Have an Estate Plan, for Your Heir’s Sake

Few people want to leave their heirs with a paperwork disaster, but that’s what happens when there’s no estate plan. According to the article “The importance of creating an estate road map for your heirs” from Grand Rapids Business Journal, an estate plan usually involves a will, a durable power of attorney for financial decisions, a health care power of attorney (sometimes known as a designation of patient advocate or a health care proxy) for medical decisions, and often, a trust.

An estate plan also involves making sure assets are titled correctly and beneficiary designations for assets are coordinated with these documents, so assets pass to the people of your choosing in an efficient manner.

It’s always better if this information is gathered together and put in a location that is known to trusted family members.

Another step to consider is leaving a personalized letter of instructions to your spouse or other family members. The letter can be used to explain why you distributed your assets the way you did or guide them on what you’d like them to do with your estate regarding the assets. This is not a legally enforceable document, but it may provide your family members with a level of understanding not otherwise explained in your will.

For most people, retirement accounts, real estate, bank and investment accounts, cars and maybe pensions are the total sum of their estate. If your estate is larger or more complex, i.e., you own a business or a large real estate portfolio, your estate plan may be more complex.

Step-by-step instructions regarding each asset may be helpful for your heirs, including contact information for each asset. They will also find it helpful to have a list of your professional team: your estate planning attorney, financial advisor and accountant.

For certain accounts, instructions may need to be very specific. For a retirement plan, if your spouse survives you, they’ll need to know about rolling the funds into an inherited spousal IRA and naming beneficiaries. Your estate planning attorney can help your surviving spouse avoid any expensive mistakes.

If you own a business, there will be need for more guidance. A succession plan should be set up long in advance of your retirement, so that family members who are active in the business will be able to see it continue, if that is your goal. If the family does not want to run the business, they’ll need to know who to contact to ensure that it maintains its value after your passing, so it can be sold for a healthy profit.

Attorneys and accountants will definitely be able to help your family after your passing, but if you own a business, you know it better than anyone else. Just as you have a business plan for various contingencies, you need to have a plan in the event of your untimely passing. This is lacking for many family-owned businesses, and it often does not end well for the family or the business.

The more detailed the directions you can leave for your family, the better off everyone will be. Having a good estate plan is an act of great kindness to those you love.

It is our goal to provide our clients with the highest level of legal services in the areas of Last Will and Testaments, Living Trust, Irrevocable TrustsEstate Planning, Probate, Asset Protection, and complete Business Planning. If you or someone you know needs information on Florida estate planning, please contact us today at 239-418-0169 to schedule your free consultation.

Reference: Grand Rapids Business Journal (October 31, 2019) “The importance of creating an estate road map for your heirs”

 

A Will is the Way to Have Your Wishes Followed

A Will is the Way to Have Your Wishes Followed: A will, also known as a last will and testament, is one of three documents that make up the foundation of an estate plan, according to The News Enterprises’ article “To ensure your wishes are followed, prepare a will.” As any estate planning attorney will tell you, the other two documents are the Power of Attorney and a Health Care Power of Attorney. These three documents all serve different purposes, and work together to protect an individual and their family.

There are a few situations where people may think they don’t need a will, but not having one can create complications for the survivors.

First, when spouses with jointly owned property don’t have a will, it is because they know that when the first spouse dies, the surviving spouse will continue to own the property. However, with no will, the spouse might not be the first person to receive any property that is not jointly owned, like a car.  Even when all property is jointly owned—that means the title or deed to all and any property is in both person’s names –upon the death of the second spouse, a case will have to be brought to court through probate to transfer property to heirs.

Secondly, any individuals with beneficiary designations on accounts transfer to the beneficiaries on the owner’s death, with no court involvement. However, the same does not always work for POD, or payable on death accounts. A POD account only transfers the specific account or asset.

Other types of assets, such as real estate and vehicles not jointly owned, will have to go through probate. If the beneficiary named on any accounts has passed, their share will go into the estate, forcing distribution through probate.

Third, people who do not have a large amount of assets often believe they don’t need to have a will because there isn’t much to transfer. Here’s a problem: with no will, nothing can be transferred without court approval. Let’s say your estate brings a wrongful death lawsuit and wins several hundred thousand dollars in a settlement. The settlement goes to your estate, which now has to go through probate.

