According to Pew Research Center, there are approximately forty million Americans with special needs. This is about 12.6% of the population. Special needs has a very distinct legal definition by law, and the law has also evolved to ensure that families and friends are able to help special needs people carry out their lives as normally as possible. In this article, we’ll talk about the basic need-to-know information regarding special needs planning.
What are “Special Needs?”
That question is very, very broad, and the law takes paragraph after paragraph to explain what it considers to be a special needs individual. Basically, there are two groups of people with special needs: children and adults.
Special needs children are minors who require necessities and care that other children do not. This may be due to a physical, mental, and/or emotional disability. The state usually declares a child “special needs” for the purpose of offering them assistance and benefits to provide for the child’s well-being, which requires special attention to grow.
A special needs adult is an adult who has reached majority and has a mental, emotional, and/or physical disability. Often, these adults have carried over a developmental disability from childhood. As with children, the state designates adults as special needs for the purposes of providing benefits and assistance to help these adults maintain their well-being, as they are, to one degree or another, unable to do so in comparison to the non-special-need population.
Obviously, these definitions are not exhaustive. On paper, these definitions seem simple and somewhat understated, but caring for those with special needs is never quite so simple.
What Can Special Needs Planning Include
Special needs planning, such as setting up a special needs trust, provides for benefits that a beneficiary could not otherwise obtain because these aren’t covered by the government or by a private agency. These can include dental expenses, vision, special equipment, spending money, special dietary needs, and other costs that are essential to quality of life but may not be covered under social security or disability. A special needs trust allows you to provide for a special needs individual without defeating their eligibility for government assistance.
Setting Up a Special Needs Trust
A special needs trust allows you to set aside money and assets to be conferred to the special needs beneficiary at your direction. These trusts can be set up with the help of an attorney. Generally, such a trust will have a provision that will terminate it if the beneficiary would be made ineligible for government assistance as a result of the trust.
Who Can Best Benefit From Special Needs Planning
Parents with special needs children are the main people who (aside from the beneficiaries themselves, of course) benefit from special needs planning. According to Pew Research Center, the most common disabilities are those that involve issues with independent living or walking. Over 20 million adults have “serious difficulty” walking. 13 million American adults also reported having serious cognitive impairments, while 14 million adults reported having major difficulties running errands alone. These independent living and mobility concerns mean that there are many small, niche costs and expenses that government assistance might not foresee. Therefore, providing for your child and helping them with independent or semi-independent living is one of the main reasons to set up a special needs estate plan.
Special needs is a whole field of law that consists of attorneys, educators, legislators, and advocates who fight to make sure that everyone in America is treated equally and given the same opportunities, regardless of ability. Some disabilities are visible, while others are invisible, but all special needs individuals should be cared for. Special needs planning will allow you to provide for your loved ones’ special needs after you’re gone, giving you peace of mind that they will be cared for.
Time flies when you’re having fun, as the old saying goes. November marks our firm’s 10-year anniversary. We’ve helped many people with their estate planning, tackling legal problems and forming relationships with our clients that have been rewarding and long-lasting. It seems like ten years went by in the blink of an eye.
In this article, to celebrate ten years, we’ll give you ten pieces of advice for setting up a great estate plan.
10. Store Your Documents Wisely
We live in Florida, and hurricanes are all-too-common. If you have estate-planning-related documents sitting in a box that is neither water nor flame proof, that is likely not going to end well. One basement flood, and you’re in for a whole world of headaches. Store your docs on a secure server. While it’s great to keep the originals, talk to an attorney about ways to make them digital and safe.
9. Don’t DIY It
This one might seem a little self-serving, but it’s true. Do-it-yourself legal services often cause way more headaches than they prevent. Why? Because law is tricky. One wrong word and your family might get tied up in probate court for half a year. There is special language required to set up trusts, healthcare directives, and power of attorney forms, and it can be difficult. Contacting an attorney is the bets choice.
8. Avoid Funeral Prepayment Plans
Funeral prepayment plans seem sensible on the surface. You want a nice funeral that won’t run your family into the ground financially. The prepaid plan is an arrangement between your choice of funeral home and you. However, these arrangements can be unreliable, as funeral homes do occasionally go out of business. Also, many prepayment plans are not able to be relocated. Your money is better off collecting interest in a bank to be used later for the funeral, as opposed to way in advance.
