Independence Day: No More Probate Court! 

Posted by on Jun 26, 2018 in Legal News |

Independence Day is coming up soon, and you’re probably already thinking of ways in which you can celebrate one of America’s most fun holidays. In between all the red, white, and blue, remember that the idea of independence can stretch across all kinds of areas, including those that you hold most dear. Have you thought about your future lately? And not just what you’re going to do tomorrow, or even weeks from now, but the future that will go on after you pass away. 

Estate planning helps you prepare for such a future. It ensures that you’re able to spare your family the tedium and expensiveness of probate court via tools such as living trusts, gifts, and documents that will help keep your estate out of the legal system. In this article, we’ll talk about why your estate needs its “independence” from probate court. 

What is probate court? 

After you die, the world is left with your estate, which includes, among many things, your assets and debts. Your asset need to be distributed, as do your debts. Probate court is a special area of the legal system in which a judge uses your assets to pay off your debts, and then assigns whatever is left to your relatives. It’s basically the management and distribution of your estate using the legal process. Someone in your family is assigned the position of executor, and it is his or her job to oversee the winding down of the estate. 

The Costs of Probate Court

Probate court can take at least a year, and there’s absolutely no guarantee that you’ll be able to have your assets distributed the way you want. There’s also no guarantee that your debts will be paid off in a manner you find appropriate for your family’s financial situation. The judge’s first goal is to get the creditors and IRS paid. Your loved ones come second to debtors and tax collectors. 

While your estate is tied up (the more complicated the estate, the longer it’ll take), your family won’t have access to your assets. If they need money to pay bills, they are out of luck for the duration of the court process. Probate court requires a judge’s approval for basically every little thing. If your family goes through probate, a judge will run interference throughout the whole process, which will make the whole estate windup very protracted. 

There’s also the expense of a legal proceeding. Filing fees can be several hundred dollars. While these fees come out of the assets of your estate, that’s still giving money to the courts that could have gone to something your family really needed. 

Zero Privacy

Lastly, probate is not a private process. Probate court records are a public matter, and information about your liabilities, assets, representatives, and beneficiaries are all out there for the public to see. If someone wants to know something about you, they can read the probate file easily to find out, whether they do it by asking a county clerk (who is unlikely to care why the person wants to read your file) or by going online. Avoiding probate means that your family gets privacy. 

Estate planning tools are there to help your family avoid the tedium, expense, and lack of privacy that comes with probate court. There are legal mechanisms that can give your family immediate access to your assets without requiring them to pass through court. Consult a planner today to make sure you’re getting your own “Independence Day” from costly and time-consuming legal processes. 

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Power of the POA

Posted by on Jun 26, 2018 in Legal News |

When you think of estate planning, you might picture in your head a last will and testament from someone who’s ninety years old. That, however, is not the case at all (though certainly that is a common document and age range). Estate planning is a young man’s game too, and college kids need a power of attorney the same way someone five decades their senior does.

You should encourage the college-age kids in your life to get a power of attorney. In this article, we’ll discuss what a power of attorney is, as well as why college-age people should have one.

What is a Power of Attorney? 

If you become unable to manage your own affairs due to incapacitation (illness, injury, mental incompetence, etc.), a power of attorney is the person you legally appoint to manage your affairs in your place. Even if you have absolutely no problems on the horizon and are in perfect health, you still should have a power of attorney. There are a few different types of power of attorney. These include general, special, and healthcare. You should also know the term “durable power of attorney.” 

General power of attorney gives a person broad authority to act on your behalf for a wide range of different issues. This type of POA is included in an estate plan most often. The special power of attorney is narrower in scope, and you assign to the special POA only those powers you wish them to have. A healthcare POA makes healthcare decisions for you if you’re too sick or injured to make them. 

Lastly, a durable POA is just a document ensuring that there won’t be any issues in keeping the authority of the general, special, or healthcare power of attorney intact in the event that you’re too incapacitated to make your own decisions. The durable power of attorney can also go into effect if you’re mentally incompetent to handle decision-making, and you can choose the doctor(s) you want to determine your competency to lift the POA. 

Why do college kids need one? 

Estate planning is based on the fact that no one is infallible. It is the best way to prepare for the “what ifs” in life, and college kids are still vulnerable to different types of illnesses and injuries. They certainly aren’t injury- and sickness-proof while they’re away from home. Having a college-age kid sign a power of attorney ensures that kid’s parents will be able to manage their affairs, should the kids become unable to do so. As the kids are 18 and no longer minors, they can pick any adult they trust, related or unrelated. College kids don’t have many assets, but they do have bills, a bank account, and digital accounts that need to be managed if something happens. 

Kids who are in college rarely think anything can happen to them, but, unfortunately, that isn’t always the case. It’s important to be prepared, and having a power of attorney is a necessity for anyone who is no longer a minor.

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Keeping the Father’s Day Feeling Going with Estate Planning 

Posted by on Jun 26, 2018 in Legal News |

Father’s Day has just passed, and you’ve probably either given or received some pretty great gifts. If you’re a dad, or someone related to a dad, you should know that the spirit of celebration doesn’t have to end just because the holiday is over. There is still a great gift you can give someone in your life, whether you’re giving the gift as a father or to a father. This is the gift of estate planning. Estate planning is the process of arranging and assigning the way in which your assets and debts will be distributed after you pass on. 

Without an estate plan, your family could be looking at some time (and money) spent in probate court trying to figure out what to do. To spare them that tediousness, below are some common estate planning documents you should know.

529 Plan 

     A 529 plan is a tax plan that allows you to set aside some of your assets for the kids in your family who will be going to college. This plan is also called a “qualified tuition plan.” The qualified tuition plan can be sponsored by states, state agencies, or state institutions, and it comes with tax advantages. The 529 plan can operate as a savings account designed to accrue federal and state tax benefits (income tax breaks, low maintenance, simple reporting, control of the account, and more). The impact on financial aid is minimal.

As an alternative to a savings plan, you can have a prepaid plan, which will pre-pay tuition for colleges, either in full or in part. These 529 plans are generally fine to use for out-of-state colleges, but you should check with your estate planner to ensure that they are usable.

Living Trust 

    A living trust is different from a last will and testament. The living trust has three parties: (1) you, the donor, (2) the trustee, and (3) your beneficiary. You give nominal title to the trustee, who passes the title of the asset to the beneficiary after you pass away (or whenever you decide you want your beneficiary to have it). You don’t have to go through probate court with a living trust the way you do with a last will, as a living trust goes into effect immediately. Depending on the trust, it can be revocable or irrevocable. 


     Naturally, a Father’s Day post couldn’t go by without mentioning the kids who have made you a father. An important part of estate planning for those with minor children is deciding who will have guardianship of them in the event that something happens to you. Keep the guardianship plan updated if there are any changes (for example, if the person you would have chosen can no longer take the kids, make sure you immediately change your estate plan to reflect that). Having someone you trust as a guardian will give you peace of mind and benefit your kids immensely should something happen.

These are just some of the many documents that go into estate planning, and there are tons of other tools in the toolbox that will be right for your particular financial situation. Consult with an estate planner today to keep the Father’s Day gift-giving going. 

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