What If Grandma Didn’t Have a Will and Died from COVID-19?

The latest report shows about 1.87 million reported cases and at least 108,000 COVID-19-related deaths were reported in the U.S., according to data released by Johns Hopkins University and Medicine.

Here’s a question that is being asked a lot these days: What happens if someone dies “intestate,” or without having established a will or estate plans?

If you die without a will in California and many other states, your assets will go to your closest relatives under state “intestate succession” statutes.

Yahoo Finance’s recent article entitled “My loved one died without a will – now what?” explains that there are laws in each state that will dictate what happens, if you die without a will.

In Pennsylvania, the laws list the order of who receives upon your death, if you die without a will: your spouse, your children, and then your parents (if still alive), your siblings, and then on down the line to cousins, aunts and uncles, and the like. Typically, first on every state’s list is the spouse and the children.

You may also have some valuable assets that will not pass via your will and aren’t affected by your state’s intestate succession laws. Here are some of the common ones:

  • Any property that you’ve transferred to a living trust
  • Your life insurance proceeds
  • Funds in an IRA, 401(k), or other retirement accounts
  • Any securities held in a transfer-on-death account
  • A payable-on-death bank account
  • Your vehicles held by transfer-on-death registration; or
  • Property you own with someone else in joint tenancy or as community property with the right of survivorship.

These types of assets will pass to the surviving co-owner or to the beneficiary you named, whether or not you have a will.

It’s quite unusual for the government to claim a deceased person’s estate. While it might be allowed in some states, it’s considered a last resort. Typically, we all have some relatives.

If you have a loved one who has died without a will, speak with an experienced estate planning attorney about your next steps.

Reference: Yahoo Finance (June 1, 2020) “My loved one died without a will – now what?”

What If the Coronavirus Leaves Me Critically Ill?

The smartest time to get your affairs in order, is when you’re healthy, regardless of a pandemic, advises NBC Bay Area’s recent article entitled “3 Steps to Take Now in Case COVID-19 Leaves You Critically Ill.”

You should talk to an estate planning attorney and think about these three steps to consider taking yourself before you meet:

  • Prepare your end-of-life care
  • Decide what your wishes are for your assets; and
  • Plan your funeral or memorial service if one is desired.

Prepare End-of-Life Care. For end-of-life care, many people have what’s sometimes called a “living will”. In California, it’s often a six-page form called the Advanced Health Care Directive. With it, you can set forth your wishes about your end-of-life care and designate a decision-maker.

In California, you can download an advanced health care directive form for free, via the California Courts website. It’s actually pretty easy to read. Note: you’ll need two witnesses to sign it with you.

Decide what your wishes are for your assets. This is where an attorney can really be key. You can discuss who you’ll want as an executor to coordinate your estate and probate. You can also think about who you want to receive your home, vehicles, funds in your bank accounts and other assets.

There are a number of important legal aspects to consider, and you can talk to your legal counsel about the process.

Your Funeral Plans. You also need to be certain that the details of your final wishes are known. It’s a good idea to write down exactly what you want or don’t want.

It’s not uncommon for families to have a hard time with these choices, when someone dies without a plan. Prevent conflict and stress, by writing your wishes down now.

It’s best to work with an attorney who specializes in estate planning, wills and trusts.

Reference: NBC Bay Area (April 15, 2020) “3 Steps to Take Now in Case COVID-19 Leaves You Critically Ill”

What You Need to Do after a Loved One Dies

The Dallas Morning News’ recent article entitled “Three things to do on the death of a loved one” explains the steps you should take if you are responsible for a family member’s assets after they die.

Be sure the property is secured. A deceased person’s property becomes a risk in some instances. Friends and family will help themselves to what they think they should get, including the deceased’s personal property. Once it is gone, it is hard to get it back and into the hands of the individual who’s legally entitled to receive it.

Criminals also look at the obituaries and while everyone is at the funeral or otherwise unoccupied, burglars can break into the house and steal property. Assign security or ask someone to stay at the house to protect the property. You can also change the locks. Credit cards, debit cards, and checks need to be protected. The deceased’s mail must be collected, and cars should be locked up.

Make funeral plans. If you’re lucky, the deceased left a written Appointment of Burial Agent with detailed instructions, which can make your job much easier.

For example, Texas law lets a person appoint an agent to be in charge of funeral arrangements and to describe the arrangements. An estate planning attorney can  draft this document as part of an estate plan. You should see if this document was included. If you’re listed as the agent, present the paper to the funeral home and follow the instructions. If there are no written instructions, the law will say who has the authority to make arrangements for the disposition of the body and to plan the funeral.

Talk to an experienced attorney. When a person dies, there is often a lapse in authority. The decedent’s power of attorney is no longer in effect, and the executor designated in the will doesn’t have any authority to act, until the will is admitted to probate and the executor is appointed by the probate judge and qualifies by taking the oath of office and filing a bond, if required. Direction is needed earlier rather than later, on what you’re permitted to do. The probate of a will takes time.

It is best to get started promptly, so that there’s an executor in place with power to handle the affairs of the decedent.

Reference: Dallas Morning News (April 10, 2020) “Three things to do on the death of a loved one”

 

What’s the Difference between Revocable and Irrevocable Trusts?