7. Be Tax Savvy
Not everyone is going to get hit with an estate tax, but some people (the .01%) will. If your estate is worth over $5.49 million, you may owe an estate tax. There are ways to minimize this tax through tools such as irrevocable trusts or charitable trusts, but you can only minimize taxation legally if you know what you’re looking at paying.
6. Insurance, Insurance, Insurance
Consider life insurance. Insurance is something you don’t realize you need until it’s too late. Life insurance will benefit and protect your family for years to come, and it is a good way to provide extra financial security to your loved ones.
5. Keep It Updated
Setting up your estate plan is not automatically the end of the road. You have to make sure it is kept updated for new family members, new financial situations, and things such as that. Families change, and you want your estate plan to change with your family, if necessary.
4. Pick a Great Power of Attorney
A power of attorney is the person who makes legal, financial, and/or healthcare decisions on your behalf. Needless to say, you want to make sure that the POA is someone who is very trustworthy and conscientious. And if they turn out not to be…
3. Don’t Be Afraid to Fire Your POA
…then don’t hesitate to fire them. It might cause familial tension, but you shouldn’t hold on to the POA just because you want to be nice to them. The power of attorney needs to go to and remain with the person who is best for the job.
2. Put Your Wishes Front & Center
A good example of this is a healthcare directive. This directive will let you tell a doctor or hospital your wishes for end of life care ahead of time so that, if you’re too sick to communicate them yourself, you can still make sure what you want is honored.
1. Avoid Probate Court
Above all, your goal should be to avoid probate court. Probate court is where estates go to get divvied up, and it is a drag, financially and time-wise. A good estate plan can help you avoid probate court.
Ten years, ten tips. These are definitely not exhaustive, and we could write a 1,000-page book on everything to know about estate planning. But hey! That’s why we’re the lawyers. These ten items for your estate to-do list will be put into even better practice if you hire an estate planning attorney.
Halloween is approaching quickly, and the spooky season is already in full swing. Whether you’re a haunted house person or someone who’s a little less adventurous, the Halloween season is a way for you to celebrate the season. The candy, pumpkins, and horror movies aside, Halloween isn’t the only scary thing out there. While “probate court” might sound about as scary as a Disney movie, there’s a lot more to those two words than meets the eye. Here are the top ten spookiest things about probate court:
10. The Time
Probate court is where estates go to be divided up after the decedent’s (dead person’s) death. The estates are carved up like Jack O’ Lanterns to pay off debts and dissolve the disputes as quickly as possible. However, “quickly” doesn’t mean the same thing in the court system that it means to the rest of the world. The average probate process takes from several months to a year. That’s a long time to be tangled up in the courts.
9. Dragging Your Family Through All That
Not to mention, you won’t be the one in court for several months to a year—your family will be. They’ll be stuck in the snowfall of documents and court dates, and it will be exhausting and boring and tiring. If it couldn’t be avoided, that would be one thing. But estate planning that is thorough would prevent you from dragging your family through the court system.
8. Your Prized Possessions—Gone
You probably have favorite possessions. Maybe it’s a prized painting or a savings account that you’ve been letting sit for years. If your estate is left with no trust or will, probate will decide how your assets are divided up. That prized painting might be sold and the proceeds given to a creditor or used to pay off court fees (see #3).
7. Small Business Owners Beware
Small business owners need estate planning just as much as individuals do. If there is no estate plan and the business is part of the estate, it might be taxed to death or become the subject of dispute after dispute. Even if the small business issue is settled, the legal furor surrounding your business won’t be good for it. Something you’ve worked so hard on deserves to be kept out of the probate courts.
The court system is also confusing. Lawyers spend three years figuring out the law and taking the bar exam to prove they are competent in it. And even lawyers acknowledge that the system is confusing. Probate court is no exception.
5. Not A Good Legacy to Leave Behind
Above all, probate court should not be what your family remembers about you. When you leave behind a legacy, you want it to be something your family will celebrate, not think of with any negative connotations. And probate court is nothing if not a negative-connotation-producer.
4. You’re One of Many
Your home and assets are unique to you. You know everything about them, and every asset likely has some special attachment for you. However, probate court makes you one of many estates getting sorted out. There won’t be much regard for divvying up your possessions. Your estate deserves more than a disposition by someone who has never met you.
