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Law Office of Michael D. DellaMonaca

Have a Plan for Life

How to Design an Estate Plan with a Blended Family?

There are several things that blended families need to consider when updating their estate plans, says The University Herald in the article “The Challenges and Complexities of Estate Planning for Blended Families.”

Estate plans should be reviewed and updated, whenever there’s a major life event, like a divorce, marriage or the birth or adoption of a child. If you don’t do this, it can lead to disastrous consequences after your death, like giving all your assets to an ex-spouse.

If you have children from previous marriages, make sure they inherit the assets you desire after your death. When new spouses are named as sole beneficiaries on retirement accounts, life insurance policies, and other accounts, they aren’t legally required to share any assets with the children.

Take time to review and update your estate plan. It will save you and your family a lot of stress in the future.

Your estate planning attorney can help you with this process.

You may need more than a simple will to protect your biological children’s ability to inherit. If you draft a will that leaves everything to your new spouse, he or she can cut out the children from your previous marriage altogether. Ask your attorney about a trust for those children. There are many options.

You can create a trust that will leave assets to your new spouse during his or her lifetime, and then pass those assets to your children, upon your spouse’s death. This is known as an AB trust. There is also a trust known as an ABC trust. Various assets are allocated to each trust, and while this type of trust can be a little complicated, the trusts will ensure that wishes are met, and everyone inherits as you want.

Be sure you that select your trustee wisely. It’s not uncommon to have tension between your spouse and your children. The trustee may need to serve as a referee between them, so name a person who will carry out your wishes as intended and who respects both your children and your spouse.

Another option is to simply leave assets to your biological children upon your death. The only problem here, is if your spouse is depending upon you to provide a means of support after you have passed.

An experienced estate planning attorney will be able to help you map out a plan so that no one is left behind. The earlier in your second (or subsequent) married life you start this process, the better.

Reference: University Herald (June 29, 2019) “The Challenges and Complexities of Estate Planning for Blended Families”

 

A Will, Power of Attorney and Health Care Power of Attorney: Three Documents Everyone Should Have

These three documents combined allow you to designate who you want to be responsible for your well- being, if you are unable to communicate to others on your own behalf and name who you want to receive your property. Having a will, power of attorney and health care power of attorney are the foundation of an estate plan and peace of mind, says the article “Simple steps to peace of mind” from the Traverse City Record Eagle.

If you die without a will, your state has a plan in place for you. However, you, or more correctly, your family, probably won’t like it. Your assets will be distributed according to the laws of inheritance, and people who you may not know or haven’t spoken to in years may end up inheriting your estate.

If your fate is to become incapacitated and you don’t have an estate plan, your family faces an entirely new set of challenges. Here’s what happened to one family:

A son contacted the financial advisor who had worked with the family for many years. He asked if the advisor had a power of attorney for his father. His mother had passed away two years ago, and his father had Alzheimer’s and wasn’t able to communicate or make decisions on his own behalf.

Five years ago, the financial advisor had recommended an estate planning attorney to the couple. The son called the attorney’s office and learned that his parents did make an appointment and met with the attorney about having these three documents created. However, they never moved forward with an estate plan.

The son had tried to talk with his parents over the years, but his father refused to discuss anything.

The son now had to hire that very same attorney to represent him in front of the probate court to be appointed as his father’s guardian and conservator. The son was appointed, but the court could just have easily appointed a complete stranger to these roles.

The son now has the power to help his father, but he will also have to report to the probate court every year to prove that his father’s well-being and finances are being handled properly. Having a will, power of attorney and medical power of attorney would have made this situation much easier for the family.

Guardianship is concerned with the person and his or her well-being. Conservatorship means a person has control over an individual’s financial matters and can make all decisions about property and assets.

There is a key difference between powers of attorney and conservatorship and guardianship. The person gets to name who they wish to have power of attorney. It’s someone who knows them, who they trust and they make the decision. With conservator and guardianship, it’s possible that someone you don’t know and who doesn’t know your family, holds all your legal rights.

