You’ve probably, at some point or another, seen those ads that offer DIY-legal services. These ads claim that, by using their site, you’ll be able to create your own will in less time, with far less expense. Or perhaps you’ve decided to buy a book on estate planning and go for it yourself. While it’s true that you’ll create something, and you’ll probably do it cheaply, do-it-yourself estate planning is a move that will cost you more in the long run.
See, while self-produced legal services may seem tempting, they have a lot of negatives. You won’t get lucky and make the perfect estate plan—luck’s got nothing to do with it. You need a qualified estate planning attorney to get the job done right. In this article, we’ll talk about the dangers and downsides of DIY-estate planning.
Mistakes are Easy to Make and Hard to Fix
Lawyers go to law school for years. Estate planners train in the specific field of estate planning law, and even they check their documents over once, twice, three times or more before finalizing them. Typos, confusion with the legal terms, and problems with the signing are all major areas where DIY wills go wrong.
Requirements can seem nitpicky when it comes to estate planning, but these requirements serve an important state interest: preventing fraud. When it comes to witnesses, things get a little tricky. For example, some state laws dictate that a witness to the will cannot be a beneficiary of anything in it, while other laws require witnesses to all sign in one another’s presence. DIY will-making sites, which often service all 50 states with a boilerplate form, are unlikely to tell you that.
The problem isn’t the screw-up, it’s the fact that the error won’t be caught until after you’ve passed on. That’s when your document will have to go through court because it was handled improperly. The court process will be long and difficult, and it’s unlikely that your plan will be carried out the way you wanted it. And, again, this witnessing slipup is just one example of many pitfalls that accompany estate planning.
The “One-Size-Fits-All” Misconception
DIY services are often one-size-fits-all, meaning that they are not specific to your particular estate. Every estate is different, and attempting to standardize it all into a “one hour or less” planning session just isn’t realistic.
For example, you may want to pass on savings bonds to your beneficiaries, or some other similar asset. These assets, however, do not generally pass through a will or living trust. If you try to designate them through those documents, it will become very messy. Coordinating the different assets with the right documents is something an experienced lawyer will be able to do.
Also, DIY estate planners often leave too much up to their family, simply trusting that their family members will “do the right thing” and intuit what the writers mean in their self-made will. However, if family members always cooperated all the time, there would likely be no needed for estate planning altogether. You want to make sure you have, in clear, precise, correct terms what you want done after you die. That will shield against family fights or schisms that could lead to your will be interpreted in a way you did not intend.
Basically, while a DIY service might be cheaper, it actually costs you more in the long run, as slipups and errors, as well as problems coordinating the documents, can lead to major issues with executing your estate plan after you die. The best course of action is to schedule an estate planning consultation.
St. Patrick’s Day is fast approaching, and, as we all know, everyone’s trying to get the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. However, what you may not realize is you’re already sitting on a pot of gold: your estate. And, not only do you have this gold, you also need to protect it. Estate planning is the process by which you decide where your assets will go after you die. But, that’s not all that an estate plan protects. It also helps with medical care and property while you’re still alive.
In this article, we will look at the many ways your estate plan can protect your pot of gold, both before and after you die.
Before You Go
If you were to ask people on the street what they think estate planning entails, you’d probably get a lot of answers about a last will and testament. But after death isn’t the only time your estate plan comes in handy. With it, you can protect, while still living:
- Your medical needs.
If you are in incapacitated or unconscious, that doesn’t mean that you won’t need medical care, and it also doesn’t mean that your medical care has to become depersonalized. Through estate planning, you can have what is known as an advanced healthcare directive, where you dictate details about your medical care that you wish to receive during this period. This is also called a living will. Your medical needs and wishes will be protected through this estate planning document.
- Your financial needs.
Similarly, if you are incapacitated, you will want someone to make your financial decisions for you and keep your finances in good order. Through a power of attorney, you can select someone you trust to make these decisions, providing protection for your finances.
