Building Legacies that Last Estate Planning and Elder Law

What Happens When a Will is Lost In Maryland?

Bigstock-Couple-running-bookshop-13904324[1]Some states require that an original will be submitted to probate or restrict the circumstances when a copy can be produced instead. What happens when the original will has been lost? Maryland and the District of Columbia require originals.

It is always a good idea to keep the original copy of your will safe and secure. In some states the original has to be produced for the will to be used in probate. In other states the original might not always be necessary, but the circumstances when a copy of the will can be used are restricted.

For this reason, many people choose to have their lawyers keep the original copy of the will. When they pass away, the attorneys can then produce the original will.

In a recent Napa Valley Register column entitled "Is lost will still valid?," a couple wrote in to ask what would happen to their will. They left it with the attorney who drafted it for them. The attorney, however, had retired and the couple had no idea what happened to their will or how to find the attorney to ask.

While the advice given was specific to California, it is generally good advice anywhere in the U.S. in this type of situation.

Attorneys are required to keep their files even after they retire. The normal practice is to have another attorney take care of the client files and to inform the state bar association of the arrangement.

Therefore, this couple should call the bar association and make inquiries. If that does not produce the whereabouts of the will, the couple can always get a new will.

Reference: Napa Valley Register (Sept. 8, 2016) "Is lost will still valid?".


Not the Best Advice

Sometimes people who have good intentions can give bad advice. An illustration of this comes from a recent Dear Abby column that advised a woman to tell her mother to set up a trust.

The columnist known as Dear Abby has been giving advice for decades to newspaper readers who write in with problems. To her loyal readers she is seen as a wise woman who can always be counted on to assess a situation, cut to the chase and dispense good advice.

However, a recent column in which she advises a woman to tell her mother to get a trust illustrates why some types of advice are better left to lawyers.

The column was published in the Chicago Sun Times as "Dear Abby: He wants a night when wife dresses sexy."

A woman wrote in to say that her mother has given her older brother an allowance for many years. The brother lives in another country because he is a fugitive from the law with outstanding warrants. The mother fears that without the money the brother will become homeless and not be able to support himself. Because of this the mother expects the daughter to continue giving money to her brother after the mother passes away.

Abby suggests that the woman tell her mother to set up a trust for the brother so that he will be taken care of and it will not be the letter writer's problem.

At first glance, that advice might seem reasonable. A trust would be a great way for a mother to provide for a son who needs money but is not able to take care of himself.

Under ordinary circumstances a trust lawyer would be happy to set up this type of trust. However, this is not an ordinary circumstance. Since the brother is a fugitive, anyone who knowingly helps him could face legal consequences. The better advice may have been to consult an attorney.

Reference: Chicago Sun Times (Sept. 12, 2016) "Dear Abby: He wants a night when wife dresses sexy."


What is a Simple Will? When do you need more?

Bigstock-Beautiful-woman-looking-throug-20311445[1]The term "simple will" is often used to describe a certain standard type of will that many people get. Before getting one for yourself, you need to understand what it means.

Estate planning attorneys are used to clients saying they just need to get a simple will. Many people are told by others, long before they visit an estate planning attorney, that a simple will is what they need to get.  However, what a client might mean by a simple will is not necessarily what the attorney thinks it is.

Estate planning attorneys use the term to normally mean a particular type of will that has standard features.

Recently, the Courier Journal explained what those features are in "Thank You and Simple Wills."

A simple will normally refers to a relatively short document the primary feature of which is directing that all of the testator’s assets should go to a spouse. In the event the spouse has predeceased, then a simple will almost always directs that all assets be shared between the testator's children in equal shares. A simple will might also include basic information about who should be the guardian of any minor children the testator has.

That is normally all that a simple will contains, but there might be a few more basic provisions in some circumstances.

It should be obvious that a simple will is not the appropriate estate planning document for everyone.  Particularly in Maryland and DC, which are among the minority of states with either a state estate tax or an inheritance tax a simple will does not reduce tax liability or defer taxes.  In the District of Columbia which has an estate tax of $1 million and in Maryland which has BOTH an estate tax o $2 million and an inheritance, an individual may need more protection that  simple will provides.  Middleclass homeowners, for instance, based on the value of their house and insurane or IRAs, often exceed these thresholds and need more complex wills and/or  trusts to reduce state tax liability.  Consult Profit Law Firm, for a consultation to see if a simple will provides enough protection for your heirs.

Essentially, before telling an estate planning attorney you need a simple will, tell the attorney what you hope to accomplish with your estate plan. The attorney can then help direct you to the proper legal instrument for your needs.

Reference: Courier Journal (Sept. 13, 2016) "Thank You and Simple Wills."


Do You Need a Revocable Living Trust in Maryland?

Bigstock-Financial-consultant-presents--14508974[1]Contrary to popular belief estate planning is not one-size fits all and not everyone needs a revocable living trust. However, they are a good option for many people.