A far better alternative is simply to meet with an experienced estate planning attorney and have him create these three documents and whatever planning tools your situation calls for. Start by giving some thought to who you would want to be in charge of your life and your money, if you should become unable to manage your life by yourself. Then consider who you would want to have your various assets when you die. Take your notes with you to a meeting with an estate planning attorney, who will know what documents you need. Make sure to complete the process: signing all the completed documents, funding any trusts, retitling any accounts and finally, making sure your family knows where your documents are. This is a road to peace of mind, for you and your family.

Reference: Traverse City Record Eagle (June 23, 2019) “Simple steps to peace of mind”

 

Is Estate Planning Really Such a Big Deal?

Delaying your estate planning is never a good idea, says The South Florida Reporter, in the new article entitled “Why Estate Planning Is So Important.” That’s because life can be full of unexpected moments and before you know it, it’s too late. Estate planning is for everyone, regardless of financial status, and especially if they have a family that is very dependent on them.

Estate planning is designed to protect your family from complications concerning your assets when you die. Many people believe that they don’t require estate planning. However, that’s not true. Estate planning is a way of making sure that all your assets will be properly taken care of by your family, if you’re no longer able to make your decisions due to incapacity or death.

Without estate planning, a court will name a person—usually a stranger—to handle your assets and finances when you die. This makes the probate process lengthy and stressful. To protect your assets after you die, you need to have an estate plan in advance. You also need to address possible state and federal taxes. Your estate plan is a way to decrease your tax burdens.

With a proper estate plan, your final wishes for your assets will be set out in a legal document. With a will or trust, all of your assets will be distributed to your beneficiaries, according to your final wishes.

This will also save your family from having to deal with the distribution of your assets, which can become very complicated without a will. There can also be family fights from the process of distributing assets without a will.

It is also important to remember that if you do create an estate plan, you’ll need to update it every once in a while—especially if there’s a significant event that happened in your life, like a birth, a death, or a move. Your estate plan should be ever-changing, since your assets and your life can also change.

It’s vital that you work with an experienced estate planning attorney, who can help you draft the legal documents that will make certain your family is taken care of after you pass away.

Reference: South Florida Reporter (June 12, 2019) “Why Estate Planning Is So Important”

 

Why is an Advance Directive so Important with Dementia?

The Roanoke Times advises in the recent article “What to do in absence of advance directive” to talk to an experienced elder care attorney to coordinate the necessary legal issues, when dementia may be at issue with a parent or other loved one. Next, ask your physician for a geriatric evaluation consultation for your loved one with a board-certified geriatrician and a referral to a social worker to assist in navigating the medical system.

It’s wise for anyone older than 55 to have advance directives in place, should they become incapacitated, so a trusted agent can fulfill the patient’s wishes in a dignified manner. Think ahead and plan ahead.

As a family’s planning starts, the issue of competence must be defined. A diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease doesn’t necessarily indicate incompetence or a lack of capacity. At this point, a patient still has the right to make a decision—despite family members disagreeing with it. A patient’s competency should be evaluated after a number of poor choices or an especially serious choice that puts a patient or others at risk.

An evaluation will determine the patient’s factual understanding of concepts, decision-making and cogent expression of choices, the possible consequences of their choices and reasoning of the decision’s pros and cons. Healthcare professionals make the final determination, and these results are provided to the court.

If a patient passes the evaluation, she is deemed to have the mental capacity to make choices on her own. If she cannot demonstrate competency, an experienced elder law or estate planning attorney can petition the court for a Guardianship hearing, after which a trustee may be appointed to oversee her affairs.

The time to address these types of issues is before the patient becomes incapacitated. The family should clearly define and explore the topics of living wills, health care proxies, estate planning and powers of attorney now with an experienced elder law attorney.

Taking these proactive actions can be one of the greatest gifts a person can bestow upon herself and her loved ones. It can give a family peace of mind. If you put an advance directive in place, it can provide that gift when it’s needed the most.

