What are the Biggest Estate Planning Errors to Avoid?

Nobody likes to plan for events like aging, incapacity, or death. However, failing to do so can cause families burdens and grief, thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours.

Fox Business’ recent article, “Here are the top estate planning mistakes to avoid,” says that planning for life’s unexpected events is critical. However, it can often be a hard process to navigate. Let’s look at the top estate planning mistakes to avoid, according to industry experts:

  1. Failing to sign a will (or one that can be located). The biggest mistake is simply not having a will. Estate planning is critically important to protect you, your family and your hard-earned assets—during your lifetime, in the event of your incapacity, and upon your death. We all need estate planning, no matter the amount of assets you have. In addition to having a will it needs to be findable. The Wall Street Journal says that the biggest estate planning error is simply losing a will. Make sure your family has access to your estate planning documents and you name the estate planning attorney who prepared the documents for you. The attorney may have more information on your loved one that you think.
  2. Failing to name and update beneficiaries. An asset with a beneficiary designation supersedes any terms in a will. Review your 401(k), IRA, life insurance, and any other accounts with beneficiaries after any significant life event. If you don’t have the proper beneficiary designations, income tax on retirement accounts may have to be paid sooner. This may lead to increased income tax liability and the designation of a beneficiary on a life insurance policy can affect whether the proceeds are subject to creditors’ claims.

There’s another mistake that impacts people with minor children which is naming a guardian for minor children and then naming that person as beneficiary of their life insurance instead of leaving it to a trust for the child. A minor child can’t receive that money. It also exposes the money to the beneficiary’s creditors and spouse.

  1. Failing to consider powers of attorney for adult children. When your children reach age 18, they are adults in the eyes of the law. If something unfortunate happens to them, you may be left without any say in their treatment. In the event that an 18-year-old becomes ill or has an accident, a hospital won’t consult with their parents if a power of attorney for health care isn’t in place. Unless a power of attorney for property is signed, a parent may not be able to take care of bills, make investment decisions and pay taxes without the child’s signature. This could create an issue when your child is in college—especially if he or she is attending school abroad. It is very important that when your child turns 18 that you have powers of attorney put into place. Contact an experienced estate planning attorney and get a power of attorney prepared.

Reference: Fox Business (October 15, 2019) “Here are the top estate planning mistakes to avoid”

 

Why A Health Care Power of Attorney Makes Sense

Having a Health Care Power of Attorney (Health Care Proxy) in place before it is needed, is one of the best ideas of estate planning, along with having a Durable Power of Attorney in place before it is needed. Why? This is because taking a pro-active approach to both of these documents means that when the unexpected occurs and that is exactly how things occur—unexpectedly—the person or persons you have named for these important roles will be able to step in quickly and made decisions.

Time is often of the essence, when these documents are needed.

According to the article “Medical guardianship versus power of attorney” from The News Enterprise, a health care power of attorney or health care proxy is a document that grants another person the power to make medical decisions for you, when you no longer have the ability to make those decisions for yourself. It is known by a few other names, depending on the state where you live: a medical power of attorney or a health care surrogate.

It needs to have HIPAA-compliant language, which will allow the person you name the ability to review medical information and discuss protected health information with your health care providers.

A health care power of attorney may also include language for an advance medical directive which gives instructions for end-of-life decisions. This is often called a “living will,” and is your legal right to reject medical treatment, decisions about feeding tubes and the number of doctors required to determine the probability of recovery and pain management.

A health care power of attorney does not generally empower another person to make decisions until you are unable to do so. Unlike a general durable power of attorney which permits another person to make financial or business decisions with you while you are living, as long as you are able to understand your medical situation, you are still in charge of your medical decisions.

A guardianship is completely different from these documents. A guardian may only be appointed if a judge or jury finds you wholly or partially disabled in such a way that you cannot manage your own finances or your health. The appointment of a guardian is a big deal. Once someone has been appointed your guardian, you do not have any legal right to make decisions for yourself.  A court will also appoint a legal fiduciary, who will make your financial decisions.

There are record-keeping requirements with a guardianship that do not exist for a power of attorney. The court-appointed representative is responsible for reporting to the court any actions that they have taken on your behalf.

To have power of attorney documents executed, the person must be capable of understanding what they are signing. This means that someone receiving a diagnosis of dementia needs to have these documents prepared as soon as they learn that their capacity will diminish in the near future.

If the documents are not prepared and executed in a timely fashion, a guardianship proceeding may be the only option. Planning in advance is the best way to ensure that the people you trust are the ones making decisions for you. Speak with an experienced estate planning attorney now to have these documents in place.

Reference: The News-Enterprise (Oct. 13, 2019) “Medical guardianship versus power of attorney”

 

Be Prepared, Because The Future Comes Sooner Than You Think

When children are born, many people make sure to have their wills prepared so they can name a guardian in the event both parents die. Usually those documents are not reviewed, says the article “Preparations for the Future” from the Montevideo American-News, and this can lead to problems.