Protecting Your Pot of Gold After You Pass
Estate planning also allows you to make arrangements after you’ve passed on. By having a living trust, you can avoid probate court and have your assets moved to the correct places as quickly as possible. Here are the things that estate planning can protect after you have passed on:
Obviously, estate planning through documents such as a living trust will ensure that your money and property will go where you want them to when you’re not around. A living trust is a three-party fiduciary relationship between a donor (the person giving the asset), trustee (the person the donor gives it to temporarily), and the beneficiary (the asset’s eventual destination. You can ensure your estate is wrapped up as quickly as possible using these types of tools.
- Your beneficiaries
If you plan your estate properly, you won’t have to go through probate court, which is a long, difficult process your family will not want to experience. Estate planning can also shield your estate from certain liabilities and taxes, saving your family money.
Estate planning can help you protect your pot of gold, distributing it where you want it and saving your family a lot of time and hassle in the future.
It’s the season of love; Even after Valentine’s Day there’s still plenty of leftover decorations to go around. However, you don’t just spell love “L-O-V-E”; there’s another way to spell it: T-R-U-S-T.
We’re talking about estate planning. While setting up a trust for your kids, grandkids, and relatives might not be as flashy of a gift as a new Ferrari, it actually will have even more value in the long run. There are some common misconceptions about trusts—or, rather, about last wills being better than trusts—so, in this article, we will clarify what a trust is and why it’s beneficial.
What is a trust?
A trust is a three-party relationship. The relationship consists of the trustor, trustee, and beneficiary. The trustor, also known as a donor, conveys property or assets to the trustee. The trustee acts as a receiver. After the property is transferred to the trustee, the trustee acts as a nominal owner of the assets. At the moment the trustor specifies (usually upon said trustor’s death), the trustee conveys the property to the beneficiary, who then becomes the property’s owner.
Lastly, you should know what the term “trust agreement” means. A trust agreement specifies the rules of the trust and manner in which the trust should be followed. There are also federal and state law rules that must be followed in conjunction with the provisions of the trust agreement.
There are many different reasons to get a trust, including reducing your estate tax, protecting your assets after you die, and avoiding probate court. There are many different types of trusts, so consult with your estate planner to find out which one is best for your circumstances.
Why not just get a last will and testament?
A last will and testament goes into effect after you die. It also must go through probate court, and you are often subject to more taxes than you would be with a trust. Probate court is a long, arduous process, and your beneficiaries do not receive their gifts immediately. Though a will is cheaper to set up, it does not pay off as well in the long run.
What are the benefits of a trust?
There are several benefits of a trust. First, you can avoid probate court, as stated above. Second, a trust is effectively immediately and can be changed if something happens. When you set up your trust, it is known as an inter vivos trust. You then decide if it is revocable or irrevocable. Revocable trusts allow you to change your mind. This flexibility is beneficial. Thirdly, you can shield your estate from certain taxes through a trust, and, lastly, you are able to decide the manner in which your assets are distributed, as well as the timing. These four benefits are just some of the many that make a trust a great idea.
Because of the safety and reliability a trust provides, it’s clear that there’s more than just one way to spell “love.”
As the saying goes around this office, “First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes Michael Wild in a baby carriage!”
While estate planning might not seem romantic, and you probably don’t usually finish that rhyme with Michael Wild, there is something to be said for estate planning as a romantic gesture. It certainly indicates a lot of commitment to your spouse, family, and the people who mean the most to you. No Valentine? No problem. Estate planning is still vitally important for you, even if you’re a bachelor or bachelorette.
Estate Planning & Marriage
If you’re getting married or are currently married, you should definitely be creating or updating your estate plan. An estate plan decides where your assets will be transferred when you die. Here are some things to consider when including your spouse in your future.
- Marital property. Marital property is jointly owned between you and your spouse. It is property that you purchased using marital assets. You and your spouse will have to decide where you want it to go in the event of your death. Because it is marital property, it needs to be a decision made that involves the two of you.