Reference: Roanoke Times (June 17, 2019) “What to do in absence of advance directive”

 

What Are the Basics About Trusts?

Forbes’s recent article, “A Beginner’s Guide To Reading A Trust,” says that as much as attorneys have tried to simplify documents, there is some legalese that is still hanging around. Let’s look at a few tips in reviewing your trust.

First, familiarize yourself with the terms. There are basic terms of the trust that you’ll need to know. Most of this can be found on its first page, such as the person who created the trust. He or she is frequently referred to as the donor, grantor or settlor. It is also necessary to identify the trustee, who will hold the trust assets and administer them for the benefit of the beneficiaries and any successor trustees.

You should next see who the beneficiaries are and then look at the important provisions. See if the trustee is required to distribute the assets all at once to a specific beneficiary, or if she can give the money out in installments over time.

It is also important to determine if the distributions are completely left to the discretion of the trustee, so the beneficiary doesn’t have a right to withdraw the trust assets.  See if the trustee can distribute both income and principal.

The next step is to see when the trust ends. Trusts will end at the death of a beneficiary.

Other important provisions include whether the beneficiaries can remove and replace a trustee, if the trustee must provide the beneficiaries with accountings and whether the trust is revocable or irrevocable. If the trust is revocable and you’re the donor, you can change it.

If the trust is irrevocable, you won’t be able to make any changes. If your uncle was the donor and he passed away, the trust is most likely now irrevocable.

In addition, you should review the boilerplate language, as well as the tax provisions.

Talk to an estate planning attorney about any questions you may have and to help you interpret the trust terms.

Reference: Forbes (June 17, 2019) “A Beginner’s Guide To Reading A Trust”

 

Why Would I Need to Revise My Will?

OK, great!! You’ve created your will! Now you can it stow away and check off a very important item on your to-do list. Well, not entirely.

Thrive Global’s recent article, “7 Reasons Why You Need to Review your Will Right Now,” says it’s extremely important that you regularly update your will to avoid any potential confusion and extra stress for your family at a very emotional time. As circumstances change, you need to have your will reflect changes in your life. As time passes and your situation changes, your will may become invalid, obsolete or even create added confusion, when the time comes for your will to be administered.

New people in your life. If you do have more children after you’ve created your will, review your estate plan to make certain that the wording is still correct. You may also marry or re-marry, and grandchildren may be born that you want to include. Make a formal update to your estate plan to include the new people who play an important part in your life and to remove those with whom you lose touch.

A beneficiary or other person dies. If a person you had designated as a beneficiary or executor of your will has died, you must make a change or it could result in confusion, when the time comes for your estate to be distributed. You need to update your will, if an individual named in your estate passes away before you.

Divorce. If your will was created prior to a divorce, and you want to remove your ex from your estate plan, talk to an estate planning attorney about the changes you need to make.

Your spouse dies. Wills should be written in such a way as to always have a backup plan in place. For example, if your husband or wife dies before you, their portion of your estate might go to another family member or another named individual. If this happens, you may want to redistribute your assets to other people.

A child becomes an adult. When a child turns 18 and comes of age, she is no longer a dependent.  Therefore, you may need to update your will in any areas that provided additional funds for any dependents.

You experience a change in your financial situation. This is a great opportunity to update your will to protect your new financial situation.

You change your mind. It’s your will, and you can change your mind whenever you like.

To prepare a correct will, you need to contact a reputable, licensed, estate planning attorney. 

Reference: Thrive Global (June 17, 2019) “7 Reasons Why You Need to Review your Will Right Now”

 

What Debts Must Be Paid Before and After Probate?

Everything that must be addressed in settling an estate becomes more complicated, when there is no will and no estate planning has taken place before the person dies. Debts are a particular area of concern for the estate and the executor. What has to be paid, and who gets paid first? These are explained in the article “Dealing with Debts and Mortgages in Probate” from The Balance.

Probate is the process of gaining court approval of the estate and paying off final bills and expenses, before property can be transferred to beneficiaries. Dealing with the debts of a deceased person can be started, before probate officially begins.

