Why Everyone Needs an Estate Plan

Financial planners know that most people need to have estate plans, no matter how much or even how little money they have, as explained in this recent article “I’m a financial planner, and there are 3 reasons everyone needs an estate plan no matter how much money you have” from Business Insider. An estate plan includes healthcare directives and identifies guardians for minor children in the event you and your spouse die unexpectedly. It also can be created to avoid your family from having to go through probate court.

Skipping this part of your overall financial and legal life could put you, your assets and your family members at risk. Estate planning is done to protect you and your loved ones. That’s just one reason why everyone needs an estate plan. Having an estate plan protects you while you are living.

An estate plan is more than just a will or a trust. The two most common tools in an estate plan are a will and trust, but that’s just the beginning. A will, or last will and testament, is the document that provides the instructions for your heirs and beneficiaries to follow after you die. Trusts are used to protect assets and enforce your wishes, after you’re gone. However, a good estate plan should also include these documents:

  • An advance healthcare directive or healthcare proxy. These documents stipulate how you want to be treated, if you are alive but so sick or injured that you can’t provide directions. You may want to have a Do Not Resuscitate Order (DNR).
  • Powers of attorney. This legal document outlines who can represent you in legal, medical or financial matters, if you are not able to do so.

The right documents help avoid probate court. If you don’t have a will, any property or possessions must go through the probate system. Your documents and information about your assets become part of the public record and can be seen by anyone. Going through probate opens the door to litigation and disputes, which can further delay settling your estate. Having a will and the proper trusts gives clarity to heirs about what you want.

An estate plan protects your children. If you don’t have a will, a court names the guardian who will raise your children. Instead, decide who you would want. Make sure the person you want to care for your children will accept this responsibility. Trusts are a way to preserve assets for your children. The trust is managed by a trustee after you die and can stipulate specific rules and uses for the assets. For instance, you can provide a certain amount of money for the children, until they reach age 18. At that point, your trust could instruct the trustee to use the money for college expenses. You can be as specific as you wish.

Meet with an estate planning attorney familiar with the laws of your state. An estate planning attorney will know the estate and tax laws that apply to you and your family.

Reference: Business Insider (June 12, 2020) “I’m a financial planner, and there are 3 reasons everyone needs an estate plan no matter how much money you have”

Estate Planning Is a Gift and a Legacy for Loved Ones

Without an end of life plan, a doctor you’ve never even met might decide how you spend your last moments, and your loved ones may live with the burden of not knowing what you would have wished. These are just a few reasons why “End-Of-Life Planning is a ‘Lifetime Gift’ To Your Loved Ones,” as discussed in a recent article from npr.org.

It’s important to recognize that planning for the end of your life is actually not all about you. It’s about the ones you love: your parents, spouse, children, or your pets. They are the ones who will benefit from the decisions you make to prepare for the end of your life, and life after you are gone. It is a gift to those you love.

So, what should you do?

Start by preparing to have an estate plan created. If you have an estate plan but haven’t reviewed it in the last three or four years, find it and review it. If you can’t find it, then you definitely need a new one. An estate planning attorney can help you create an estate plan, including a will and other documents.

In the will, you name an executor, someone who you trust completely to carry out your directions. Some people choose a spouse or adult child to be their executor. It’s a lot of work, so pick someone who is smart, organized and trustworthy. They’ll be in charge of all of your financial assets and communicating how the estate is distributed to everyone in your will.

Create an inventory. This includes things that are of financial and sentimental value. People fight over sentimental things, so giving your family specific directions may avoid squabbles.

If you have children under age 18, name a guardian for them. This should be a person who knows your children and will raise them with same values as you would.

Pets are often overlooked in estate planning. If you want to protect your pet, in many states you can create a pet trust. It includes funds that are to be used specifically for care for your pet, and a trustee who will be responsible for ensuring that the funds are used as you intended.

Digital accounts are also part of your property, including social media, online photos, everything in your online cloud storage, credit card rewards, email, frequent flyer miles and digital assets.

Make sure your will is executed and in compliance with the laws of your state. If your will is found to be invalid, then it is as if you never made a will, and all your planning will be undone.

