Estate Planning Before a Vacation

Posted by on Jun 24, 2021 in Legal News | 0 comments

Summer is here! It’s June, which means it’s time to vacation in the sand, sun, and surf. Before you go on a vacation (and hopefully, you get to go, as the past year has been stressful for us all), it’s important to take care of some estate planning essentials. This article will serve as a guide to how to estate-plan before taking a vacation.

Why Before a Vacation? 

Though vacations are fun and laid-back, the real reason that you should estate-plan before a vacation takes into account the less-fun side of things. Bad things can—but hopefully won’t—happen on a vacation. If you die or become ill or injured on a vacation, an estate plan will keep your assets and medical decisions from being taken over by third parties who don’t know you and don’t know your family. 

What to Have 

Below are a few legal tools and documents that you should have in your estate plan. These aren’t the be-all, end-all of estate planning, but they will get you off to a pretty good start. Though certain websites and services offer to let you write these documents yourself, it’s best to let a professional do them for you, as lawyers can best navigate the tricky legal waters. 

Beneficiary Designations 

Beneficiary designations on things like 401(k) and life insurance documents provide someone to receive these accounts in the event that you pass away. Usually, it’s a spouse or child who is given the money, but it can be anyone you name (if you’re divorced, make sure your ex isn’t on the account). If there’s no beneficiary named, it will likely be the court who decides who gets what. 

Will or Trust

Wills and trust are two legal documents, each different in their own ways, with similar purposes. They both are designed to lay out where your assets will go if you die. You can couple these with a letter of intent, which you write to your executor spelling out your intentions for your assets. Both wills and trusts are cornerstones of asset division.  

Guardianship

If you have minor children and something happens to you and your spouse on vacation, who will take care of them? Though the idea of getting eaten by a shark or contracting some random deadly disease seems far off, you never know. Name your kids’ guardians in your estate plan. Choose people who will give them the best day-to-day quality of life, and make sure you talk to your proposed guardians beforehand, as you want to make sure they are on board with such a huge, life-changing responsibility. 

Power(s) of Attorney

Powers of attorneys are trusted individuals that you choose to make healthcare and/or financial decisions for you in the even that you’re unable to make them yourself. Taking from the example above, let’s say you contract a rare disease and are too sick to pay your bills. A financial POA will take care of those responsibilities for you until you are well enough to return to those tasks. 

Advanced Directive

Also known as living wills, advanced healthcare directives are important documents for anyone with strong opinions about their medical care. If you have certain religious or moral wishes (such as Do Not Resuscitate) about your healthcare, you can delineate them in an advanced directive. Doctors, nurses, and specialists will rely on this document when providing you with care. The advanced directive is highly personal, reflecting what you truly want and don’t want.

What If I Don’t Have These? 

Basically, not having an estate plan and running into peril will require third parties—courts—to make decisions for you. For example, if you don’t have guardianship designations set up for your kids and you die, a judge, who doesn’t know your family, will step in and make the decision for you. The court process is costly, impartial, and can seem invasive. Estate planning will help you sidestep all of that. 

Though estate planning might seem like a bummer before a vacation, consider it a boring—yet necessary—part of the vacation planning process. Contact an attorney to plan out some of the documents discussed above, as the lawyer will be able to quickly sort out what you need, getting you on your way to the sand and sun as fast as possible. 

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Father’s Day: Protecting the Ones You Love

Posted by on Jun 17, 2021 in Legal News |

Dads are the best. They protect us, help us, and teach us new things. Even when we’re adults, our dads still are the leaders of the family. If your father doesn’t have an estate plan, give him the gift of a planning session, as that might help repay some of the amazing things your dad has done for you. 

In the spirit of protection, in this article, we’ll discuss who and what your estate plan can protect. If you or your dad don’t have one, it’s time to get going on that process ASAP. Contact an attorney to discuss your options in setting up an estate plan. 

Estate Plans Protect Beneficiaries 

Once upon a time, estate planning was thought of as something only rich people needed, as it was their wealthy beneficiaries who would benefit from having a place in plan. However, that conception has totally changed, and there are a lot of middle-class families who can seriously benefit from having an estate plan in the event something happens to the breadwinner(s) of the family. 

