Building Legacies that Last Estate Planning and Elder Law

Mistakes That Aretha Franklin Made In Her Estate Plan

Aretha Franklin, just like her fellow performer Prince, was undoubtedly talented beyond her years. Unfortunately, she did not have a will set up that would enable her loved ones to get what they deserved, including her child Clarence, who is 63 years old, that has special needs that require attention. If you follow in this path just like Franklin, the disbursements of money could be delayed, very detrimental family disputes may arouse, your estate as a whole may require extra taxes, and ultimately, your financial life could become a public record! If you have a child that requires special attention and you don’t have a will, your child will not receive any government benefits. If you don’t have a will or a trust, get one written up before it is too late! If you don’t follow through like Aretha did, your estate and probate deal will become public, not private.

Michelle Profit is an estate planning attorney serving Maryland and the District of Columbia. A Harvard Law School graduate, she has worked in the financial services industry for over 20 years. A dedicated advocate for all of her clients,

Michelle Q. Profit personally handles each client case from start to finish to meet the client’s needs and objectives. Michelle listens in the consultation sessions and works with any other client accountants or financial planners to create a comprehensive estate plan.

How Michael Jackson’s Estate Plan Was A Success

Michelle ProfitMichael Jackson, the King of Pop culture, not only left behind such a legacy but also left behind a great estate plan. He made the sensible choice unlike Prince, Aretha Franklin, and Whitney Houston. With the help of his chief executor of his estate both his entertainment attorney John Branca and his music executive John McClain, he left an estimated over $500 million value of assets to his heirs. By having this money, his heirs, under Jackson’s will, his legacy be protected. In order for him to create this smart and sensible estate plan, he had to follow the steps which include: Writing A Will, Considering A Living Trust, Naming A Guardian, and Assembling A Good Team.

By Writing A Will, without confrontation between siblings, he ensured that his instruction for dividing his property were followed after he died. By Considering A Living Trust, it spared his heirs the hastle of going through probate court- an expensive and prolonged legal process.

By Naming A Guardian, for his kids, he ensured the right people would protect them.

By Assembling A Good Team, he was able to make sure his heirs got what he wanted them to have instead of setting a prolonged, expensive family fight in court. According to a close correspondent to the King of Pop, “He put two people in charge of the will and trust who he felt were sage, mature, and had a great deal of expertise in how to handle what are probably considerable assets. He couldn’t have put his estate in a better position.”

If you follow these steps, you will be able to achieve what Michael Jackson did, which is a “Good Estate Plan.” Overall, the bottom line is that Estate Planning is important and you should have one in place, just like Michael Jackson did. It will serve you well in the future and protect your family, future heirs and your business.

Michelle Profit is an estate planning attorney serving Maryland and the District of Columbia. A Harvard Law School graduate, she has worked in the financial services industry for over 20 years. A dedicated advocate for all of her clients, Michelle Q. Profit personally handles each client case from start to finish to meet the client’s needs and objectives. Michelle listens in the consultation sessions and works with any other client accountants or financial planners to create a comprehensive estate plan.

Does Your Estate Plan Have All the Right Stuff?

Man holding glasses sitting at computer

“Many people think estate planning means deciding what happens to your things when you die. For that reason, many young families do not consider estate planning to be a priority. However, it may be one of the most important things young parents can do!”

A last will and testament is the document which parents need, to legally nominate guardians to rear their children if orphaned. It clearly delineates who should take care of the children and who should manage the money available to care for the children, as noted in The Daily Sentinel’s article titled “What is missing from your estate plan?”

While some people name one person to rear the children and handle the money, it’s a good idea to separate the two roles.

Without these instructions in a will, those left behind can have very different ideas about where the children should live and who should care for them. If the two parent’s families have very strong opinions, suddenly both families have hard choices to make about what will happen to the children.

No parent wants to leave a legacy of court battles and family division.  However, that’s what is likely to happen without a will.

There are other issues that estate plans address while you are alive.  It is also necessary to plan for incapacity. A living will, also known as an “advance directive,” is important because it helps pre-answer questions, regarding what treatment and care you would want if unable to speak for yourself. Do you want to be kept alive by artificial means? You do not want your loved ones making this decision during a time of great emotional stress, so this is an important document to have in your estate plan.

Finally, your estate plan should include a medical durable power of attorney to deal with all other medical decisions other than end of life. Without it, if you are not near death but not able to share your opinions about your care, your family and your medical providers are placed in a difficult position. In contrast, those who care enough about their family designate an agent and ensure that their wishes are made legally binding.

The big question everyone must face is “When should I start working on my estate plan?” If the answer is “Later,” then the real answer is “No time soon.” For young parents, that puts your minor children in a bad position, where a court may make the decision about who will rear them and how their lives will go on after you are gone.

