Building Legacies that Last Estate Planning and Elder Law

Estate Planning Is Important

Bigstock-Family-Portrait-At-Christmas-4881212[1]You cannot merely tell your family what should be done with your assets after you pass away. You need to go through the process of getting a formal estate plan drawn up.

Many people are under the impression they do not need to get a formal estate plan, because they can rely on their family to divide up their assets after they pass away without any problems. They think if they just give family members some directions about who should get what, then the family will reliably carry out those wishes.

While we all would hope that we can rely on our families in this way, there are legal and practical reasons why it is unwise to do so and why people need to get a proper estate plan.  This was discussed in a recent Fontana Herald News article titled "Having estate planning documents is very important."

The biggest issue faced by your family if you do not make an estate plan, is that your family will not decide who gets your property. Instead, the courts get to make that decision and they do so by following statutes that determine who gets everything.

The person who the courts decide gets everything, might not choose to follow any directions you have given to distribute that property to other people. In some cases, it might be impossible for them to follow your wishes, even if they wanted to, since they could face negative tax consequences.

If you can take the time to tell your family how you want your property divided up, then you can take the time to get a formal estate plan that will actually carry out your wishes.

Reference: Fontana Herald News (August 7, 2017) "Having estate planning documents is very important."


What Is Fair in Blended Families?

Bigstock-Large-Mixed-Race-Family-2589417_(2)[1]How to fairly divide an estate between multiple children, can be a difficult question to answer. It can get even more difficult, when the family is not a traditional one.

When people get remarried and they have children from a previous relationship, then their estate planning can get pretty complicated.

Consider for example, a man who has two homes and two daughters from a previous relationship getting remarried. This man decides to create a trust that leaves one of his homes to his two daughters, since that is the house in which they grew up in. The other home will go to his new wife.

That seems like an equitable solution.

However, the man and his new wife, then had a son and they also purchased a third home.

Now, the question becomes how do they make sure that all of the man's children are treated equally?

If any inheritance the new wife receives will eventually go to her son and he also receives a portion of his father's estate, then he will receive a larger inheritance than his step-sisters.

How to resolve this situation was the subject of a recent letter to Market Watch as reported in "How do I split my estate between my two stepdaughters and biological son?"

There is no single perfect solution to this situation that will work in all cases.

 It depends on how much the woman brought into the marriage and how old her step-daughters were at the time.

What will work for one family, will not work for another.

If the women brought few assets into the marriage, then the fair thing to do might be to give her a life estate in the property, but then divide that property up equally between all three children when she passes away.

If you have a blended family, then visit an estate planning attorney to learn about the options to deal with this type of situation for your family.

Reference: Market Watch (August 8, 2017) "How do I split my estate between my two stepdaughters and biological son?"


Update Your Estate Plan

MP900448494[1]If you do not continuously update your estate plan, then it will not be as effective as you want it to be.

After people get an estate plan, the last thing many of them want to do again, is to go back to the estate planning attorney and make changes.

It can be expensive to do so and it takes time away from other things. It also forces people to think again about their own deaths.

This leads people to think that if they have already gotten an estate plan, then at least they have something. They believe that they do not need to make regular changes,  since they will always have time when they are older to change their plans to account for everything that has changed since they first got estate plans.

However, that is a bad idea as Market Watch reports in "There's no time like the present to update your estate plan."

The biggest issue is that you might not have as much time to update your estate plan as you think. Even the most cautious person with the healthiest habits in the world, can never know what might happen to him.

You do not have time to wait to update your estate plan to take changing circumstances into account. It is important to make changes to your estate plan, when those changes first become necessary.

If you do not continuously update your estate plan, then you risk leaving your family in a bad position when you pass away. They are the ones who will have to deal with anything that might have made sense once, but that no longer does.

Reference: Market Watch (August 7, 2017) "There's no time like the present to update your estate plan."


The Wrong Ashes

MP900382652[1]A pet cemetery and crematory in Illinois is accused of giving pet owners the ashes of animals that are not their own.

While a local animal rescue volunteer was searching for a missing dog at an Illinois pet cemetery and crematorium that also had an attached animal shelter, he noticed a smell coming from a refrigerator on the property. The closer the volunteer got to the refrigerator, the more overpowering that the smell became.

Upon opening the door, the volunteer discovered the bodies of three dead animals.

