Do You have an Estate Plan Blueprint?

Your assets can go to one of four places: family, friends, charity or the government. You should work with a qualified estate planning attorney to make certain that you have the instructions set up correctly in your will and perhaps a trust and create an estate plan for yourself.

Forbes’s recent article entitled “How To Create An Estate Planning Blueprint” emphasizes that you need to make sure your plan is optimized, so your beneficiaries can sidestep the pain of probate and you can be certain that you make the most of the gifts you plan to leave them.

Let’s look at some tips on how to make sure your estate is as planned as best as it possibly can be.

Conduct Regular Check-ups. You should review your estate plan every few years. Things change, like laws and regulations, family situations, wealth and more. This needs to be reflected in your planning.

Think of the Future. Failing to plan now, can mean headaches in the future for your family after you’re gone.

Look at Your Options. If you and your estate planning attorney decide to set up a trust, know your options and discuss them, along with their tax implications.

Plan Your Charitable Gifts. Ask your estate planning attorney whether lifetime gifting makes sense. The unified exemption amount is at $23.16 million per couple, when it comes to lifetime and at-death gifts. If you have an estate valued in excess of that per-couple threshold, consider making lifetime gifts now before the possible future decrease in this exemption!

Inform Your Beneficiaries of Your Wishes. Let you family know what you’re planning to do with your estate to avoid hurt feelings and fighting after you’re gone. That way, there will be no surprises. You do not need to spell out all the financial details. However, you should provide a general summary of what you anticipate, as well as details about who will be the trustees and executors of your estate.

When planning your estate plan strategy, paying for the services of a legal professional now can help you avoid problems in the future. Work with an experienced estate planning attorney.

Reference: Forbes (April 1, 2020) “How To Create An Estate Planning Blueprint”

 

What Do I Need to Know about a Family Trust?

A family trust is a trust you create to directly benefit your family members financially, explains Yahoo Finance in its article “What Is a Family Trust and How Do You Set One Up?”

The three parties involved in a trust arrangement are the grantor, the trustee and the beneficiaries. The grantor is the person who creates the trust and transfers her assets into it. The trustee manages the assets in the trust for the beneficiaries. The beneficiaries get some type of financial benefit from the trust. With a family trust, it’s just your family members who are beneficiaries.

This is a kind of living trust and can be revocable or irrevocable. It takes effect during your lifetime. A revocable trust can be changed or terminated at any time, but an irrevocable trust is permanent. With a revocable family trust, you can be your own trustee and name successor trustees to take control, in the event you become incapacitated or pass away. If it’s an irrevocable trust, you must designate another person to act as the trustee.

A family trust makes certain that your property is managed according to your instructions for your beneficiaries. You can add a condition that a child can’t use the money until they complete college or reach a certain age. You might also create a family trust if you have a child who needs specialized medical care.

A family trust can also be useful in estate planning if you want to avoid probate. Transferring the title of assets to a family trust means that they’re no longer subject to probate. You can also use an irrevocable family trust to protect assets from creditors if you’re sued.   Speak with an experienced estate planning attorney to make certain that this type of trust is right for you.

There are several types of trust options you can use in estate planning. Some of these trusts have extremely specific purposes, while others are more general. An estate planning attorney can help you compare different trust options to help you determine if a family trust is right for your estate plan.

Reference: Yahoo Finance (March 17, 2020) “What Is a Family Trust and How Do You Set One Up?”

 

What Do I Do If I’m Named Financial Power of Attorney?

A financial power of attorney (POA) is a document whereby the “principal” appoints a trusted someone known as the “attorney-in-fact” or “agent” to act on behalf of the principal only when the principal is incapacitated. It typically permits the attorney-in-fact to pay the principal’s bills, access his accounts, pay his taxes and buy and sell investments or even real estate depending on how well the document was prepared. In effect, the attorney-in-fact steps into the shoes of the principal and is able to act for him in all matters, as described in the POA document.

