Estate Wars

Posted by on May 1, 2018 in estate planning, Probate, Wills |

May the Fourth be with you! May 4th has quickly become a tradition for die-hard Star Wars fans across the globe, who come together to celebrate what they love most about the popular movies. However, Star Wars’ themes aren’t just relative to space alone. When it comes to your family, you’re going to want to prevent some battles of your own—albeit not the intergalactic kind.

Estate planning ensures that your assets and debts are assigned in a way that is best for your family. This will keep family harmony, and no one will have to go through probate court. Through estate planning, you will keep the peace in your family by avoiding probate court (which, for symbolic purposes, you can think of as the Death Star of the legal world). Probate court leads to nothing but trouble, and to avoid estate wars within your family, there are some things you must do.

Why is Probate Court So Bad?

Okay, so probate court might not be totally as serious as a planet-destroying star, but it definitely is not where you want your family to be. People who die intestate (meaning they die without a will) or people who die with a last will and testament have to go through probate court. During probate, your estate—assets and debts—are divvied out by a judge.

A family member is appointed to be the executor of your estate. Debts are paid off first; that is goal number one of probate court. Then, whatever’s left is divided among the eligible recipients. The process is long and drawn out, and there is not a great likelihood that you will see your assets go where you want them to. The debts also may be assigned in ways that greatly disadvantage those selected to pay them off. All in all, probate court is not the answer for your family.

How to Avoid It

A common misconception is that having a last will and testament will automatically get you out of probate court and tie up your affairs nicely. That’s not true, however. A last will still has to go through probate court, and it will still take a long time.

The alternative to that is a living trust. With a living trust, there are three parties: you, the trustee, and the beneficiary. You, as the donor, confer nominal ownership of assets to the trustee, who, at a date you give them, hands over your assets to your chosen beneficiary. This gets you out of probate court and puts your estate immediately into the hands of the people you want to get it. There is no middleman, and your beneficiary will be grateful to you for that.

Probate court serves its purpose, but it is not a place that families want to go. Between the time consuming court trips, the costs, and the overall drudgery of this legal process, planning your estate in order to avoid these problems is a far better alternative than risking “estate wars.”

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Spring Cleaning: Don’t Forget to Update Your Estate Plan

Posted by on Apr 25, 2018 in estate planning, Trusts, Wills |

Spring cleaning, in a way, is the final hurdle you have to get over before you can fully enjoy summer. Whether you’re excited or not, it’s here, and it doesn’t just apply to the nooks and crannies of your house. Estate planning is a way to ensure your assets are transferred and distributed the way you want. There are many different documents and tools you can use to safeguard your family after you pass on, but all of them have a similar characteristic: they need to be updated regularly to make sure they’re covering what you want them to cover.

In this article, we’ll discuss the various ways in which your estate plan can be updated. You should look at your plan to see if you need to make these changes. If so, consult your estate planner today.

New Season, New People

Families change, and your estate plan should reflect this. Perhaps new people have come into your life that you want to include in your plans. Or, conversely, maybe there have been changes in your family that require you to consider dropping people from your estate plans and substituting others in their place.

For example, let’s say you have a living trust. (For reference, a living trust is a three-party fiduciary relationship between you, the donor, a trustee, which is the person who takes nominal ownership of your assets, and the beneficiary, who gets the assets when you tell the trustee to transfer them). Your trustee is a relative, and your beneficiary is one of your children. Assume that your relative passes away before you. You then, at that point, need to ensure that you have a new trustee to take the person’s place. Or maybe your trustee is fine, and you want to add more beneficiaries.

These examples are just some of the many ways new circumstances can require new people. Don’t wait to add them in—the sooner the better.

New Season, New Documents

There is a wide range of documents that can go into your estate plan. Don’t settle for what you have now, as situations can arise that lend themselves to the opportunity to add new tools to the mix.

One of the best things about estate planning is the opportunity to adjust and individualize what you need. An example of such a change is your kids and college. There are tools in the estate plan toolkit that allow you to pass on college savings to help your kids pay for college, should they decide to go. Adjusting your estate plan to encompass new plans like this is easy and very valuable to your family.

Changes in the law can also mean opportunities to adjust your estate plan. Recently, the gift tax exemption has increased, along with the estate tax exemption. These two can be grouped together, which means you can lessen your tax burden through certain financial maneuvers (i.e. gifting more money now instead of waiting until you pass away).

As you can see, there are many reasons to update your estate plan this spring. Spring cleaning is here! Take advantage of it by making changes wherever you need to.

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March Madness: Who Will Make The Cut?

Posted by on Mar 29, 2018 in estate planning, Trusts, Wills |

March Madness is upon us! This is the most exciting season for college basketball fans, and everyone is waiting with bated breath to see how their brackets will turn out (for some of us, our answer came disappointingly early).

March Madness involves picking the right people to carry out a common goal, and, in that sense, planning your estate can be viewed a lot like picking your bracket. You need to have the right people in the right positions to carry out the goal of distributing your assets fairly after you die.

