PAST SHORT ARTICLES

Why Plan Now? Why Make an Estate Plan? For your family’s well-being!

Creating an estate plan is essential to care for your family’s well-being. Do it now while you still can. Too often I hear, “I’m young, I have plenty of time.” Like getting life insurance, you want to have it in place when you are healthy and, well… alive.

A proper estate plan is not just for the ultra wealthy. A proper plan is also more than just a “simple” will. A full plan can save your loved ones a lot of hassle if you ever become incapacitated. Plan ahead to make sure your assets are properly taken care of if tragedy should strike.

You can also plan your own funeral. Sounds a bit morbid, but it can actually be an eye opening experience. I have had clients plan their funeral down to the type of flowers they want. I have had others that just want a nice party for their friends and family. Wouldn’t it be nice for your loved ones to know exactly what you want. When making an estate plan, it is important to look at your financial, social and family wealth. Who would you want to raise your kids? Someone with money, or someone who shares your values? Family or close friends? You have the choice if you make the plan now. If you don’t, the state will decide for you.

Lack of instruction and guidance on certain details of how you want property distributed can make even the closest families have squabbles. Simply making a plan with clear instructions can alleviate stress and arguments.

Make sure the state stays out of your family business and make a plan. Hire an Estate Planning attorney to help you plan for your family’s well-being.



The STATE of your Intestate! What is Intestate? Don’t die Intestate!

Simply put, Intestate is without a Will.  When someone dies without a Will and leaves assets, the state has a process of how to distribute those assets and has determined who receives the assets. This is called Intestate Succession.

Some people may agree with the state’s plan, but most people do not and must at the very least prepare a Will.

Here is an example of the state’s plan. Let’s say Dave married Jen who had a child, Sam, from a prior marriage; Dave has no children. If Dave dies without a Will, Jen receives all of Dave’s assets. Although, if Jen dies without a Will, Dave receives half of Jen’s assets and Sam receives the other half.

If Sam is under age 18 at the time of Jen’s death, the court would need to appoint a guardian for him, unless Sam’s father was still living. Either Sam’s father or the guardian appointed by the court would also most likely be in charge of the assets Sam receives from Jen’s estate.

Imagine the uncertainty in Sam’s life, especially if his father was not living. Where would he live until the court appointed a guardian? Who would want him? Who could afford to have him? Who is looking after the assets he receives? If you think you know but haven’t prepared the proper documents, you really don’t know.

After reading this short info-brief and a portion of the statute you may understand why you need to hire an Estate Planning attorney to help you plan for your family’s well-being.


Will or Won’t? What is a Will? AKA: Last Will and Testament

Will or Won’t?

What is a Will?

AKA: Last Will and Testament

A Will is a formal legal document that must conform to your state’s laws.
The term “Last Will and Testament” came from a time in English law when Old English and French Law language were used side by side for maximum clarity. Most new attorneys are taught to write with clarity and drop the redundancy.
I try!

When you die, your Will  instructs your Personal Representative (sometimes called an Executor) and the courts how your money and property should be distributed to each person named in your Will.


What is a Will?

The people receiving your property are often referred to as your heirs or beneficiaries. Although not always the same, beneficiaries can be heirs, and heirs can become beneficiaries.

Beneficiaries are selected by name in your Will. Heirs are actually predetermined by the law of descent in your state. An heir will inherit the property of someone who dies without a Will (called intestate). Heirs could also inherit if all of the named beneficiaries and their heirs were all dead.

Even if you don’t think you need a Will because you have no assets, you need one for your children’s well-being. People with minor children should always name a guardian for the children in a Will. Not naming a guardian can cause turmoil for you children and your family if tragedy should strike leaving the children orphans. Both short term and long term plans should be made so they never have to spend time in limbo.

Wills can be very simple forms or they can be very complex depending on what you have and who you want to give it to.  As you can imagine, a properly executed will can help eliminate family conflict.

A Will WON’T keep your estate out of probate!