3. The Expense
Court fees are expensive. The expenses will come from your estate, first and foremost. However, the hundreds of dollars of fees add up, unsurprisingly. Probate court’s expense is definitely one of the spookiest things about it. The fees take money from your estate that could have gone to your loved ones.
2. Executors You Might Not Have Picked
The court appoints an executor for you. They’ll start with family, but they might appoint someone that you personally would not have picked. However, with no estate plan there to avoid it, your first choice for executor might get totally overlooked and your estate placed in the hands of someone you didn’t want.
Debtors are the top spot on this special Halloween edition of the horrors of probate court. Your assets will pay off creditors. Without an estate plan to set aside trusts or other instruments, your prized possessions could go straight into the hands of your creditors, not your family.
Hopefully, these top ten scariest things about probate have convinced you to hire an estate attorney and make sure your family doesn’t get a close-up and personal look at the ghouls and goblins of probate court. Happy Halloween!
When people think of estate planning (do people who aren’t lawyers think about estate planning?), they generally only consider it in an individual sense. That’s an important area of estate law, but it is not the only area, by far. Estate planning for small businesses is vital to ensuring the long-term success of your business. You’ve worked hard for what you have, and you want it to last.
Here are some issues affecting small businesses that make it vital for small businesses to engage with an estate planning attorney:
It’s nicknamed the death tax, but the IRS pretends that nickname doesn’t exist and instead calls it the estate tax. The death tax still exists, and it will affect your small business if the business is part of your estate and meets the financial threshold. The death tax is a tax on the decedent’s (dead person’s) right to transfer their property after death.
That’s right, even your exit from this earth is taxed. Your small business could be affected by this tax, losing some of its value. However, there are exclusions you can claim or potential deferments of which your heirs can take advantage of. Estate planning will help minimize the tax burden that your small business faces when you pass on.
Trusts, Wills, and Avoiding Probate
Speaking of transferring property, do you know what will happen to your company if you die? Estate planning for small business includes plans for what will come after the death of the owner. A healthy estate plan will allow your business to avoid probate or being picked apart by creditors. That way, your company’s financial future is far more secure.
If you aren’t the only owner of your business, you should look into a buy-sell agreement, which will likely be necessary in this situation. Simply put, this type of agreement mandates that the shareholders, upon your death or some other condition, sell their stake at fair market value to others.
Family-Run Business Issues
Family-run companies might run into different legal issues than other small businesses, particularly when it comes to succession plans. Family businesses keep things in the family, but there also tends to be an informal structure and culture. There might be pressure to hire other family members, a lack of training, high turnover for non-familiar employees, and other issues that come from keeping a business in the family.
This isn’t to say that family-run businesses aren’t awesome—they are. But, they do experience their fair share of potential pitfalls specific to such a personalized enterprise. Estate planning, especially for family businesses who have an informal structure, will provide a firm plan and minimize disputes that could otherwise be the downfall of your small business.
Life insurance is great for a small business owner because, if the owner dies, the business might not provide enough money for the owner’s family to live on. Life insurance is a big-picture policy. Term life insurance will help you provide for your family after you pass on.
Sole Proprietorship Concerns
Succession plans are especially important for a sole proprietorship. If you are a sole proprietor, estate planning will help you tell your heirs either how to run your business when you’re gone or what to do with it when you pass away (sell, transfer, etc.). Estate planning will help you lay out that information for your heirs and make the succession and transfer of the company as smooth as possible.
Small business estate planning is no small matter. Whether you own a sole proprietorship or an LLC, there are a lot of ways that estate planning can provide for your business’s future. There is no reason a good business with a solid financial foundation should be brought down by an issue estate planning could fix. Contact an estate planning attorney today.
As with any demographic, there are issues specific to the elderly that other age groups don’t experience in as pressing a way. Elder law is a subset of the law that focuses on these issues that affect elderly people. The exact definition of elderly is up for debate, but know that you don’t have to be an octogenarian or above to deal with the subject matter of elder law. In this post, we will discuss the various legal issues that concern elderly people in particular.
Everyone experiences health issues at some point. Hopefully, these aren’t serious or severe, but they are something we all live with in one way or another. Seniors experience healthcare concerns in a more pressing way. As the sunset of someone’s life begins, long-term care and healthcare decision-making become things to think about.