You also need an advance directive, a legal document that covers health care and protects your wishes at the end of life. One part of an advance directive gives a person medical power of attorney, so they can make decisions for you if you cannot. The other part is a living will, where you share how you want to be cared for and what interventions you do or don’t want if you are near death.

Reference: npr.org (June 30, 2020) “End-Of-Life Planning is a ‘Lifetime Gift’ To Your Loved Ones”

 

Grandson of Walt Disney’s Longstanding Inheritance Battle

Even visionary Walt Disney could not have imagined the struggle his grandson Bradford Lund has endured trying to claim his share of the Disney family fortune, reports the Daily Bulletin in a recent article titled “Walt Disney’s grandson locked in legal battle for personal freedom, millions in inheritance.”

It’s been fifteen years since the start of Lund’s estate battle with estranged family members, probate and courts to prove that he is mentally able to manage an inheritance of hundreds of millions of dollars. He’s had to repeatedly prove that he does not have Down syndrome and can manage this kind of money.

He is now fighting for his freedom. A Superior Court judge from Los Angeles County has appointed a temporary guardian ad litem to make legal decisions on his behalf.

Judge David Cowan said he was not going to give $200 million to someone who may suffer, on some level, from Down syndrome. Even after he was given evidence that Lund does not have Down syndrome, the judge refused to retract his statement.

Lund is fighting against a probate system with high profile attorneys–the former White House counsel Lanny Davis is one of three on his legal team. They have filed a federal civil rights lawsuit accusing Judge Cowan of appointing the guardian ad litem without due process. Suing a judge is almost never done, but the complaint alleges that a judgment was rendered that left them no choice but to take action.

One of Lund’s main opponents is his twin sister, Michelle Lund. The twins attended special-needs schools as children, reportedly for learning impairments. When Lund was 19, his mother created a trust fund now valued at $400 million for him, his sister and another sister, Victoria. She appointed four trustees. The grandchildren were to receive part of their shares at ages 35, 40 and 45, with the remainder kept in trust and then given to them gradually over time.

Lund’s mother died, as did his sister Victoria. Some of the trustees resigned, with others who did not know the family taking their places.

When Brad turned 35, the trustees voted against paying him part of his inheritance, saying they did not believe he was financially or mentally competent. Four years later, sister Michelle suffered a brain aneurysm, but she received her share as scheduled. In 2009, Michelle and her two half-sisters sought an order in an Arizona court that would place Brad under a guardianship for his legal decisions. They claimed that he had chronic deficits and mental disorders. The case went on for seven years and ended with a judge declaring Brad able to make his own decisions.

While the Arizona case was still underway, Lund filed a court petition in Los Angeles County to remove his trustees for various violations. That is when Judge Cowan entered the picture. The judge was presented with a settlement agreement between Lund and his trustees, in which he would pay them $14.5 million, in exchange for their removal and replacement.

The monetary exchange was approved, but Cowan would not agree to letting Lund replace the trustees. That’s when the temporary guardian ad litem was appointed.

While the size of the assets involved is larger than life, estate battles among siblings and half siblings are not unusual. When the family includes an individual whose capacity may be challenged, extra steps are needed in estate planning to protect their interests.

To read more blogs about this and other subjects, click here.

Reference: Daily Bulletin (March 22, 2020) “Walt Disney’s grandson locked in legal battle for personal freedom, millions in inheritance”

Estate Planning Is For Everyone

Estate planning is something anyone who is 18 years old or older needs to think about, advises the article “Estate planning for every stage of life from the Independent Record. Estate planning includes much more than a person’s last will and testament. It protects you from incapacity, provides the legal right to allow others to talk to your doctors if you can’t and takes care of your minor children, if an unexpected tragedy occurs. Let’s look at all the ages and stages where estate planning is needed.

Parents of young adults should discuss estate planning with their children. While parents devote decades to helping their children become independent adults, sometimes life doesn’t go the way you expect. A college freshman is more concerned with acing a class, joining a club and the most recent trend on social media. However, a parent needs to think about what happens when the child is over 18 and has a medical emergency. Parents have no legal rights to medical information, medical decision making or finances, once a child becomes a legal adult. Hospitals may not release private information and doctors can’t talk with parents, even in an extreme situation. Young adults need to have a HIPAA release, a durable power of medical attorney and a power of attorney for their finances created.

