Planning Future for Nontraditional Families

Today’s non-traditional family are not just LGBTQ couples, but families undergoing gray divorces, blended families, stepchildren, multinational families and children born through assisted reproductive technologies, referred to as ART, in a recent article titled “How to Plan for LGBTQ, Blended Families, Cohabitation, Other Nontraditional Families” from Financial Advisor.

The key is having an estate plan prepared that is flexible so that last wills, trusts, and all documents reflect the non-traditional family very clearly and do not leave room for courts to make decisions. Here are a few new elements to consider:

Gendered pronouns and definitions. Ideally, your estate documents should use specific names of individuals, not pronouns. We live in a fluid society and using pronouns could lead to unnecessary complications.

Recognize ART and its implications. If there are children conceived by ART, they need to be explicitly included as children of the family. DNA testing can result in a child inheriting assets from a parent they never knew. It may be wise to exclude biological children, parents or siblings who do not have a relationship with the family.

Trust Protector/Trust Decanting. By including provisions that permit trusts to be decanted, that is, transferred from one trust to another, your estate planning attorney will create flexibility to allow a trust protector (a non-fiduciary appointment of a third party) to make changes. The selection of the trust protector is particularly important, as they could have a large impact on the overall plan.

Marriage, non-marital relationships, divorce, remarriage. An estate plan needs to prepare for future changes with precision and flexibility. Protecting the family, its privacy and dignity can be done by limiting the information in the last will, which becomes a public document. While we can’t know what the future holds, we can plan for change.

Prenuptial agreements. State laws vary on what is acceptable and procedurally necessary for a prenup to be enforceable. Typically, the agreement must be voluntary and include full disclosure of both parties’ financial situation. In some states, post-nuptials can be prepared, if the parties can’t agree on the document before they are legally wed.

Divorce creates special estate planning issues. Beneficiary designations need to be changed for life insurance, IRAs and other non-probate assets. Take affirmative steps to ensure that ex-spouses, or soon-to-be exes are removed as beneficiaries on all accounts, including pensions and insurance plans subject to ERISA.

Cohabitating couples. Marital gifts are tax free, but that is not the case for people living together. Estate planning and tax planning needs to be done, so the surviving partner is taken care of. This may include the creation of a cohabitation agreement, similar to a prenuptial agreement.

Planning for sickness and death. Explicitly stating wishes for end-of-life medical treatments, including feeding tubes, respirators, heart machines, etc., is step one in having an Advance Medical Directive created. Step two is deciding who is empowered to make those decisions. Someone who is unmarried but has a partner or a second spouse needs to be authorized. Note that when an individual is hospitalized, stepparents may attempt to deny access to spouses’ children, or children may block access to a stepparent. There should also be a Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) or Physicians Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST) in place with the person’s wishes.

Non-traditional families of all types need to protect the family with estate planning and documentation. Issues about protecting children, making health care decisions for a critically ill partner and control of assets must be addressed in a way that respects the individuals and their families while working within the law. Contact an experienced estate planning attorney to assist you.

Reference: Financial Advisor (Feb. 2, 2021) “How to Plan for LGBTQ, Blended Families, Cohabitation, Other Nontraditional Families”

 

Divorce, Death and Details: Missteps can Create Estate Planning Disasters

Four courts and several years after this estate battle began, a family won a case that could have been easily prevented, as reported in The Dallas Morning News article “The way out of the ERISA trap: A tale of divorce, death and money.” This estate battle shows how small details can become huge headaches.

A couple married and then divorced. The divorce decree clearly stated that Mike was awarded all of his employee benefits, including his life insurance. However, when Mike logged into his employer’s benefits systems, it would not allow him to delete his ex-wife as the beneficiary of his life insurance. It may have been programmed that way. There are laws concerning removing spouses from employee benefits. Or it was a glitch. However, Mike did not pursue it.

When Mike died, he was survived by his parents, who claimed his estate, but the $377,000 life insurance policy was not part of his estate because his ex-wife was still the beneficiary.  His parents filed a claim with the insurance company for the proceeds of the insurance policy.

The first court they filed in was the probate court, so they could be properly recognized as Mike’s heirs. The probate court found in their favor and named Mike’s dad as the independent administrator of his estate.

The second court was federal court. That’s because employee benefits are governed by a federal law ERISA—the Employee Retirement Income Security Act—that controls employee benefits, including employer-provided life insurance. These matters can only be dealt with by a federal court.  The federal court ruled that because Mike’s ex was on the beneficiary form, she was the rightful owner.  However, Wendy had waived her rights to the insurance benefits when she signed off on the divorce decree. Mike’s parents were determined to win this battle.

