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”

 

A Good Move to Make during the Pandemic

While most of those infected with COVID-19 will recover, about 20% need hospitalization and in the absence of widely approved treatment those who are placed in the ICU can be in grave danger.  Thousands of deaths from the coronavirus is making many of us look at death more seriously than we would otherwise. With our major health crisis, it’s not really the time to delay creating a will if you don’t have one already. Many Americans are looking to create a will and making a will is a good move to make during the Pandemic. If you don’t have this important document in place, it’s critical that you create one immediately — just in case.

Motley Fool’s recent article entitled “The 1 Move You Must Make During the COVID-19 Crisis” says that about 37% of Americans have a will. Without one, you’ll risk having little to no say over what happens to your assets in the event of your passing.

It’s not uncommon for people to say things like, “I’m not rich and have very little money to my name, so who cares who gets it after I pass?” This is not so. Even if you only have a modest amount of assets, it’s wise to make out a will, so your wishes are carried out.  If you have minor children, you need to designate a guardian to care for them, if you should die and they don’t have another living parent. This isn’t a question you want to leave unanswered and you don’t want to leave your family members to fight over who will take on the assume the responsibility of taking in your children.

Create a will with the help of an estate planning attorney. If you create one online, you risk missing nuances that may be important in the event of your passing. If your estate is somewhat complex, it’s worth the money to use a legal expert.  Another estate-planning document to create includes a financial power of attorney which designates someone to make financial decisions on your behalf, if you can’t.

A healthcare proxy is a person who can make medical decisions on your behalf. Ask your estate planning attorney to help you determine which documents will benefit you. This document could give you and your loved ones peace of mind, when comfort goes a long way.

Reference: Motley Fool (April 6, 2020) “The 1 Move You Must Make During the COVID-19 Crisis”

 

Why Would I Need a Power of Attorney?

Recently Heard’s article entitled “6 Reasons to Choose a Power of Attorney” provides us with several reasons why you want to have one drafted.

  1. Choose Who Can Make the Decisions on Your Behalf. If you have a signed a power of attorney and later you become incapacitated and are unable to make decisions, the agent you named in your POA can step in on your behalf. Without a power of attorney, loved ones will need to go to court to request a conservatorship or guardianship and that can be expensive.
  2. Guardianship Not Needed. If you fail to sign a comprehensive power of attorney before you become incapacitated, you and your family have few options.

Someone will have to petition the court to appoint a guardian or a conservator. The judge will decide who will manage your financial health affairs. The court will also monitor the situation. This can be expensive, and you’ll have no say regarding who will be chosen to serve.

  1. Lets You Discuss Your Wishes. An important decision is who your agent will be. When a parent or loved one decides to sign a power of attorney, it offers the chance to discuss the wishes and the expectation with the family and the person who’s named as an agent in a power of attorney.
  2. Comprehensive Power of Attorney is Preferred. When you age your needs change. Your POA should reflect it.
  3. Your Intent is Clear. If you become incapacitated, relatives may need to go to court to determine your intent. However, a well-drafted power of attorney provides a healthcare directive, which can eliminate the need for the family members to have arguments or disagree over your wishes.
  4. Avoid Delays. With a comprehensive power of attorney, all the powers required to do effective asset protection planning are included. Note: if a power of attorney doesn’t include the specific power, it can reduce the ability of the agent and may lead to significant setbacks.

Want to write a power of attorney? Contact a qualified estate planning attorney.

Reference: Recently Heard (Jan. 30, 2020) “6 Reasons to Choose a Power of Attorney”

 

If I’m 35, Do I Need a Will?

Estate planning is a crucial process for everyone, no matter what assets you have now. If you want your family to be able to deal with your affairs, debts included, drafting an estate plan is critical, says Wealth Advisor’s recent article entitled “Estate planning for those 40 and under.”

If you have young children, or other dependents, planning is vitally important. The less you have, the more important your plan is, so it can provide as long as possible and in the best way for those most important to you. You can’t afford to make a mistake.

Talk to your family about various “what if” situations. It is important that you’ve discussed your wishes with your family and that you’ve considered the many contingencies that can happen, like a serious illness or injury, incapacity, or death. This also gives you the chance to explain your rationale for making a larger gift to someone, rather than another or an equal division. This can be especially significant, if there’s a second marriage with children from different relationships and a wide range of ages. An open conversation can help avoid hard feelings later.

You should have the basic estate plan components, which include a will, a living will, advance directive, powers of attorney, and a designation of agent to control disposition of remains. These are all important components of an estate plan that should be created at the beginning of the planning process. A guardian should also be named for any minor children.

In addition, a life insurance policy can give your family the needed funds in the event of an untimely death and loss of income—especially for young parents. The loss of one or both spouses’ income can have a drastic impact.

