your wishes, not that of the state. What if you don’t want your long-lost brother showing up just to receive a portion of your estate? If you don’t want someone to receive any of your assets, you need to have a will. Otherwise, there’s no way to know how the distribution will play out.

Be thoughtful about how you distribute your assets. If you have children and your will gives them your assets when they reach 18, will they be prepared to manage without blowing their inheritance in a month? A qualified estate planning attorney will be able to help you create a plan for distributing your wealth to children or other heirs in a sequence that will match their financial abilities. You may want to create a trust that will hold the assets, with a trustee who can ensure that assets are distributed in a wise and timely manner.

Every family is different, and today’s families, which often include children from prior marriages, require special planning. If you have remarried and have not legally adopted your spouse’s children from a previous marriage, they are not your legal heirs. If you want to make sure they inherit money or a specific asset, you’ll need to state that clearly in your will. If you are not married to your partner, they will not have any rights to your estate, unless a will is created that directs the assets you want them to inherit.

Parents of young children absolutely need a will. If you do not, and both parents pass away at the same time, their future will be determined by the court. They could end up in foster care, while awaiting a court decision. Battling grandparents may create a tumultuous situation. The court could also name a guardian who you would never have chosen. A will lets you decide.

Speak with an estate planning attorney to make sure you have a will that is properly prepared and follows the laws of your state. You also want to have a power of attorney and a health care agent named. Having these plans made before you need them, gives you the ability to express your wishes in a way that can be legally enforced.

Reference: Fatherly (Feb. 6, 2019) “How to Write a Will: 8 Tips Every Parent Needs to Know”

 

How Does a Life Estate Deed Work for an Executor?

What should this person do next? What is allowed and what is not? This complex question is addressed in My San Antonio’s article, “Life estate deed by agent must preserve estate plan.” First, let’s clarify what a life estate deed is, and why it was used in this person’s estate plan.

A life estate deed is a real estate ownership arrangement, by which the owner gifts or sells to someone, in this case to the beneficiary child, a “remainder interest” in a piece of real estate property. The owner of the property holds a “life estate” in the real estate, which includes the right to live in the property, use it and even profit from it, as long as the life estate holder is alive. The remainder interest holder, the heir, can’t interfere with the life estate holder’s use of the property, while they are living.

The remainder interest holder does have an ownership interest in the property, which is granted in the life estate deed. The IRS publishes a table so that the value of the remainder interest can be calculated. Here’s why that matters:

  • If the remainder is gifted, then the IRS table determines the gift tax amount.
  • If the property is sold while the life holder is alive, the proceeds are split with the remainder holder, with the value determined from the IRS tables.
  • If the life estate holder needs to apply for Medicaid, the gift value of the remainder will cause a disqualification.

If the life estate holder decides to sell the property, permission from the remainder holder is required. The life estate holder may not have to pay taxes, but the remainder interest holder is likely to owe capital gain taxes, if the property is sold.

There is a special type of estate deed which changes the description above. Known as an enhanced life estate deed, or a “lady bird deed,” the owner is given the right to cancel the deed at any time. Since there is no value transferred to the remainder holder, there is no gift tax, no disqualification from Medicaid and the life estate holder can sell without needing to obtain permission from the remainder holder.

In the example above, the father did not sell his life estate interest, but retained it until the date of his death. The first challenge is proving ownership of the property. The original life estate deed should be proof of the ownership, but it must be combined with proof of death. The official death certificate will be needed to be presented to the title company, which will establish ownership under the original life estate deed.

The Alzheimer’s diagnosis creates another hurdle. Title companies are cautious when circumstances could be interpreted as self-dealing. They may ask if the agent had preserved the principal’s estate plan. In other words, did the father’s will give the house to the agent or to someone else? The agent may not act in a way that violates the existing estate plan. The durable power of attorney must be recorded with the county clerk for the life estate deed to be valid.

This is a situation where a qualified estate planning attorney will be able to ensure that proper measures are taken to protect the heir, as well as the estate.

Reference: My San Antonio (Feb. 11, 2019) “Life estate deed by agent must preserve estate plan”

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What are the “Must Have” Estate Planning Documents?

What do Aretha Franklin, Kurt Cobain, and Prince have in common? Aside from being famous and talented, each of these stars passed away without a will. All three had the money and attorneys to draft a proper estate plan, but for whatever reason, they didn’t draft one. It’s a good lesson to not neglect your estate plan.

Motley Fool reports in the article, “3 Must-Have Estate Planning Documents To Get Done This Year,” that dying without a will creates numerous problems for your family. If there are no legal instructions in place, probate law dictates the distribution of your assets and selection of guardians for your minor children, which can cause problems. Regardless of your personal situation, you should think about creating these three important estate planning documents.

Will. A will is used to distribute your estate, according to your instructions. A will can say how much and what type of asset each heir will receive, to minimize family fighting after your death. If you have young children, you can designate guardians in your will to be in charge of their care. If you die without a will, the probate judge will order who becomes their guardian.