Long-term care refers to nursing homes or assisted living. Nursing home and assisted living care is not cheap, and picking out a facility you will be comfortable in is no small decision. Legal issues concerning payment for long-term care and disputes about payment and care are subsets of elder law that focus on protecting would-be and current patients.
Care for the Incapacitated
There is always a chance that someone may become so sick or incapacitated that they cannot make decisions for themselves. In this situation, the issues of a living will or healthcare directive come into sharp focus. A healthcare directive is a way to delineate ahead of time your wishes for the nurses and doctors taking care of you. That way, if you are too sick to tell them what you want when you’re in their care, they have a document to refer to.
Asset protection and determining where your assets will go after you pass on is a huge subset of elder law. Wills and trusts are legal instruments that allow you to transfer your assets to your loved ones (or to creditors). Through careful estate planning, you can avoid probate court. Your family will not have to go through that lengthy, unpleasant process, and you will know that your possessions are where you want them to be—not with the state.
Seniors also receive a variety of government or private benefits, such as SSI, veterans’ benefits, disability, and/or pensions. Every senior’s financial package is different, and you want to make sure that you’re getting what is owed to you without delay. Elder law focuses on the disbursement and dispute-resolution of benefits. Again, this is designed to protect the senior beneficiaries.
Gift taxes and estate taxes tend to affect seniors more as they distribute their assets in wills or trusts. Whether you’re exempt from an estate or gift tax is sometimes unclear, and elder law dealing with tax issues will ensure that you do not run afoul of the IRS. Additionally, tax specialists working in elder law can help minimize the tax burden you or your donee will face. No one likes taxes, and if there is a legal way to reduce them, a tax attorney can figure that out for you.
Capacity is a tricky subject, and it often comes into play for seniors who are dealing with memory loss or similar issues. There may be disputes over a senior’s capacity to execute their will or make financial or healthcare decisions for themselves. Elder law protects seniors from inaccurate determinations of their incapacity. Conversely, elder law can protect incapacitated seniors from making decisions that will harm them later on.
Will contests are technically an area of elder law, as the will in question is usually that of a senior who has passed on. Will contests are not overly-uncommon. An estate attorney will help the drafter of the will construct a document that will minimize the chance of a posthumous feud.
These are just some of the legal issues that affect seniors more directly than the rest of the population. This doesn’t mean that someone young shouldn’t take part in estate planning; it just means that elderly people should be aware that there is a whole subset of the law dedicated towards helping them.
It is difficult, when discussing legal concepts, to have the idea explained in plain English so that non-lawyers can understand. Disclaimer provisions are one such concept that seem difficult but don’t have to be. In this article, we will break down what a disclaimer provision in a will is and how it can help you and your heirs.
It always helps to understand what the language even means in the first place. First, a trust is a three-party relationship. The donor (you) grants title to the property to a trustee (the second party). This trustee then, at your command or at a specific time, such as when you die, transfers title to the property to the beneficiary. The beneficiary is the third party that you intended to get the property all along. Secondly, as you know, a will is a document that details where your assets will go after your death.
Now, let’s throw the word “disclaimer” into the mix. A disclaimer trust involves this three-party relationship. In a disclaimer trust, your will contains embedded disclaimer provisions. These provisions let your spouse, after you die, put specific assets into the trust by disclaiming them. The spouse refuses and rejects ownership of certain parts of your estate. Those rejected (disclaimed) parts of your estate go into a trust.
This trust that contains the disclaimed parts of the estate is called a disclaimer trust. The disclaimed parts of the estate are not taxed when they go into the trust, which is why this instrument is preferred by people who want lower estate taxes for their heirs (i.e. all of us). After the disclaimer trust is established, the trust can pay out support benefits to intended trust beneficiaries.
An example may (hopefully) help make this a little less confusing. Here is an example, using fake people, of a disclaimer trust:
Ann, age 93, dies. She leaves her husband, Harry, age 92, her entire estate. Harry and Ann have three children. Harry disclaims his interest in Ann’s savings account, rejecting ownership of the account because he is 92 and doesn’t need the money. The savings account amount of $1 million goes into a disclaimer trust. It is not taxed.
Ann and Harry’s three children each receive payouts of $1,000 per month from this untaxed disclaimer trust. Harry has disclaimed ownership, so he has no interest in the savings account. The support payments come from the disclaimer trust for as long as Harry elects to disclaim that portion of Ann’s estate.
