Should I Do a Will or a Living Trust? Part Two

If you read yesterday’s post, you’ll know that wills and living trusts each accomplish three goals, but they are not one and the same. Neither document is likely to be a comprehensive solution for all your needs, so you’ll need to consider what time period you are planning for. canstockphoto10979354

If you are looking simply to plan for what happens after you pass away, both a will or a living trust can be a good option. If incapacity, however, is your primary concern, a living trust is far and away the more superior tool. Many people focus on what happens after they pass away when it comes to estate planning, but disability and incapacity are increasingly important concerns regardless of your current health.

Assets inside a living trust will already be under the control of a trustee you named to manage things in the event of your incapacity, this allows for a smooth and quick transition. Rather than having to wait out months in a legal disability proceeding, you’ll have a trustee who is empowered to act right away. There are a few other reasons that a living trust wins out over the will, such as if you have a vacation home or real estate located in another state. This is because you won’t have to worry about the estate being probated separately in each state after you pass away, so long as the property is inside the trust.

As you can see here, neither one of these tool is an all-encompassing solution, so you should talk about your needs with an experienced estate planning attorney. We can help at info@lawesq.net

Robin Williams’ Trusts Call for Conversation About Trust Privacy

The loss of Robin Williams last week certainly sent ripples across the country, but it also highlights an important topic for your estate plans: privacy. Within a matter of hours after news outlets started reporting his death, details about the trusts documents he had established for his three children started emerging as well. The prime sources for these details? Gossip websites and tabloid. One site even published a 35-page document detailing Williams’ irrevocable trusts established for his children.

Shortly after these documents, one of which dated back to 1989, hit the media, Williams’ publicist responded that neither of them were accurate with regards to the former actor’s current estate plan. What’s most disturbing, however, is that trusts are most often used instead of wills because of the veil of privacy they offer.

So how did Williams’ documents, albeit outdated, end up in the public eye? The trustee of both the trusts had requested a co-trustee successor be appointed back in 2008, when the originally designated individual passed away. All of the public sharing of the trust document could easily have been avoided simply using trust protectors, like an accountant, trusted friend, or attorney who retains the power to appoint or remove trustees. To learn more about ensuring that your trusts are protected privately, contact our offices at info@lawesq.net or via phone at 732-521-9455 to get started.

Robin Williams’ Trusts Call for Conversation About Trust Privacy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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For The Ladies: Special Estate Planning Considerations for Women

For the most part, financial planning and estate planning tools are very similar for men and for women, but there are several facts that result in special planning considerations for women as well. The root of these considerations is that in later years, women may face their own set of challenges.

For The Ladies Special Estate Planning Considerations for Women
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To start with, women tend to live longer than men do. A woman may overlook the fact that odds are in her favor for outliving her spouse. In fact, according to the Census Bureau, nearly 40 percent of women over the age of 65 are widowed. That longevity may also lead to higher medical bills. When your financial future is built on a husband’s pension or Social Security benefits, the woman can face major challenges as a widow.

Women are also much more likely to provide care to children and elderly parents. Many women tend to take on this role for older parents, which can be emotionally challenging and a financial adjustments.

Women looking at estate planning should seriously consider where their income will come from in the future and what, if any, benefits they will be eligible for. If women are looking at caring for their own elderly parents, it’s also worth a look into the parent’s planning to see whether they have made plans for long-term care or factored in the financial aspects already.

A little advance work can go a long way in helping women live long and comfortable lives. To learn more about estate planning, email info@lawesq.net or contact us via phone at 732-521-9455 to get started.

Common Reasons A Will Might Not Hold Up In Court

Especially if you have taken it upon yourself to write your will, it’s important to know that you have opened your heirs up to the risk of having your will contested in court later on. Here are three of the most common mistakes that result in a contested will.