New parents also need estate planning. While it may be hard to consider while adjusting to having a new baby in the house, what would happen to that baby if something unexpected were to affect both parents? The estate planning attorney will create a last will and testament, which is used to name a guardian for any minor children, in case both parents pass. This also includes decisions that need to be made about the child’s education, medical treatment and even their social life. You’ll need to name someone to be the child’s guardian, and to be sure that they will raise your child the same way that you would.

An estate plan includes naming a conservator, who is a person with control over a minor child’s finances. You’ll want to name a responsible person who is trustworthy and good with handling money. It is possible to name the same person as guardian and conservator. However, it may be wise to separate the responsibilities.

An estate plan also ensures that your children receive their inheritance, when you think they will be responsible enough to handle it. If a minor child’s parents die and there is no estate plan, the parent’s assets will be held by the court for the benefit of the child. Once the child turns 18, he or she will receive the entire amount in one lump sum. Few who are 18-years old are able to manage large sums of money. Estate planning helps you control how the money is distributed. This is also something to consider, when your children are the beneficiaries of any life insurance policies. An estate planning attorney can help you set up trusts, so the monies are distributed at the right time.

When people enter their ‘golden’ years—that is, they are almost retired—it is the time for estate plans to be reviewed. You may wish to name your children as power of attorney and medical power of attorney, rather than a sibling. It’s best to have people who will be younger than you for these roles as you age. This may also be the time to change how your wealth is distributed. Are your children old enough to be responsible with an inheritance? Do you want to create a legacy plan that includes charitable giving?

Lastly, update your estate plan any time there are changes in the family structure. Divorce, death, marriage or individuals with special needs all require a different approach to the basic estate plan. It’s a good idea to revisit an estate plan anytime there have been major changes in your relationships, to the law, or changes to your financial status.

Reference: Independent Record (March 1, 2020) “Estate planning for every stage of life

Why a Will Is the Foundation of an Estate Plan

An estate planning lawyer has many different tools to achieve clients’ estate planning goals. However, at the heart of any plan is the will, also known as the “last will and testament.” Even people who are young or who have modest levels of assets should have a will—one that is legally valid and up to date. For parents of young children, this is especially important, says the article “Wills: The Cornerstone of Your Estate Plan” from the Sparta Independent. Why? Because in most states, a will is the only way that parents can name guardians for their children.

Having a will means that your estate will avoid being “intestate,” that is, having your assets distributed according to the laws of your state. With a will, you get to determine who is to receive your property. That includes your home, car, bank and investment accounts and any other assets, including those with sentimental value.

Without a will, your property will be distributed to your closest blood relatives, depending upon how closely related they are to you. Few individuals want to have the state making these decisions for their property. Most people would rather make these decisions for themselves.

Property can be left to anyone you choose—including a spouse, children, charities, a trust, other relatives, a college or university, or anyone you want. There are some limits imposed by law that you should know about: a spouse has certain rights to your property, and they cannot be reversed based on your will.

For parents of young children, the will is used to name a legal guardian for children. A personal guardian, who takes personal custody of the children, can be named, as well as a property guardian, who is in charge of the children’s assets. This can be the same person, but is often two different people. You may also want to ask your estate planning attorney about using trusts to fund children’s college educations.

The will is also a means of naming an executor. This is the person who acts as your legal representative after your death. This person will be in charge of carrying out all of your estate settlement tasks, so they need to be someone you trust, who is skilled with managing property and the many tasks that go into settling an estate. The executor must be approved by the probate court, before they can start taking action for you.

There are also taxes and expenses that need to be managed. Unless the will provides directions, these are determined by state law. To be sure that gifts you wanted to give to family and loved ones are not consumed by taxes, the will needs to indicate that taxes and expenses are to be paid from the residuary estate.

A will can be used to create a “testamentary trust,” which comes into existence when your will is probated. It has a trustee, beneficiaries and directions on how distributions should be made. The use of trusts is especially important, if you have young children who are not able to manage assets or property.