This simplified example is a way to understand how such a disclaimer trust works. There is another term to know, called a see-through trust.
A see-through trust should not be confused with a disclaimer trust, though the fact that both involve payouts can be confusing and cause to intermix the two.
A see-through trust is a fund that is treated in the same way as a beneficiary of a retirement (IRA) account. A see-through trust bases its payouts on life expectancy of the beneficiaries. Based on that amount, it will calculate the required minimum distributions from the trust. These distributions occur after the holder of the IRA dies. The IRA holder can pick their beneficiary. The see-through trust payouts are not permitted to continue indefinitely.
Every case is different. The effect of a disclaimer trust on inheritance is murky if the disclaimer is not clear and finalized before the death of the grantor. Note that an inheritance tax and an estate tax are not the same thing. The former is applied to the heir, while the latter applies to the estate of the deceased.
This might seem confusing, but just know that the bottom line involves the potential for lower taxes on your estate. Consult an estate planning attorney to discuss setting up a disclaimer trust and the potential benefits that such a trust will grant you.
One of the side effects of age is that it can cause mental instability. This doesn’t always mean a TV movie scenario where the mentally unstable person is wreaking havoc, but it can involve forgetfulness and an inability to think clearly. Every state’s law is different, and this article is not a definitive statement on the law. If you are mentally unstable but still alive, your wealth does not disappear. Here is an overview of the impact of mental instability on your estate.
Defining A Lack of Capacity
Needless to say, garden variety depression or even a touch of old age forgetfulness isn’t going to ring the alarm bells. Mental deficiency, to be actionable, requires you to have a lack of capacity, whether that is due to age or insanity. Insanity is a term that seems harsh and antiquated in today’s more enlightened society, but the term is still used by courts to describe an individual that cannot conduct his affairs because they cannot distinguish fantasy from reality or have a similar psychosis precluding them from functioning.
Age is a more common way to lose capacity. If you have dementia or Alzheimer’s and are unable to conduct your affairs because of the effect the diseases have on your mind, you might be deemed incapacitated.
The goal of the law is to protect incapacitated people, not harm them. The law recognizes that mentally incapacitated people, as with physically incapacitated people, are at a heightened risk for exploitation. Here are ways to protect your wealth before incapacitation strikes:
Appoint a POA
A Power of Attorney (POA) is someone that will manage your financial and/or healthcare decisions in your name when you are too incapacitated to make these decisions yourself. A POA steps in and acts in a protective mode, behaving as you would behave if you were able to function at capacity. Consult an estate planning attorney to fill out the paperwork to appoint your POA. They do not have to be a family member. Grant POA status to someone who is responsible, level-headed, and can be trusted to act in your best interests when making financial and healthcare decisions.
Don’t Put Assets in Your Kids’ Names
Another mistake that is easy to make is to put property in your kids’ names. You may think that this will keep the property safe. After all, it’s your kids, so you can trust them. However persuasive that line of reasoning may be, it is not a good idea. If your kid gets sued, divorced, dies, or has something equally unfortunate happen to them, that asset will be at risk and you may lose it. Much as you may trust your kids, external events can happen that may risk your assets and cause you to lose them permanently.
Consider a Revocable Living Trust
The better idea is a revocable living trust. This instrument can have one or more of your kids as co-trustees. You can set up the trust so that you still make the decisions as to management and use, while your kids get financial statements and the ability to interject if they feel like you are not making sound decisions (which is a risk when incapacitated). There are protective steps your co-trustee can take if they feel like your mental state is causing you to make bad financial decisions. An attorney can explain more in detail about how a revocable trust can apply to your situation.
Get a Lawyer
Finally, get a lawyer. All of the above points are valid and necessary to preserving financial health, but they require professional help to accomplish. An attorney is the best person for the job.
The last point on this list is perhaps the most important. Consult an estate planning attorney to ensure you are protecting yourself properly. We don’t know what the future holds, but we do know what we do not want it to hold: financial ruin. Mental incapacity can happen quickly or gradually, but, either way, it certainly does not mean you have to be harmed financially. The law can protect you.
It seems like every week, there is a new hurricane. With Hurricane Dorian barreling towards the Southeast Coast, many Americans are taking stock of their possessions and wondering if they are secure and protected. Luckily, that question is one that you don’t need to wonder about with no answer. In this article, we’ll give you a mini-guide on how to protect your assets against life’s (and Mother Nature’s) unpredictability.