Start by making a list of all of the decedent’s liabilities and look for the following bills or statements:

  • Mortgages
  • Reverse mortgages
  • Home equity loans
  • Lines of credit
  • Condo fees
  • Property taxes
  • Federal and state income taxes
  • Car and boat loans
  • Personal loans
  • Loans against life insurance policies
  • Loans against retirement accounts
  • Credit card bills
  • Utility bills
  • Cell phone bills

Next, divide those items into two categories: those that will be ongoing during probate—consider them administrative expenses—and those that can be paid off after the probate estate is opened. These are considered “final bills.” Administrative bills include things like mortgages, condo fees, property taxes and utility bills. They must be kept current. Final bills include income taxes, personal loans, credit card bills, cell phone bills and loans against retirement accounts and/or life insurance policies.

The executors and heirs should not pay any bills out of their own pockets. The executor deals with all of these liabilities in the process of settling the estate.

For some of the liabilities, heirs may have a decision to make about whether to keep the assets with loans. If the beneficiary wants to keep the house or a car, they may, but they have to keep paying down the debt. Otherwise, these payments should be made only by the estate.

The executor decides what bills to pay and which assets should be liquidated to pay final bills.

A far better plan for your beneficiaries, is to create a comprehensive estate plan that includes a will that details how you want your assets distributed and addresses what your wishes are. If you want to leave a house to a loved one, your estate planning attorney will be able to explain how to make that happen, while minimizing taxes on your estate.

Reference: The Balance (March 21, 2019) “Dealing with Debts and Mortgages in Probate”

 

Why We All Need to Have an Estate Plan

Putting off estate planning is never a good idea. Life happens, and before you know it, “someday” arrives. Having an estate plan is advisable for everyone, says the South Florida Reporter in the article “Why Estate Planning is so Important.” It doesn’t matter if you are rich or poor—you need an estate plan. People with families who depend upon them, as well as singles who don’t, need an estate plan.

What exactly does estate planning mean? Estate planning is planning for the disposition of your assets, when you have died. It’s also done to protect you and your family, in the event you become incapacitated and cannot convey your wishes to others. It protects your family from complications, unnecessary costs and delays about distributing your estate.

Having an estate plan means that you have taken the time to plan out what you want to happen to your property and how you want to take care of your family when you are gone. For those who have young children, your last will and testament is the document used to name the person who will raise your children. It also lets you appoint a separate person (although it can be the same person) who will look after your finances, with regard to your children.

Without a will, a court will decide what should happen to your children and your property. The court must follow the laws of your state, which may not be what you had in mind. Let’s say you have a brother who lives far away and from whom you are estranged. If you don’t have a will and he is your legal next-of-kin, in some states he will inherit everything you own. It’s far better to have a will.

Estate planning also includes tax planning. Having an estate plan that is created by an experienced estate planning attorney with knowledge of tax planning will allow you to minimize your tax liability and make sure more of your assets are passed to the next generation, than are passed to the government.

Having an estate plans gives you the opportunity to take a long look at your life and your legacy. How do you want to be remembered? Do you want to leave behind part of your estate to a charity, a school or a healthcare facility that has been important to you or another family member? Planning for charitable giving is also part of an estate plan. Some people give because they are seeking tax benefits, but many are generous because they are creating a legacy.

Your estate plan can include a letter to your heirs explaining why you have made the decisions you have about your possessions and assets. This kind of letter is not a legally enforceable document. However, if there is a dispute about your will, it can be used to support your intentions.

Note that even the best estate plan needs to be updated every few years. Tax laws have changed with the new federal tax laws that were adopted in 2017. If your estate plan has not been reviewed by your estate planning attorney since 2017, it’s time for a review.

Reference: South Florida Reporter (June 12, 2019) “Why Estate Planning is so Important.”

 

How Will Changes in the Law Impact my Estate Plan?

Wealth Advisor recently published an article—“Tune-Up Your Estate Plan in Light of Changing Conditions”—that asks if your estate plan is still appropriate, in light of several changes in the law.