Remember that your estate plan shouldn’t be a “one and done thing.” You need to review your estate plan every few years. This gives you the opportunity to make changes based on significant life events, tax law changes, the addition of more children, or their changing needs. You should also monitor your insurance policies and investments, because they dovetail into your estate plan and can fluctuate based on the economic environment.

When you draft these documents, you should work with a qualified estate planning attorney.

Reference: Wealth Advisor (Jan. 21, 2020) “Estate planning for those 40 and under”

 

A 2020 Checklist for an Estate Plan

The beginning of a new year is a perfect time for those who haven’t started the process of getting an estate plan started. For those who already have a plan in place, now is a great time to review these documents to make changes that will reflect the changes in one’s life or family dynamics, as well as changes to state and federal law.

Houston Business Journal’s recent article entitled “An estate planning checklist should be a top New Year’s resolution” says that by partnering with a trusted estate planning attorney, you can check off these four boxes on your list to be certain your current estate plan is optimized for the future.

  1. Compute your financial situation. No matter what your net worth is, nearly everyone has an estate that’s worth protecting. An estate plan formalizes an individual’s wishes and decreases the chances of family fighting and stress.
  2. Get your affairs in order. A will is the heart of the estate plan, and the document that designates beneficiaries beyond the property and accounts that already name them, like life insurance. A will details who gets what and can help simplify the probate process, when the will is administered after your death. Medical questions, provisions for incapacity and end-of-life decisions can also be memorialized in a living will and a medical power of attorney. A financial power of attorney also gives a trusted person the legal authority to act on your behalf, if you become incapacitated.
  3. Know the 2020 estate and gift tax exemptions. The exemption for 2020 is $11.58 million, an increase from $11.4 million in 2019. The exemption eliminates federal estate taxes on amounts under that limit gifted to family members during a person’s lifetime or left to them upon a person’s passing.
  4. Understand when the exemption may decrease. The exemption amount will go up each year until 2025. There was a bit of uncertainty about what would happen to someone who uses the $11.58 million exemption in 2020 and then dies in 2026—when the exemption reverts to the $5 million range. However, the IRS has issued final regulations that will protect individuals who take advantage of the exemption limits through 2025. Gifts will be sheltered by the increased exemption limits, when the gifts are actually made.

It’s a great idea to have a resolution every January to check in with your estate planning attorney to be certain that your plan is set for the year ahead.

Reference: Houston Business Journal (Jan. 1, 2020) “An estate planning checklist should be a top New Year’s resolution”

 

When Can Parent Legally Make an End-Of-Life Decision?

Twenty-one-year-old Damaire was brought to Erie County Medical Center in the early morning hours. Damaire’s father was told that the person found Gordon on the side of the road, wrapped in a blanket and dropped him off at the hospital. He was brain dead. He had no gunshot or stab wounds and there were no signs of blunt-force trauma.

“I thought I would be seeing my son hurt some type of way that was very bad,” said Gordon’s father Mister Sommerville. “But, when I got there I saw my son had no trauma…and they can’t explain to me why he’s lifeless.”

Sommerville was told by his son’s mother Regina Gordon-Sayles that their boy was brain-dead at the hospital.

WKBW’s recent article, “A man was found brain-dead, but neither parent could legally make an end-of-life decision” reports that Gordon-Sayles said that she was a single mother of five and said that Sommerville had not been involved in Damaire’s life. However, he became very involved when it came time to make a decision about his passing.  Damaire’s mother was set to remove her son off the respirator, but his father refused to consent. “I was so confused about why I needed another consent,” said Gordon-Sayles.

The problem is that neither parent could give legal consent to take their son off life support because Damaire hadn’t designated either parent as his health care proxy. Under Article 81 of the New York State Mental Hygiene Law, the matter would have to go to a judge who would start the process to appoint the best person to handle end-of-life decisions.

A medical power of attorney, also called an “Advance Directive” or “Health Care Proxy,” is a document that allows a person to provide someone with the authority to address health care decisions on their behalf, if they’re not able to do so themselves. You should contact an experienced estate planning attorney to prepare a Health Care Proxy.

Unfortunately, these situations occur more frequently than we would wish. Making a bad situation more heartbreaking is traumatic for the family.

The situation is a matter of liability for the hospital. Every person has the right to due process, when it comes to making decisions for themselves, even in death. However, if that person can’t make a decision for herself, a judge must intervene and appoint an appropriate party.

Damaire’s father didn’t like the care his son was getting at ECMC and wanted more of an investigation into why the young man was in a brain-dead state, when doctors found only marijuana in his system. Doctors told both parents that they were restricted in the type of drugs for which they could screen, without an autopsy.

Damaire’s case went before a judge to appoint a proxy. The judge decided to continue his investigation into the case and didn’t take any action for more than a week. Damaire’s heart stopped beating the next day. His mom said a friend of his told her the truth about what happened to him, days later.