Note that any assets distributed through a will are subject to probate, the court-supervised process of administering and proving a will. Probate can be costly and time-consuming, and the records are available to the public, which means anyone can see them. Many people chose to distribute their assets through trusts to avoid having large assets pass through probate.

Talk with an experienced estate planning attorney about creating a will and the many different functions that the will plays in settling your estate. You’ll also want to explore planning for incapacity, which includes having a Power of Attorney, Health Care Proxy, and Medical Directives. Estate planning attorneys also work on tax issues to minimize the taxes paid by the estate.

Reference: Sparta Independent (Dec. 19, 2019) “Wills: The Cornerstone of Your Estate Plan”

You Can Protect Pets after You’re Gone

Many of us consider our pets members of the family, but the law does not. In Arizona, pets are considered property, reports the East Valley Tribune in the article “Trusts can help provide for a pet’s future.” That means you can’t leave them your house, or open a bank account in their name.

However, you can take measures to protect your pets from what could happen to them after you pass away.

The simple thing to do is to make arrangements with a trusted family member or friend to take care of your pet and leave some money for their care. The problem is, there’s no way to enforce this, and it’s all based on trust. What happens if something unexpected happens to your trusted family member or friend, and they can’t care for your pet?

You’ve also given them funds that they are not legally required to spend on your pet.

Another choice is to leave your pet to a no-kill animal shelter. However, shelters, even no-kill shelters, can be stressful for animals who are used to a family home. There’s also no way to know when your pet will be adopted, since most people come to shelters to adopt puppies and kittens. There is also the issue of the shelter. Will it continue to operate after you are gone?

The best way that many people care for their pets, is by having a pet trust created. An estate planning attorney in your state will know if your state is among the many that allow a pet trust to be created to benefit your pet.

Start by naming a guardian for your pets, including instructions on whether your pets should be kept together. If you are not sure about a guardian, name additional guardians, in case one does not wish to serve. Then determine how much money you need to leave for the pet’s care. This will depend upon the animal’s age, health and life expectancy. There will need to be adequate funding for any medical issues. The trust can specify whether you want your pet to undergo expensive surgeries or whether they should be kept comfortable at any cost.

You’ll want to make sure to name a guardian who you are confident will care for your pet or pets in the same manner as you would.

A pet trust will require you to name a trustee, who will be in charge of disbursing the funds as they are needed and can also check on the pet to be sure they are well, and your instructions are being followed. The money in the trust must only be used by person for the care of the pets.

A pet trust will give you the peace of mind of knowing that your beloved companion animals are being cared for, even when you are not here to care for them. Speak with an estate planning attorney to learn how to make a pet trust part of your overall estate plan.

Reference: East Valley Tribune (Oct. 14, 2019) “Trusts can help provide for a pet’s future”

More Reasons to Review Your Estate Plan

Every estate planning attorney will tell you that they meet with people every day, who sheepishly admit that they’ve been meaning to review their estate plan, but just haven’t gotten to it. Let the guilt go.

Attorneys know that no one wants to talk about death, taxes or illness, says Wicked Local in the article “Five Reasons to Review Your Estate Plan.” However, there are five times when even an appearance before the Queen of England has to come second to reviewing your estate plan.

You have minor children. An estate plan for a couple with young children must do two very important things: address the care and custody of minor children should both parents die and address the management and distribution of the assets that the children will inherit. The will is the estate planning document used to name a guardian for minor children. The guardian is the person who will determine where your children will live and go to school, what kind of health care they receive and make all daily decisions about their care and upbringing.

If you don’t have a will, the court will name a guardian. You may not like the court’s decision. Your children might not like it at all. Having a will takes care of this important decision.

Your estate is worth more than $1 million. While the federal estate plan exemptions currently are at levels that remove federal tax from most people’s estate planning concerns, there are still state estate taxes. Some states have inheritance taxes. Whether you are married or single, if your assets are significant, you need an estate plan that maps out how assets will be left to your heirs and to plan for taxes.

Your last estate plan was created before 2012. There have been numerous changes in state estate tax laws regarding wills, probate and trusts in Massachusetts. This is not the only state that has seen major changes. There have been big changes in federal estate taxes. Strategies that were perfect in the past, may no longer be necessary or as productive because of these changes. While you’re making these changes, don’t forget to deal with digital assets. That includes email accounts, social media, online banking, etc. This will protect your fiduciaries from breaking federal hacking laws that are meant to protect online accounts, even when the person has your username and password.