Legal and medical experts encourage people to review their estate planning documents from time to time to be sure that their wishes have not changed.

When people are diagnosed with a serious illness, they are also encouraged to examine their legal and healthcare documents. It’s also important to have plans in place for people diagnosed with dementia as soon as possible as long as that person is still deemed mentally competent to make these decisions for themselves.

According to the National Institute on Aging, advance planning should take place immediately after a diagnosis of early-stage Alzheimer’s, while the person can participate in discussions. People with early stage disease can often understand many aspects and consequences of legal decision making. However, as the disease progresses the ability to make decisions becomes difficult and the validity of the document may come into question.

Advance directives for healthcare documents that communicate healthcare wishes are just part of the legal documents that need to be created. Other documents include a Living Will, which records a person’s wishes for medical treatment, a Health Care Proxy for Healthcare, which designates a person to make healthcare decisions on your behalf and a Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) order.

Estate planning also needs to be done. An estate planning attorney can help the individual and the family create their plan for the future. There will need to be a Last Will and Testament created, as well as a Power of Attorney for finances, so someone can handle the financial aspect of their life.

A Living Trust may need to be created, to provide instructions about the person’s estate and appoint someone to hold title and property for the beneficiaries. It may be necessary for trusts to be created and funded to protect the family’s assets.

Having an estate planning attorney who has worked with patients suffering from Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia will allow the family to focus on caregiving.

Reference: Montevideo American-News (September 25, 2019) “Preparations for the Future”

 

What Estate Planning Documents Should I Have for My Child Who’s at College?

Kiplinger’s recent article, “Documents that Parents and College Students Need,” explains that many parental rights are no longer applicable, when a child legally reaches adulthood (age 18 in most states).

However, with a few estate planning documents, you can still be involved in your child’s medical and financial affairs. Many parents don’t know that they need these documents. They think they can access a child’s medical and other information because their son or daughter is still on the family’s insurance plan and the parents are paying the medical and tuition bills.

Here are four documents you and your son or daughter will need.

HIPAA Authorization Form. This is a federal law that protects the privacy of medical records. You child must sign a HIPPA authorization form to let you to receive information from health care providers, such as the college’s health clinic, about their health and treatment. If your son or daughter doesn’t want to share her entire medical record, he or she can set restrictions on what information you can receive.

Medical Power of Attorney. This lets your son or daughter name a person to make medical decisions if they are incapacitated and unable to make medical decisions. Your child should select both a primary agent and a secondary agent in the event the first one is unavailable.

Durable Power of Attorney. This lets your son or daughter authorize a person to handle financial or legal matters on his or her behalf. A durable power of attorney is usually written so it takes effect when a person becomes incapacitated. However, if your child would like you to manage his or her financial accounts or file tax returns while away at school, they can make the document effective immediately.

Family Education Rights and Privacy Act Waiver. Once your child is an adult, you’re no longer entitled to see their grades without express permission. It seems a bit crazy that you can be paying for tuition but you don’t have access to their academic records. This waiver signed by your child will allow you permission to receive his or her academic record. Many colleges provide this form, or you can find it online.

You need to contact an experienced estate planning attorney to have these documents prepared correctly. One you get these documents make sure you have ready access to them, if required.

Reference: Kiplinger (September 24, 2019) “Documents that Parents and College Students Need”

 

How to Choose an Estate Planning Attorney

Estate planning is a critical part of financial planning, but it is something that many Americans prefer to procrastinate about. However, drafting a will, health care proxy, and power of attorney are too important to leave to chance, says Next Avenue in the article “How to Find a Good Estate Planner.” An experienced estate planning attorney can help prevent critical mistakes and help you adjust your plan as circumstances change.

Here are a few tips:

Look for an estate planning attorney. An attorney who practices real estate law is not going to be up on all of the latest changes to estate and tax laws.

Next, determine if the attorney deals with families who are in similar situations to yours. An attorney who works with family-owned businesses, for instances, will be more helpful in creating an estate plan that includes tax and succession planning.

Experience matters in this area of the law. The laws of your state are just one of the many parts that the attorney needs to know by heart. The estate planning attorney who has been practicing for many years, will have a better sense of how families work, what problems crop up and how to avoid them.

Ask about costs. Don’t be shy. You want to be clear from the start what you should expect to be spending on an estate plan. The attorney should be comfortable having this discussion with you and your spouse or family member. Remember that the attorney will be able to understand the scope of work, only after they speak with you about your situation. What may seem simple to you, may be more complicated than you think.

If a trust is added, the fees are likely to increase. A trust can be used to avoid or minimize estate taxes, avoid probate, save on time and court fees and create conditions for the distribution of assets after you die.

Don’t neglect to have the attorney create a Power of Attorney form and any other advance directives you need. These vary by state, and you don’t want them to get too old, or they may become out of date.