“He got ahold of some fentanyl, and I don’t know if my baby was laced…I don’t know if he took it himself, but it had something to do with fentanyl.”

“I was told when it happened, my son went into attack mode, he dropped, and they put him on the porch because they didn’t want to be charged with it.”

Reference: WKBW (November 5, 2019) “A man was found brain-dead, but neither parent could legally make an end-of-life decision”

 

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.”

 

What Are The Essential Estate Planning Documents?

Forbes’ recent article, “Retirement, Estate Planning: Documents You Should Have,” says that in this time of life, while emotions are running high, it’s critical to be make sure your financial and legal matters are in order.

Putting together a well thought out financial plan and creating an estate plan lets you be certain that personal, financial, and health wishes will be carried out the way you want. Managing your estate, regardless of the size, starts with working with an experienced estate planning attorney who will help give you greater control, privacy and security of your legacy. Here are the documents you need to get started:

Will. This is a legal document that is used to detail your wishes regarding the distribution of your assets and property, as well as the care of any minor children, by naming a guardian in the event your pass away while they’re still young.

Durable Power of Attorney. This is a written authorization that gives a trusted family or friend the authority to act on your behalf in business, legal, and financial matters, if you’re unable to act for yourself due to a mental or physical disability. The requirements are different in each state, so ask your attorney about the right form and language to include.

Health Care Proxy. This is also known as a living will. It is another legal document that states your health care preferences in case you become incapacitated or unable to speak for yourself. It also allows you to say how you’d like your end-of-life care to be handled.

Information Document. Another important part of your estate plan is a document that contains bank account information, passwords, insurance policies, contact information for attorneys, financial planners and any other significant data regarding your personal estate and final wishes. It provides important information to family in the event of an emergency.

Plan for the future, by making certain that your loved ones know and are able to carry out your final wishes.

Reference: Forbes (August 28, 2019) “Retirement, Estate Planning: Documents You Should Have”

 

When Do I Need a Power of Attorney?

Without a valid Durable Power of Attorney, the answer really depends on what documents need to be signed.

A Durable Power of Attorney is a legal document signed by the “Principal,” granting the authority to another individual to make decisions on the Principal’s behalf. This document is only in effect during the lifetime of the Principal.

nj.com’s recent article on this topic asks “Who can sign for an incapacitated person if there’s no power of attorney?” The article noted that to have the authority to conduct financial transactions concerning the assets solely owned by the incapacitated person who failed to execute a power of attorney, a Guardian will have to be appointed by the court.

A Guardianship is a legal relationship established by the court in which an individual is given legal authority over another when that person is unable to make safe and sound decisions regarding his or her person or property.

If it’s not an emergency, a guardian also will need to be appointed to make medical decisions for an incapacitated person who hasn’t signed a health care proxy. This is a legal document that gives an agent the authority to make health care decisions for an incapacitated person. It will take effect if the person is incapacitated or unable to communicate. The agent will make decisions that reflect the wishes of the incapacitated individual.

Speak with an experienced estate planning attorney if you believe you need a Durable Power of Attorney prepared before you become incapacitated.

Reference: nj.com (July 22, 2019) “Who can sign for an incapacitated person if there’s no power of attorney?”

 

How Can Dads Make Sure Their Families are Protected?

Forbes’ recent article, “How Fathers Can Make Sure Their Families Are Financially Protected” suggests that fathers consider taking the following steps to ensure their families are protected. The same advice applies to mothers too.

Do you have enough life insurance? Be sure you’re adequately insured, so your family won’t struggle to pay the bills without your income. Many employees only have enough life insurance from work to cover a year’s worth of salary, which may be enough for some families. However, if your spouse can’t make the mortgage payment on their own, and if they would be unwilling or unable to sell the home, you might want to at least make sure you have enough life insurance to pay off the mortgage. Once you know how much you need, buy a low-cost term policy for the maximum length of time you might need the coverage.

Are your beneficiaries updated on retirement accounts, annuities and life insurance policies? This is an often overlooked issue. An outdated beneficiary designation could result in your ex-spouse inheriting most of your assets, your latest child being disinherited, or your family having to pay higher taxes and probate fees than is necessary.

Is your will drafted?  You need a will to name a guardian for your minor children in most states. It’s a good idea to have an experienced estate planning attorney  help you.

Are you organized? Keep a record of where everything and everyone is. You can draft an “In Case of Emergency” folder that has copies of your will, revocable trust, life insurance policy and a summary of brokerage and bank accounts. Let your family know where to find it. You should also share your passwords to your digital accounts.

As a parent, you have an obligation to care for the financial well-being of your family. Part of this is making sure they’ll be protected, even if you’re not around.

Reference: Forbes (June 16, 2019) “How Fathers Can Make Sure Their Families Are Financially Protected”