What Are the Six Most Frequent Estate Planning Mistakes?

it is a grim topic, but it is an important one. Without a legal will in place, your loved ones may spend years stuck in court proceedings and spend a lot in legal fees to settle your estate.

The San Diego Tribune writes in its recent article, 6 estate-planning mistakes to avoid, that without a plan, everything is more stressful and expensive. Let’s look at the top six estate planning mistakes that people need to avoid:

No Plan. Regardless of your age or financial status, it’s critical to have a basic estate plan. This includes crafting powers of attorney for both healthcare and finances and a living will.

No Discussion. Once you create your plan, tell your family. Those you’ve named to take care of you, need to know what you’ve decided and where to find your plan.

Focusing Only on Taxes. Estate planning can be much more than just about tax avoidance. There are many other reasons to create an estate plan that have nothing to do with taxes, like charitable giving, special needs planning for a family member, succession planning in the event of incapacity and planning for children of a prior marriage, to name just a few.

Leaving Assets Directly to Children. If you leave assets directly to your children or grandchildren under age 18, it can cause unintended custodian or guardianship issues. Minors can’t own legal property, so a guardian will be appointed by the court to manage the property for them, until they reach age 18. If you don’t name a guardian, the court will appoint one for you and that person may have very different ideas about how the account should be managed and invested.

Making Mistakes with Ownership and Property Titles. With many blended families, you may want to preserve assets from an inheritance as your own separate property or from a prior marriage for your children. There are many tax consequences and control issues in blended families about which you may not be aware.

Messing Up Your Trust. Many people don’t properly fund or update their trusts. An unfunded trust doesn’t do anyone any good. Assets that aren’t titled in the name of the trust don’t avoid probate.

Finally, be sure to review your estate plan regularly, and make an appointment with a local, experienced estate planning attorney  as your circumstances change.

Reference: San Diego Tribune (April 18, 2019) “6 estate-planning mistakes to avoid”

 

What Are the Five “Must Have” Estate Planning Documents?

WTHR 13’s recent article, “The 5 legal documents every adult should have” lists the five key documents involved in estate planning.

  1. General Durable Power of Attorney. This document states who you want to make decisions, if you’re unable to do so for yourself. Without it, your family may have to petition the courts to become your legal guardian, which can be time consuming and expensive. A power of attorney allows the person whom you select, to pay your mortgage or rent and your bills.
  2. Health Care Power of Attorney. This document plans for the situation, if you are unable to make your own health care decisions. You name someone you trust, like family members or friends, to do this on your behalf.
  3. Will. This says that when you pass away, here’s what I want to happen. A will states who will get your assets after your death. If you don’t have a valid will in place, the state laws of intestacy will govern what will happen to your estate—which may not be what you want.
  4. Living Will. This is the document in which you state your instructions for end-of-life care, such as life support. This document is used to make certain that your family and physicians know what you want your end-of-life care to be. A living will is much different than a will.
  5. Revocable Living Trust. This document can be important, if you’re a parent with young children and would like your assets passed down properly to your children, if you die. Typically, if children are under 18 or 21, they’re legally minors and can’t receive assets. A trust can help coordinate their receiving your property.

An experienced estate planning attorney can help you with the creation of these documents, while creating an overall plan so that your wishes are followed, your legacy is protected and your family is secure.

Reference: WTHR 13 (April 17, 2019) “The 5 legal documents every adult should have”

 

Why Are Wills So Important?

Drafting a last will and testament is an important part of estate planning. However, even with the critical importance of having a will, a recent AARP survey found that 20% of Americans over the age of 45 don’t have one.

Detailing your wishes helps to eliminate unnecessary work and potential stress and anxiety, when a loved one dies. Wills let your heirs act with the decedent’s wishes in mind, and a will can make certain that assets and possessions wind up in the right hands.

The Oakdale Leader’s recent article, “Things People Should Know About Creating Wills” says that when you meet with an experienced estate planning attorney, he or she will discuss the following topics with you:

Assets: Create a list of known assets and determine which assets are covered by your will and which are to be passed through joint tenancy, beneficiary designation, or a living trust. For instance, life insurance policies or retirement plan proceeds will be distributed directly to the named beneficiaries. A will also can cover other assets, such as photographs, personal items, autos and jewelry.

Guardianship: Parents’ wills should include a clause that states who they want to become guardians of their minor children.

Pets: Some people use their will to state the guardianship for their pets and to leave money or property to help care for them. However, it is important to remember that pets don’t have the legal capacity to own property, so don’t give money directly to pets in your will. In some states, you can establish a pet trust.