Recognize that this is an ongoing relationship. Make sure that you are comfortable with the attorney, how the practice is run and the people who work there—receptionist, paralegals and other associates at the firm are all people you may be working with at one point or another during the process. You will be sharing very personal information with the entire team, so be sure it’s a good fit.

This is also not a one-and-done event. Having an estate plan is a lot like having a home—it requires maintenance. Every four years or so, or when large events occur in your life, you’ll need to have your will reviewed.

Your estate planning attorney should become a trusted advisor who works hand in hand with your accountant and financial advisor. Together, they should all be looking out for you and your family.

Reference: Next Avenue (September 10, 2019) “How to Find a Good Estate Planner”

 

What are Some Estate Planning Tips for People Without Kids?

If you and your spouse don’t have children, the focus of your financial legacy may be quite different from what it would be if you were parents.

Motley Fool’s article, “5 Estate-Planning Tips for Child-Free Couples,” suggests that you may want to leave some of your money to friends, family members, charitable organizations, or your college. No matter the beneficiaries you choose, these estate planning tips are vital for childless couples.

  1. A will. You need a will because couples without children don’t have natural heirs to inherit their wealth. If you die without a will, your assets will go to your spouse. If neither of you has a will, the state intestacy laws determine which of your family members inherit from you. The family of the first spouse to die may be disinherited.
  2. A power of attorney. Who will make financial decisions for you, if you and your spouse become incapacitated? You can select a person to do this with a power of attorney (POA). You can name a person to pay bills, manage your investments and handle property matters, if you’re unable to do so yourself.
  3. Up-to-date beneficiaries. If you have retirement accounts or life insurance policies, the distribution of the proceeds at your death is made by a beneficiary designation, not by your will. A frequent beneficiary error is not keeping those designations current.
  4. Give money to charity now. You may think about leaving your assets to organizations that have enriched your life. You can set up a trust to be sure that your money goes where you want. Work with an experienced estate planning attorney.
  5. Remember the pets. If you have furry children, plan for their care when you’re not around to tend to them yourself. One option is to name a person to take care of your animal in your will. You can also put money into a trust specifically intended for the animal’s care or designate an organization that will provide lifetime care for your pet with money you earmark to that purpose. Contact an estate planning attorney to help you set up a trust.

Remember that child-free couples need an estate plan, just as much as couples with children.

Reference: Motley Fool (September 9, 2019) “5 Estate-Planning Tips for Child-Free Couples”

 

What Do I Need to Know About Powers of Attorney?
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What Do I Need to Know About Powers of Attorney?

People frequently devote their efforts to their wills and trusts. Choosing a person to serve as their power of attorney is often a last-minute decision.

Forbes’ article, “9 Things You Need To Know About Power Of Attorney,” reminds us that it’s an important decision and not one that should be taken lightly. Let’s look at what you need to know to get your POA right.

Understand what it means. With a POA, you select a person as your attorney-in-fact (or agent) to make financial decisions for you. This gives your agent control over any assets held in your name alone.

Look at your options. There are two types of powers of attorney. A durable power of attorney is effective when you sign it. It survives your incapacity. A springing power of attorney goes into effect when you’re incapacitated. A springing power of attorney is more difficult to use. Your agent must prove that you’re incapacitated usually through some written confirmation by one or more physicians. Even though the document states how to do that, banks frequently are hesitant to make that determination. Thus, most attorneys advise you to execute a durable power of attorney and often will hold the original POA until it is needed, as an extra protection.

Make a wise decision. You may wonder if your agent can steal your money, and unfortunately the answer is “yes.” Your agent will have access to your financial accounts and could use your funds for his own benefit. The agent has a fiduciary duty to use the assets only for your benefit or as you direct in the document so you could later sue the agent for theft and misuse of your funds.

Abuse. Depending on the terms of the power of attorney, your agent may have the ability to amend the ownership of your bank accounts or change your beneficiary designations. This is common in second marriages. The transfer often occurs right before the spouse passes away, typically when the husband is dying in the hospital. If the husband’s will leaves his large bank accounts to his children from his first marriage, the second wife with power of attorney can add herself as a joint owner of the account. When the husband dies, she’s the surviving joint owner and liquidates the account. Siblings also do this to direct mom’s assets away from their brothers or sisters.

Designate an alternate. If your agent dies before you or is incapacitated, you should appoint a back-up who can act.

Read through the document. Take a look though the powers listed in the document and make sure you’re comfortable with what it allows.

The POA dies with you. Once you pass away, the POA is no longer valid. Your will then controls what happens to your assets.

Your revocable trust should be funded. If you fund your trust during your lifetime, you may not need to use your power of attorney. However, you should still have one just in case. Ask an experienced estate planning attorney about this.

Reference: Forbes (September 12, 2019) “9 Things You Need To Know About Power Of Attorney”

 

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”