No matter what you’re leaving behind, if you don’t have a plan for what happens when you pass away, you will have no control over where it goes—it might even be sold and the proceeds given to creditors. Beneficiaries are protected with estate planning, as the major component of estate planning involves designating who you want to receive your assets. Without a plan, the court will decide who gets what, and that process can not only rack up fees, it can also get ugly. The court doesn’t know your family history, so it doesn’t know who should and shouldn’t be receiving any money. 

Heirs Get Spared the IRS (Kind Of)

Sometimes, when setting up an estate plan, there are legal ways to minimize and shrink your tax burden. If estate planning is about protecting loved ones, what better way to do so than to keep them away from the IRS? One essential of estate planning is transferring assets in a way that creates the smallest tax burden for heirs. Though it’s foolhardy to say taxes will be wiped out totally, they can be reduced with savvy planning. 

Even just a little foresight can enable people—especially married couples—to reduce federal/state estate and state inheritance taxes. Without a plan in place that has been developed by a professional, your beneficiaries might end up shelling out quite a bit of cash to Uncle Sam. 

Keeping Kids Safe 

Another major benefit to estate planning is that it helps plan for the unthinkable. No one thinks something bad will happen to them, but you never know, in this crazy world. If you have minor children, setting up guardianship for them will keep them in a stable home if you and your spouse die before they turn eighteen. Without a will naming guardians for your kids, courts step in and decide who raises them. An impartial judge who has never met your family really is not the best person to decide such an intimate, life-changing decision. 

Even if your dad’s kids are grown now, yours might not be. Protecting kids is what dads do—and estate plans can help.

Say Goodbye to Messy Family Situations 

We’ve all seen or heard these horror stories, and we might even know of them occurring in real life—perhaps in our own family. When someone dies without a will, the war between family members begins. It gets really ratcheted up if the person has a considerable amount of money. Someone always thinks they deserve money the most, even if they’re notoriously irresponsible. The result is ugly squabbling that can even end up in litigation, racking up not only family animosity, but also a ton in legal fees. 

Bypass that mess by having an estate plan. The plan will stop fights before they begin, as you decide who controls your finances if you become incapacitated, and you decide what happens to your assets (money, property, etc.) after you die. You can even come up with individualized plans for your relatives, such as a trust fund for someone who isn’t responsible to inherit a lump sum but still should get something. Telling your family situation to a lawyer, who is bound by client confidentiality, will help the practitioner decide what is best for your family. 

As you can see, there are some major benefits to having an estate plan in place. Don’t try to set one up yourself, as there are a lot of minor technicalities to legal documents, and a lot can go wrong. Instead, discuss options with an estate planning attorney, who will help you get the necessary documents together. Schedule an appointment and find out more on our website

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Mid-Year Estate Planning Evaluation

Posted by on Jun 6, 2021 in Legal News |

Can you believe that we’re already in June? 2021 is flying by and things appear to be looking up (at least, when compared to what happened in 2020—knock on wood). Now that half the year has passed, it is time to do a mid-year evaluation of your estate plan. This guide will provide a few simple questions for you to ask yourself when determining whether your estate plan covers everyone and everything it needs to cover. 

1. Do I have a will?
A will is a final statement of your intentions when it comes to your assets. It determines where your assets will go after you pass on, and it is a vital step in the estate planning process. Dying without a will leads to intestacy, which will force your family into a painful and unexpected court process. Having a will as a cornerstone of an estate plan is extremely important. 

2. Do I have a trust?
A trust is a three-party fiduciary relationship set up in a legal document. You, the donor, transfer title to a trustee, who holds the title until they are instructed to transfer title to the beneficiary. A trust is useful for someone who wants to and is able to pass on title to an asset immediately. A trust can also help you avoid probate court, which makes it an attractive option for many. 