Common Reasons A Will Might Not Hold Up In Court
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Disinheriting Family Members Sans Explicit Instructions

The law tends to treat the distribution of assets relatively fairly when there are questions about intention or mistakes in the handling of the will. So, if you’re stipulating that you want to leave an individual out altogether, you need to make sure those instructions are crystal clear. You want to have this written by an attorney to reduce that chances that you have given such an individual room to argue in court.

Using Biased Witnesses During Your Will Signing

In many circumstances, you need to sign your will in front of witnesses in order for it to be valid. These witnesses may later be called I court to state that they were present and to discuss whether the person signing the will (you) had the mental capacity to sign such a document without any undue influence or pressure from other parties.

Potentially Lacking Mental Capacity to Sign the Will

One of the reasons that heirs (or those excluded) will contest a will is under the ground that you did not have the mental capacity to understand what you were doing. You must understand what property you own, your overall plan for passing on property, and who you closest family members are. Furthermore, a Living Trust, which preserves privacy, may be an option for those with a stronger likelihood of a contest in their future.

To learn more about wills and estate planning documents, contact our professionals at 732-521-9455 or info@lawesq.net.

What Can An Estate Planning Accomplish That I Can’t?

In this world driven by do-it-yourself options, it might seem like you can handle just about anything. There are several things, though, that you definitely want to hand off to a qualified estate planner rather than attempting on your own.

What Can An Estate Planning Accomplish That I Can’t?
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To start with, even the most basic of estate planning documents, a will, probably needs customization. If you’re using some form of template, trying to invalidate it could turn out badly if you don’t do it appropriately. This could mean that your wishes are totally ignored due to an overlooked accident. Each state has specific provisions and wording, so make sure you’ve gotten yours reviewed by someone in the know.

If avoiding probate is one of the goals you have set out for your estate, you really should consider a conversation with an estate planner. The truth is that there are numerous ways to avoid probate and to minimize the blow of estate taxes, but those can be complex and require the eyes of a trained professional. Don’t count on yourself for those strategies.

One of the biggest reasons to trust your planner is because laws in the realm of estate planning have the potential to change often. You most likely don’t want to read through laws and regulations to understand your opportunities and responsibilities, but attorneys are up to speed on all the latest changes. What you can do on your own is to generate a list of what you’d like to accomplish with your plans and draw up questions you have about the process. Being proactive goes a long way towards proper estate planning. To set up a meeting, email info@lawesq.net or contact us via phone at 732-521-9455 to get started.

Do You Have a Digital Fortune?

The estate planning landscape is changing, and it’s because our approach to determining assets is changing, too. According to a survey by McAfee, Americans believe they own an average of about $54,000 in digital assets. Curious about a digital asset? What about your big ITunes collection? Downloaded resources and books on your Kindle? What about Paypal? Bitcoins? Or even more sentimental accounts, like a genealogy archive that’s helped you to identify relatives?

Do You Have a Digital Fortune
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Getting access to these materials can be difficult after a family member passes away. Your email account materials might be deleted before family members can even access the material and in the meantime, your accounts could be exposed to online theft risk.

This is where a Digital Estate Plan steps in. It will help your will executor carry out your wishes in the distribution of your assets. This can be a complex process, since many of the sites mentioned about base their service agreements on federal laws. Nevertheless, it’s an important exercise to gather up an inventory of material you might like your family to be able to access if something happens to you. At the least, your family will be aware of the information’s existence. Login information and passwords should also be included with this material.

Make sure you’re up to date with estate planning laws and trends by working with an experienced attorney. Reach out to us to get started at info@lawesq.net or contact us via phone at 732-521-9455.

Showdown: Wills vs Trusts

Depending on who you talk to, your estate planning specialist might recommend wills over trusts or trusts over wills. Let’s walk through some of the differences between these two planning tools to see if one might be a better fit for your needs.

Showdown Wills vs Trusts
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If you are planning to use a will as your primary tool, bear in mind that your assets must first go through the probate process in order to be eventually received by your beneficiaries. Some states have lengthy and cumbersome probate processes, meaning that it could take your beneficiaries a while to actually receive the assets. Probate is also very public, meaning that details about your financial situation will be shared in a less-private forum. If you’re concerned about this, a trust might be a better option.

