September is Hurricane Season: Are Your Assets Protected?

Posted by on Sep 18, 2019 in Legal News | 0 comments

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. 

Don’t Wait 

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

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.

Sandbags

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. 

Boards

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.

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Using Your Estate Plan to Protect Your Pets

Posted by on Aug 20, 2019 in Legal News |

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.

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Back to School!

Posted by on Aug 13, 2019 in Legal News |

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. 

Guardianship

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 Savings 

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.

Trusts

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. 

Gifts 

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.

New Babies 

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.

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How Time Flies! Pre-season Is Here!

Posted by on Aug 7, 2019 in Legal News |

The NFL pre-season is upon us! The NFL pre-season is a great way for teams to scope out their favorite players, determine who can come off the injury list, see how the roster will be organized, and essentially get everything ready for the upcoming season-to-be. If you’re an NFL fan, you know that this means that your favorite time of the year is close. If you’re not an NFL fan, it’s still fun! It means that fall is here, almost, and that brings with it all the amazing things that come with the year’s second-to-last season.

When you think of the pre-season, you think of a preparedness plan that NFL coaches are making for the big event. In a way, estate planning is somewhat of a pre-season. Here are your core components: 

A Good Offense

Your attack plan is always important. You want to have a formidable offense. In the context of the NFL, this means a tough O-Line, strong receivers, and, of course, a star quarterback. For the rest of us non-NFL’ers in estate planning, a good offense means an affirmative plan of action when it comes to dividing up your assets and determining who your beneficiaries will be. 

You should attack asset division in an organized fashion, whether you’re gifting assets in an inter vivos trust so as to avoid going through probate or assigning monetary gifts to your family to be paid from any residuary in your estate. 

An Even Better Defense 

Of course, you can’t have offense without defense. In estate planning, your best defensive plan is to prepare for eventualities that may arise, such as sickness, death, or incapacitation. When you’re incapacitated, that means that you are unable to make decisions for yourself. Maybe you’re unconscious or too sick to be responsive. Either way, having documents in place such as a healthcare directive or people in place like a POA will ensure that your healthcare and financial decisions are made responsibly and in accordance with your wishes. 

Who’s Your Head Coach? 

Trick question: you are! And you shouldn’t forget that. When you’re preparing your estate plan, make sure that you’re acting in accordance with your own wishes and what is best for your estate. Remember, this is your estate plan. Make sure that you pick a POA who is responsible and knowledgeable, not just the first person who asks you.

Who’s Your Backup QB?

Speaking of a POA, your power of attorney definitely qualifies as your backup quarterback. They are fit individuals over the age of eighteen, of sound mind, and with specific duties who make financial and healthcare decisions on your behalf in the event that you become sick or ill. You can also appoint them as the executor or executrix of your estate after you die, which means that they wind up the estate and handle property division.

Keeping Your Roster Updated 

Coaches in the NFL change their rosters all the time. They know that things don’t always stay the same. Players get injured, suspended, or stop performing well. Just like the NFL coaches, you need to be prepared to change things in your estate plan if necessary. Make sure to keep it updated. If you see that there is a change in the family (a divorce, a new child, etc.) that requires adjustment, do it sooner rather than later.

As you can see, there are a lot of parallels to be made between the pre-season and preparedness in estate planning. When you’re thinking of ways to organize your life and get prepared, estate planning should be at the top of your list.

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Staycation? Do Some Drafting

Posted by on Jul 20, 2019 in Legal News |

 

 

There’s nothing wrong with a staycation! By staycation, we mean relaxing at home instead of going off on an exciting trip. Staycations are a great way to relax and tie up any loose ends or extra work that you may have been putting off during the regular year. One example of this extra work you can get done during your staycation is drafting your estate plan or will. 

We get it. Life is busy. But, when you have a chance to relax, you should take advantage of it. Contacting an estate planning attorney won’t take long at all, and the estate planning process will not be arduous. Here are some reasons you should consider using your downtime to draft an estate plan or will. 

Peace of Mind

“Peace of mind” sounds like a cliché term until you actually have it. Then, you realize how important it is. When you’re drafting your estate plan and will, you will be amazed at the sense of peace you’ll feel, knowing that you’ll be able to have everything prepared for any eventuality. 

The point of an estate plan and will is also to prove for your family’s peace of mind. They won’t be dragged into probate court because there is no wrap-up for your affairs. Your assets will be divided much more easily and in a way that is stress-free.

DIY Legal Work—Never A Good Idea

It might be tempting to just try to get it done on your own, with no assistance from a legal professional. This is a bad idea, and we’re not just being biased. The thing about the law is that it’s tricky. Things that seem like they should be valid are not, while things that seem like they should be invalid suddenly control the whole will or agreement. The terminology is tricky, as are the particulars, and it’ll save you time and money to have it done correctly by a professional, rather than to have it done incorrectly and deal with the confusion resulting from that.