3. Do I have beneficiary designations? 
There are a few possessions that can pass to heirs without you dictating them in the will (such as a 401[k]). Maintaining a beneficiary and contingent beneficiary—someone to take the account if the other beneficiary cannot—will allow the person you want to receive your assets without the court stepping in. Not naming a beneficiary to these assets means that a court will be left to decide the funds’ fate, and the court’s decision could run counter to your wishes. 

4. Do I have a letter of intent?
This one is easy to complete, but it’s still vital. The letter of intent is a document that you leave to your executor. It defines what you want done with a particular asset or assets after you die or get sick. The letter of intent can also provide details on your funeral. It will also make a statement of your intent, which can help if there are murky parts of your will. 

5. Do I have a healthcare power of attorney? 
A healthcare power of attorney (POA) makes decisions for you if you’re too sick to make them yourself. This trusted person—usually a spouse or family member—will step in on your behalf, ensuring your wishes are followed. Though you might feel fine now, anything can happen. 

6. Do I have a financial power of attorney? 
Similar to a healthcare power of attorney, a financial POA makes monetary decisions for you in the event that you’re too sick to make them yourself. Again, even if sickness doesn’t seem like it’s looming on the horizon for you, it’s best to be prepared, just in case. 

7. Is my business taken care of?
Some of us are business owners, and businesses must be included in estate plans as well. Having a succession plan and plan of action for your business after you die will keep your company from falling into disarray when you’re gone. 

8. Do I have guardianship designations?
Those with minor kids should have guardianship designations, in the event that something happens to them and their spouse. Make sure to talk to your proposed guardian before you make the decision, as you want to ensure the guardian is on board before potentially saddling them with a huge responsibility.

9. Have I acquired any new major assets? 
Estate plans change, and sometimes those changes are due to new assets that need to be incorporated into the plan. If you’ve acquired something major, you’ll need to include it in your estate plan, sooner than later. 

10. Has anything major changed in my life? 
This update applies to pretty much any major event in your life. If there are new births, deaths, or weddings, they need to be reflected in your estate plan. 

These brief questions will put you on the right path to ensuring that your estate plan covers what it should cover. Visit our website to learn more and contact an estate planning attorney. 

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Memorial Day: Think Ahead, Leave a Legacy

Posted by on May 22, 2021 in Legal News |

Memorial Day is one of America’s longest-standing, most-honored holidays. It was first instituted in 1868, when General John A. Logan, the commander in chief of an organization honoring Union Civil War veterans, wanted to commemorate all that the Union soldiers did for America. 

It’s hard to tell exactly where the first Memorial Day celebrations originated. Over twenty-five locations have laid claim to the holiday. Even before the Civil War, soldiers’ graves were often decorated, and the decoration continued during the American Civil War. Scholarly efforts have tried to detangle myth from legend and discover the exact origin, but it has been difficult. Either way, the holiday is now federally-observed and an important part of the fabric of the nation. Every Memorial Day, Americans all across the country visit the graves of soldiers who died while serving in the Armed Forces. 

Now, Memorial Day is a way to honor and remember the sacrifices of those who died for our freedom. In the spirit of Memorial Day, it’s important to think ahead and leave a legacy for you and your family.

Thinking Ahead 

“Thinking ahead,” in this context, refers to planning for life’s possibilities and eventualities. Sickness, as we all know from these COVID-19 times, can loom large on the horizon. However, there can also be real issues that pop up even when you’re perfectly healthy. 

In Sickness

A healthcare directive is a document that will specify your wishes to doctors, nurses, and other medical personnel in the event that you’re too sick to communicate your wishes yourself. 

A power of attorney is someone you entrust with the responsibility to make financial and healthcare decisions on your behalf if you’re incapacitated. Both a directive and a POA are two documents that, in sickness, can keep you from losing more than just your health.

And in Health 

Tragedy can strike even when you’re healthy. The importance of insurance cannot be overstated. Life insurance will provide your family or business with a source of income after you pass away, bridging an important financial gap. 

Estate planning for SBOs (small business owners) is also vital, even if there are no storm clouds on the horizon. Your business is your life’s work, and you want to make sure it is protected, through insurance and from creditors, if something happens. Estate planning attorneys and financial advisors can help protect what you’ve worked for.