Before getting into some ideas for asset protection, it’s important to stress that you don’t wait. Hurricane Dorian may not have your location in its path, but that doesn’t mean you should forget about asset protection until a huge storm is coming right at you. If you act quickly, asset protection will be one thing that you can strike off your checklist before the next big storm.
Secure Your Data (For Business Owners)
The number-one thing that you should protect as a business owner is your employees. Prepare an emergency disaster plan and kit in the event that employees are trapped in the workplace. Human life is not replaceable.
Number two on the asset protection list for business owners should be data. This includes data on computers, hard drives, paper format, and whatever other form in which you keep your records. Destruction of data can set a business back by weeks, if not months. It may even cause irreparable harm. Make sure that the data stored on physical property is protected. Either move the records to a safe location or copy them into a computer system that will be far from the storm. Store the data where the storm cannot reach, whether electronic, real, or otherwise.
Insurance, Insurance, Insurance
Insurance is an expense that you don’t know you need until it’s too late. Sure, the extra money spent on insurance could go for something fun, but it isn’t worth the pain that not having it will cause. Acquire insurance on your assets. Home insurance, flood insurance, fire insurance—the policy payments you make are investments in the security of your future. Also, consider life insurance policies.
Estate planning can help you prepare for pretty much anything. If you have a trust or a will, you can determine where your assets will go after you pass away. You can also select guardians for your kids. This might seem like an extreme preparation plan, but you never know. It’s better to have a plan in case of the worst possible outcome than to suffer the consequences of not having one.
Some Odds and Ends
No disaster preparedness guide would be complete without a mention of physical things you can do to protect your belongings. Disaster preparedness kits are available at pretty much any major store, especially in areas that are prone to storms. Don’t forget, before you evacuate or hunker down, to take some concrete, real-labor precautions when it comes to your home, property, and other assets. This takes some good old fashioned elbow grease to complete, but, if you have your family help, it won’t take forever.
When guarding against water flooding your home, barricade the exterior with sandbags and/or urethane foam. Sandbags have been used to guard against floods for a long time. They absorb the water and provide a barrier. Before a hurricane hits, people rush the buy sandbags. This means that, if you buy them now, when your home is not in danger, you won’t be a victim of a lack of supply.
Another trick is boarding up windows. Shattered glass is hazardous, both at the time it breaks and after, during cleanup. Boarding up windows will block wind damage. While many windows, especially in Florida and other hurricane-prone areas, are made to withstand high-impact winds, you can never be too sure that the storm won’t pick up an object and fling it at your window. Even the strongest window can break if debris is flung hard enough.
Secure Loose Objects
Speaking of debris flying around, one way to minimize that is to secure loose objects that the wind can pick up and hurl at your house. This includes your car, kids’ toys, grill, patio furniture, and anything outside that can be moved. While you can’t control what your neighbors do, secure the loose items in your own area to provide some control.
There are a lot of ways in which you can protect your assets during hurricane season, and this list is by no means exhaustive. Natural disasters are not predictable. We know that they will occur, but we don’t know the exact time or location. Don’t wait to secure your assets. Take these steps immediately, even if Hurricane Dorian hasn’t set its sights on you.
Did you know that 68% of households in America have a pet? That’s around eighty-five million families. And this number has increased since the first time the survey, conducted by the Insurance Information Institute, was done in 1988. The first insurance policy for a pet actually was sold just six years prior. The dog from the movie Lassie was the first pet to be insured, as it needed to be in perfect health to be in the film.
We love our pets, and we want to make sure that we provide for them in every possible way. Even if they can be a little annoying sometimes (this is mainly directed towards cats), they are still adorable and deserve the world. In this post, we’ll talk about how you can use your estate plan to protect your pets.
First, You Can’t Leave Them Property
Under the law, pets are (*gasp*) considered property. They are not given the same legal status as people, despite how amicably we may feel towards our furry, feathered, or scaly friends. You cannot leave your pet money or property. However, you can use your estate plan to ensure that your pet is taken care of after you die.
It is a “Just in Case” Thing
Sadly, humans outlive pets. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t include your pet in your estate plan. Something could happen unexpectedly that would leave your pet without an owner. Here are two ways that you can make sure your pet is taken care of in your estate plan.