Kiplinger’s recent article entitled “What Are the Duties for Financial Powers of Attorney?” says these responsibilities may sound overwhelming and it’s only natural to feel this way initially. Let’s look at the steps to take to do this important job:

  1. Don’t panic but begin reading. Review the POA document and determine what the principal has given you power to do on his behalf. A POA will typically include information addressed to the agent that explains the legal duties he or she owes to the principal. It would be wise to contact the estate planning attorney who prepared the document. Chances are the attorney knows more about the individuals assets than you do.
  2. See what you have to handle for the principal. Create a list of the principal’s assets and liabilities. If the principle is organized, it’ll be easy. If not, you will need to find their brokerage and bank accounts, 401(k)s/IRAs/403(b)s, the mortgage, taxes, insurance and other bills (utilities, phone, cable and internet).
  3. Protect the principal’s property. Be sure the principal’s home is secure and make a video inventory of the home. If it looks like your principal will be incapacitated for an extended period of time, you may cancel the phone and newspaper subscriptions. You may need to change the locks on the principal’s home. If you have control of the principal’s investments and their incapacitation may continue for a long time, review their brokerage statements for high-risk positions that you don’t understand, like options, puts and calls, or commodities. Get advice on liquidating positions you don’t have the know-how to handle.
  4. Pay all bills, as necessary. Look at your principal’s bills and credit card statements for potential fraud. Perhaps you should suspend their credit cards that you won’t be using on the principal’s behalf. Note that they may have bills automatically paid by credit card and plan accordingly.
  5. Pay the taxes. Many powers of attorney give the agent the power to pay the principal’s taxes. If so, you’ll be responsible for filing and paying taxes during the principal’s lifetime. If the principal passes away, the executor of the principal’s last will is responsible for preparing any final taxes.
  6. Keep meticulous records. Track every expenditure you make and every action you take on the principal’s behalf. You’ll be asked to demonstrate that you have upheld your duties and acted in the principal’s best interests. It will also be important for you to receive reimbursement for expenses, and (if the power of attorney provides for it) the time you spent acting as agent.

    Chances are, you will need to contact the principal’s estate planning attorney to discuss the situation at hand to make sure everything is in order as you must always act in the principal’s best interest.

Reference: Kiplinger (April 22, 2020) “What Are the Duties for Financial Powers of Attorney?”

 

How Do I Start My Estate Plan?

The decision to start an estate plan is critical for all families but it can also be a challenge. In many cases, the greatest impediment families face initially is discussing death, especially the deaths of family members. Forbes’ recent article entitled “Estate Planning 101: Tackling Your Estate Plan” suggests several life events that will trigger the need to start an estate plan for your family or business.

The article also reminds us that it’s important to think about what might happen to you or someone in your family, in the event of a substantial life change. Here are some life events that can necessitate the need for an estate plan and a visit with your attorney:

  • A marriage;
  • The birth or adoption of a child or grandchild
  • The start of a new business
  • A significant increase in net worth
  • Changes in the tax laws
  • The death of a spouse or family member
  • Receiving an inheritance
  • A divorce
  • The sale of a business or property

There is no exact standard for when you should start creating your estate plan but if any of these events happen to you or your family it would be wise to start the conversation. While planning your estate may feel overwhelming, laborious, or expensive, not having a plan can be financially devastating, and can add stress to the situation.

Estate planning is a continuous process that should be tracked and reviewed annually. Let’s look at the steps for creating an estate plan:

Understand the Basics. First, learn the basics of estate planning and understand how the gift and estate tax laws may have an effect on your assets. Contact an experienced estate planning attorney. It is not wise to prepare your documents from an online source as those forms are generic and not specific to the state you live in.

Identify Your Objectives. Map out your objectives and select possible guardians, executors, trustees, heirs and other details with your attorney. You should also draft a personal financial statement, detailing a breakdown of your assets and liabilities.

Look at Your Insurance. Third, you should review what you have for life insurance to be certain that it’s aligned with and structured appropriately for your objectives. You may need to look into life insurance as a way to protect your family and income, if you haven’t done so already.

Finalize the Design Of Your Estate Plan. Finalize your estate planning design with the help of your estate planning attorney. Review your fiduciaries and your will, powers of attorney, trusts, healthcare proxy and a living will.

Sign your Documents. Next, you need to sign the documents.

Visit Your Plan Periodically. Finally, review your plan every few years or when there is a life event in your family.

Now that you have the basics under your belt, it should feel easier to address this important task.