- If you die, you will probably want to make your spouse a beneficiary of at least some of your assets. In an estate plan, you can specify your spouse as the beneficiary through a living trust, which sets up a three-party relationship whereby the trustee grants your spouse the assets upon your death. You can also make your spouse the trustee for your children, who you can make beneficiaries.
- Decision-making in emergencies. An advance directive allows you to delineate the healthcare choices you want in case you sink into a coma or are otherwise too incapacitated to make these decisions. You can also name your spouse as a decisionmaker, if you choose. You can name them Power of Attorney, which gives them the authority to make financial decisions on your behalf if you are unable to make them yourself.
- Money is pretty romantic, and the tax cuts that estate planning can get you and your spouse will be pretty significant, particularly since the estate tax will soon be dissipating in a few years’ time.
Don’t Forget the Kids
Your “baby carriage” probably won’t have Michael Wild in it, but he definitely can help you figure out how to best take care of your kids via estate planning. If you have minor children, you definitely need to make sure that you assign guardianship to them in the event of your death. You can also put aside money for your kids’ colleges and name them as beneficiaries or your Power of Attorney. Your children will benefit highly from your estate plan.
No Kids, No Spouse, No Problem
If you’re single and childless, you should still have an estate plan. You likely have assets and property and, if you die, you don’t want to drag your relatives through probate court. Estate planning can divide up your property and transfer it quickly, with as little hassle as possible.
This Valentine’s Day, show your loved ones commitment and care by creating an estate plan or updating a currently existing one. No matter what your status in life, everyone can benefit from estate planning.
February isn’t just the month of Valentines, it’s also a month where you acknowledge your physical heart too. February is American Heart Month, recognizing the fact that heart disease, stroke, and similar ailments are huge problems in America. For a not-so-fun fact, heart disease is actually the leading cause of death for both men and women. So, don’t just take care of your heart by sending Valentines—make sure you’re going to the doctor and checking on your physical health as well.
Have a heart in another way too—write a will. If you want to give the best Valentine to your loved ones, you can help them prepare for the future.
What is a will?
A will isn’t exactly wrapped with a red bow with candy hearts attached to it, but it is sentimental in its own way. There are two types of wills you should know about: a living will and a last will and testament. Chances are, you probably have heard of the second one more than the first.
A living will is a document that details what you want to do in the event you become incapacitated (you’re in a coma or so sick you cannot make your own decisions with a clear head). The living will is effective once you’re unable to communicate. It tells doctors and nurses what they should do in terms of your medical care. It is all about medical care—usually refusing or requesting medical treatment. If you’re unconscious and have no living will, hospitals may perform procedures they consider legally obligatory. If you don’t want that, you should specify that in your will. A living will is also known as an advance directive.
Your last will and testament provides instructions on what to do with your property, assets, and guardianship after you pass away. It is legally effective upon your death. You can name your kids’ guardian if something happens to you, making this an extremely important document for parents of minor children. The person who carries out your last will is your executor. If you die without a will, you are considered intestate, and the state’s intestacy laws will control how your assets are divided.
Which should you get?
You should always have a living will, as you never know if something will happen. Secondly, a last will and testament isn’t the be-all, end-all of estate planning. A living trust is actually preferable to a last will. A living trust constructs a three-party fiduciary relationship. It is legally effective immediately and can be changed easily, if you want to change your beneficiary.
A last will requires your executor to go through probate court, a long, arduous process that takes up time and resources. A living trust doesn’t require that court visit, making it easier to have than a last will. Schedule an estate planning consultation today to help you decide.
Divorce is a bummer (or maybe not, depending on your situation). It impacts almost every area of your life, and your estate plan is no different. While estate planning might not be high on your to-do list during the divorce process, you should still take some time to consider which documents need to be updated.
Divorce laws vary based on your state, but, overall, the legal principle is the same: it is the termination of the marital bond and restructuring or canceling of martial obligations. Both the pre- and post-divorce phases require action on your part when it comes to your estate plan.