Leaving a Legacy

Though a gloomy topic, what will happen to your assets after you pass away? You do not want to die without a will, as dying intestate ensures a lengthy, painful court process that will be hard on your family. Using estate planning to leave a legacy for your kids and, if applicable, your business, is extremely important. 

For Your Kids

Your last will and testament is the final say on where you want your assets distributed. You can also consider a trust, which will transfer legal title to a trustee until you want your kids to receive the asset in question (property, money, etc.).  

For Your Business

You should create a succession plan for your business. It’s extremely important, especially for family-owned businesses, to contact an attorney about laying down the groundwork for what will happen to your business when you pass away. 

Celebrating Memorial Day means reflecting on both the past and the future. While we should definitely commemorate what has happened, we also should look forward to leaving a legacy.

Visit our website to learn more and contact an estate planning attorney.

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Protecting Your Small Business in 2021

Posted by on May 14, 2021 in Legal News |

Time is flying by in 2021, and is that really such a bad thing? If you’re a small business owner, you know that the past year-and-a-half has been difficult. Though there are government programs that have helped keep small businesses afloat, things are not completely back to normal. 

Luckily, there are various legal ways you can protect your business assets, even in these troubled times. Use this guide as a reflection tool. It’s almost mid-year—how are things looking for your business? What steps have you taken to protect what you have built? 

What the Surveys Are Saying

Bill.com conducted a survey of small business owners, asking them about their forecast for 2021. The survey found that, while a majority of SBOs are optimistic, they are also making changes in how they run their businesses. 75% are introducing new products and methods of conducting business as we enter the second year of COVID-19. 

New innovation is a necessity for an SBO. However, it is, obviously, not the only necessity. Estate plans are a must-have. In the next section, we’ll discuss several key components of small business estate planning. 

Estate Planning for Your Small Business

If you’re a small business owner, you probably have a million things to focus on each day. It’s imperative to carve out time in your schedule, however busy, to create an estate plan. Around one-third of small business owners have no estate plan (Fundera), which means they have no written-down plan for succession. 

Basic Planning 

A will and power of attorney are two basic must-have documents for any SBO. A will states how you want your business to be distributed (succeeded, liquidated, sold, etc.) after you die. A power of attorney will handle financial and business transactions, such as paying bills, handling insurance claims, and such, if you are unable to do so yourself. 

Tax Considerations

This is where it is especially important to hire an attorney, as tax laws are always in flux. Estate planning attorneys might be able to help minimize estate taxes, which are an issue for estates exceeding a certain amount of money (currently, $11.18 million). Other tax considerations include withdrawal of 401(K)s, IRAs, and/or other retirement accounts.  

Buy-Sell Agreements 

Buy-sell agreements are optional and really only apply to businesses that have multiple owners. Buy-sell agreements are legal documents that specify who can purchase an owner’s share of the business. BSAs also specify the conditions and price of the sale. This document lays out what should happen if one of the owners dies, retires, or becomes disabled. 

Insurance

Insurance is one of the most vital tools an SBO can possess. While business insurance is obvious, life and disability are two other insurance policies you should think about. Life insurance coverage will provide your family (or another named beneficiary, like your business) with income when you die. The insurance can also guarantee income to your business, keeping the company operating when you are gone. 

Disability insurance will provide coverage in the event of a short- or long-term disability. Again, it will give your business much-needed cash flow. You can purchase these policies with your family and/or business as the beneficiary. 

Succession Plan

Succession planning specifies exactly how you, your company, and family will prepare for the ownership transition. Succession plans are written documents that lay out what will happen to your company when you die. They include much of the same information as business plans, just with an added section on succession. You’ll want to keep the succession plan document and will consistent with one another, so as to prevent expensive litigation or court battles down the line.

Family-Owned Issues 

Family-owned businesses often face a host of issues that other small businesses don’t. For example, one child of a business owner might want to take over the business, while the other doesn’t. There also might be concerns about keeping family business assets within the bloodline. An estate planning attorney, as well as a financial advisor, will be able to help you find legal pathways to structuring your business estate plan in the way that best fits you and your family.