A trust is an estate planning tool that you might discuss with an experienced estate planning attorney.  Beyond drafting a last will and testament and to your benefit, you may want to find want to ask about the difference between a Revocable and Irrevocable Trust. KAKE.com’s recent article entitled “Revocable vs. Irrevocable Trusts” explains that a living trust can be revocable or irrevocable.  You can act as your own trustee or designate another person. The trustee has the fiduciary responsibility to act in the best interests of the trust beneficiaries. These are the people you name to benefit from the trust.

There are three main benefits to including a trust as part of an estate plan.

  1. Avoiding probate. Assets held in a trust can avoid probate. This can save your heirs both time and money.
  2. Creditor protection. Creditors can try to attach assets held outside an irrevocable trust to satisfy a debt. However, those assets titled in the name of the irrevocable trust may avoid being accessed to pay outstanding debts.
  3. Minimize estate taxes. Estate taxes can take a large portion from the wealth you may be planning to leave to others. Placing assets in a trust may help to lessen the effect of estate and inheritance taxes, preserving more of your wealth for future generations.

What’s the Difference Between Revocable and Irrevocable Trusts?

A revocable trust is a trust that can be changed or terminated at any time during the lifetime of the person making the trust. When the grantor dies, a revocable trust automatically becomes irrevocable, so no other changes can be made to its terms.

An irrevocable trust is essentially permanent. Therefore, if you create an irrevocable trust during your lifetime, any assets you place in the trust must stay in the trust. That’s a big difference from a revocable trust: flexibility.

Whether a trust is right for your estate plan, depends on your situation. Discuss this with a qualified estate planning attorney. This has been a very simple introduction to a very complex subject.

Reference: KAKE.com (March 31, 2020) “Revocable vs. Irrevocable Trusts”

 

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”

 

How Can Estate Planning Protect Me from COVID-19?

There are several things you need to consider, especially during this COVID-19 situation and your estate planning, explains WFMY.com in the recent article “A different kind of coronavirus protection: Wills & Power of Attorney documents.”

A financial power of attorney is first on the list of things to consider. This essential legal document gives a trusted agent the authority to make financial decisions on your behalf if you become incapacitated.  Most people have their estate planning attorney draft the POA to go into effect once the principal or the person who’s giving the authority can no longer make decisions for themselves.

In addition, if you become ill and fall into a coma, you need someone to be able to also make medical decisions. A health care power of attorney or Health Care Proxy permits your agent to make medical decisions on your behalf. You can also sign a living will, which can state your wishes about healthcare decisions, especially end of life decisions.

A will can state your decisions for the distribution of your assets when you die. However, your property will stay in your name until that occurs. Another option is a living trust, which places your property in a trust for the benefit of a charity, your loved ones, or both. A trust may distribute the property more efficiently.  While the terms in your will and trust are important, you should also have a discussion with your family and let them know what you’re thinking. This will help avoid hard feelings after you’re gone.

It’s important to speak with an experienced estate planning attorney and talk to the people you want to be your POA attorney-in-fact, executor of your will and your trustee. Talk to your attorney about what happens when one of these key persons included in your planning dies.

You should also think about your parents and if they have an estate plan. You should know what will happen, if they become ill and need care. What happens if they get Alzheimer’s or another type of dementia?

You should make certain that you and those you love, have legal estate planning documents in place prepared by an experienced estate planning attorney.

From there, review your plan every few years with your attorney, because things change.

Reference: WFMY.com (April 22, 2020) “A different kind of coronavirus protection: Wills & Power of Attorney documents”

 

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 Can I Do to Plan for Incapacity?

Smart advance planning can help preserve family assets, provide for your own well-being and eliminate the stress and publicity of a guardianship hearing, which might be needed if you do nothing. These are just some thoughts to ponder when you are planning for incapacity.

A guardianship or conservatorship for an elderly individual is a legal relationship created when a judge appoints a person to care for an elderly person, who’s no longer able to care for herself.   The guardian has specific duties and responsibilities to the elderly person.

FEDweek’s recent article entitled “Guarding Against the Possibility of Your Incapacity” discusses several possible strategies.

Revocable (“living”) trust. Even after you transfer assets into the trust, you still have the ability to control those assets and collect any income they earn. If you no longer possess the ability to manage your own affairs, a co-trustee or successor trustee can assume management of trust assets on your behalf.

Durable power of attorney. A power of attorney (POA) document names an individual to manage your assets that aren’t held in trust. Another option is to have your estate planning attorney draft powers of attorney for financial institutions that hold assets, like a pension or IRA. Note that many financial firms are reticent to recognize powers of attorney that are not on their own forms.

Joint accounts. You can also establish a joint checking account with a trusted child or other relative. With her name on the account, your daughter can then pay your bills, if necessary. However, note that the assets held in the joint account will pass to the co-owner (daughter) at your death even if you name other heirs in your will.

There may also be health care expenses accompanying incompetency.  This would include your health insurance and also potentially disability insurance in the event your incapacity should happen when you are still be working, and long-term care insurance, to pay providers of custodial care, at home or in a specialized facility, such as a nursing home.

Contact an experienced estate planning attorney to review the do’s and dont’s of estate planning.

Reference: FEDweek (March 5, 2020) “Guarding Against the Possibility of Your Incapacity”

 

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”