In comparison, trusts tend to pass by the court system for the majority of the administrative process. Since these are privacy documents, there’s less public scrutiny into your finances or your plans, and some clients prefer this confidential approach. Unlike wills, which become active on your death, a trust can be rendered effective immediately. Additionally, trusts can also be used for incapacity planning, adding another layer to their usefulness.

Both wills and trusts can do tax planning for credit shelter trusts. The bottom line is that it depends on your needs. If you are not concerned about the red tape of the probate process, there are still advantages (especially regarding privacy) for the establishment of a trust. We work with clients to create a customized plan for you since we recognize that each client is unique. To talk more about the kinds of trusts we can help you establish or to begin generation of your will, contact us today at 732-521-9455 or through e-mail at info@lawesq.net

Risky Do-It-Yourself: Wills

Software or online programs to help you plan your estate are popping up everywhere, but that doesn’t mean they are the best choice for your needs. Many of these programs lead you to believe that generating your will is easier than it truly is. Heirs might find out too late that your self-created will doesn’t really match up with your state laws or even your own intent.

rightscale.com
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When it comes to estate planning, intent is everything. Too often, the wishes of an individual don’t come across clearly in self-generated wills. Many modern court cases have focused on the determination of the testator’s intent, but judges are hesitant to cross certain lines to clear up confusion. As a result, your heirs may discover that your wishes aren’t carried out as you planned at all. Simply put, doing your will on your own can have big consequences.

Consider the Estate of George Zeevering. Last fall, a Pennsylvania appellate court was evaluating an unclear DIY will. Since the testator had not worked with a lawyer to generate the document, which was incomplete, it was difficult to determine the true intentions of Mr. Zeevering. In one aspect of the case, property had already been titled in the names of a son and a decedent as joint tenants. Mr. Zeevering stated that “the failure of this will to provide any distribution” to his daughters was done on purpose.

The case got sticky when the residuary and residuary estate totaled over $200,000 after debt payments were made. There was no provision within the DIY will for what should happen to those assets. In the end, the court determined that when a will doesn’t provide for the disposal of an entire estate and fails to include a residuary clause, the residuary estate must be divided under intestacy laws.

This case is but one example of where estate planning on your own can go wrong. Although it may not have been Mr. Zeevering’s intention to distribute the remainder of his estate under intestacy laws, that’s what happened. Despite his wishes, the law overrides an incomplete or improper will. While online and computer programs argue that wills and estate planning documents are easily done on your own, that minimizes the true complexity of document generation and estate laws.

Estate planning can be very complicated for an individual but it’s easily done under the guidance of an estate planning attorney. An added benefit of using a legal professional “in the know” is that he or she is clued into state and federal laws about estate planning, which always have the potential to change. An estate planning attorney is an excellent resource for all your questions as well as giving you the peace of mind that your estate will be carried out in the manner you wish. Cutting corners with a do it yourself tool is your choice, but do so at your own risk. If you want the assurance of totality and legality, contact an estate planning professional today.

How To Handle Leaving Unequal Amounts To Your Children

Many parents divide their assets equally among their children. That’s the easy way.

Family discussion
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But what if you want to give more to one child than to another? Is that fair? Is it a good idea?

Sometimes it may be the best plan. For example, maybe one of your children earns much more than the others. Does this child really need to share equally in your estate?

Maybe one of your children has several children of his own, while the others are childless or have only one child. That may be a good case for giving the child with the most children a larger share.

Another reason might be that one of your children spent a lot of time and energy caring for you in your old age. Shouldn’t that child get rewarded?

And what if one of your children went down the wrong path? Maybe he became addicted to drugs or alcohol. Should this behavior be reinforced?

These are difficult decisions posed in an article in the Wall Street Journal. And they can lead to hurt feelings, lawsuits and other problems.