When you start asking around for estate planning advice, you will probably find the first thing many non-experts say about it is that you need to get a revocable living trust. They are extremely popular instruments and articles abound on the Internet extolling their virtues. They are so popular that a common belief is that everyone should get one.

That noted, they do have drawbacks and these drawbacks might make some people decide to go another route. Contrary to popular belief, revocable living trusts do not offer tax protection.  Different trust and estate planning tools can be used to reduce tax liability.  Another drawback, is that revocable living trust give take assets out of probate, and sometimes you lose valuable benefits found in probate.  For example, in Maryland, creditos can only come after assets in the estate for six months after death, versus the usual three year period.  Placing assets in revocable trusts take them out of probate and give them longer exposure to unwarranted creditor claims.

Specifically, the Motley Fool looked at the benefits and drawbacks of revocable living trusts in "Is a Revocable Living Trust Right for You?"

The biggest benefit of a revocable living trust is that your primary assets, as long as they are transferred into the trust, do not have to go through probate when you pass away. As probate can be an expensive and time-consuming experience, this can make handling your estate much easier for your heirs.  In Maryland, probate is relatively inexpensive and less lenghty, so some people may find it to their benefit to be in probate.  Probate is also normally a public process, but if you have a trust you can keep your estate details private. Probate is public in Maryland and DC.  Finally, should you become incapacitated a successor trustee can take over your finances instead of having to go through court to get a guardian.

On the other hand, trusts can be more expensive to set up than other estate planning instruments, but they might save your estate money in the long run depending on probate costs. Transferring assets into your trust can also be very time-consuming depending on what you own. Having a revocable living trust also does not mean you do not need a will. You will still need a simple will to deal with anything left out of the trust.  If you want a consultation on whether  revocable living trust is right for you, contact the Profit Law Firm.

Reference: Motley Fool (Sept. 10, 2016) "Is a Revocable Living Trust Right for You?"


Basic Estate Planning Mistakes to Avoid

Bigstock-Extended-Family-Relaxing-On-So-13907567[1]If you would like to make sure that your estate goes to the people you want it to go to, then it is important to avoid making some basic estate planning mistakes.

It is impossible to avoid making mistakes in every aspect of your life. No one can always be perfect at everything. Estate planning is no different.

CNBC recently wrote about some of the common estate planning mistakes we can avoid in "Don't drop the ball when planning your estate."

They include:

  • Many people do not make a will. Without a will, then you cannot decide who gets your property. Every estate plan should have a will of some sort.
  • After making a will some people never update it. This is a mistake as a will should be changed whenever there is a significant change in circumstances to make sure the will reflects the new circumstances.
  • It is a mistake to not consider how your heirs will handle their inheritances and whether they are capable of being responsible with anything you leave them.
  • It is a mistake to not consider getting a trust, especially if your heirs have the potential to be irresponsible. A trustee can oversee the inheritance and make sure it is used appropriately.
  • Finally, it is a mistake to not think carefully about who to appoint as an executor of a will or as a trustee.

If you realize that you need a will or trust, call Profit Law Firm for a consultation.

Reference: CNBC (Sept. 13, 2016) "Don't drop the ball when planning your estate."

Librarian Leaves Millions to University

Giving-to-charity2[1]Every once in a while a story comes out about a person who lived frugally and managed to amass a fortune. The latest example is a librarian from New Hampshire.

Robert Morin loved books. It is believed that with only a few exceptions he once read every book published in the U.S. between 1930 and 1940 in chronological order. Thus, it was probably fitting that when he graduated from the University of New Hampshire in 1963 he went to work in the school’s library.

Librarians do not normally make a lot of money, so it came as a surprise to everyone when Morin left the university his entire fortune when he passed away, which was approximately $4 million.

Apparently, Morin lived simply and invested well. He stipulated that $100,000 should go to the library where he worked, but the university can use the rest for other purposes.

My Central Oregon reported this story in “Librarian Quietly Saved $4 Million, Left it to School Where He Worked.”

Similar stories come up every few years. For example, grade school teachers have been known to save and leave millions to charity. In another recent case, a janitor left a small fortune to the school where he worked.

What this shows is that anyone who has the desire to do so can make a fortune by living simply and investing money well.

Of course, not everyone wants to live that way. Those who do, however, should not neglect to spend some of their money visiting with an estate planning attorney so they can makes sure the money goes where they want after they pass away. It does not make sense to save all the money only to have it go to someone you do not want to have it.

Reference: My Central Oregon (Sept. 4, 2016) “Librarian Quietly Saved $4 Million, Left it to School Where He Worked.”


You Actually Do Need a Will

Bigstock-Attractive-Mixed-Race-Couple-P-9992345[1]Some people today suggest that not everyone needs a will because of the many other methods of transferring assets. However, everyone would benefit by at least having a simple will.