Their legal team took the argument next to court three—the original divorce court. Mike’s dad, in the position of the estate administrator, argued that while Wendy did have a right to receive the money under ERISA, she did not have a right under state law to keep it. She had waived that right in the divorce decree. The divorce court agreed and found that Mike’s estate owned the proceeds. The money was to be turned over to Mike’s parents.

Court number four came when Wendy petitioned the state appellate court to overturn the award. She lost. What were the factors that allowed Mike’s parents to win this case? The divorce decree contained clear language regarding the life insurance policy. If it had been poorly drafted, the results could have been different. Mike’s parents went through all the correct procedural courts—establishing heirship, then probate, then divorce enforcement case.

One step could have been added: a restraining order so that the ex could not squander the money between the time that she received the proceeds and when the final judgement was rendered.

In any instance, you should contact an experienced estate planning attorney to make sure your documents are prepared correctly.

Reference: The Dallas Morning News (Jan. 24, 2021) “The way out of the ERISA trap: A tale of divorce, death and money”

 

Should I Add that to My Will?

In general, a last will and testament is an easy and straightforward way to state who gets what when you die and designate a guardian for your minor children, if you (and your spouse) die unexpectedly.

MSN’s recent article entitled “Things you should never put in your will” explains that you can be specific about who receives what. However, attaching strings or conditions may not work because there’s no one to legally enforce the terms. If you have specific details about how a person should use their inheritance, whether they are a spendthrift or someone with special needs, a trust may be a better option because you’ll have more control, even from beyond the grave.

Keeping some assets out of your will can actually benefit your future heirs because they’ll get their inheritance faster. When you pass on, your will must be “proven” and validated in a probate court prior to distribution of your property. This process takes some time and effort, if there are issues—including something in your will that doesn’t need to be there. For example, property in a trust and payable-on-death accounts are two types of assets that can be distributed to your beneficiaries without a will.

Don’t put anything in a will that you don’t own outright. If you jointly own assets with someone, they will likely become the new owner. For example, this applies to a property acquired by married couples in community property states.

Property in a revocable living trust. This is a separate entity that you can use to distribute your assets which avoids probate. When you title property into the trust, it is subject to the trust’s rules.  Because a trust operates independently, you must avoid inconsistencies and not include anything in your will that the trust addresses. Contact an experienced estate planning attorney to discuss.

Assets with named beneficiaries. Some financial accounts are payable-on-death or transferable-on-death. They are distributed or paid out directly to the named beneficiaries. That makes putting them in a will unnecessary (and potentially troublesome, if you’re inconsistent). However, you can add information about these assets in your letter of instruction (see below). As far as bank accounts, brokerage or investment accounts, retirement accounts and pension plans and life insurance policies, assign a beneficiary rather than putting these assets in your will.

Jointly owned property. Property you jointly own with someone else will almost always directly pass to the co-owner when you die, so do not put it in your will. A common arrangement is joint tenancy with rights of survivorship.

Other things you may not want to put in a will. Businesses can be given away in a will, but it’s not the best plan. Wills must be probated in court and that can create a rough transition after you die. Instead, work with an experienced estate planning attorney on a succession plan for your business and discuss any estate tax issues you may have as a business owner.

Adding your funeral instructions in your will isn’t optimal. This is because the family may not be able to read the will before making arrangements. Instead, leave a letter of instruction with any personal wishes and desires.

Reference: MSN (Dec. 8, 2020) “Things you should never put in your will”

 

No Time Like the Present Pandemic to Get the Estate Plan Going

The pandemic has made many people focus on depressing things, like death. Many of us are worth more dead than alive. Federal News Network’s recent article entitled “It’s your estate, but who gets it?” says that lack of control is one of the frustrating things about this already terrifying pandemic. We can wear masks, keep our distance and avoid crowds, but then what?

There are some very important and valuable things that are still under your control. One of these is estate planning.

Any number of things could have occurred in 2020 that are off your radar because you’re still adjusting to the many changes the pandemic has brought to our everyday lives.

