Common Estate Planning Mistakes to Avoid

Estate planning attorneys see them all the time: the mistakes that people make when they try to create an estate plan or a will by themselves. They learn about it, when families come to their offices trying to correct mistakes that could have been avoided just by seeking legal advice in the first place. That’s the message from the article “Five big estate planning ‘don’ts’ from Dedham Wicked Local.

Here are the five estate planning mistakes that you can easily avoid:

Naming minors as beneficiaries. Beneficiary designations are a simple way to avoid probate and be certain that an asset goes to your beneficiary at death. Most life insurance policies, retirement accounts, investment accounts and other financial accounts permit you to name a beneficiary. Many well-meaning parents (and grandparents) name a grandchild or a child as a beneficiary. However, a minor is not permitted to own an asset. Therefore, the financial institution will not name the minor child as the new owner. A conservator must be appointed by the court to receive the asset on behalf of the child and they must hold that asset for the minor’s benefit, until the minor becomes of legal age. The conservator must file annual accountings with the court reflecting activity in the account and report on how any funds were used for the minor’s benefit, until the minor becomes a legal adult. The time, effort, and expense of this are unnecessary. Handing a large amount of money to a child the moment they become of legal age is rarely a good idea. Leaving assets in trust for the benefit of a minor or young adult, without naming them directly as a beneficiary, is one solution.

Drafting a will without the help of an estate planning attorney. The will created at the kitchen table or from an online template is almost always a recipe for disaster. They don’t include administrative provisions required by the state’s laws, provisions are ambiguous or conflicting and the documents are often executed incorrectly, rendering them invalid. Whatever money or time the person thought they were saving is lost. There are court fees, penalties and other costs that add up fast to fix a DIY will.

Adding joint owners to bank accounts. It seems like a good idea. Adding an adult child to a bank account, allows the child to help the parent with paying bills, if hospitalized or lets them pay post-death bills. If the amount of money in the account is not large, that may work out okay. However, the child is considered an owner of any account they are added to. If the child is sued, gets divorced, files for bankruptcy or has trouble with creditors, that bank account is an asset that can be reached.

Joint ownership of accounts after death can be an issue, if your will does not clearly state what your intentions are for that account. Do those funds go to the child, or should they be distributed between heirs? If wishes are unclear, expect the disagreements and bad feelings to be directly proportionate to the size of the account. Thoughtful estate planning, that includes power of attorney and trust planning, will permit access to your assets when needed and division of assets after your death in a manner that is consistent with your intentions.

Failing to fund trusts. Funding a trust means changing the ownership of an asset, so the asset is owned by the trust or designating the trust as a beneficiary. When a trust is properly funded, assets funding the trust avoid probate at your death. If your trust includes estate tax planning provisions, the assets are sheltered from estate tax at death. You have to do this before you die. Once you’re gone, the benefits of funding the trust are gone. Work closely with your estate planning attorney to make sure that you follow the instructions to fund trusts.

Poor choices of co-fiduciaries. If your children have never gotten along, don’t expect that to change when you die. Recognize your children’s strengths and weaknesses and be realistic about their ability to work together, when deciding who will make financial decisions under a power of attorney, health care decisions under a health care proxy and who will best be able to settle your estate. If you choose two people who do not get along, or do not trust each other, it will take far longer and cost more to settle your estate. Don’t worry about birth order or egos.

The sixth biggest estate planning mistake people make, is failing to review their estate plan every few years. Estate laws change, tax laws change and lives change. If it’s been a while since your estate plan was reviewed, make an appointment to meet with your estate planning attorney for a review.

If you would like more information on how estate planning can help you protect your assets from incapacity or other threats, contact our Fort Myers law firm to schedule your free consultation.

Reference: Dedham Wicked Local (May 17, 2019) “Five big estate planning ‘don’ts’”

 

Why You—and Everyone—Needs an Estate Plan

Why You—and Everyone—Needs an Estate Plan:    At its essence, estate planning is any decision you make concerning your property if you die, or if you become incapacitated. There are a number of things to keep in mind when creating an estate plan, says KTUU in the article “Estate planning dos and don’ts.”

The first task is not what most people think. It’s very basic: making a list of all of your assets and how they are titled. Remember, the estate plan is dealing with the distribution of your assets—so you have to first know what those assets are. If you are old enough to have lived through the sale of several different financial institutions, do you know where your accounts are? Not everyone does!