Reference: Forbes (March 11, 2020) “Estate Planning 101: Tackling Your Estate Plan”

 

Steps to Take When a Loved One Dies

This year, more families than usual are finding themselves grappling with the challenge of managing the affairs of a loved one who has died. Handling these tasks while mourning is hard, and often families do not have time to prepare, says the article “How to manage a loved one’s finances after they die” from Business Insider. The following are steps to take when a loved one dies and help you get through this difficult time.

Someone has to be in charge. If there is a will, there should be a person named who is responsible for administering the estate usually called the executor or personal representative. If there is no will, it will be best if one person has the necessary skills to take the lead.

When one member of a married couple dies, the surviving spouse is the usual choice. Otherwise, a family member who lives closest to the deceased is the next best choice. That person will need to get documents from the local court and take care of the residence until it is sold. Being physically nearby can make many tasks easier.

It is always better if these decisions are made before the person dies. Wills should be kept up to date, as should power of attorney documents, trusts and advance directives. When naming an executor or trustee, let them know what you are asking of them. For instance, don’t name someone who hates pets and children to be your children’s guardian or be responsible for your beloved dogs when you die.

Don’t delay. Grief is a powerful emotion, especially if the death was unexpected. It may be hard to get through the regular tasks of your day never mind the additional work of managing an estate. However, there are risks to delaying, including becoming a target of scammers.

Get more death certificates than seems necessary. Make your life easier by getting at least a dozen certified copies, so you don’t have to keep going back to the source. Banks, brokerage houses, phone companies, utilities, credit card companies, etc., will all want to see the death certificate. While there are instances where a copy will be accepted in many cases you will need an original with a raised seal. In fact, in some states it is a crime to photocopy a death certificate.

Who to notify? The first call needs to be to the Social Security Administration. You may also want to send an email. If Social Security benefits continue to be paid, returning the money can turn into a time-consuming ordeal. If there are any other recurring payments, like VA benefits or a pension, those institutions need to be notified. The same is true when it comes to insurance companies, banks and credit card companies. Fraud on the credit cards of the deceased is quite common. When a notice of death is published, criminals look for the person’s credit card and Social Security numbers on the dark web. Act fast to prevent fraud.

Protect the physical property. Secure the home right away. Are there plants to be watered or pets that need care? Take pictures, create an inventory and consider changing locks. Take any valuables out of the house and place in a secure location. If the house is going to be empty, make sure to take care of the property to avoid any deterioration.

Paying the bills. Depending on the person’s level of organization, you’ll have to identify where the money is and if anything is being paid automatically. Old tax returns can be helpful to identify income sources. Figure out what accounts need payment, like utilities.

Some accounts are distributed directly to beneficiaries, like transfer-on-death accounts like 401(k)s, IRAs and life insurance policies. Joint bank accounts and real property held in joint tenancy will pass directly to the joint owner. The executor’s role is to inform the institutions of the death, but not to distribute funds.

File tax returns. You’ll have to do the final taxes due on April 15 of the year after death. If taxes weren’t filed for any prior years, the executor has to do those as well.

Consider getting help. An estate planning lawyer can help with the administration of an estate, if it becomes overwhelming. Regardless of who handles this process, expect the tasks to take anywhere from six months to two years, depending on the complexity of the estate.

Reference: Business Insider (May 2, 2020) “How to manage a loved one’s finances after they die”

 

When Should I Update My Estate Plan?

Forbes’ recent article entitled “Do You Need A Trust? 8 Important Goals A Trust Can Help You Achieve” discusses eight ways a trust can help you achieve specific legacy planning goals. The first step is to meet with an experienced estate planning attorney and ask when you should update your estate plan.

Everybody needs a will but not everyone requires a trust. A trust provides greater flexibility and control over how your property and assets are distributed. Many people create a trust to avoid probate. As a result, it’s faster and easier for your named trustee(s) to distribute your assets to your heirs. There are a many different types of trusts with advantages and disadvantages. Talk about what will be best for you with your estate planning attorney.