Funeral directions: Probate won’t occur until after the funeral, so funeral wishes in a will often go unnoticed. You can let your executor know your wishes in a separate document.

Executor: An executor is a trusted person who will carry out the terms of your will. He or she should be willing to serve and be capable of executing the will.

People who die without a valid will become intestate, which means the estate will be settled based on the laws of where that person lived. The court will appoint an administrator to transfer property. However, the administrator is bound by law and may make decisions that go against the decedent’s wishes. To avoid this, make sure you have a valid will and other estate planning documents.

Reference: Oakdale (CA) Leader (March 27, 2019) “Things People Should Know About Creating Wills”

 

As a New Parent, Have You Updated (or Created) Your Estate Plan?

You just had a baby. Now you’re sleep-deprived, overwhelmed, and frazzled. Having a child dramatically changes one’s legacy plan and makes having a plan all the more necessary, says ThinkAdvisor’s recent article, “5 Legacy Planning Basics for New Parents.”

Take time to talk through two high-priority items. Create a staggered checklist—starting with today—and set attainable dates to complete the rest of the tasks. Here are five things to put on that list:

  1. Will. This gives the probate court your instructions on who will care for your children, if something happens to both you and your spouse. A will also should name a guardian to be responsible for the children. Parents also should think about how they want to share their personal belongings and financial assets. Without a will, the state decides what goes to whom. Lastly, a will must name an executor.
  2. Beneficiaries. Review your beneficiary designations when you who will care for your children because you don’t want your will and designations (on life insurance policies and investments) telling two different stories. If there’s an issue, the beneficiary designation overrides the will.
  3. Trust. Created by an experienced estate planning attorney, a trust has some excellent benefits, particularly if you have young children. Everything in a trust is shielded from probate court, including property. This avoids court fees and hassle. A trust also provides some flexibility and customization to your plan. You can instruct that your children get a sum of money at 18, 25 or 30, and you can say that the money is for school, among other conditions. The trustee will distribute funds, according to your instructions.
  4. Power of Attorney and Health Care Proxy. These are two separate documents, but they’re both used in the event of incapacitation. Their power of attorney and health care proxy designees can make important financial and medical decisions, when you’re incapable of doing so.
  5. Life Insurance. Most people don’t think about purchasing life insurance, until they have children. Therefore, if you haven’t thought about it, you’re not alone. If you are among the few who bought a policy pre-child, consider increasing the amount so your child is covered, if something should happen.

Reference: ThinkAdvisor (March 7, 2019) “5 Legacy Planning Basics for New Parents”

 

Why Do I Need A Will?

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

When Should I Review My Estate Plan?

When a person hits the age of 18, they should at least have powers of attorney to designate who will make their healthcare decisions and handle their finances, in the event of any incapacity. When a person starts to accumulate assets and have children, it’s critical to have an estate plan in place.

Bankrate’s recent article, “Estate planning triggers: When to re-evaluate your estate planning strategy,” says the risk of not having a current estate plan and will that state your wishes is significant. When  people fail to put any plan into place, it leads to confusion, chaos and unintended consequences. Use this list of important life events as triggers to remind you to discuss your current situation with a trusted attorney.

Getting married. You and your future spouse probably have had some financial conversations before getting engaged. However, if you haven’t, once wedding plans are set, it’s vital to discuss all aspects of each partner’s financial situation and the desired distribution of assets. You should decide whether to sign a prenuptial agreement, the totals of your separate and joint assets and who you want inherit those assets should on or both spouses pass on. In light of these factors and the prenuptial agreement, an estate plan that satisfies both parties must be created.

Starting a family. The decision to have a child comes with the responsibility of planning for that child’s care. You and your partner will want to determine the amount of your assets you want to pass to your children in the case of a death, at what age your children will inherit those assets and name a legal guardian.

Divorce. If a couple decides to divorce, it’s important to update their separate estates. If you fail to change the beneficiary designations for a trust or life insurance policy after getting divorced, your ex-spouse may receive the life insurance that was supposed to be paid out to the trust to provide liquidity to pay off debts and administration expenses.

Retirement. Beneficiaries are named when setting up a 401k or Roth IRA account. If you started the account years ago, the beneficiaries may be out-of-date. Retirees should look at their total retirement assets and update their beneficiaries to reflect their current relationship and financial circumstances.

Other life events. Any significant change in assets, a move to another state, the death or disability of a person named in your estate plan, a change in tax laws, a disability of a beneficiary that arises after the initial plan is executed, and/or the birth, adoption, or death of a child are all important life events that should trigger a revision of your estate plan.

Reference: Bankrate (March 4, 2019) “Estate planning triggers: When to re-evaluate your estate planning strategy”