Next, you need to be clear on how the assets are titled. If they are joint with a spouse, Payable on Death (POD) or Transfer on Death (TOD), jointly with a child, or owned by a trust, they may be treated differently in your estate plan, than if you owned them outright.

Roughly fifty percent of all adults don’t make a plan for their estate. That becomes a huge headache for their loved ones. If you don’t have an estate plan, your property will be distributed according to the laws of your state. What you do or don’t want to have happen to your property won’t matter, and in some instances, your family may be passed over for a long-lost sibling. It’s a risk.

In addition, if you don’t have an estate plan, chances are you haven’t done any tax planning. Some states have inheritance taxes, others have estate taxes, and some have both. Even if your estate’s value doesn’t come anywhere close to the very high federal estate tax level ($11.4 million per person for 2019), your heirs could inherit far less, if state and inheritance taxes take a bite out of the assets.

For a blended family, there are a number of rules in different states that divide your assets. In Alaska, for instance, if some of the children of one spouse are not the children of the other spouse, there is a statutory formula that depends on how many children there are and which of them are living. Different percentages of money are awarded to the children, which becomes complicated.

Another reason to have an estate plan has to do with incapacity. This is perhaps harder to discuss than death for some families. Estate planning includes preparing for what the individual would want to happen, if they were injured or too sick to convey their wishes to others. Decisions about health care treatments and end-of-life care are documented with a Living Will (sometimes called an Advanced Care Directive), so your loved ones are not left wondering what you would have wanted and hoping that they got it right.

One last point about an estate plan: be sure to check beneficiary designations while you are doing your estate plan. If you own retirement accounts, life insurance policies, or other assets with named beneficiaries, the assets will pass directly to the named beneficiary, regardless of the instructions in your will. If you opened an IRA when you had one child and have had other children since then, make sure to include all of those children and the proportion of their shares. There may be tax implications, if only one child receives the assets, and there may also be family fights if assets are not distributed equally.

Reference: KTUU (August 14, 2019) “Estate planning dos and don’ts”

 

5 Great Reasons to Start Your Estate Planning Now

5 Great Reasons to Start Your Estate Planning Now

We will continue to stress that planning ahead is key; it is essential to providing for your family in a meaningful way, and the only way to transform your family for generations to come. 

  1. The plan the state has provided for you. If you don’t create your own estate plan, the state has provided one for you. In this situation your property goes through the probate process, which is not only lengthy and expensive, but in the end the courts get to decide where your assets will go.

  2. The foster care system. Neglecting to nominate guardians for your minor children means that the state is responsible for them should something happen to you. Without any direction on your part, your children could end up in the care of your nearest living relative, being put in the care of whoever happens to step forward, or—worst case scenario—in the foster care system.

  3. Estate taxes and administrative expenses. With no plan, much of your estate could end up going to the government or being drained by unnecessary administrative expenses rather than going to your heirs in a safe and efficient manner.

  4. Your ex-spouse. If you are separated or divorced, your ex-spouse could still be listed as the recipient on the retirement accounts or life insurance policies obtained while you were still married.

  5. Your family’s financial privacy. Once a will has been submitted to the probate courts it becomes a public document. Only a trust will keep your financial affairs away from the prying eyes of possible predators.

If you would like more information on how to start your estate planning now, contact our Fort Myers law firm to schedule your free consultation.

Living Trusts Play an Important Role in Estate Planning

A primary purpose of estate planning is making sure your assets are designated correctly so that they pass automatically, allowing an estate to avoid probate.

Some common examples of assets that are not subject to probate include:

  • A life insurance policy or annuity payable to a specific recipient
  • A joint bank account or investment account that includes right of survivorship
  • Real property titled as “joint tenants with right of survivorship”
  • Property owned jointly by spouses as “tenants by the entirety”
  • Assets placed into a revocable living trust or an irrevocable trust
  • Assets removed from an estate via lifetime gifts or qualifying trusts
  • Accounts designated as “payable on death” or “transfer on death”

Simply having a will that subjects your estate to probate is not sufficient to protect assets against taxes, including income tax, capital gains tax, estate tax, inheritance tax, generation skipping transfer tax and gift tax.

Smart estate planning, including the use of a living trust, can help your heirs avoid the time and expense of probate and ensure they inherit the funds you intend for them to receive in a timely manner.

If you would like more information on how the use of trusts in estate planning can help you protect your assets, contact our Fort Myers law firm to schedule your free consultation.