  1. No probate. This process can take months or more to complete, and it can be very expensive. A trust is designed to settle your estate in a timely and relatively inexpensive manner.
  2. Privacy and confidentiality. Probate is public so your will and other private financial and business info is available to everyone. However, a trust maintains privacy and confidentiality.
  3. Protection for beneficiaries. A trust can shield beneficiaries from lawsuits, creditors, or divorce. A trust can also protect the interests of a minor, by including direction for when distributions are made.
  4. Provide for children with special needs. This type of trust provides for the health care and personal needs of a minor child or adult who has special needs and won’t impact their eligibility for Medicaid benefits.
  5. Flexibility. As the creator of the trust, you determine the terms of the trust, and can put restrictions on how trust assets are managed. For instance, the trust could state that assets may only be used by the beneficiary to purchase a home or to pay medical bills but may not be distributed directly to the beneficiary.
  6. Preserve family wealth. Divorce and remarriage can result in assets that were supposed to stay in the family wind up leaving with the ex-spouse. A trust can make certain that your estate is preserved for grandchildren.
  7. Family values. A trust can be a wonderful way to pass down family values concerning education, home ownership, land conservation, community service, religious beliefs and other topics.
  8. Lessening family conflict. Challenging a trust is difficult and costly. Having a trust in place that clearly articulates your wishes for your family reduces the potential for misunderstanding.

Whether you have a trust in place or are thinking about creating one, it’s important to meet regularly with your estate planning attorney to be certain your strategy and estate planning documents reflect any new state and federal tax laws, as well as any changes in your goals and circumstances.

Reference: Forbes (Feb. 24, 2020) “Do You Need A Trust? 8 Important Goals A Trust Can Help You Achieve”

 

Do I Need an Estate Plan with a New Child in the Family?

When a child is born or adopted, the parents are excited to think about what lies ahead. However, in addition to all the other new-parent tasks on the list, parents must also address a more depressing task, making an estate plan with a new child in the family.  When a child comes into the picture, it’s important for new parents to take the responsible step of making a plan, says Motley Fool’s recent article entitled “As a New Parent, I Took These 3 Estate Planning Steps.”

Life insurance. To be certain that there’s money available for your child’s care and to fund a college education, parents can buy life insurance. You can purchase a term life insurance policy that’s less expensive than a whole-life policy and you’ll only need the coverage until the child is grown.

Create a will. A will does more than just let you direct who should inherit if you die. It gives you control over what happens to the money you leave to your child. If you were to pass and he wasn’t yet an adult, someone would need to manage the money left to him or her. If you don’t have a will, the court may name a guardian for the funds, and the child might inherit with no strings attached at 18. How many 18-year-olds are capable of managing money that’s designed to help them in the future?

Speak to an experienced estate planning lawyer to get help making sure your will is valid and that you’re taking a smart approach to protecting your child’s inheritance.

Designate a guardian. If you don’t name an individual to serve as your child’s guardian, a custody fight could happen. As a result, a judge may decide who will raise your children. Be sure that you name someone so your child is cared for by people you’ve selected not someone a judge assigns. Have your attorney make provisions in your will to name a guardian, in case something should happen. This is one step as a new parent that’s critical. Be sure to speak with whomever you’re asking to be your child’s guardian and make sure he or she is okay with raising your children if you can’t.

Estate planning may not be exciting but it’s essential for parents.  Contact a qualified estate planning attorney to create a complete estate plan to help your new family.

Reference: Motley Fool (Feb. 23, 2020) “As a New Parent, I Took These 3 Estate Planning Steps”

 

Should I Create a Trust?

Just 40% of adults in the United States have any kind of estate planning documents in place. That leaves 60% of adults who don’t have their property and other assets protected in the event of death. Without planning, their family and loved ones will have trouble trying to determine what to do next. Frequently, when thinking of estate planning, we think of a will. However, there are other options. Creating a living trust may be a better option for you and your family, advises kake.com’s recent article entitled “What Are the Advantages of Creating a Living Trust for My Family?”

The article provides some of the major benefits of a living trust.

It can save your family money. When a person with a living trust passes, the trustee takes possession and control over the trust property, according to the instructions provided by the grantor. It can be less expensive, because there are no fees that may be incurred in probate. Everything also moves faster.