Before the Divorce is Final
There are several documents you need to
update before the divorce is final. These include your living trust, living will, Power of Attorney, and will. You cannot assume that the completion of the divorce will immediately terminate your ex-spouse’s involvement in your estate plan. While that may be the case for the will, it’s not always so for the others.
- Living trust. Your trust will be interpreted based on whether it is revocable or not. A trust that is revocable at the time of your death, provisions in the trust regarding your ex-spouse will be invalid. But, if your trust is irrevocable and you die with the trust still naming your ex-spouse as beneficiary, he or she is going to get all your things. The law cannot help you in this situation.
- Living will. Your living will concerns healthcare directives and other related issues. If you fall ill and are incapacitated, who is your agent? If it is your ex-spouse, you may want to change that. If you feel comfortable with the person you’ve just divorced making critical life-or-death decisions about your medical care, then you should keep them as your agent. If not, make the change. It is not always clear whether a state’s laws will automatically excuse your ex-spouse from his or her duties in your living will.
- Power of Attorney. Generally, depending on the state in which you live, if your spouse is your power of attorney and you divorce him or her, this grant of power will be revoked once the action for divorce is filed. However, the whole power of attorney is not revoked in its entirety. Your spouse may still be named as guardian, and that will not be revoked until the final decree.
- Will. Depending on when you made your will, the final decree of divorce will generally revoke any provisions in the will concerning your ex-spouse. This only applies to your ex-spouse. Your ex-spouse’s kids are not kicked off the will, so if that’s something you want to do, you cannot count on the rule of law doing it for you.
Post-Divorce: What You Need to Do
So, you’ve made it, and the final decree has happened. Now what?
Well, in your estate plan, you will likely have some gaps to fill, including power of attorney, agent, beneficiaries, and other roles from which you have removed your ex-spouse. You will need to restructure and re-do your estate plan to make sure those critical positions are covered. Schedule an estate planning consultation today, regardless of whether you are pre- or post-divorce.
Restructuring a Business for Asset Protection
If you have a business, you know how hard you’ve worked to maintain it: all the late hours, countless phone calls, endless paperwork, and more. When you pass on, you’ll want to make sure that these assets you’ve worked so hard for are protected. Estate planning can help you do that.
Not only are regular assets (money, property, etc.) eligible for protection through estate planning, less conventional ones are as well. Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies can be protected via a trust, ensuring that everything you want protected—even something outside the traditional asset realm—is kept safe and secure.
What is a Trust?
A trust is pretty simple to understand. It’s essentially a three-party fiduciary relationship. You have your trustor (you, in this case), who transfers assets to a trustee for the benefit of the third party, known as a beneficiary. This transfer grants the trustee nominal ownership over assets. These same principles of a three-party relationship apply to your business assets. The trust is treated, by the IRS, as an entity.
When you pass on, your trustee will confer your assets to the beneficiary. You may be thinking, “How is this better than a will?” Many people, when they think of estate planning, automatically jump to the last living will and testament as the golden document to have. But actually, a living trust is more advantageous.
Trust vs. Will
A trust goes into effect the moment you create it, whereas a will only becomes effective after you die. You can use a trust to start transferring your property prior to death; you cannot do that with a will, so you have a little less control. Also, a trust will get you out of probate court. If you die with just a will, you have to go through probate, which is a long, tiring process where a court distributes your assets for you. This can tie up your family for years while a court ensures the validity of the will.
Lastly, a trust can be kept private, whereas a will is on the public record. While a trust doesn’t include the ability to make funeral arrangements and name your children’s guardian if they’re minors, it does let you save on taxes and make disability arrangements.
Crypto: The New Wave
Everyone’s talking about Bitcoin these days, and everyone seems to have an opinion about it. If you’re a Bitcoin investor, or an investor in other cryptocurrencies such as Ethereum, Litecoin, Dash, and more, you’ve heard all the opinions, made up your mind, and, now, most likely just want to know how you can protect your coins via an estate plan.