The Different Spots to Fill

There are many different spots to fill when it comes to your estate plan. There are different documents, appointees, and other means by which you can control your asset distribution.

Here are a few of these positions that you need to consider filling.

  • Beneficiaries are people you designate to receive your assets. You want your things to go to people you trust. Select beneficiaries who will be able to handle the assets you transfer to them. For example, the cryptocurrency Bitcoin has been making the headlines lately. It is a digital currency that is volatile, tradeable and an asset that only experienced people should handle. If you’re selecting a beneficiary to get your Bitcoin, you want to make sure that they are knowledgeable about the currency and able to handle it. Think this carefully about all your assets.
  • If you create a living trust, you will have a trustor (you), trustee, and beneficiary. You, the trustor, transfer property to the trustee, who becomes the nominal owner until they grant the property to the beneficiary. They grant the property to the beneficiary at your instruction, whether it’s when the beneficiary reaches 18 or at some other point. Pick a trustee that you know will follow your instructions down to the letter.
  • In an estate plan, you can also include instructions on who will be the guardian of your minor children. We don’t need to tell you how important it is to pick the right person—you already know. This is another reason why estate planning is so important. If you have kids, you need to make sure that you have peace of mind on what will happen to them if you die.
  • Power of attorney. Your power of attorney makes financial decisions for you in the event you are too incapacitated to make them yourself. In your estate plan, you can choose who this important person will be. After you pick the person, you can work with them to ensure they know your wishes and how to carry them out if something happens.
  • Healthcare directive. This isn’t necessarily a position so much as it is a set of instructions. A healthcare directive details what a hospital should do for your medical care if you’re too sick to voice your own wishes. This way, you get the care you desire when you need it most.

Much like your March Madness bracket, you need to make sure that the people you choose are able to make the cut. Pick individuals who are responsible and able to handle the duties you give them and follow your directions precisely.

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Have a Heart, Write a Will

Posted by on Feb 15, 2018 in Wills |

 

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.

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Divorce’s Impact on Your Estate Plan

Posted by on Jan 29, 2018 in estate planning, Family Law, Trusts, Wills |

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.

 

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Merry Christmakwanzakah: Everyone’s Included—Like Your Estate Plan Should Be

Posted by on Dec 21, 2017 in 529 Plan, estate planning, Trusts, Wills |

Merry Christmakwanzakah: Everyone’s Included—Like Your Estate Plan Should Be

One of the best parts about the holiday season is the many, many different celebrations that take place. From Christmas to Kwanza to Hanukkah, the holidays are a time for everyone to see their family and engage in celebrations. And, while you’re with your loved ones, it’s time to think about one of the best gifts you can get them—an estate plan that includes everyone.

Sure, estate planning doesn’t sound quite as exciting as a new Xbox or a car, but, in the long run, it ends up being even more valuable (trust us). Estate planning is the process by which your assets, debts, and estate are assigned and distributed after your death.

The Toolkit

Think of your estate plan as a legal toolkit. If you open the kit, you will see many different documents, all of which pertain to a different aspect of your life. However, these tools all have the same goal: avoiding probate.

Probate court is what happens if you do not have an estate plan. The court takes charge of your estate, dividing up assets and debts and winding down the estate in a way that is time-consuming and difficult for your family. A mere last will and testament is not enough. There are many different documents in an estate plan. Listed below are a few of the main ones.

What’s in your legal toolbox?

  • Power of Attorney. Your power of attorney is a trusted individual who you pick to manage your financial and healthcare decisions if you are sick or incapacitated to the point where you cannot make these decisions yourself. We all have that relative who we wouldn’t trust to babysit a rock, let alone make life-changing choices for others. By picking your POA yourself, you ensure that you are choosing someone who is competent and responsible.
  • Living Will. Also known as an advance healthcare directive, a living will specifies what a person wants to have happen in the event of certain medical emergencies. This way, if you can’t tell a doctor or hospital yourself what you want, your directive will have the plan laid out for you.
  • Living Trust. A trust is a three-party relationship. This relationship is of a fiduciary nature. The first party, known as a trustor, confers assets or property to a second party, the trustee, for the benefit of a third party, the beneficiary. The living trust allows for this fiduciary relationship to take place upon your death, when your trustee confers to your beneficiary the property with no probate court acting as middleman.
  • 529 Plan. This 529 plan is for people who have kids who are going off to college—if not now, then in the future. The 529 allows you to set aside funds for your kid’s college funds. You may also know a 529 as a “qualified tuition plan.”
  • TOD Sheets. TOD—Transfer on Death—sheets do just that: upon your death, property is transferred in the form of a deed. Morbid though the name is, this legal tool is really helpful and operable in many states.

Estate planning also needs to include everyone you want. When you schedule a consultation, make sure that you have a thorough discussion about those you want to include. Don’t forget that you can—and should—make updates and changes to your plan whenever necessary. The above legal tools are just some of what can help you wrap up your estate quickly and efficiently when the time comes.

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