Fourth, there is a belief that having a power of attorney means that they can continue to pay the expenses of property and distribute property after the grantor dies. This is not so. A power of attorney expires on the death of the grantor. An agent under a power of attorney has no power, after the person dies.

Fifth, if a trust is created to transfer ownership of property outside of the estate, a will is necessary to funnel unfunded property into the trust upon the death of the grantor. Trusts are created individually for any number of purposes. They don’t all hold the same type of assets. Property that is never properly retitled, for instance, is not in the trust. This is a common error in estate planning. A will provides a way for property to get into the trust, upon the death of the grantor.

With no will and no estate plan, property may pass unintentionally to someone you never intended to give your life’s work to. Having a will lets the court know who should receive your property. The laws of your state will be used to determine who gets what in the absence of a will, and most are based on the laws of kinship. Speak with an estate planning attorney to create a will that reflects your wishes, and don’t wait to do so. Leaving yourself and your loved ones unprotected by a will, is not a welcome legacy for anyone.

It is our goal to provide our clients with the highest level of legal services in the areas of Last Will and Testaments, Living Trust, Irrevocable Trusts, Estate Planning, Probate, Asset Protection, and complete Business Planning. If you or someone you know needs information on Florida estate planning, please contact us today at 239-418-0169 to schedule your free consultation.

Reference: The News Enterprise (September 22, 2019) “To ensure your wishes are followed, prepare a will.”

 

Do you know what a Pour-over will is?

If the goal of estate planning is to avoid probate, it seems counter-intuitive that one would sign a will, but the pour-over will is an essential part of some estate plans, reports the Times Herald-Record’s article “Pour-over will a safety net for a living trust.”

If a person dies with assets in their name alone, those assets go through probate. The pour-over will names the trust as the beneficiary of probate assets, so the trust controls who receives the inheritance. The pour-over will works as a backup plan to the trust, and it also revokes past wills and codicils.

Living trusts became more widely used after a 1991 AARP study concluded that families should be using trusts rather than wills, and that wills were obsolete. Trusts were suddenly not just for the wealthy. Middle class people started using trusts rather than wills, to save time and money and avoid estate battles among family members. Trusts also served to keep financial and personal affairs private. Wills that are probated are public documents that anyone can review.

Even a simple probate lasts about a year, before beneficiaries receive inheritances. A trust can be settled in months. Regarding the cost of probate, it is estimated that between 2—4% of the cost of settling an estate can be saved by using a trust instead of a will.

When a will is probated, family members receive a notice, which allows them to contest the will. When assets are in a trust, there is no notification. This avoids delay, costs and the aggravation of a will contest.

Wills are not a bad thing, and they do serve a purpose. However, this specific legal document comes with certain legal requirements.

The will was actually invented more than 500 years ago, by King Henry VIII of England. Many people still think that wills are the best estate planning document, but they may be unaware of the government oversight and potential complications when a will is probated.

There are other ways to avoid probate on death. First, when a beneficiary is added to assets like bank accounts, IRAs, life insurance policies, or stock funds, those assets transfer directly to the beneficiary upon the death of the owner. Second, when an asset is owned JTWROS, or as “joint tenants with the right of survivorship,” the ownership interest transfers to the surviving owners.

Speak with an experienced estate planning attorney to talk about how probate may impact your heirs and see if they believe the use of a trust and a pour-over will would make the most sense for your family.

Reference: Times Herald-Record (Sep. 13, 2019) “Pour-over will a safety net for a living trust.”

 

Florida Estate Planning Tips for New Parents

In the excitement of doing all the practical things expectant parents must do to prepare for the arrival of a new baby, there are some very important practical estate planning issues that are often overlooked.  Part of the responsibility of being a parent is to oversee the welfare of your children; if you are expecting, you may want to consider taking these estate planning steps now:

Life insurance – purchase a life insurance policy to provide support for your new child if one wage-earning parent dies unexpectedly.

Trust – setting up a trust for your child with a distribution option for when he or she reaches adulthood will help protect assets as well as provide for your child.

Gifts – there are tax advantages to gifting portions of your estate to your children while you are still alive, which can reduce your estate taxes.

Guardian – select a guardian for your child as part of a comprehensive Florida estate plan.

Will – create or update a will to include your new child.

