Is Estate Planning One Of Your New Year’s Resolutions?

Posted by on Jan 19, 2023 in asset protection, Digital Estate Planning, Legal News, Probate, Trusts, Wills |

New Year’s Resolutions: Make Estate Planning One Of Them

The New Year’s holiday has passed us by, and now, we are in a bit of a holding pattern until spring. According to Forbes, around 41% of Americans make New Year’s resolutions each year, and most involve improving mental health, being more active, losing weight, and eating healthier. Might we add another New Year’s resolution to the group, one that you might not have thought of?

Make estate planning one of your New Year’s resolutions. There are plenty of benefits to estate planning, including the ability to control where your assets go after you die. You also will avoid probate court, and you’ll have the ability to arrange guardianship for kids, end-of-life healthcare, and more.

If you’ve already written, “Make an estate plan” in your list of New Year’s resolutions, good for you! In this article, we’ll talk about common pitfalls to avoid when fulfilling this resolution. Many of these pitfalls, happily, can be circumvented by taking advantage of the counsel of a licensed legal professional.

Pitfall 1: Outdated Documents

If you already have an estate plan, you should know that the rule of thumb is to check it every three to five years or if you experience a major life change (divorce, death, marriage, new births, etc.). Outdated documents are a huge pitfall for people who have an estate plan, as not changing your plan with the times means that you’ll forget about new heirs or, conversely, include people in the plan who are no longer in your life.

Pitfall 2: Procrastinating

Of course, a document can only be outdated if it’s there in the first place. A major pitfall in estate planning is the failure to start. Not to sound gloomy, but anything can happen. Life is fragile, and sickness, injury, and death aren’t exactly unheard-of phenomena (we’d be out of a job if they were).

Don’t wait until something bad has happened to make an estate plan or encourage a loved one to do so. The main hook of estate planning is that it is preventative and protective. Contact an attorney today, while you still have your health, to create this plan for the future.

Pitfall 3: Naming Only One Beneficiary

This one is quite common, as naming just one beneficiary is usually more likely to occur to people than having a backup plan. You should always list more than one beneficiary for your assets, a fact that your lawyer will likely reiterate to you. If the beneficiary dies before you do or is out of your life for another reason, you will need to have a contingent beneficiary who is next in line to receive that asset. This is an easy enough pitfall to avoid—you just have to have a backup plan.

Pitfall 4: Not Talking To Your Family First

Estate planning can sometimes be the cause of difficult conversations among family members. Make sure you talk to your family and keep them in the loop when estate planning. Let them know who the beneficiaries and appointed individuals are (and, if need be, why you made those decisions). That way, there are no surprises, and this disclosure can make it less likely that a will challenge will come about.

Pitfall 5: Lack Of Full Disclosure

Attorneys are here to help you, and you need to exercise full disclosure when you’re speaking to one. Tell them your concerns, goals, and financial situation, and the attorney will be able to craft the best estate plan for you. Holding back will only lead to missed documents, incomplete information, and other similar, equally-problematic events.

Though these pitfalls might seem intimidating, they can often be avoided through honest communication with your lawyer. Estate planning can help you secure your financial future, as well as the futures of your beneficiaries and heirs. Talk to an WFP estate planning attorney today to learn more about this important process.

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Most Common Questions About Wills and Probate (And Answers)

Posted by on Mar 13, 2020 in Wills |

The subjects of wills and probate are very detailed. There could be pages and pages about each of them, and the majority of it would be complicated legal jargon that almost no one understands. In this article, we’ll simplify answers to the most commonly-asked questions about wills and probate. 

What is a Will?

A will (also known as a last will and testament) is a legal document. A person writes a will when they want to express their last wishes as to how they want their property to be distributed after they die. The will also will name someone to manage their estate until it is wound up (i.e. until the final distribution is made). 

The person who writes the will is called a testator. The person who manages the estate after the testator dies is called an executor. The people the testator leaves assets to in the will are known as beneficiaries.

What is Probate? 

Just because someone has written a last will and testament does not mean that the document will automatically go into effect without a court stepping in. Probate is not a legal document—it is a judicial process. During the probate process, the last will and testament is proven valid. There must be no undue influence (people manipulating the testator), all the assets must be present and accounted for, and the will must be properly executed. If the will checks out, it will be accepted by the court as a valid public document.

Is there a Minimum Asset Requirement? 

There is no minimum asset requirement for writing a will. Whether you have $1 or $1 million, you can still write a will. Many people (especially young people) think that because they do not have many assets or are a renter, they do not need a will. However, even people just starting out have at least some assets to their name and should write a will.

What Happens if I Don’t Have a Will?

If you don’t have a will, things get messy. People who die without a will are said to die intestate. In that case, the laws of your state govern how your assets are distributed. Generally, creditors are paid off first from your assets. Assets can include bank accounts, real estate, securities, stocks, houses, and possessions you own. After creditors are paid and your debts cleared, the court will organize the distribution of your assets itself.

As you can see, this is not an individualized process. A court’s goal is to clear your debts and wind up your estate quickly and efficiently. This means that your family will likely not get the assets you would want them to receive after you died. It also means your family will be tangled up in court for a long time.

Living Will vs. Last Will

A living will, also known as a healthcare directive, applies when you are still alive. It spells out your healthcare decisions in the event that you are too sick to tell a doctor what you want. For example, if you do not want to be resuscitated if your heart stops, this is something you would specify in a living will. 

Should I Write My Will Myself? 

Tempting though it may be to go on LegalZoom and write your will yourself, that is not a good idea. Though wills are overly complex, there are finicky details that are easy to miss if you do not have legal training. Missing one tiny detail can lead to a costly mistake that burdens your family after you’re gone. It is best to seek out an attorney for help.

Hopefully, this has helped you gain at least a basic knowledge of the will process and probate process. If you have more questions or want to write a will, you should contact an estate planning attorney. 

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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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