As cryptocurrency jumps in popularity, more and more estate planners are encouraging clients to work their crypto into an estate plan. Cryptocurrency is, like your other assets, subject to distribution. Your crypto cannot be inherited, however, and, if you don’t include it in your estate plan, it will be as though it never existed. A trust is, as with your other assets, the best way to manage this property.
When deciding how to manage your cryptocurrency, make sure that your intended beneficiary is able to manage an entity like crypto, which is very volatile. You’ll also want to ensure that your directions are clear, including how to access your account to get the coins. This complicated, especially as cryptocurrency is relatively new, hence why an estate plan is best carried out under the guidance of a professional estate planner.
If you want to make sure that your business is protected after you pass on, a trust is the way to do it. Your assets will be protected, and you’ll be able to start the process before death, allowing you a measure of control and the ability to avoid probate.
Start Anew, Update Your Estate Plan
There’s one New Year’s resolution you should definitely make and keep: updating your estate plan. With each year comes new considerations, and your estate plan should reflect these. You might be tempted to put off your estate plan updates, but you never know what will happen. It’s better to be safe than sorry, as the old saying goes.
Here are some examples of life changes and how you may want to update your estate plan to reflect them.
New Year, New Beneficiaries
Has there been a new baby in the family? Have you recently stumbled upon a new charity to which you want to donate? In order to do so, you will need to update your estate plan. This way, after you pass on, your assets will be transferred where you want them, including to the new beneficiary.
It’s important to get started on this now and updating your estate plan to reflect the new individual. People come and go in our lives, and you don’t want to miss your opportunity to include who you want in your postmortem plans.
If you have minor children, you’ve likely included a guardianship instrument in your estate plan that designates who will be the legal guardian of your kids in the event of something happening to you. If you’re still happy with the legal guardian you’ve chosen, that’s great. However, if you are not, you don’t want to wait to have that switched.
Things happen, and if you have reason to doubt the competency of the guardian you’ve chosen for your kids, you do not want to take a chance and put off updating it. Worst case scenario, something happens and your kids are left with someone who cannot take care of them. If you have doubts about your chosen guardian, make sure to update your estate plan.
Similarly, there may have been other developments in your family that warrant you rethinking your estate plan. Divorce is an example. You will want to make sure that the estate plan does not include your ex-spouse (or the ex-spouse of another family member), if you do not want it to. Also, if you feel like you want to disinherit someone, that is another reason to update your estate plan.
It is best to think of the estate plan as a living document. It reflects changes in your family; it is not stagnant, nor should it be treated as such. Families have their own feuds and fighting. An estate plan needs to keep up with the dynamics, if need be.
The Imminent Arrival of the 2018 Tax Code
The 2018 tax code is bringing some new changes with it. And by “some,” we mean a lot. Two of these changes have to do with the estate and gift taxes. By 2024, there will be no estate tax. But, for now, if your estate is under $22.4 million as a married couple, you get an exemption. And, since the estate tax is often unified with the gift tax, that further extends the exemption on money you can give away. This new update is another reason you will likely want to look at your estate plan.
New year, new updates! Consult your estate planner to make sure that your plans reflect any changes in your life during the past year.
New Year, New Tax Bill
Unless you’ve been living somewhere with no internet and no cable for the past few months, you’ve probably heard about the new tax bill, which was recently passed by the Senate. It seems like everyone is debating it; and, from pundits to politicians, everyone has something to say, us included. In this article, however, we will be cutting through the vast melting pot of opinions to give you the information you need about how the tax code will affect important areas of your personal and business life.
There’s a lot to cover, so let’s get started!
The 2018 Tax Code: What’s Going On?
What is going on? That is the question on almost everyone’s mind. Well, when it comes to the estate and gift tax, the answer is: a lot.
In 2018, the estate tax is more of a concern than ever before. This tax hasn’t been talked about much until just recently, but its changes will affect many people. Here’s a rundown of how the 2018 tax code will affect your estate tax.