Don’t make your family have to go through more than they would have to anyway. Speak with an estate planning attorney to create your estate plan, including these very important documents.

Resource: The Daily Sentinel (Aug. 12, 2018) “What is missing from your estate plan?”


The Process of Getting a Will

Extended Family SmilingIf you do not have a will, you should know that the process of creating one is not difficult in most cases.

People who do not have estate plans, often think that the process of getting one can be more difficult than it normally is. It is not difficult to get that false impression, if you start doing some digging online.

You will be confronted with unfamiliar terminology and 10 to 15 step plans that can make estate planning seem very time-consuming. You can also find some online form companies that tell you that purchasing their products make creating an estate plan easy. However, once you start reading their documentation, it might all look difficult again because you do not know the finer legal details of estate planning.

The truth? Estate planning does not have to be that difficult to accomplish, as The New York Times discusses in “What It Was Like To Finally Write My Will.”

The author of the piece discovered that creating his will was not very difficult at all. The key thing that he did was to get a recommendation for an attorney from a friend. He then went to that attorney and told the attorney what he wanted to do.

The attorney discussed the options and the author was able to work with the attorney to determine what the best plan would be for his unique circumstances. The attorney then wrote the plan down formally and the author just needed to go back to the attorney’s office a few weeks later, to formally sign the will and everything was done.

Most people will find that estate planning is just that simple when they also choose an appropriate estate planning attorney.

Reference: New York Times (April 3, 2018) “What It Was Like To Finally Write My Will.”


The Challenge of Digital Wills

Many legal documents can now be digitally created, signed and stored. Wills could be next.  However, there are some things that will need to be worked out. Bigstock-Young-man-holding-a-trash-bin--26453660

The basics of executing a proper will have not changed very much over time. To be certain that a will is valid, it must be a written document. It must be signed by the testator in front of witnesses, who also must sign the will. The original and not a copy of the signed will must be presented to the court at the appropriate time.

These rules were developed because when a will is presented to the court, the deceased cannot come forward and testify that the will is valid. The witnesses can testify that they did see the deceased sign the will, while he or she was competent and not under any duress.

Most writing is now done digitally, and many people would also like to make wills digital. That presents some challenges, as the New York Law Journal explains in "Wills in the Digital Age."

The first thing that must be figured out, is what counts as a digital signature for the purposes of a will. Digital signatures are allowed for things like contracts and taxes.  However, the signer of those documents can be asked if anyone needs to question whether the signature is valid.

That is not possible for a will, so it is likely that witnesses are still necessary. That leads to the question as to what constitutes witnessing a digital signature. If signing is the click of a button, must the witnesses just be present to see the button clicked?

Finally, it will need to be determined how the digital wills should be stored to make sure they are not edited after the fact.

Because of those difficulties, the introduction of digital wills is likely to be uneven in the different states.  The states will most likely have different answers for the challenges presented by digital wills.

Reference: New York Law Journal (March 6, 2018) "Wills in the Digital Age."



A Big Myth Concerning Trusts

Wills-trusts-and-estates-covered[1]If you do too much reading online about the difference between wills and trusts, then you are likely to think of the two as something that you have one or the other. That is a myth.

One of the key concerns for people planning their estates today, is whether they should use a will or a trust. Everyone seems to have an opinion about which one of the two main estate planning vehicles is better for general purposes. The two are often discussed, as if they are oppositional.

If you do some research and decide you want to get a trust, then you might go to an online service, pay a fee and download a form to create a trust. The problem? Getting a trust does not mean you should not get a will. You still need a will, as Lake County News discusses in "The difference between a trust and a will."

It is likely that when you pass away you will have some assets that for one reason or another were never put into your trust. Those assets will need to be distributed by your estate and often under the guidance of the probate court. You need a will so what you want done with those assets can be done.

Often that will is only a “pour-over will” that directs that everything should be transferred to your trust. However, there are other things you might also need to accomplish with a will, such as directing who should be appointed as a proper guardian for your minor children. You also might have some assets you do not want to go through a trust for other reasons, for which a will would be appropriate.

The best way to make sure you have all the documents you need in your estate plan, is to hire an estate planning attorney to draft your plan.

Reference: Lake County News (Feb. 24, 2018) "The difference between a trust and a will."


Revoking a Trust

Irish-handsPeople commonly wonder if they can revoke a trust that they no longer like and if they can have more than one trust. The answer is not a simple yes or no.

A reader recently asked a NWI Times column “Can an individual establish more than one trust?” It seems that the reader was curious whether he could have more than one trust and if creating a second trust would automatically revoke the first one.

These are common questions because most people are more familiar with the law of wills than of trusts. A person cannot have more than one will and creating a new will is an automatic revocation of any previous wills. Trusts do not work like that.