Protection of your privacy. A living trust is much more private because it doesn’t have to go through the probate court and won’t become public record. In contrast, a will becomes public record that anyone can request to view as a court record.

A trust is for more than death. A living trust can be invoked at other times before death. The creator can add specific stipulations and conditions to the living trust to designate when the trustee can take over the management of property and finances.

More difficult to challenge. A will can be contested in court if a family member thinks that she is entitled to more of your assets than was outlined in the will. A judge can rule that your will isn’t valid and the contesting family member can possibly get more than you intended. With a living trust, there is much less chance that this will happen.

Creating a living trust takes legal expertise so work with an experienced estate planning attorney. You can then discuss an entire estate planning strategy.

Reference: kake.com (April 20, 2020) “What Are the Advantages of Creating a Living Trust for My Family?”

 

What if I Don’t Have a Will in the Pandemic?

Forbes’ recent article entitled “The Dangers Of Dying Without A Will” reminds us that drafting a will allows you determine who will inherit your assets when you die and, if you have young children, who will raise them if you die and their other parent is deceased, and what if you don’t have a will during the Pandemic?  If you pass away without a will, the state will make these very important decisions on your behalf and they may end up being choices you’d never make if you were still around.

Those choices may not reflect your wishes, might create conflicts within your family and cause economic hardships for your loved ones. In addition, none of your assets will go to your favorite charities.

One more thing: no will means potential legal expenses that your estate must pay. Look at these examples of the issues dying without a will may create:

  • If you’re married and have children from a prior relationship, most of your estate may go to the children, leaving your current spouse in a financial hardship. He or she will need to deal with stepchildren (or your former spouse, if your children are minors) just to receive some of your assets.
  • If you’re single and die without a will, your assets might end up going first to your parents or your siblings, if your parents pass before you. You may have wanted your estate to go to others instead.
  • If you die and had an unmarried partner, no will may well leave him or her in a tough financial position, especially if they were financially dependent on you. State laws typically don’t recognize unmarried partners, so he or she could get evicted from the home the two of you shared, if you were the sole owner.

When you do write your will, work with an experienced attorney to be certain that it’s legally valid in your state. There’s no guarantee that the one you prepare without a lawyer will satisfy that criteria. If the probate court doesn’t recognize your will, it will be as though you died without one.

An experienced estate planning attorney will help you make sure your will meets your state’s requirements. This will reduce any potential fighting within your family and prevent them from challenging your will’s validity in court.

Life is now extremely fragile with COVID-19. The consequences of dying without a will have never been more profound. Talk to an estate planning attorney today!

Reference: Forbes (April 20, 2020) “The Dangers Of Dying Without A Will”

 

What Should I Know about Guardianship?

In a perfect world, a child would be raised by its parents. However, this isn’t always possible, and legally enforceable decisions must sometimes be made to name the person who is best positioned to look after a child. Guardianship rules are very specific.  Guardianship is generally only needed when a person is incapable—whether legally or practically—of looking after their own affairs, says VENTS Magazine in the article “Legal Guardianship 101: What You Need to Know.”

Courts have the power to appoint guardians for adults and children. This is usually a person who is unable to make decisions for themselves.  It may be a disabled person, and guardians are appointed for children when parents consent to it, when their parental rights are removed by a court, or when both parents are dead or permanently incapacitated.

Guardians have duties as to both the protected person and their estate. The duties to the person include providing necessities, education and appropriate medical treatment, where necessary. As far as the estate of the protected person, the duties are to manage any funds properly and to spend them pursuant to the protected person’s needs. Guardians must prepare an inventory of assets within 60 days of their appointment to the role.

Custody is only granted for children. When appointed, a custodian is given parental rights over the child. Guardianship does not bestow these rights.  A guardian is appointed to take care of a protected person and to safeguard their estate. Biological parents, if alive, keep their parental rights over the child.

To become a guardian you must file a petition with the court. The documents need to be prepared correctly and a medical certificate must also be submitted. There will be a hearing on your application and must present proof (from a doctor, for example) that guardianship is necessary under the circumstances.

Guardianship litigation can be stressful,  so engage an experienced estate planning attorney to help you.

Reference: VENTS Magazine (April 13, 2020) “Legal Guardianship 101: What You Need to Know”