Making Sure Your Aging Parent has the Correct Estate Plan in Place

It’s a delicate discussion, but when parents are aging, their children should find out if their parents have several basic estate planning documents in place and talk about their final wishes. If they have not done any planning, now is the time—before a crisis occurs.  Here at The Dorcey Law Firm, our goal is to transform families for generations to come; something we can only do through proper proactive planning.

The Monterey Herald’s recent article, “Financial planning: Making sure Mom is taken care of,” says to first make sure that they have their basic estate planning documents – a will or trust, power of attorney, and advanced healthcare directives – in place. It is important to be sure these documents fully reflect your parent’s desires. An advanced healthcare directive lets them name a person to make health care decisions on their behalf, while a power of attorney allows a named person to make financial decisions.

Based on the way in which the forms are written, the agent or surrogate can have broad authority, including the ability to access bank accounts, consent to or refuse medical treatment, or to leave instructions for health care.  Big decision, such as whether or not to be resuscitated or have life prolonged artificially, can also be put in writing, thus removing this tough choice from a child or other loved one. To limit these instructions in any specific way, it is important to talk with an experienced attorney, and have these wishes in writing.

Another key document to have is a last will & testament or living trust.  When determining if a trust is advisable, there are many factors to consider, particularly when the goal is to avoid probate after passing away.  These factors include the type of assets, and whether they are held jointly or allow for beneficiary designations; the beneficiaries ages and financial stability; whether planning for future divorce or creditor is a concern; and many more. You should conduct a full inventory of your parent’s accounts, including where they are held and how they are titled, as well as gathering the named beneficiaries on all accounts and policies.

It is also important not to make any major changes without consulting your attorney first.  For example, if your parent has a brokerage account with low-cost basis investment, you will not want to change this to a joint ownership account. The step-up in cost basis that assets receive at the time of death makes it better for the account to remain in their individual name. While you may gain control of the asset doing that (something that can also be accomplished through the power of attorney), you will lose the step up in basis.  A beneficiary designation may suffice.

To inquire more on how our law firm helps families plan for their long-term care needs, whether years in advance or after a health care crisis has occurred, please contact our office for a free consultation at (239) 418-0169.

What Can I Do with a Trust to Help My Kids?

Young people like to keep things simple. Millennials don’t want their parents’ furniture or antiques. They want to be able to move easily without a lot of headache. Millennials are okay with jewelry, art, and cash. Likewise, with estate planning, Millennials want a simple will. This can be a wise choice if they’re just married and under the estate tax threshold. But when they have children of their own, they should consider a trust.

Forbes’s recent article, “Why A Simple Will Won’t Cut It If You Have Young Children,” explains that without a trust, minor children inherit assets outright when they turn 18. And that may be a problem if your kids are apt to blow through their inheritance in a few years, instead of using the money wisely.

But an inheritance could last a lifetime if the beneficiary lives within her means, doesn’t tap into the principal, and works to help support her lifestyle and supplement her income. But this isn’t always the case.

A trustee can make certain that your children and young adults are cared for long-term. If you’re not alive to guide and direct your children, a trust can set the necessary limitations for their finances. Also, the trustee can help with your children’s financial literacy, so they’ll possess tools if and when they’re given additional responsibility for their inherited assets.

This isn’t just for minor kids who are under 18 years old, but also for young adults. The fact that a child is “legal” in the eyes of the law doesn’t mean she’s responsible enough to invest a million-dollar inheritance. A trust sets up an experienced advisor to manage inherited assets along the way.

One option, when they’re mature enough, is to set up the trust so they will become a co-trustee. This lets them have a say with the trustee and to make decisions about the management of the trust assets. Your trust can also give them access to distributions of principal slowly over time, so they get used to managing large sums of money.

Other options include appointing a Trust Advisor/Trust Protector that can oversee and protect the trust, its assets & the beneficiaries as time goes on and things change regarding same.

Simple solutions can work for some people, and there are definitely situations in which a simple will is appropriate. But if you have minor children, you usually don’t want to allow them to inherit money at 18.

Ask your estate planning attorney about the options available to set up a trust to work for your family.

Reference: Forbes (July 12, 2019) “Why A Simple Will Won’t Cut It If You Have Young Children”

 

Next Steps When the Diagnosis is Alzheimer’s

Next Steps When the Diagnosis is Alzheimer’s: We hope to enjoy out golden years, relaxing after decades of working and raising children. However, as we age, the likelihood of experiencing health issue increase. That includes Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.