You Won’t Know How Much You Need it ‘Til You Have It 

Stating that you should draft a will or a healthcare directive isn’t a comment on your own mortality. It probably doesn’t seem all that pressing right now, and maybe it isn’t. However, things happen. You won’t know how much you need it until you have it. It’ll be a huge relief to you to have these documents in hand during times of stress. Nothing worsens stress than not being prepared for the event. 

Even Updating Requires Some Time 

Even if you already have a will, that doesn’t mean that you can clock out. Updating is important. New family members and new circumstances are always occurring, and you want to make sure that your will and estate plan reflects that. Otherwise, an outdated document will cause family strife. Updating and ensuring currency and modernity is another key to a valid estate plan or will. Once again, law is tricky. Things that seem like they shouldn’t determine the outcome often do, and you want to make sure outcome-determinative things don’t torpedo the intentions behind your will.

More Ability to Focus During Your Downtime

When you’re on a staycation, you have more time to focus. You’re not rushing to do a million things at once, and that means that this is the perfect time to get this estate planning done. You’re in a space where you can focus, and that will come in handy when making these important decisions. 

There are a lot of benefits to a staycation, and one of these benefits is the ability to get things done that you wouldn’t have been able to during the usual hustle and bustle of life. Do some drafting during your staycation so you can check it off your list! 

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Avoiding These Common Ways to Put Assets at Risk

Posted by on Jul 16, 2019 in Legal News |

While materialism isn’t a good thing, you’ve worked hard for your possessions. You don’t want to put your assets at risk. One way to prevent putting them at risk is to make sure that you are able to avoid getting into situations where they could be lost. In this article, we will discuss the top ten ways, in no particular order, to put assets at risk (and how you can avoid them). 

1. Lack of Insurance

Insurance, as the old saying goes, is one of those things that you don’t know how much you need until you need it. When you want to protect your assets, you need insurance. Even if it isn’t the double-decker, platinum policy, a solid, practical insurance plan will work wonders. When deciding the type of insurance you want, look at the type of asset and the risks involved. Do your research into various policies and insurers, and you will be able to find the best price. You’ll be happy you have it.  

2. Dying Intestate 

A common way to lose your assets it to die intestate, which means that your assets are given first to your creditors, and then to your family. Dying without a will subjects your estate to probate, and your estate is carved up in a way that you likely would not prefer had you been able to make a choice. Making a will is an excellent way to keep your assets within the family, as is creating a trust. 

3. Probate Battles 

Probate court is where your estate is divvied up by a judge. Probate battles between family members, creditors, and beneficiaries occur all the time. Really, half of the time spent in probate court involves an argument of some sort. And, your estate and values won’t necessarily come out the winner. Avoid probate by ensuring that your estate plan is in good shape. 

4. Attempting to Make Your Will Yourself 

It’s tempting to just want to write down everything you want to have happen, sign the will, and be done with the whole estate planning thing. However, the law is tricky and complicated. There are a million and one ways to torpedo a will and totally get the intentions of it wrong. Asking a lawyer for help is the best way to ensure that it is done properly.

5. Business Considerations 

Hundreds of thousands of words could be written on the business considerations behind protecting your assets. However, there’s no need for that in this article. Make sure that you are fully aware of the liability of your assets in relation to your business. How limited is your liability in the event that your business is sued? Will you be exposed personally to lawsuit costs? If you know this information and are happy with it, then that is a good thing. If you’re unsure, this is something you’ll want to check out.

6. Picking the Wrong POA

You know your family, and you likely know who you would and would not want as a power of attorney. Always double check to ensure that that is your correct intention. If you have a POA in your estate plan now, make sure that that is still who you want. A less-than-ideal POA can be very problematic. 

7. DIY Legal Work 

Similar to one of the ways listed above, the unwise nature of DIY legal work extends to anything requiring drafting of a legal document. Even if the site you’re looking at offers a template, there are all too many ways to include a wrong term or end up with something totally different than what you want. The headache you’ll be spared by doing it properly the first time is the main reason why you should go to a lawyer first.

8. No Umbrella Insurance 

Umbrella insurance is the Cadillac of insurance in a lot of cases. If you have the extra money and want to get umbrella insurance (which is insurance that goes beyond the liability of your home), you should definitely do so.

9. Ex-Spouses 

Ex-spouses all too often have places in your estate plan that they likely should not have. If you’re divorced and haven’t changed your estate plan to reflect that, that doesn’t necessarily mean that your ex will get your things. However, it’s a better idea to not have them in there. Make sure to change your will or revoke a trust (if possible) if that doesn’t reflect your current relationship.

10. Put It in Writing 

Last but not least, put stuff in writing. If you’ve made a verbal promise to a relative about your estate plan, that might not be good enough. Put your intentions in writing, and an estate planner will help you do so.

These ten asset protection mistakes are not the only ways to risk your assets, but they are the most common. Watch out for the hidden pitfalls, and you will be able to avoid them. Knowing the risk is the first step to avoiding it.

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