Many people see their estate plan as one of life’s necessary chores. Once it’s signed, they simply file it away and forget about it. However, an estate plan should be reviewed regularly to be certain that it continues to meet your needs. Here are just a few of the life events that make it essential for you to review and possibly revise your estate plan with an experienced estate planning attorney:

  • The birth or adoption of a child
  • You are contemplating divorce
  • You have recently divorced
  • Your child gets married
  • Your child develops substance abuse problems or has issues with managing finances
  • Those you’ve named as executor, trustee, or agents under a power of attorney have died, moved away, or are no longer able to fulfill these obligations
  • Your child faces financial challenges
  • Your minor children reach the age of majority
  • There has been a change in the law that impacts your estate plan
  • You get a large inheritance or other windfall.
  • You have an estate plan but can’t locate it
  • You acquire property; or
  • You move to another state.

If any of these events occur, talk to your estate planning attorney to see if it is necessary to revise your estate plan to address these issues.

Reference: Federal News Network (Nov. 4, 2020) “It’s your estate, but who gets it?”

 

When Exactly Do I Need to Update My Will?

Many people say that they’ve been meaning to update their last will and testament for years but never got around to doing it.

Kiplinger’s article entitled “12 Different Times When You Should Update Your Will” gives us a dozen times you should think about changing your last will:

  1. You’re expecting your first child. The birth or adoption of a first child is typically when many people draft their first last will. Designate a guardian for your child and who will be the trustee for any trust created for that child by the last will.
  2. You may divorce. Update your last will before you file for divorce because once you file for divorce, you may not be permitted to modify your last will until the divorce is finalized. Doing this before you file for divorce ensures that your spouse won’t get all of your money, if you die before the divorce is final.
  3. You just divorced. After your divorce, your ex no longer has any rights to your estate (unless it’s part of the terms of the divorce). However, even if you don’t change your last will, most states have laws that invalidate any distributive provisions to your ex-spouse in that old last will. Nonetheless, update your last will as soon as you can so your new beneficiaries are clearly identified.
  4. Your child gets married. Your current last will may speak to issues that applied when your child was a minor so it may not address your child’s possible divorce. You may be able to ease the lack of a prenuptial agreement, by creating a trust in your last will and including post-nuptial requirements before you child can receive any estate assets.
  5. A beneficiary has issues. Last wills frequently leave money directly to a beneficiary. However, if that person has an addiction or credit issues, update your last will to include a trust that allows a trustee to only distribute funds under specific circumstances.
  6. Your executor or a beneficiary die. If your estate plan named individuals to manage your estate or receive any remaining funds, but they’re no longer alive, you should update your last will.
  7. Your child turns 18. Your current last will may designate your spouse or a parent as your executor, but years later, these people may be gone. Consider naming a younger family member to handle your estate affairs.
  8. A new tax or probate law is enacted. Congress may pass a bill that wrecks your estate plan. Review your plan with an experienced estate planning attorney every few years to see if there have been any new laws relevant to your estate planning.
  9. You come into a chunk of change. If you finally get a big lottery win or inherit money from a distant relative update your last will so you can address the right tax planning. You also may want to change when and the amount of money you leave to certain individuals or charities.
  10. You can’t find your original last will. If you can’t locate your last will, be sure that you replace the last will with a new, original one that explicitly states it invalidated all prior last wills. Contact an experienced estate planning attorney to assist you.
  11. You purchase property in another country or move overseas. Many countries have treaties with the U.S. that permit reciprocity of last wills. However, transferring property in one country may be delayed, if the last will must be probated in the other country first. Ask your estate planning attorney about having a different last will for each country in which you own property.
  12. Your feelings change for a family member. If there’s animosity between people named in your last will, you may want to disinherit someone. You might ask your estate planning attorney about a No Contest Clause that will disinherit the aggressive family member, if he or she attempts to question your intentions in the last will.

Reference: Kiplinger (May 26, 2020) “12 Different Times When You Should Update Your Will”

 

A Non-Medical Check Up – For Your Estate Plan

An estate plan isn’t just for you—it’s for those you love. It should include a will and possibly, trusts, a power of attorney for financial affairs and a health care directive. As many as 60% of all Americans don’t have a will. However, the COVID-19 crisis has highlighted for everyone the need to have those documents. For those who have an estate plan, the need for a tune-up has become very clear, says the article “Time for a non-medical checkup? Review your will” from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

With any significant change in your life, a review of your estate plan is in order. Keep in mind that none of your estate planning documents are written in stone. They should be changed when your life does. COVID-19 has also changed many of our lives. Let’s take a look at how.

Has anyone you named as a beneficiary died, or become estranged from you? Will everyone who is a beneficiary in your current estate plan still receive what you had wanted them to receive? Are there new people in your life, family members or otherwise, with whom you want to share your legacy?