Learning that a loved one has Alzheimer’s or other diseases that require a great deal of health care is devastating to the individual and their families. The progressive nature of these diseases means that while the person doesn’t need intensive health care yet, eventually they will. According to an article from Newsmax, “5 Insurance Steps After Alzheimer’s Strikes Loved One,” the planning for care needs to start immediately.

Alzheimer’s Disease International predicts that 44 million individuals worldwide have Alzheimer’s or a similar form of dementia, and 25% of those living with it never receive a diagnosis. Healthcare, including assisted living, memory care and in-home care is expensive. Health insurance is an important component of managing the ongoing expenses of living with Alzheimer’s.

Look at your existing policies. There are different types of coverage, depending on the policy type and company. Review current insurance policies to determine if the level of coverage is acceptable and how much will be required to be paid out-of-pocket. See if there’s existing coverage for long-term care, hospital care, doctors’ fees, prescriptions and home health care.

Maintain those policies. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act does offer some protections for those diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s. They can now access government subsidies to help them purchase health insurance and the Affordable Care Act prohibits pre-existing condition exclusions and cancellation, because the policyholder is considered high cost.

Look into long-term care insurance. This is a way to protect the patient and the family financially, when the day arrives when long-term care is necessary. When diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, a person isn’t eligible for long-term care insurance.

In addition to verifying and reviewing insurance coverage, there are some additional tasks that every family should address in the early stages of a diagnosis.

Sign an advance directive. This document allows patients to voice how they want their healthcare and decisions handled, before they are no longer capable of making decisions for themselves. In addition, they should have a living will that states their wishes for medical treatment, a designated power of attorney to can make financial decision, and a DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) order, if that is their wish.

Get estate planning done. Time is of the essence, as the estate plan must be completed while the person still has the mental capacity to understand what they are doing. Three documents are necessary: a last will and testament, a power of attorney so that an agent be named can handle finances and a health care power of attorney for health care decisions. An estate planning attorney will be able to work with the family to make any necessary legal preparations.

Reference: Newsmax (June 28, 2019) “5 Insurance Steps After Alzheimer’s Strikes Loved One”

 

 

Helping Parents Be Sure Their Families are Protected

Helping Parents Be Sure Their Families are Protected:  Yes, it is old-school, but if your family is on the traditional side, headed up by a breadwinner dad who runs the finances, then you need to make plans to ensure that your family will be okay, if something should happen to you.

This advice also applies to mothers who are the main breadwinners and run their family’s finances, even though the title of this Forbes article is “How Fathers Can Make Sure Their Families Are Financially Protected.”

Do you have enough life insurance? Be sure you’re adequately insured, so your family won’t struggle to pay the bills without your income. Many employees only have enough life insurance from work to cover a year’s worth of salary, which may be enough for some families. However, if your spouse can’t make the mortgage payment on their own, and if they would be unwilling or unable to sell the home, you might want to at least make sure you have enough life insurance to pay off the mortgage. Once you know how much you need, buy a low-cost term policy for the maximum length of time you might need the coverage.

Are your beneficiaries updated on retirement accounts, annuities, and life insurance policies? This is an often overlooked issue. An outdated beneficiary designation could result in your ex-spouse inheriting most of your assets, your latest child being disinherited, or your family having to pay higher taxes and probate fees than is necessary.

Can you add a “payable on death” or a “transfer on death” form on any accounts? You can generally add beneficiaries to bank and investment accounts, saving your family from the time and cost of probate. In some states, you can add beneficiaries to your home and vehicles. Ask your bank for a “payable on death” form and your investment company for a “transfer on death” form.

Is your will drafted?  You need a will to name a guardian for your minor children in most states. It’s a good idea to have a qualified estate planning attorney help you.

Are you organized? Keep a record of where everything and everyone is. You can draft an “In Case of Emergency” folder that has copies of your will, revocable trust, life insurance policy and a summary of brokerage and bank accounts. Let your family know where to find it. You should also share your passwords to your digital accounts.

Making sure that your loved ones are protected when you are too sick or die unexpectedly, is a gift to them, and one that will be long remembered. Make some time in your hectic schedule to prepare your family and yourself for the future.

Reference: Forbes (June 16, 2019) “How Fathers Can Make Sure Their Families Are Financially Protected”

 

Talking About Financial Planning with Aging Parents

Talking About Financial Planning with Aging Parents: Unless you are raised in a family that talks about money, values and planning, starting a conversation with elderly parents about the same topics can be a little awkward. However, it is necessary.