The Dorcey Law Firm, PLC is a Florida Estate Planning, Asset Protection and Business Planning law firm with offices in Fort Myers, Florida and Naples, Florida. Our firm is dedicated to its clients, the rule of law and the betterment of the Southwest Florida community.

It is our goal to provide our clients with the highest level of legal services in the areas of Last Will and Testaments, Living Trust, Irrevocable Trusts, Estate Planning, Asset Protection, and complete Business Planning. If you or someone you know needs information on Florida estate planning, please contact us today at 239-418-0169 to schedule your free consultation.

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’”

 

7 Tips on How to Avoid a Will Contest

7 Tips on How to Avoid a Will Contest:  The last few years have seen a noticeable increase in the number of will contest cases being litigated in the U.S.  Florida probate law does not allow for no-contest provisions in a will; however there are other strategies to head off a potential will contest.

Here are seven tips that estate planning experts advise clients to take to minimize the chance their wills will be contested:

  1. Hire a good estate planning lawyer. While it is fairly easy to draft a will online these days, these wills do not always take into consideration your individual circumstances and the family dynamics that could trigger a will contest.
  2. Choose the right executor and trustees. Don’t appoint relatives who don’t get along.
  3. Talk to your family about your intentions now. Inform family members of your intentions to alleviate future misunderstandings.
  4. Be aware of state laws. Laws vary from state to state; if you hire a good estate planning attorney, you can avoid probate and sidestep other pitfalls.
  5. Confirm your estate plan over time. If you confirm your estate plan, it makes it harder to contest your estate.
  6. Make sure you have titled assets clearly and correctly. And ensure they match the provisions of your will.
  7. Don’t try to manage your estate from the grave. Consider letting heirs make some minor determinations on how assets like tangible personal property are divided.

The best way to help avoid a will contest is to be sure your will is prepared by a legal professional.  Contact our Fort Myers estate planning law firm to learn more about creating a will.

10 Documents you should have as an Adult

Fifty is a little on the late side to start taking care of these important life matters. However, it is better late than never. It’s easy to put these tasks off, since the busyness of our day-to-day lives gives us a good reason to procrastinate on the larger issues, like death and our own mortality. However, according to Charlotte Five’s article “For ultimate adulting status, have these 10 documents by the time you’re 35,” the time to act is now.

Here are the ten documents you need to get locked down.

A Will. The last will and testament does not have to be complicated. However, it does need to be prepared properly, so that it will be valid. If your family includes minor children, you need to name a guardian. Pick an executor who will be in charge when you pass. If you don’t have a will, the law of your state will determine how your assets are distributed, and a court will name a guardian for your children. It is better to have a will and put your wishes down in writing.

Life insurance. There are two basic kinds: term insurance, which covers about twenty years, and universal or whole, which covers you for your lifetime. It is customarily advised that you have enough to cover your liabilities: your home mortgage, college funding for your kids and any outstanding debts, like credit cards or a car loan. This way, you aren’t saddling heirs with your debt.

Durable power of attorney. This document lets you designate someone to pay your bills, manage your money and make financial decisions for you, if you become incapacitated. Without it, your relatives will need to go to court to be appointed power of attorney. Pick a trusted person and have the form done, when you meet with your estate planning attorney.

Savings. Most Americans don’t do this. However, if you start saving, no matter how small an amount, you’ll be glad you did. You need savings to avoid creating debt, if an emergency occurs. It is customarily advised that a cash cushion of six months’ worth of monthly expenses in a savings account will give you peace of mind.

Insurance coverage. Make sure that you have the right insurance in place, in addition to life insurance. That means health insurance, auto insurance and disability insurance.

Credit report. People with better credit reports get better rates on home and auto loans. You can get them free from the big credit reporting services. Make sure everything is correct, from your address to your account history.

A letter of instruction. Where do you keep your estate planning documents? What about your bank statements, taxes and insurance documents? What about your digital assets? Keep a list for easy access for those who might have to figure out your affairs.

Retirement plan. Most people only know they don’t have enough saved for retirement. That’s not good enough. If you aren’t enrolled in your company’s 401(k) or other retirement savings plan, get on that right away. If your company matches contributions, make sure you are saving enough to get every bit of those matching dollars. If your company doesn’t have a retirement plan, then open an IRA or a Roth IRA on your own. You should try to contribute as much as you feel comfortable with or feel is necessary.  It is recommended that you enlist the services of a Financial Advisor to determine the appropriate amount of your contributions.