You also need a will to make charitable bequests, to expedite the probate court process and to reduce or eliminate estate taxes. When you draft your will, you’ll appoint trusted people to serve as the executor and the trustee.

Living will. A living will can take effect while you are still alive. This is a legal document that sets out your instructions for medical treatment, if you become unable to communicate, such as whether or not you want to be placed on life support. A living will can relieve the emotional burden from your family of having to make difficult decisions.

Power of attorney. This legal document helps in the event you’re incapacitated or in the hospital in an unresponsive state. A power of attorney gives the individual you designate the authority to transact financial and legal matters on your behalf. Set up a power of attorney, before you need it. If you don’t and you’re unable to make decisions, your family may have to petition the court to get those powers, which costs time and money.

Estate planning is a huge favor that you’re doing for your family. Get these three legal documents in place.

Reference: Motley Fool (February 18, 2019) “3 Must-Have Estate Planning Documents To Get Done This Year”

 

Power of Attorney, Living Wills: Before a Crisis Strikes

The last thing you want to be doing at three in the morning when you are heading to the hospital to meet up with your frail mother-in-law, is wondering if anyone has signed a health care directive.  However, all too often, this is how the scenario unfolds, says Expert Click in the article “How to Get Power of Attorney for Aging Parents.

A medical power of attorney permits another individual to make medical decisions, when a person is unconscious or unable to make a medical decision. Other documents that are often completed in a hospital setting are the MOLST (Medical Order for Life Sustaining Treatment) or POLST (Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment). This is also often the time the adult child is asked, if there is a living will.

Both the living will, and the medical and financial power of attorney documents should be created and executed well in advance of the emergency trip to the hospital. However, unfortunately, this is not always the case.

Planning for unexpected medical situations, by having the power of attorney and living will in place in advance is better. Even young people need these documents, since accidents happen.

The problem of having these documents for elderly people, is that they are sometimes resistant to having them created. You may need to have more than one discussion before they agree to complete the forms. While you are working on getting these documents for your parents, have them prepared for yourself and for your adult children.

No one plans to become sick, or to be in an accident. However, the reality is, even if we are lucky enough to avoid accidents or illness, we all age. By having these documents in place, we can be assured that when help is needed, decisions can be made by someone you choose.

The power of attorney and living will require more than just signing off on a piece of paper. They need to include the person’s understanding of what the documents mean, finding the right person to appoint and discussing the medical and financial desires of the person, so the power of attorney agent agrees to fulfill that person’s wishes and has no qualms about following their directions.

Sometimes the person named on these two important documents is not a family member, but a respected and trusted friend or even a professional. Family members are often overcome by emotion at the time of a medical crisis and are unable to make critical decisions. You know your family best: will they be able to act in a time of crisis? If not, you’ll want to name someone else in these documents.

These decisions should be done in conjunction with preparing a will, so the estate plan is in place. An estate planning attorney can take you and your family through the process and will be able to answer any questions you or your aging parent may have.

Reference: Expert Click (Feb. 12, 2019) “How to Get Power of Attorney for Aging Parents.

 

How Do I Prepare my Parents for Alzheimer’s?

Can your mom just sell her house, despite her diagnosis of Alzheimer’s?

The (Bryan TX) Eagle reports in the recent article “MENTAL CLARITY: Shining a light on the capacity to sign Texas documents” that the concept of “mental capacity” is complicated. There’s considerable confusion about incapacity. The article explains that different legal documents have a different degree of required capacity. The bar for signing a Power of Attorney, a Warranty Deed, a Contract, a Divorce Decree, or a Settlement Agreement is a little lower than for signing a Will. The individual signing legal documents must be capable of understanding and appreciating what he or she is signing, as well as the effect of the document.

The answer to the question of whether the mom can sign the deed to her house over to the buyer is likely “yes.” She must understand that she’s selling her house, and that, once the document is signed, the house will belong to someone else. A terminal diagnosis or a neurodegenerative disease doesn’t automatically mean that an individual can’t sign legal documents. A case-by-case assessment is required to see if the document will be valid.

The fact that a person is unable to write his or her name doesn’t mean they lack capacity. If a senior can’t sign her name (possibly due to tremors or neurodegeneration), she can sign with an “X”. She could place her hand on top of someone else’s and allow the other person to sign her name. If this is completed before witnesses and the notary, that would be legal.

Capacity can be fluid in the progress of a neurodegenerative or other terminal disease. Because of this, the best time to sign critical documents is sooner rather than later. No one can say the “window of capacity” will remain open for a certain amount of time.

Some signs should prompt you to move more quickly. These include things like the following:

  • Short-term memory loss;
  • Personality changes (e.g., unusual anger);
  • Confusing up or forgetting common-usage words and names; and
  • Disorientation and changes in depth perception.

Any of the signs above could be caused by dementia or many other problems. Talk to your parent’s physician and an elder law attorney. He or she can discuss the options, document your parent’s legal capacity, and get the right documents drafted quickly.

Reference: The (Bryan TX) Eagle (February 7, 2019) “MENTAL CLARITY: Shining a light on the capacity to sign Texas documents”