In a perfect world, we’d all have our estate plans created when we started working, updated when we married, updated again when our kids were born and had them revised a few times between the day we retired and when we died. In reality, a recent report by Merrill Lynch and Age Wave says that only half of Americans have a will by age 50.

More than 50% said their lack of proper planning could leave a problem for their families.

CNBC’s recent article, “How to have ‘the (money) talk’ with your parents,” explains that, according to the study, just 18% of those 55 and older have the estate planning recommended essentials: a will, a health-care directive and a power of attorney.

To start, get a general feel for your aging parents’ financial standing.

This should include where they bank, and whether there’s enough savings to cover their retirement and long-term care. If they don’t have enough saved, they’ll lean on you for support.

Next, start a list of the legal documents they do have, such as a power of attorney, a document that designates an agent to make financial decisions on their behalf and a health-care directive that states who has the authority to make health decisions for them.

You should include information on bank accounts and other assets. It is also important to list their passwords to online accounts and Social Security numbers.

Next, your parents should create an estate plan, if they don’t already have one. When you put a plan in place for how financial accounts, real estate and other assets will be distributed, it helps the family during what’s already a difficult time. Having an estate plan in place keeps the courts from determining where these assets go.

While you’re at it, talk to your own children about your financial picture.

Many people think they don’t need to yet have the talk. However, the perfect time to have the conversation, is when you are healthy.

Here’s an encouraging fact: young adults who discuss money with their parents are more likely to have their own finances under control. They are also more likely to have a budget, an emergency fund, to put 10% or more of their income toward savings and have a retirement account. That’s all according to a separate parents, children and money survey from T. Rowe Price.

For many families, having a conversation during a family meeting at their estate planning attorney’s office while working on their estate plan, is a good way to start a dialogue. Working with a professional who has the family’s best interest in mind, with two or even three generations in the room, can prevent many stressful problems for the family in the future.

Reference: CNBC (June 30, 2019) “How to have ‘the (money) talk’ with your parents”

 

 

The Decedent’s Debts: Who’s on First?

The Decedent’s Debts: Who’s on First? Estate planning attorneys are used to family members who, for some reason, determine that credit card bills need to be paid off first, when a loved one dies. It’s not the first thing to pay, advises The Mercury its article “There is a priority of debts when you die.”

In fact, credit card debt is unsecured debt. It is, therefore, on the bottom of a list of priorities in many states. Paying debts is an important part of executor responsibilities, but there is an order to what debts must be paid first. If there are cash flow issues for the estate, this is critical information.

First, the funeral home, nursing home and un-reimbursed medical bills should be paid within six months of the death, as well as administrative expenses. Administrative expenses include the cost of probate, which is filing the will and professional fees, including the attorney’s fees, executor’s fees, account fees for final tax returns, etc. Don’t ignore the funeral bill.

Nursing home and medical bills incurred within six months of death are also important to pay. If the executor believes the medical bill is to be paid by health insurance, Medicare or Medicaid, get this in writing. If Medicaid paid for care, there may be a claim under Estate Recovery. In Pennsylvania, the Department of Human Services; Third Party Recovery, could become a creditor of the estate, when a large asset like the home is sold.

This is a time when an attorney experienced in elder law and trusts and estates can help sort through what needs to be paid and when and where the money should come from.

There are times when an executor pays for administrative expenses or the cost of the funeral from their own pocket. Anyone who does this must maintain careful records and be sure to be repaid by the estate, after an estate account is established. That also applies for any expenses paid from a joint account with the decedent.

The responsibility of the executor is to pull together the assets that will pass through the will and the bills or debts that need to be paid, then to pay the debts, including taxes and expenses of probate, then distribute the remaining funds to beneficiaries, as directed by the will.

Some assets do not pass through the will, like joint bank accounts, payable on death and transfer on death accounts, life insurance and retirement funds. With the exception of life insurance, they may be subject to inheritance taxes, if the decedent’s state of residence has such a tax.

If there are not enough assets to pay the bills, states have lists of the order of distribution. At the top of the list: costs of the administration of the estate and funeral expenses. Medical bills from the most recent six months are given higher priority than older medical bills. Credit card bills are at the bottom of the list.

Secured debt, like the mortgage on the house or a loan on a car need to be addressed. These may be sold to pay off the debt.

Executors or family members who are contacted by creditors demanding payment need to know whether they are responsible or not. An experienced estate planning attorney will be able to help you work your way through the debts and financial responsibilities of the decedent.

Reference: The Mercury (June 18, 2019) “There is a priority of debts when you die”