Nearly 50% of the population dies without a Will. I know it can be a scary process, but my clients are always relieved once a plan is in place. They have a peace of mind that the well-being of their loved ones is secured.



When is the right time to begin estate planning for myself?

NOW is the Answer

The Question:
When is the right time to begin estate planning for myself?

Now, because we can’t predict the future.

If you or a loved one hasn’t started estate planning yet, it’s not too late…you are still able to read my info-brief, so you must be doing OK.

If you have already made a plan, you should review it with your attorney every few years: possibly every year if you have had life changes.

When is the right time to begin estate planning for myself?

The hardest part of the process is getting started. Don’t feel bad, you are not alone. Several of my clients say they just kept putting it off because they thought dealing with the planning would cause bad luck and something would then happen. I can tell you from experience, the two are not related. At least if something does happen, their family’s well-being is taken care of.

Another response I get when speaking with people about estate planning is that they are too young. We have covered this in a prior info-brief already, but it is worth mentioning here. If you are single or married, have children or assets, or have nothing at all but are over 18, you should at least have basic documents in place.

Marriage, divorce, having a baby, a child turns 18, and other life changing events are excellent times to start an estate plan or review an existing one. These are times we usually review our auto insurance, health insurance and life insurance. Why not use the motivation and momentum and start estate planning at the same time.

“One thing remains consistent; the human mortality rate is 100%. We just don’t know when our time will be.”



Who needs estate planning? Almost everyone! Here’s why

No matter your income level, Estate Planning is important for couples that are not married and for people with minor children; especially children with special needs. You may want to make particular instructions if you have heirs that are likely to fight among themselves. Also, Estate Planning with an attorney is helpful if you can’t decide how to divide your assets or want to make special provisions.

Who needs Estate Planning?

Nearly 50% of the population dies without a Will. I know it can be a scary process, but my clients are always relieved once a plan is in place. They have a peace of mind that the well-being of their loved ones is secured.

Currently, only about 2% of the population has a federal estate tax issue. If you are in that category, you could save a lot by planning properly, and early enough.

Estate Plans consist of a several legal documents:

Will – A Will takes effect upon your death. A Will is the basic planning document that gives instructions on who should take care of your kids and who gets your assets.
Power of Attorney (POA) – A POA is used while you are alive, but during a time of incapacity. A proper POA authorizes a person of your choice to run your business or personal financial affairs.
Medical Surrogate – Medical Surrogates, or Medical Powers of Attorney, are very important if you have special health care needs and desires.
Living Will – A Living Will can alleviate the agonizing emotional trama your loved ones could experience when deciding to keep you on life support or let you go. You make the choice now; not them later.
HIPAA Authorization – A proper HPPAA Authorization gives your medical providers the legal ability to speak with your loved ones.
Trust – Basically, a Trust allows you to control your assets during life, during an incapacitation and after life.

Finally, simple planning is just as important as drafting legal documents. If you have an insurance policy make sure your beneficiary designation is correct. Check with your bank and investment advisor to make sure you have indicated the proper person for a Transfer on Death, or Pay on Death.

As you can see, Estate Planning is for most everyone, not just the super wealthy.



The TALK! Not “THAT” TALK…

The next time you visit with your loved ones, take time to have THAT TALK…

It’s not a comfortable topic to bring up, but use the time, now that you have it, to have a conversation with your loved ones that could really give you all peace of mind.

Talk to them about their estate planning documents; if they are done, where they are kept, if someone has access to them;

Make sure they have been reviewed in the last 2 or 3 years, if not, encourage them to have them reviewed by an attorney…I offer a complementary review;

Make sure they have the right people named and in the right type of trust if necessary; and

See if you are named in a legal helper role like an executor, personal rep, power of attorney, medical surrogate, or trustee.

If you or your loved ones have any questions about any of their documents or roles to be filled, have them call me so you can spend the New Year with peace of mind.

Click here for an article to help start important and sometimes difficult conversations with your loved ones. I hope it helps getting a dialogue started about how important estate planning is.