The federal estate tax gift and estate tax exemption amount is now $11.4 million, indexed for inflation, which is an all-time high. A married couple can transfer twice that amount to children or others, or $22.8 million, without any federal gift and estate tax. The federal exemption amount is also now “portable” between spouses. It means that the first spouse to die, can transfer any unused exemption to the surviving spouse, without the need of a “credit shelter trust.”

Note that the enhanced federal exemption amount is scheduled to “sunset” in 2026, returning back down to $5.6 million (indexed for inflation).

As far as state law changes, the New York estate tax exemption amount is $5.74 million. However, that exemption isn’t portable. The estate tax exemption is also phased out, if your taxable estate is 5% more than that amount. For a New York taxable estate of about $6 million, there’s no exemption and the New York estate tax is about $500,000. The New York estate tax on a $10 million taxable estate is more than $1 million. Since New York has no gift tax, lifetime gifts don’t decrease the estate tax exemption for state tax purposes. However, gifts made within three years of death, would be clawed back under a pending bill.

In New Jersey, they’ve repealed the estate tax but kept the inheritance tax. Connecticut raised its estate and gift tax exemption amount. In the state of Illinois, the estate tax exemption amount is only $4 million and isn’t portable. This makes flexibility in your estate plan very desirable. For residents in the Land of Lincoln (that’s Illinois), the estate tax savings are less dramatic, since the exemption is smaller than in New York, but the potential savings through proper planning are still major.

Another consideration to note includes the fact that surrogate’s courts and probate courts—which have always moved at a snail’s pace—have become even slower.

Some of these changes may impact your current estate plan. You may want to take advantage of the enhanced federal exemption amount, before it goes away.

Talk to an experienced estate planning attorney to see how you can shelter your savings from a state estate tax, if you are married and live in a state with an estate tax like New York, Connecticut, or Illinois. This could save you a lot of money that you can then pass on to your heirs.

Reference: The Wealth Advisor (June 17, 2019) “Tune-Up Your Estate Plan in Light of Changing Conditions”

 

Business Owners Need Estate Plan and a Succession Plan

Business owners get so caught up in working in their business, that they don’t take the time to consider their future—and that of the business—when sometime in the future they’ll want to retire. Many business owners insist they’ll never retire, but that time does eventually come. The question The Gardner News article asks of business owners is this: “Do you have a business succession strategy?”

It takes a very long time to create a succession plan that works. Therefore, planning for such a plan should begin long before retirement is on the horizon. That’s because there are as many different ways to map out a succession plan, as there are types of business. A business owner could sell the business to a family member, an outsider, a key employee or to all the employees. The plan could be implemented while the business owner is still alive and well and working, or it could be set up to take effect, only after the owner passes.

The decision of how to handle a succession plan needs to be made with a number of issues in mind: family dynamics and interest in the business (or lack of interest), the nature of the business, the success of the business and the owner’s overall financial situation.

Here are a few of the more popular strategies:

Selling the business outright. There are business owners who don’t need the money and feel that no one else will care as much as they do about their business. Therefore, they sell it. There needs to be a lot of planning to minimize tax liability, when this is the choice.

Using a buy-sell arrangement to transfer the business. This can be structured in whatever way works best for both parties. It allows a slower transition to new ownership. Some families use the proceeds of a life insurance policy to fund the buy-sell agreement, so family owners could use the death benefit to buy the owner’s stake.

Buying a private annuity. This permits the owner to transfer the business to family members, or someone else, who then makes payments to the owner for the rest of their life, or maybe their life and another person, like a surviving spouse. It has the potential to provide a lifetime stream of income and removes assets from the owner’s estate, without triggering gift or estate taxes.

The plan for succession needs to align with the business owner’s estate plan. This is something that many estate planning attorneys who work with business owners have experience with. They can help facilitate the succession planning process. Talk with your estate planning attorney when you have your regular meeting to review your estate plan about what the future holds for your business.

Reference: The Gardener News (June 4, 2019) “Do you have a business succession strategy?”