Updated resume. It also helps to do the same thing with your LinkedIn profile. No matter how long you’ve been in your field, everyone looks at your LinkedIn profile to see who you are and what and who you know. Make sure you have an updated resume, so you can easily send it out, whether it’s a casual conversation about a speaking opportunity or if you’re starting to look for a new position.

A budget. Here’s how you know you’re really an adult. Budgets went out of fashion for a while, but now they are bigger than avocado toast. If you don’t know what’s coming in and what’s going out, you can’t possibly have any kind of control or direction over your financial life. Start tracking your expenses, matching with your income and making any necessary changes.

One last thing—do you have a bucket list? Don’t wait until you’re 70 to consider all the places you’d like to go or the people you’d like to meet. It’s true–you only live once, and we should enjoy the ride.

Reference: Charlotte Five (April 23, 2019) “For ultimate adulting status, have these 10 documents by the time you’re 35”

 

Why It’s Always Better to Plan Ahead

Two stories of two people who managed their personal lives very differently illustrate the enormous difference that can happen for those who refuse to prepare themselves and their families for the events that often accompany aging. As an article from Sedona Red Rock News titled “Plan ahead in case of sudden sickness or death” makes clear, the value of advance planning becomes very clear. One man, let’s call him Ben, has been married for 47 years and he’s always overseen the family finances. He has a stroke and can’t walk or talk. His wife Shirley is overwhelmed with worry about her husband’s illness. Making matters worse, she doesn’t know what bills need to be paid or when they are due.

On the other side of town is Louise. At 80, she fell in her own kitchen and broke her hip, a common injury for the elderly. After a week in the hospital, she spent two months in a rehabilitation nursing home. Her son lives on the other side of the country, but he was able to pay her bills and handle all the Medicare issues. Several years ago, Louise and her son had planned what he should do in case she had a health crisis.

More good planning on Louise’s part: all her important papers were organized and put into one place, and she told her son where they could be found. She also shared with him the name of her attorney, a list of people to contact at her bank, primary physician’s office, financial advisor, and insurance agent. She also made sure her son had copies of her Medicare and any other health insurance information. Her son’s name was added to her checking account and to the safe deposit box at the bank. And she made sure to have a legal document prepared so her son could talk with her doctors about her health and any health insurance matters.

And then there’s Ben. He always handled everything and wouldn’t let anyone else get involved. Only Ben knew the whereabouts of his life insurance policy, the title to his car, and the deed to the house. Ben never expected that someone else would need to know these things. Shirley has a tough job ahead of her. There are many steps involved in getting ready for an emergency, but as you can see, this is a necessary task to start and finish.

First, gather up all your important information. That includes your full legal name, Social Security number, birth certificate, marriage certificate, divorce papers, citizenship or adoption papers, information on employers, any military service information, phone numbers for close friends, relatives, doctors, estate planning attorney, financial advisor, CPA, and any other professionals.

Your will, power of attorney, health care power of attorney, living will and any directives should be stored in a secure location. Make sure at least two people know where they are located. Talk with your estate planning attorney to find out if they will store any documents on your behalf.

Financial records should be organized. That includes all your insurance policies, bank accounts, investment accounts, 401(k), or other retirement accounts, copies of the most recent tax returns, and any other information about your financial life.

Advance planning does take time, but not planning will create havoc for your family during a difficult time.

Reference: Sedona Red Rock News (July 9, 2019) “Plan ahead in case of sudden sickness or death”

 

Something we don’t want to think about but we must: Selling a Parent’s Home after They Pass

Family members who are overtaken with grief are often unable to move forward and make decisions. If a house was not being well maintained while the parent was ill or aging, it might fall into further disrepair. When siblings have emotional attachments to the family home, says the article “With proper planning, selling a parent’s house can be a relatively painless process,” from The Washington Post, things can get even more complicated.

The difficulty of selling a parent’s home after their passing, depends to a large degree on what kind of advance planning has taken place. Much also depends on the heir’s ability to ask for help and working with the right professionals in handling the sale of the home and managing the estate. The earlier the process begins, the better.

Parents can take steps while they are still living to ward off unnecessary complications. It may be a difficult conversation but having it will make the process easier and allow the family time to focus on their emotions, rather than the sale of property. Here are a few pointers:

Make sure your parents have a will. Many Americans do not. A survey from Caring.com found that only 42% of American adults had a will and other estate planning documents.