One of the animals was a cat that had been implanted with a microchip.

The data on the microchip was read by local authorities and it was discovered that the cat belonged to a family, whose pet had died three years previously.

That family had been given the ashes of a different animal already, according to the Daily Mail in "Pet cemetery is accused of giving the ashes of random animals to grieving owners after dozens of decomposing carcasses were found in a freezer."

It is not clear why the family was given the incorrect ashes or why the cat was never cremated at all.

Unfortunately, the owner of the cemetery committed suicide shortly after the police started their investigation.  Therefore, the answers as to why may never be known.

If the owner thought he could avoid any problems by taking his own life, then he was wrong.

It is still possible that his estate could be sued and his family will have to be the ones to face legal consequences, instead of him.

Reference: Daily Mail (July 30, 2017) "Pet cemetery is accused of giving the ashes of random animals to grieving owners after dozens of decomposing carcasses were found in a freezer."


Online Wills Are Dangerous

MP900411753[2]You can create a will by purchasing a form online and filing it out.  However, it makes no sense to do so.

One of the biggest questions people have about estate planning today, is whether they should use one of the several online legal document services.

These services allow people to purchase forms they can download and fill out for themselves that purport to be legal documents. Many people have made their own wills this way.

The problem is that there is no actual advantage to creating a will this way, as MoneySense pointed out in "Danger of DIY Wills."

The one advantage people think these online wills have is that they are cheaper than going to an estate planning attorney. However, that is not really the case.

 It is true that you might be able to save a few hundred dollars now by doing things yourself. If there are any problems with the documents you purchased after you pass away, then your estate is going to pay thousands of dollars, a lot more money, to attorneys to sort out the problems.  This will dwarf any "savings" you might have had from drafting the document yourself.  

There are almost always problems with form wills.

The source of the problems is always the same.

You are not an expert.

You might think you know what the best legal options are for your estate, but you are almost certainly wrong.

Do not be offended by that.

Unless you happen to be a surgeon, you do not know how to take out your own appendix either. Estate planning requires expertise every bit as much as surgery.

Reference: MoneySense (July 14, 2017) "Danger of DIY Wills."


Estate Planning and Retirement Planning

Estate planning and retirement planning are not separate things. If they are done properly, you will do both at the same time.

People often think of retirement planning as saving for their own financial needs, when they are no longer working. They also think of estate planning as something different, simply planning to distribute whatever is left over when they die.

While things can be done that way, it is better to think of the two things at once, so your plans complement each other.

If your estate planning attorney and financial advisor work together, then both your retirement and estate plans will work better for you.

You will have a comprehensive plan, as TD Ameritrade discusses in “Estate Planning: Build Up, Draw Down, Distribute Balance.”

A comprehensive plan helps determine how you are going to build up your account balances to have more than enough money for your retirement. It also makes sure your assets are held in the best possible way for your future estate.

The plan takes into consideration how you will draw your assets down during retirement to make sure you leave something for your heirs, if that is your decision.

Finally, the plan determines the best way for you to pass the remainder on to your heirs.

If you do things properly, then you will have enough for your needs and your heirs will have plenty after you pass away.

If you would like to get a comprehensive estate plan, then talk to an estate planning attorney about how to make sure your retirement plans complement your estate plan.

Reference: TD Ameritrade (July 19, 2017) “Estate Planning: Build Up, Draw Down, Distribute Balance.”


Estate Planning Bad Advice is Common

It is very easy to find bad estate planning advice on the Internet. Make sure that you are listening to experts.

If you start Googling for advice about what to do with your estate, you are likely to find some good sources of information. You are also likely to find a lot of bad information, even from people who put themselves out as trusted sources.

A recent column in the Mercury News, "Money Manners," is an example of the problem.

A couple wrote in to ask the columnists' advice about something their attorney suggested they do.

The attorney suggested that they convene a family meeting to discuss the terms of their estate plan. The couple was hesitant, because they knew not everyone would be happy with their plans and they did not want to deal with the fallout.

MP900442500[1]Unfortunately, the columnists then gave bad advice and suggested that the attorney only gave his advice, so he did not have to be the one to deliver the bad news to the family after the couple passed away.

The problem is that most estate planning attorneys do advise clients to talk to their families about their plans and what they should expect to receive, if not specifically, at least generally.

That advice is not given to make it easy on the attorney.