Updating the Plan

You’ll want to update your estate plan regularly. When you experience major life or business changes, or when tax laws (both federal and state) change, you’ll want to take another look at your documents.  

This guide isn’t the be-all, end-all of protecting your business, but it should hopefully give you a chance to reflect on what you have done and have yet to do for your company. Contact an estate planning attorney to learn more and visit our website for details on how we can help.

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Protecting Your Mom This Mother’s Day

Posted by on May 9, 2021 in Legal News |

Mother’s Day has been around since the early 1900s, and we’ve cherished it for over a century. In 1907, a woman named Anna Jarvis held a memorial for her mother, Ann Reeves Jarvis, and announced her intention to create Mother’s Day as a way for all maternal figures to be celebrated for all they do for their children. 

It didn’t take long before Mother’s Day became a full-fledged holiday, and, every year, we celebrate it with flowers, brunches, and spa days. But, what if the gift for this holiday was a little different? 

Though you shouldn’t skimp on all the usual Mother’s Day presents, consider setting up an estate planning meeting for your mom. This gift might seem a little unorthodox, but it will have long-term benefits that will last for years to come.

How Estate Planning Can Help Moms 

Estate planning has several key elements. Though there are a million and one documents and legal tools that can go into an estate plan, this article will cover the basics. If your mom needs any of these key documents, contacting an estate planning attorney will be the perfect gift this season. 

Last Will & Testament 

When you think of estate planning, the idea of a “last will and testament” is probably what you picture. Last wills and testaments date back thousands of years, and they are still an important aspect of estate planning to this day.
The will outlines what you want to happen to your assets after you pass away. Though a bit morbid for a Mother’s Day gift, it’s far less dreary than dying without a will (AKA, dying “intestate”). In that case, the state takes over your assets in the probate process. The state’s division of assets focuses on creditor repayment, which is likely far different from what your mom would want to have happen to her most prized possessions. 

Drawing up a will is not difficult, but it’s best to have an attorney do it, as there are a lot of minor technicalities that an untrained eye can overlook. Wills also do not have to be updated constantly. The rule of thumb is to check them every three to five years or after a major life event.

Living Will & Healthcare Power of Attorney

A living will is also called an advanced medical directive. It outlines what you want doctors and nurses to do or not do if you are seriously ill and incapable of communicating your wishes yourself. A living will often relates to personal decisions about life support and life-sustaining medical intervention. 

A healthcare power of attorney, by contrast, is a trusted individual that you appoint to manage your healthcare affairs if you’re unable to do so yourself. This healthcare POA signs a legal document swearing to act in your best interests if you need someone to make your healthcare decisions for you.

So, why are these legal tools important? Being sick or incapacitated means you are experiencing one of the most vulnerable points of your life. Having a healthcare directive and power of attorney ensure that you (or your mom) are well-taken-care-of, even in such a diminished state. 

Financial Power of Attorney

Similar to a healthcare power of attorney, a financial power of attorney is a trusted individual who signs a legal document swearing to act in your best interests. This financial POA exercises his or her decision-making powers as they pertain to your finances. Should you become seriously ill, the financial POA handles investment decisions, bill-paying, and other major and minor financial matters. 

If your mom attends an estate planning session, it’s likely that the document pertaining to the financial POA will be created at the same time as the last will and testament. It is especially important to nominate a financial POA if there are a lot of financial assets or specifications regarding the estate.

Trust 

Last but certainly not least is a trust. A trust is a legal document that transfers legal title of property to a trustee, who holds it for the benefit of a third-party beneficiary. Trusts do not have to go through probate court, and you can set restrictions and guidelines for how you want beneficiaries and trustees to manage your assets.

A trust is an especially good idea for those with sizable insurance policies, large estates, and/or a lot of kids. If these characteristics apply to your mom, talk to an estate planning attorney about setting up this legal entity. 

We want to protect the ones we love and, of course, our moms are no exception. Estate planning is a long-term gift with long-term benefits. Consider setting up a meeting for your mother this holiday and visit our website to learn more about our services. 

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