It is possible for a person to have more than one trust. It is not uncommon when people want to accomplish different things with different trusts. However, the assets put into the trusts cannot be the same and most people have no reason to have more than one trust. What most people seek to accomplish with a trust, can best be done with only one.

Whether and how a trust can be revoked, depends on what type of trust it is. Some trusts are created to be revocable at any time, but an attorney should create the trust.

Other trusts are created to be irrevocable. Sometimes they can be revoked but there are often tax penalties for doing so. It is usually advisable to amend an irrevocable trust where and how state law allows.

If you have questions about a trust you have created, it would be best to consider meeting with an estate planning attorney.  Profit Law Firm has estate planning attorneys with meeting locations in Chevy Chase, Greenbelt, and the District of Columbia.

Reference: NWI Times (Feb. 18, 2018) “Can an individual establish more than one trust?


Planning for Accident or Illness

MP900314367It is impossible to know whether you will ever have an accident or have an illness that will leave you incapacitated.  However, you can easily plan for dealing with it should it happen.

Most people generally understand that the older they get, the more likely they are to suffer from cognitive decline because of Alzheimer's or some other form of dementia. As people get older, they often begin to prepare for what will happen if their time comes and they become incapacitated.

What people do not think about is that elder dementia is not the only way people can become incapacitated. There are no age requirements for disabling accidents or illnesses. Everyone, no matter their age, should plan for what would happen if they are incapacitated. It is not difficult to do, as TC Palm discusses in "Be as prepared as you can by planning for incapacity."

To get started, schedule an appointment with an estate planning attorney. The attorney can prepare the necessary documents for incapacity.

You will need a general durable power of attorney, so someone else has the authority to handle your day-to-day finances. A health care power of attorney will allow someone else to make your health care decisions. A living will lets you decide ahead of time what medical means can be taken to prolong your life.

Consider taking another step at the attorney’s office and get an estate plan, just in case an accident or illness does more than incapacitate you.  A thorough estate plan prepares you and your loved ones for illness and death.

Reference: TC Palm (Feb. 20, 2018) "Be as prepared as you can by planning for incapacity."


The Failure of James Brown’s Estate Plan

Giving-to-charity2[1] Giving-to-charity2[1]James Brown intended for his estate to give millions to poor children. However, he passed away 11 years ago, and the children have still not received anything.

It is not clear how much the estate of legendary soul singer James Brown is worth. The estate claims it is worth about $5 million.  However, some experts estimate that it could be worth as much as $100 million.

It is clear is what Brown intended to do with his wealth. He had a carefully crafted estate plan that was intended to give millions to poor children throughout Georgia and South Carolina.

Brown passed away in 2006 but his estate has not given any of the money to the children. Instead the estate is still bogged down in numerous lawsuits and remains unsettled, as The New York Times reported in "Why Is James Brown's Estate Still Unsettled? Ask the Lawyers."

The main source of the dispute appears to be a family feud with Brown's children and grandchildren on one side and his widow, who is the estate administrator, on the other side. Numerous lawsuits have been filed.

In perhaps the biggest lawsuit, the children and grandchildren allege that the widow has cut inappropriate side deals for the copyrights to Brown's music. These copyrights are where the bulk of the estate's value likely is found. They also allege in another lawsuit that the widow was not even married to Brown, because she was allegedly also married to another man.

It is safe to say that this dispute is unlikely to end soon. The biggest losers here are the children who would otherwise be receiving assistance.

Reference: New York Times (Feb. 4, 2018) "Why Is James Brown's Estate Still Unsettled? Ask the Lawyers." 

Going to North Korea

MP900422593[1]The State Department suggests that you get an estate plan, should you decide to visit North Korea.

Despite the extremely tense relations between the U.S. and North Korea, it is possible for Americans to visit North Korea. There are probably very few U.S. citizens who want to go anywhere near North Korea. Those that do, are probably journalists and researchers.

The State Department recently offered some advice for Americans who are planning a trip to North Korea.

So, what is that advice?

The agency advises people to first get a will, make funeral plans and get a power attorney, as Fox News reports in "Visiting North Korea? Draft a will and make funeral plans, State Department says."

Traveling to countries other than North Korea is likely not nearly as dangerous.  However, this is good advice before traveling to any foreign nation.

Before leaving on an overseas trip, it is a good idea to have an estate plan in place.

Having powers of attorney drafted is an especially good idea, in case anything does happen, so someone back home can handle all of your affairs.

It is unlikely anything will happen to you on your next vacation, but it is always good to be prepared.

Before you visit a foreign country, visit with an estate planning attorney so you can be prepared.

Reference: Fox News (Jan. 15, 2018) "Visiting North Korea? Draft a will and make funeral plans, State Department says."