The reason for the advice is so people are made aware of the plans ahead of time and have a chance to express any discontent. Once informed, people are much less likely to pursue litigation over the estate.

When people learn the reasons behind the decisions they do not like, they have time to digest and accept them without costing the estate a small fortune in litigation costs.

The lawyer, in this case, would stand to earn more money if any of the family members did decide to sue.

Make sure the advice you receive is from experts. Listen to your attorney.

Reference: Mercury News (July 13, 2017) "Money Manners."


Elder Law Estate Planning

Most of the time, estate planning is not just about a deceased person’s estate. It is also about elder law options. MP900439352[1]

A long time ago, only wealthy people had estate plans prepared and the early estate planning options evolved to reflect their needs. They needed wills and trusts to pass down their wealth to their heirs.

Eventually, more and more people started getting estate plans and the planning needs of the non-wealthy began to receive more consideration.

One of the things they needed to address was how to pay for nursing home care, when a non-wealthy person needed it.

Elder law grew out of that concern, as the Times Herald-Record pointed out in “Plenty of reasons to do elder law estate planning.”

As a result of that history, when people do estate planning today, they normally take care of many of their expected elder law needs.

Elder law estate planning attorneys help people figure out how to pay for possible nursing home care.

Elder law estate planning attorneys get their clients general durable power of attorneys and health care powers of attorney, so their clients are prepared if they are ever incapacitated.

Elder law estate planning attorneys write living wills for their clients, so their clients can decide whether or not they want to live in a coma with no chance of recovery.

Elder law estate planning attorneys also help their clients avoid the possibility of being the victims of elder financial abuse.

If you are interested in any of those elder law options, and you should be interested in all of them, then visit an elder law estate planning attorney.

Reference: Times Herald-Record (July 5, 2017) “Plenty of reasons to do elder law estate planning

Beneficiary Planning

Large Mixed Race FamilyWho you make the beneficiaries of your retirement accounts, can have major implications for your estate.

When you first signed up for a retirement account, you might not have thought about all the details that were presented to you. This is especially true, if you were given retirement account forms along with a large stack of other papers by a human resources person when you started a new job.

One of the items you would have filled out on the forms was an account beneficiary.  If you were to pass away, this beneficiary would then receive the assets in the account.

At the time, you might not have thought too deeply about who you designated as that beneficiary. However, it is important that you do think about it when you are making your estate plans, as Morningstar pointed out in “Do’s and Don’ts for Beneficiary Designations.”

There are actually many things to consider when naming beneficiaries on retirement accounts.

For example, different beneficiaries are treated differently for tax purposes and in how they can use the account.

Another thing to consider is your designated beneficiary, who will receive the account automatically and has no obligation to share with other people, even if you tell them they should. Therefore, if you have three children and name only one of them as a beneficiary, then you might not want to split the rest of your assets evenly between all three children.

The best thing to do is to talk to your estate planning attorney about your beneficiary designations and let the attorney help you determine the best options for them, as part of your overall estate plan.

Reference: Morningstar (July 23, 2017) “Do’s and Don’ts for Beneficiary Designations.”

You Need a Power of Attorney

No matter who you are and what you do for a living, if you can read this, then you need a general durable power of attorney.
Think for a moment about everything you routinely do to make sure that all of your finances are in order. You pay many kinds of bills, including cable, phone, utilities, rent or mortgage and many more.
You probably pay these bills every month without much thought, other than a bit of grumbling.
You are used to it. You know how to pay them. You know if there is enough money in your accounts to cover the bills. You can also get that money out of the accounts and get it where it needs to go.
However, what if something were to suddenly happen to you?
You need to consider how difficult it would be for someone else to take care of all those bills, as WMUR 9 ABC points out in "Money Matters: Why you need a durable power of attorney."
You need to think about what would happen, if you have an accident and could not pay your bills for a few months or even longer.
What would it be like to get out of the hospital and come home to a big stack of unpaid bills? How many of your services would be cut off? Would you be in any shape to pay all of the stacked up bills to quickly get everything back in order?
There is a way to avoid that scenario.
You need to go to an estate planning attorney and get a general durable power of attorney. This will allow someone that you trust to pay your bills, if you are physically or mentally unable to do so.
Reference: WMUR 9 ABC (July 6, 2017) "Money Matters: Why you need a durable power of attorney."