If you end up giving different children differing amounts in your will or estate plan, your decision may end up being challenged in court by the child or children who got less. It could turn into a mess.

To make sure your wishes are carried out, make sure to prove that you are of “sound mind” when you drew up your plan. You might want to get a letter from your doctor or psychologist saying so.

At the same time, make sure to talk to each of your children and explain what you are doing and why. This could result in fewer bad feelings.

Perhaps you can establish a pattern by helping those who need the most help while you are alive, as well as helping those who help you by giving them financial support during that time.

You can also include clauses mandating that disputes be settled through mediation or arbitration, not litigation. You can even include a “no contest” clause that says if any of the beneficiaries tries to contest the will, that child’s share is forfeited.

These are tough decisions that your estate planning attorney can help you make when drafting your will or estate plan.

 

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3 Steps for Baby Boomers Without a Plan

While every mentally competent individual over the age of 18 should have an estate plan in place, it is especially important that Baby Boomers without a plan begin to put something together. A recent article offers several estate-planning strategies for baby boomers to begin planning:

Last Will And Testament
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    1. Create a Will and Trust: No matter what type of estate planning scheme a person employs, he or she should incorporate a will into that scheme. Within a will, a person can designate a guardian for his or her minor children, as well as the distribution of personal items such as heirlooms and valuable items.

    2. Designate a Power of Attorney: A power of attorney is a vital document for any estate plan, because it allows you to designate a person to handle your financial and legal affairs should you be involved in an accident.

    3. Create a Health-Care Power of Attorney and Living Will: Just as a power of attorney allows an individual to designate the person who will handle his or her financial and legal affairs in the event of an accident or emergency, a health care power of attorney allows an individual to designate the person who will make medical decisions on his or her behalf.

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Review Your Financial and Estate Planning Goals for 2014

A recent article quoted financial planner Michael Joyce as saying, “There’s nothing magic about reviewing goals […], but it is a good time to refocus people on their financial goals.” Joyce’s statement could not be moretrue. It is good practice to periodically review financial and estate planning goals, and the end of the year or the beginning of a new year is a great time to check this off of the to do list.

English: Picture I made for my goals article
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Individuals should begin their review by checking the beneficiary designations on their retirement accounts, life insurance policies, 401(k) plans, and any other account with a beneficiary designation. It is important to not only ensure that a beneficiary has been named, but also that the named beneficiary is still appropriate.

Additionally, review the provisions in your will and trust documents. Consider whether any provisions need to be changed, added, or omitted. This is especially important if you have experienced a marriage, divorce, or the birth or death of a loved one since you first signed your will.

Individuals should also consider any tax law changes that will impact their assets. Tax laws are in constant flux, so a periodic review of applicable laws is the best way to plan to reduce anticipated taxes. This review should also include a review of gift tax limits, which may encourage an individual to increase year-end gift-giving in order to achieve a greater tax benefit.

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The Biggest Estate Planning Mistake You Are Probably Making

An estate plan is not one document. Rather, it is a collection of various documents that deal with a wide variety of assets, and leave instructions for various situations. An important part of any estate plan is a person’s beneficiary accounts. As a recent article explains, one of the most widespread estate planning mistakes occurs when people fail to update their beneficiary designations.

Beneficiary accounts such as IRAs, retirement accounts, insurance policies, mutual funds, bank accounts, brokerage accounts, annuities, and 529 college savings plans are accounts that are transferred to a designated beneficiary immediately at the death of the account holder.

Importantly, a person’s will or trust does not trump his or her beneficiary designations. For example, if a divorced man failed to take his ex-wife’s name off of his retirement account before he died, the proceeds of the account would go to his ex-wife. This would be the outcome even if he clearly stated that the ex-wife was to be disinherited in his will.

It is good practice to update your beneficiary designations once every few years and after important events, such a marriage or divorce.