You have robust retirement plans. Your will and trust do not control all the assets you own at the time of death. The first and foremost controlling element in your asset distribution is the beneficiary designation. Life insurance policies, annuities, and retirement accounts will be paid to the beneficiary named on the account, regardless of what your will says. Part of a comprehensive will review is to review beneficiary designations on each account.

You are worried about long-term care costs. Estate planning does not take place in a vacuum. Your estate plan needs to address issues like your plan, if you or your spouse need care. Do you intend to stay in your home? Are you going to move to live closer to your children, or to a Continuing Care Retirement Community? Do you have long-term insurance in place? Do you want to plan for Medicaid eligibility?

All of these issues need to be considered when reviewing and updating your estate plan. If you’ve never had an estate plan created, this is the time. Put your mind at ease, by getting this off your “to do” list and contact an experienced estate planning attorney.

Reference: Wicked Local (Aug. 29, 2019) “Five Reasons to Review Your Estate Plan”

Three Different Kinds of Power of Attorney

Without a durable power of attorney, helping a family member or loved one who cannot act on their own becomes far more difficult and stressful. Powers of attorney, also known as POA, typically give the agent specific powers to conduct the person’s financial business, explains the Aiken Standard in the article “The durable power of attorney.”

There’s also a healthcare power of attorney, which gives the named person the authority to make medical decisions, usually when the person is not able to do so because of illness or injury.

There are three different powers of attorney: non-durable, springing and durable. A non-durable power of attorney becomes effective immediately upon execution by the person. It remains active until it is either terminated or revoked by the person themselves, the person becomes mentally incapacitated or if the person dies.

The durable power of attorney is in effect from the moment it is executed. It is not revoked if the person becomes incapacitated (hence the term “durable”), nor by the passage of time. The person can alter or terminate a durable power of attorney at any time before there is physical or mental incapacity, however, and it does end when the person dies.

Springing powers of attorney become effective at a future date. They “spring” into power, according to the terms of the document. That may be the occurrence of a particular event, like the person becoming incapacitated or disabled. They can be problematic, as there will be a need to prove that the person has become incapacitated and/or disabled.

The advantage of the durable power of attorney is that it remains in effect even after the person has become impaired. The agent has the ability to act right away. If time is of the essence (i.e., there is an emergency that requires quick action), there is no need to go to court to have the approval to act.

For many people, having a durable power of attorney for financial matters and another, separate document, for medical decisions, is the best way to go. Some states require that these two powers be embodied in two different documents. A local estate planning attorney will know what your state requirements are.

Power of attorney documents should be created and executed, along with a complete estate plan, long before an individual begins having problems in aspects of their lives. When they are signed, it is necessary for the person to have full mental capacity. They have to be able to be “of sound mind.” If they have been diagnosed with dementia or Alzheimer’s, it is necessary that all these documents be prepared as soon as possible. If they lack mental capacity, the will and all related documents are likely to be challenged.

Without a durable power of attorney, family and friends won’t be able to make important financial decisions, pay bills, make healthcare decisions and engage in any kind of Medicaid planning. Anyone who wanted to take on any of these responsibilities would have to go to court and be appointed the person’s guardian. It’s much easier to tackle these tasks in advance, so that the family can act on their loved one’s behalf in a timely and effective manner.

Reference: Aiken Standard (August 24, 2019) “The durable power of attorney”

Who Looks Out for the Solo Senior?

She was a bit surprised, when she couldn’t find any. She then realized that it’s the adult children who push their aging parents into long-term care facilities. That’s who usually gets mom or dad to move, asks Market Watch in the article “Who watches out for childless retirees? How ‘solo agers’ can stay happy and safe.”

The adult children are the ones who badger their aging parents to leave their single family home and take up residence in a long-term care or senior living community. Those who don’t have children, or whose children are not a part of their lives, are more likely to encounter serious risks like isolation, financial elder abuse, malnutrition and other dangers.