1. Make Sure Your Pet Goes to a Good Home
If you have a family who lives with you, your pet can just go to them. But what if you live alone? Or what if you are the pet’s primary caretaker and your spouse or roommate just isn’t that into the pet? In that case, you should select a replacement owner for your pet in the event that something happens to you.
Make sure the new owner is someone who understands your pet’s needs. If your pet has unique health issues, include instructions for caring for them. Choose someone who is stable and home enough to give your pet the attention he or she needs. Your pet will undoubtedly miss you, so you’ll want to make sure you pick someone who will help your pet through the grieving process.
2. Give Resources to the New Owner
The new owner shouldn’t have to foot the bill alone. Vet care can be expensive, even if it is just a routine checkup and appointment. You can set up a trust or a gift to the new owner that will convey them money under the condition that they use it for care of the pet. Conditional trusts are usually valid unless they are contrary to public policy (i.e. they are wildly out of the bounds of social permissibility). An example of something that would not be allowed would be a restraint on marriage. Check with your estate planner to ensure your conditional gift is permitted. If it’s money used for a specific purpose attached to the conveyance of the pet, that should be valid.
A Quick Anecdote from History
This article has been somewhat of a bummer, so we will leave you with a short, oddball story from the annals of history.
Leona Hemsley, a real estate mogul who owned hotels all across the world, had a dog named Trouble. When she died, she left trouble $12 million, making him the richest dog in the world for a brief period of time. Trouble passed away at the ripe old age of twelve (84 in dog years), but not before becoming the brief recipient of $12 million. The gift was challenged almost immediately by Hemsley’s relatives, and a judge nullified the gift, unfortunately for trouble. But, rest assured that a dog was a millionaire for at least a brief time.
While you can’t leave your dog (or cat) a bunch of money like Leona Hemsley, you can ensure that they are taken care of it in the future. Include your pets in your estate plan to make sure they’re provided for if something happens to you.
It’s almost time for your kids to go back to school. For you, that might be a relief. For the kids, hopefully they’re excited (or at least willing to give the new school year a chance). With kids heading back to school, here are some things to keep in mind when it comes to protecting and providing for your children in your estate plan.
Do you have a plan of guardianship set out in your estate plan, in the event that something happens to you? If you have minor children, this is a good idea. If something happens to you and your spouse, make sure you have a plan in place for their care. Pick a guardian who will take care of your kids’ day to day needs, as well as the big-picture stuff. Ask your proposed guardian first to make sure they are on board. It is a big responsibility that shouldn’t be taken lightly or decided in the spur of the moment.
College is expensive, pretty much anywhere you go. It’s never too early to start saving up for the expenses that college entails. The IRS is sympathetic to parents who are trying to save up for their kids’ college, and they allow you to use 529 plans, which are tax-advantaged savings plans, to save for college. When you put money in your 529, you get a tax break. The breaks vary depending on your state, but they’re preferable to setting aside a regular portion of your income in another savings account, which would just tax it as regular income.
Things A Young Adult Should Do
This post isn’t just for minors. Your kid might be preparing to enter college and take on the world as a young adult. At age eighteen, there are decisions your kid should make to ensure that he or she has at least some type of estate plan. It’s never too early to think about an estate plan, securing a power of attorney, or other, similar ventures. Though it might seem young, it will come in handy in the worst case scenario.
When you set up a trust, you (the settlor) gives legal title to property to a trustee, who keeps it for the benefit of the beneficiary, who has equitable title to the property. This trust is a good way to give an inter vivos (in-life) gift while avoiding probate court after you pass on. A trust is an option for anyone looking to do something different with a gift that isn’t in a will.
If you’re using a will to create a trust or giving a gift in your estate plan, that is a good way to provide for your kids. Make sure to consult with an estate planning attorney to make sure that the transfer is done properly. It might be tempting to create a will using a “fill in the blank” service, but there is a lot of room for error on those. One misplaced signature, for example, and half your provisions might not come in. It’s best to consult with an estate planner.
This is not to say that your kids are going to be having kids! But, while on the topic of children, if there are new babies in your family you want to create a gift for or include in your will, you should do so sooner rather than later.
With back to school season in mind, your student, whether they’re a young kindergartener or someone about to leave for college, deserves all the protection you can give them in your estate plan.