Cat & Mouse: Probate Avoidance as Asset Protection

Probate is a court-supervised process through which the provisions of a person’s will are carried out. Many people choose to avoid probate by employing various estate planning tools that transfer their assets outside of their will. As a recent article explains, an additional benefit of creating non-probate transfers is that they provide a level of asset protection.

Cat & Mouse
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If a person’s estate goes through probate, his or her executor will begin the process by collecting the decedent’s assets and giving notice of the death to any potential creditors. After this notice is given, the decedent’s creditors will have a specified amount of time to make any claims against the estate. The executor will have to pay these claims through the estate before distribution to the heirs.

Alternatively, certain non-probate assets such as life insurance policies, beneficiary accounts, and items held in joint tenancy pass immediately to the beneficiary or joint tenant upon the decedent’s death. Therefore, creditors are often unable to reach these assets.

Although non-probate transfers are a great way to incorporate asset protection planning into your estate plan, it is important not to use non-probate transfers specifically to avoid a particular creditor. These transfers can be undone if a court finds that the transfer was made for the sole purpose of avoiding an existing obligation to a creditor.

Estate Planning – Answers to Your Questions

Although it is important for every individual to have an estate plan, the process of estate planning is often confusing and overwhelming. A recent article addresses several frequently asked questions concerning estate planning.

Those who have drafted a will often wonder where they should keep it. There are a variety of appropriate places to keep a will, including a safety deposit box, your attorney’s office, or even on file with the probate court in the county in which you live. No matter where you decide to store your will, it is important to be sure that your will is safe and that your heirs will be able to locate it.

Another frequently asked question concerns what information should be left out of a person’s will. Since a will must go through probate before it has any legal effect, any document that needs to be viewed immediately upon a person’s incapacity or death should not be included in a person’s will. These documents include advance directives, organ donation information, wishes for the disposition of a person’s remains and funeral instructions.

Finally, many individuals have a hard time understanding whether they need a will, trust, or both. To understand which you need, it is important to understand the difference between the two. A will takes effect only after a person’s death and it distributes non-probate assets. A trust takes effect when it is created and it allows a person to exercise extended management and control over his or her assets. It is good practice for everyone to draft a will and to add a trust if necessary.

For the Newbies: Four Estate Planning Tips For Beginners

Estate planning is often a difficult topic to approach. Not only is it difficult for many people to discuss the reality of their own mortality, but the process of estate planning can quickly become confusing and overwhelming. If you have not prepared your estate plan yet, a recent article offers four steps to take care of most of your planning needs:

1. Prepare a Master Information Document: A master information document should include all of the information your executor will need in order to locate and settle your accounts. This document is simple to create, and will save your executor from the nightmare of an unorganized estate. Importantly, be sure to keep this document in a safe place so that it does not fall into the wrong hands.
2. Consider Purchasing Life Insurance:  Life insurance is an important estate-planning tool for anyone who leaves behind dependents. The proceeds can keep a person who relies on your income from financial ruin.
3. Draft a Will that Considers Important Possessions:  If you have any items that carry a sentimental or financial value, chances are you will want to dictate who receives that item after your death. Additionally, if you do not account for the distribution of such items, you may trigger a feud among your family members.
4. Designate a Guardian for Any Minor Children: If you have minor children, guardian designation is the single most important part of your estate plan. Carefully select the person you would trust to care for your children should you become unable to do so and discuss your designation with that person before putting it in your will.

Watch That Step!: Estate Planning Oversights to Avoid

In order to have a solid estate plan, it is important to not only carefully put the plan together but to revise it regularly as well. With all the work involved, it is not surprising that estate planning oversights are common. A recent article discusses several estate planning oversights that can lead to unintended consequences.