What is a Trust?

There are several types of Trusts, but the most common are: Revocable Living Trusts and Irrevocable Trusts

A Trust is a document that explains the rules that you want followed for property held in trust for your beneficiaries. You are generally the Grantor, who creates the trust and gives control of your assets to the Trustee, who in turn has a fiduciary duty to carry out the instructions of the Trust for your Beneficiaries. There are several benefits to having a trust, but one of the best is that your assets don’t go through the process of probate.

What is a Living Trust?

The most common type of trust is the Revocable Living Trust (“RLT”). The RLT allows you to maintain control of all the assets in the trust, because often times you are the Grantor, Trustee and the Beneficiary. You have the ability to revoke or change the terms of the trust at any time.

Contrary to a RLT, the Grantor of an Irrevocable Trust appoints someone as the Trustee to control the assets in the Trust. You typically can’t make changes to the trust without the beneficiary’s consent. Irrevocable Trusts are often used to protect assets from creditors. They can also be used to provide support for minors and adult children who are financially irresponsible.



Don’t worry, the State has a plan for you??? What is Estate Planning?

There are three main types of estate planning

State’s plan for you
Will based plan
Trust based plan

The first type is the State’s Plan: Dying without a Last Will and Testament, or Intestate, leaves your estate planning to your State of residence. Each state has laws on who receives your property and how they receive it. The laws usually require an appointment of a personal representative or an executor to handle your affairs. Without a will the courts often require the executor to post a bond to probate the estate.

The second type is a Will Based Plan: These plans are prepared for the benefit of people and organizations of your choosing. You also have the opportunity to choose the personal representative of your estate. The Will is a roadmap of how your property is to be disbursed by the personal representative in the probate process. A will also allows parents to name a guardian for their minor children: where in the State’s Plan, naming a guardian is up to the courts.

And finally, the third type is a Trust Based Plan: A trust is an agreement where one party holds property for the benefit of someone else. Unlike a will, the trust takes effect as soon as it is created and directs how property is disbursed before death, at death and after death. A trust plan does not go through probate and retains privacy for the beneficiaries.



I’m too young to need a Will, Right?

Wrong!

Everyone should have a Will, especially people with young children. Here’s why:

A Will is the best way to transfer guardianship of minors if tragedy were ever to happen. As for your personal property, a Will is important if you want certain individuals or charities to receive specific gifts. Otherwise, without a will the state decides who takes care of your kids and who gets what.

Not having a Will causes a special problem with blended families. Laws vary from state to state so it is important to understand that the law might be contrary to what you would like to happen to your assets and belongings. For instance if you have a minor child from a previous marriage, the child may end up inheriting a portion of your assets through the state’s plan. Also, the other parent of the child could become the person in charge of the inheritance. With a Will you can determine the amount or percentage of your assets given to the child and name someone to control the assets for the child.

If you have assets valued over $200,000, you may even consider a living trust. A trust is simply a tool that helps avoid the publicity and cost of probate among other things. Probate is the process of having the court oversee the distribution of your assets to your creditors (yes your creditors) and your beneficiaries. Bypassing probate can save your estate thousands of dollars, making the cost of setting up a trust small in comparison. Even people with trusts should have a will for items that don’t make it into the trust.

There are a few other documents that everyone should also have. A Power of Attorney gives someone the ability to handle your financial matters in the event you are not able to do so. A Medical Power of Attorney, sometimes called a Health Care Surrogate, allows a loved one to make medical decisions for you when you are unable. Finally, a Living Will can save your loved ones the grief and mental anguish of deciding to “pull the plug,” which no one should have to do.

It is never too early to plan for the inevitable: so far the human mortality rate is fixed at 100 percent.

The Dalai Lama said: “Analysis of death is not for the sake of becoming fearful but to appreciate this precious lifetime during which you can perform many important practices.” Make sure you set aside some time to set up a plan to care for your family’s well-being.