The same applies to the person you selected as your executor. As you have aged over the years, so have they. Are they still alive? Are they still geographically available to serve as an executor? Do they still want to take on the responsibilities that come with this role? Family members or trusted friends move, marry, or make other changes in their lives that could cause you to change your mind about their role.

Over time, you may want to change your wishes for your children, or other beneficiaries. Maybe ten years ago you wanted to give everyone an equal share of an inheritance, but perhaps circumstances have changed. Maybe one child has had career success and is a high-income earner, while another child is working for a non-profit and barely getting by. Do you want to give them the same share?

Here’s another thought—if your children have become young adults (in the wink of an eye!), do you want them to receive a large inheritance when they are young adults, or would you want to have some control over when they inherit? Some people stagger inheritances through the use of trusts, and let their children receive significant funds, when they reach certain ages, accomplishments or milestones.

Have you or your children been divorced, since your estate plan was last reviewed? In that case, you really need to get that appointment with an estate planning attorney! Do you want your prior spouse to have the same inheritance you did when you were happily married? If your children are married to people you aren’t sure about, or if they are divorced, do you want to use estate planning to protect their inheritance? That is another function of estate planning.

Taking out your estate plan and speaking with your estate planning attorney is always a good idea. There may be no need for any changes—or you may need to do a major overhaul. Either way, it is better to know what needs to be done and take care of it, especially during a times like the one we are experiencing right now.

Reference: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (July 27, 2020) “Time for a non-medical checkup? Review your will”

 

Estate Planning Is for Everyone, at Every Age

As we go through the many milestones of life, it’s important to plan for what’s coming, and also plan for the unexpected. An estate planning attorney works with individuals, families and businesses to plan for what lies ahead, says the Cincinnati Business Courier in the article “Estate planning considerations for every stage of life.” For younger families, having an estate plan is like having life insurance: it is hoped that the insurance is never needed, but having it in place is comforting.

For others, in different stages of life, an estate plan is needed to ensure a smooth transition for a business owner heading to retirement, protecting a spouse or children from creditors or minimizing tax liability for a family.

Here are some milestones in life when an estate plan is needed:

Becoming an adult. It is true, for most 18-year-olds estate planning is the last thing on their minds. However, at 18 most states consider them legal adults, and their parents no longer control many things in their lives. If parents want or need to be involved with medical or financial matters, certain estate planning documents are needed. All new adults need a general power of attorney and health care directives to allow someone else to step in, if something occurs.

That can be as minimal as a parent talking with a doctor during an office appointment or making medical decisions during a crisis. A HIPAA release should also be prepared. A simple will should be considered, especially if assets are to pass directly to siblings or a significant person in their life, to whom they are not married.

Getting married. Marriage unites individuals and their assets. For newly married couples, estate planning documents should be updated for each spouse, so their estate plans may be merged, and the new spouse can become a joint owner, primary beneficiary and fiduciary. In addition to the wills, power of attorney, healthcare directive and beneficiary designations also need to be updated to name the new spouse or a trust. This is also a time to start keeping a list of assets in case someone needs to access accounts.

When children join the family. Whether born or adopted, the entrance of children into the family makes an estate plan especially important. Choosing guardians who will raise the children in the absence of their parents is the hardest thing to think about, but it is critical for the children’s well-being. A revocable trust may be a means of allowing the seamless transfer and ongoing administration of the family’s assets to benefit the children and other family members.

Part of business planning. Estate planning should be part of every business owner’s plan. If the unexpected occurs, the business and the owner’s family will also be better off, regardless of whether they are involved in the business. At the very least, business interests should be directed to transfer out of probate, allowing for an efficient transition of the business to the right people without the burden of probate estate administration.

If a divorce occurs. Divorce is a sad reality for more than half of today’s married couples. The post-divorce period is the time to review the estate plan to remove the ex-spouse, change any beneficiary designations, and plan for new fiduciaries. It’s important to review all accounts to ensure that any controlling-on-death accounts are updated. A careful review by an estate planning attorney is worth the time to make sure no assets are overlooked.

Upon retirement. Just before or after retirement is an important time to review an estate plan. Children may be grown and take on roles of fiduciaries or be in a position to help with medical or financial affairs. This is the time to plan for wealth transfer, minimizing estate taxes and planning for incapacity.

Contacting an experienced estate planning attorney to help assist you is your best bet.

Reference: Cincinnati Business Courier (Sep. 4, 2019) “Estate planning considerations for every stage of life.”