It is the children who usually instruct mom or dad to hand over the keys to the car, who notice a decline in physical or mental abilities and identify sources for help, oversee their finances and supervise caretakers. A solo person who can no longer care for themselves, isn’t likely to have the ability to conduct a thorough study of possible living situations.

This is a tough but necessary scenario that single seniors need to be aware of. How can you stay safe and happy, while preparing for care you may need in the future?

Start by building a community. Without an extended social network, seniors can find themselves isolated and lonely as friends die or move in or near their grandchildren. By strengthening ties with the remaining relatives and cultivating new friends, especially those who are younger, it’s possible to build a new network. The same thing applies to making friends with neighbors, the people you see in the coffee shop every day and other acquaintances. You don’t need to be best friends with everyone. However, a big network of what are called “weak tie relationships” can be powerful.

Be smart about where you live. A walk-up in a five-story building may be great when you are in your thirties, forties or even fifties. However, at some point, that’s just not a good idea. If you live in the suburbs, what will happen when you can’t drive anymore? Not everyone wants or can afford to live in a planned community. There are some cities that have organized villages for aging in place, where there are services available for seniors, including local transportation to and from the local senior centers. Co-housing is another option, where people build clusters of homes around shared spaces. In some communities, there are “naturally occurring” retirement communities where residents socialize and look out for each other. They might crop up in any kind of living situation, from apartment buildings, condos, townhouses, etc. Don’t overlook the “Golden Girls” lifestyle—sharing a home with other seniors.

Either enlist or if need be, hire future guardians. Estate planning attorneys recommend that all adults have documents in place that permit someone else to make decisions, in case of incapacity at any age. However, for solo seniors, it is especially important to have powers of attorney for finances and health care. Without these documents, someone else who may not even know you will be given control over your finances and health care. Becoming a ward of the court is not an ideal situation for anyone, especially a vulnerable senior.

Choosing someone to take on these roles is not always easy. It may be a younger friend or a trusted relative (preferably younger) may be willing. In California and Arizona, it is possible to hire a licensed fiduciary for this role. Your estate planning attorney may be able to put you in touch with an appropriate professional.

Reference: Market Watch (Aug. 9, 2019) “Who watches out for childless retirees? How ‘solo agers’ can stay happy and safe”

Why You Need a Last Will and Testament

A will and testament is the document that allows you to describe how you want your belongings and assets to be distributed after you die. It’s different than a “living will,” explains The Daily Sentinel, in the article “It’s important to have a Last Will and Testament.” A living will is a document used to detail how someone wants their end of life matters conducted.

In Colorado and some other states, the Living Will is referred to as an Advance Directive, which helps to avoid some confusion between what it accomplishes and the tasks of the will.

The will is also the document used to name the person who will be the personal representative, often referred to as the “executor”, to carry out the directions in the will.

When there’s no will, there is much more work to settle an estate. The distribution plan is determined by the laws of the state. It is not likely to be what the person had in mind, but by then, it is too late.

Every parent needs a will, because it is used to name a guardian for minor children or a child with special needs. This is not a decision that can be left to the law. There is no automatic solution based on state law, like there is for assets and belongings.

If there is a disagreement about who should care for the dependents, or how the assets should be used to care for the dependents, the only solution is to go to court and have the court decide what is in the children’s best interests. The time, expense and stress on the family is easily avoided, simply by having a properly prepared will.

There are occasionally questions about whether a general or special power of attorney can be used to name a person to handle affairs when someone dies. This is not true. The authority given to a person in a power of attorney automatically and legally terminates, when the person who gave that authority to another person has died.

Several years ago, a widow was preparing to create a will, but never did. She had no surviving parents or siblings, but she did have a son. She probably thought that the law would give him all her assets automatically.

Unfortunately, after the woman died, it was learned that the “son” was an informally adopted son who had never been legally adopted. According to the laws of the state, he had no legal right to her estate. She could have had a will prepared and he would have inherited everything. However, because she had no will, distant relatives who she did not even know, were the recipients of her estate.

This example may be a little extreme, but it is not uncommon. Many unexpected things occur when there is no estate plan, or an estate plan is prepared by an inexperienced person using a form they found online or at the local library.

Reference: The Daily Sentinel (June 1, 2019) “It’s important to have a Last Will and Testament”