There are many different ways to transfer assets after you pass away. You can create all sorts of different trusts. You can title property as joint owners. You can make financial accounts payable on death.

These are all ways to transfer assets that would override any will that you write. Because all these different tools are available, some have suggested that not everyone needs a will today.

In response, however, Forbes notes in “Do You Really Need A Will?” there are still many reasons to have a will.

Anyone with minor children should have a will because, in most jurisdictions, it is the document through which you can appoint the guardian of choice for your children. Other instruments can be used to provide assets for a child, but only a will is available to state who should take care of the child.

Even if you do not have a child, you probably have personal property that is not easily handled in other legal instruments. If you want to have a say in who gets that property, then a will is necessary to do so.

That there are other ways to transfer assets after you pass away is wonderful and an estate planning attorney can help you navigate through the ways to find the best options for your unique circumstances.  Call Profit Law Firm to find the best way to transfer assets for your family.

Nevertheless, a will is still necessary for things that cannot be included in those documents. For that reason expect your estate planning attorney to prepare a will for you, even if it is a very simple one.

Reference: Forbes (Aug. 31, 2016) “Do You Really Need A Will?


Protect Access to Your Social Security Account

Elder Couple With BillsIf you receive Social Security benefits, it is very important that you that you understand how to protect your Social Security account from thieves.

Recently the Social Security Administration introduced a two-step verification process for access to Social Security account information online. Unfortunately, it required people have access to text messaging, which many senior citizens do not have.

The system had to be temporarily shelved.

That means that Social Security account information is still vulnerable according to Computer World in “Trusting the Social Security Administration?

The problem stems from Social Security requiring that all benefits be paid by a direct deposit. Identity thieves have been known to create an online account with Social Security before a retiree can do so. This gives them control of the account and they can change the account into which benefits are deposited.

As a consequence of this scam, it is very difficult for retirees to fix the problem as they do not know the login information since they did not create the account for themselves. This has been a known vulnerability for a few years. Attempts to address the problem have not had much success.

One way to help protect yourself is to make sure you create an online account with the Social Security Administration before any identity thieves have a chance to do so. However, that will not protect you should someone gain access to your account later.

For the most protection it is suggested that you block all online access to your Social Security account, which you can do at any time.

Reference: Computer World (Sept. 4, 2016) “Trusting the Social Security Administration?


Social Security in Foreign Countries

Whether you are currently working in a different country or planning to move to one after you retire, it might still be possible for you to receive Social Security benefits.

Increasingly more and more Americans are working in foreign countries or they are planning to live in one after they retire. In a globalized economy, this trend can be expected to continue.

Americans in either situation need to know what their rights are in regard to Social Security benefits and any benefits they might have in a foreign country’s retirement program.

Recently, Public Opinion gave a quick rundown in “Social Security: Retiring overseas? What you need to know to get benefits abroad.”

Bigstock-Large-Mixed-Race-Family-2589417_(2)[1]If you have worked in the U.S., paid into the Social Security program and worked in a foreign country with a public pension program, then you may be eligible to combine payments from both programs when you retire.

The U.S. has treaties with 25 other nations that allow for this. The details differ depending on the country in question and there are provisions to make sure people cannot draw full benefits from both countries and get a windfall.

If you plan to move overseas after you retire, then you might still be eligible to receive your Social Security benefits. Most American citizens should be able to receive benefits wherever they go.

On the other hand, it is much more complicated for resident aliens who have lawfully paid into the system and wish to leave the country after retiring.

Anyone in that situation should seek the advice of an elder law attorney.

Reference: Public Opinion (Sept. 4, 2016) “Social Security: Retiring overseas? What you need to know to get benefits abroad.”


Social Security Is Not Going Anywhere

Many people hear dire predictions about the future viability of Social Security and assume that the program will end before they can take any benefits. If this results in a failure to educate themselves about the program, it is a big mistake.

People have been predicting the end of Social Security from almost the very moment it was started. President Franklin D. Roosevelt was keenly aware that future generations might seek to end the program and for that reason he insisted that measures be put in place to make it politically difficult for any future politicians to scrap Social Security.

That is why, for example, benefits are not subject to means testing. Even the super wealthy can draw benefits. The idea was to make people view benefits as a right and not as just charity for the poor.

Despite that it is still common for people to believe that Social Security will be gone before they are eligible to draw benefits.

However, as the Albuquerque Journal points out in “Social Security likely here to stay, so get educated” the program is not going away anytime soon.

In fact, both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have pledged not to cut benefits or increase the retirement age as part of their Presidential campaigns.

What this means is that, despite warnings about the future of the program and the Social Security trust fund running out of money, you should plan as if the program will be around when you are ready to draw benefits. It is important to educate yourself about how benefits work and when you should start receiving them.

Learn your options and plan accordingly.

Reference: Albuquerque Journal (Sept. 6, 2016) “Social Security likely here to stay, so get educated