Be prepared to spend some money. Before a home is sold, there may be costs associated with maintaining the property and fixing any overdue repairs. Save all receipts and estimates.

Secure the property immediately. That may mean having the locks changed as soon as possible. Once an heir (or someone who believes they are or should be an heir) moves in, getting them out adds another layer of complications.

Get real about the value of the property. Have a real estate agent run a competitive market analysis on the property and consider an appraisal from a licensed appraisal. Avoid any accusations of impropriety—don’t hire a friend or family member. This needs to be all business.

Designate a contact person, usually the executor, to keep the heirs updated on how the sale of the house is progressing.

The biggest roadblock to selling the family house is often the emotional attachment of the children. It’s hard to clean out a family home, with all of the mementos, large and small. The longer the process takes, the harder it is.

This is not the time for any major renovations. There may be some cosmetic repairs that will make the house more marketable, but substantial improvements won’t impact the sale price. Remove all family belongings and show the house either empty or with professional staging to show its possibilities. Clean carpets, paint, if needed and have the landscaping cleaned up.

Keep tax consequences in mind. Depending on where the property is, where the heirs live and how much money is being inherited, there can be estate, inheritance and income taxes.  It is usually best to sell an inherited property, as soon as the rights to it are received. When a property is inherited at death, the property value is “stepped up” to fair market value at the time of the owner’s death. That means that you can sell a property that was purchased in 1970 but not pay taxes on the value gained over those years.

Talk with an experienced estate planning attorney about what will happen when the home needs to be sold. It may be better for parents to create a revocable trust in advance, which will direct the sale, allow a child to continue living in the home for a certain period of time, or instruct the one child who loves the home so much to buy it from the trust. Trusts are typically easier to administer after parents pass away and can be very helpful in preventing family fights.

Reference: The Washington Post (May 16, 2019) “With proper planning, selling a parent’s house can be a relatively painless process”

 

Estate Planning Can Solve Problems Before They Happen

Estate Planning Can Solve Problems Before They Happen:  Creating an estate plan, with the help of an experienced estate planning attorney, can help people gain clarity on larger issues, like who should inherit the family home, and small details, like what to do with the personal items that none of the children want. Until you go through the process of mapping out a plan, these questions can remain unanswered. However, according the East Idaho Business Journal, “Estate plans can help you answer questions about the future.”

Let’s look at some of these questions:

What will happen to my children when I die? You hope that you’ll live a long and happy life, and that you’ll get to see your children grow up and have families of their own. However, what if you don’t? A will is used to name a Guardian to take care of your children, if their parents are not alive. A Guardian is the person who is responsible for the assets/property that any minor children might inherit.

Will my family fight over their inheritance? There is always a possibility that your family will fight over their inheritance. This can happen regardless of if you have a will or not.  However, a properly drafted Estate Plan can drastically lower the chances of this happening.  It is very important that you inform your attorney of the full family dynamic and any concerns you may have about specific family members.  You can also discuss the option of dis-inheriting a family member, if needed or applicable.

Who will take care of my finances, if I’m too sick? Estate planning includes documents like a durable power of attorney, which allows a person you name (before becoming incapacitated) to take charge of your financial affairs. Speak with your estate planning attorney about also having a medical power of attorney. This lets someone else handle health care decisions on your behalf: Further, have a revocable living trust any assets in the Trust will be managed by your successor Trustee should you become incapacitated.

Should I be generous to charities, or leave all my assets to my family? That’s a very personal question. Unless you have significant wealth, chances are you will leave most of your assets to family members. However, giving to charity could be a part of your legacy, whether you are giving a large or small amount. It may give your children a valuable lesson about what should happen to a lifetime of work and saving.

One way of giving, is to establish a charitable lead trust. This provides financial support to a charity (or charities) of choice for a period of time, with the remaining assets eventually going to family members. There is also the charitable remainder trust, which provides a steady stream of income for family members for a certain term of the trust. The remaining assets are then transferred to one or more charitable organizations.

Careful estate planning can help answer many worrisome questions. Just keep in mind that these are complex issues that are best addressed with the help of an experienced estate planning attorney.

Reference: East Idaho Business Journal (June 25, 2019) “Estate plans can help you answer questions about the future.”