  1.       Failing to Plan: The largest estate planning mistake a person can make is failing to create an estate plan. If a person dies without an estate plan, his or her assets are distributed to his or her heirs in accordance with state law. This might provide the outcome the decedent had wanted, but often it does not.
  2.       Failure to Understand the Difference Between Probate and Non-Probate Assets: A probate asset is any asset that is transferred through a will. These assets go through the process of probate. A non-probate asset is transferred by contract, outside of the will. In order to create the most efficient and cost-effective estate plan, it is important to understand the differences between these two types of assets.
  3.       Failing to Pay Attention to Tax Apportionment Clauses: State and federal taxes may be assessed to various assets according to different rules. While some assets may be taxed, others may not. This becomes problematic when two children receive two inheritances of equal value but one has to pay taxes while the other does not.

Choosing Your Executor

One of the most important estate planning decisions a person can make is deciding who will serve as the executor of the estate. This is a vital decision, because the executor will be in charge of overseeing the distribution of the estate in accordance with the decedent’s stated wishes. A recent article discusses several frequently asked questions when it comes to selecting an executor.

Does My Executor Need a Financial or Legal Background?
State law does not require individuals to have any sort of specialized background in order to serve as the executor of an estate. However, these skill sets are clearly beneficial when settling an estate. Although the executor can hire an attorney to assist with the estate administration, it is the executor who must make all final decisions.

Should I Select More Than One Executor?
Most commonly, people select a single executor. However, in some situations, it may be beneficial to select two executors. For example, where the deceased left behind an elderly spouse who is being assisted by an adult child, it may be beneficial if he or she named the spouse and child as joint executors, rather than the spouse alone.  Note that this may increase complexities in settling the estate.

Can My Named Executor Refuse to Serve?
The selection of an executor is not legally binding. Although the chosen executor will be given the opportunity to serve as such, he or she may renounce the appointment. If the decedent named a contingent executor, he or she will take over, if not, the court will appoint one.

What Goes in the Bucket? (i.e. What Can I Use to Fund My Trust?)

Aside from an individual’s Last Will and Testament, a trust is probably the most popular estate planning tool. Trusts, which come in various forms, are often used as a vehicle for tax avoidance. Assets in certain Irrevocable Trusts often avoid taxation because, by putting them in such a trust, the owner relinquishes ownership of the assets to a trustee.

When considering whether an estate plan should incorporate a trust, it is important to consider what type of assets within the estate may be transferred to the trust. A recent article discusses certain types of trusts, and the assets that they hold. This is NOT an exhaustive list, but rather a ‘sampler’ of sorts.

  1. Property and Land Trusts: These trusts can hold any sort of property or real estate, such as your residential home or an investment property.
  2. Financial Asset Trust: This type of trust can hold a multitude of financial assets, such as stocks, bonds, and shares.
  3. Life Insurance Trust: This type of trust holds a life insurance policy that is ‘written into trust.’ A life insurance policy that is ‘written into trust’ will be paid out to the trust, rather than an individual.

Many other assets, such as Business Interests (even S Corporations), Hotel Investments and Personal Property, can be written into appropriate trusts as well.

Planning With a Baby on Board

The birth or adoption of a new child is a frenzied and joyous time in the parents’ lives. Understandably, estate planning is often the last thing on the minds of expectant parents. However, as a recent article explains, certain parts of estate planning are essential for a growing family. Expectant parents should consider at least the following two questions, and plan accordingly before it is too late.

Children, Baby new born
Children, Baby new born (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Who Would You Trust to Care For Your Children?

Should the unthinkable happen and neither you nor your partner are able to care for your children, it is important that you have a plan in place. If you do not designate a guardian for your children, or the guardian you have designated declines to serve, the court will select the person who will care for your children. This may or may not be the person that you would have chosen.

Do You Have Life Insurance?

Life insurance is an important part of the estate of many parents. Life insurance provides a guaranteed sum of money that can finance the care of your spouse and children. For extra protection, you can designate that if you and your spouse pass on before your children reach the age of majority, the money will be kept in trust and distributed only by a designated trustee. You can further designate that, should you die after your children reach the age of majority, they can simply receive the sum outright or in installments at various ages such as 21, 25, and 30.  Yet another popular option is to allow the money to stay in trust forever to maximize asset protection, while ensuring financial needs are met.

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