The Estate Tax
If you own an estate, you are probably familiar with the estate tax. The estate tax and income tax are not to be confused, as the former is paid on the transfer of assets from the decedent to heirs and beneficiaries, whereas the latter is the tax on the income that the decedent’s estate generates. Essentially, the estate tax is a tax on your right to transfer your property post-mortem.
In order to calculate this tax, the IRS takes an accounting of everything you own or have an interest in at the date you die. The tax has a high exemption amount, which means that really only the wealthiest top less-than-one-percent of Americans pay it. However, this tax is going to undergo some changes, thanks to the new bill.
First, you should know that in 2024, there will not even be an estate tax. In 2018, however, the estate tax is still live. There is an $11 million estate tax exemption per person ($22.4 million for a married couple). You may be thinking that you’re in the clear for the estate tax in 2018 if you have under that magic $22.4 million number. However, this depends on what year you die. In addition to this info, you should also know what a gift tax is, as that can further decrease the amount of taxes you pay.
The Gift Tax
The gift tax is pretty simple to understand. This tax is executed when there is a transfer of property after someone dies. This differs from the estate tax in that the transfer of property is not paid for, meaning that there is no consideration (money or something equivalent) received in exchange. It is, simply, a gift.
The gift tax exemption is often unified with the estate tax exemption. This means that you can give away up to $22.4 million in 2018 without being hit with any gift or estate tax. If the exemption grows to a larger amount, you can give more away. A piece of good news is that even if the exemption amount shrinks, you won’t lose the amount you’ve given because there is no penalty. So, the question becomes: are you taking advantage of all you can give away in 2018?
In your estate plan, you decide what to do with your assets. Consult an estate planner to make sure that you’re using these estate and gift exemptions to their full potential. There is a lot of opportunity to decrease the amount of taxes you pay, and with the upcoming tax bill, some big changes are on their way.
“It’s beginning to look a lot like…probate!” This grim twist on a classic holiday song is just what will happen if you don’t take the precautions necessary to protect your family after you have passed on. If you don’t know what probate is or if you’re not sure why it’s such a legal boogeyman, this article will help clear that up.
What is Probate?
Consider this scenario. Your close relative passes away. In the midst of the grief and dealing with funeral arrangements, you learn that she didn’t have an estate plan. Now, with all the other burdens that come with losing a loved one, you have to go to court and endure a lengthy, time-consuming process to have a judge (who doesn’t know your family) divide up your relative’s assets and even saddle you with some debt, if he or she chooses. Sounds awful, right?
It is. This process is called probate. The probate court handles estates whose dispersals have not been planned after the death of the owner. The probate court divides up assets and debts, distributing the estate in the way that it sees fit. This winding up is not always done with the best interests of your family in mind—not because of bad faith on the part of the court, but because it doesn’t know your family well enough to know exactly where everything should go.
To avoid this, you should engage in a process known as estate planning.
Estate Planning 101
Estate planning is also a process, except, in this case, it is one that will help your family. When you are planning your estate, you decide many important things, such as where your property will go, who will take care of your children, who your Power of Attorney will be if you’re incapacitated, and more.
With estate planning, among many legal devices, you set up a living will and trust, and leave health care directives for hospitals and doctors in the event you’re incapacitated and unable to make decisions for yourself at that time. Through estate planning, you are able to avoid probate court by making the decisions that are best for your family.
I have a last will and testament. Is that enough?
A common misconception is that a last will and testament is enough to keep you out of probate court. In fact, when people think of estate planning, they probably just assume it’s making a will and shoving that document in the drawer until you die. However, that’s not what estate planning entails. The process is much more detailed and safeguarded.
Your last will and testament is still subject to probate. You won’t get out of probate court that easy. Many experts look at last wills as an interim measure until your living trust and living will are set up.
A last will and testament is not enough. To make sure you are 100% in the clear, with no probate court on your horizon, set up an estate planning consultation.