Avoiding Probate with a Trust

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Privacy is just one of the benefits of having a trust created as part of an estate plan. That’s because assets that are placed in a trust are no longer in the person’s name, and as a result, do not need to go through probate when the person dies. An article from The Daily Sentinel asks, “When is a trust worth the cost and effort?” The article explains why a trust can be so advantageous, even when the assets are not necessarily large.

Let’s say a person owns a piece of property. They can put the property in a trust, by signing a deed that will transfer the title to the trust. That property is now owned by the trust and can only be transferred when the trustee signs a deed. Because the trust is the owner of the property, there’s no need to involve probate or the court when the original owner dies.

Establishing a trust is even more useful for those who own property in more than one state. If you own property in a state, the property must go through probate to be distributed from your estate to another person’s ownership. Therefore, if you own property in three states, your executor will need to manage three probate processes.

Privacy is often another problem when estates pass from one generation to the next. In most states, heirs and family members must be notified that you have died and that your estate is being probated. The probate process often requires the executor, or personal representative, to create a list of assets that are shared with certain family members. When the will is probated, that information is available to the public through the courts.

Family members who were not included in the will but were close enough kin to be notified of your death and your assets, may not respond well to being left out. This can create problems for the executor and heirs.

Having greater control over how and when assets are distributed is another benefit of using a trust rather than a will. Not all young adults are prepared or capable of managing large inheritances. With a trust, the inheritance can be distributed in portions: a third at age 28, a third at age 38, and a third at age 45, for instance. This kind of control is not always necessary, but when it is, a trust can provide the comfort of knowing that your children are less likely to be irresponsible about an inheritance.

There are other circumstances when a trust is necessary. If the family includes a member who has special needs and is receiving government benefits, an inheritance could make them ineligible for those benefits. In this circumstance, a special needs trust is created to serve their needs.

Another type of trust growing in popularity is the pet trust. Check with a local estate planning lawyer to learn if your state allows this type of trust. A pet trust allows you to set aside a certain amount of money that is only to be used for your pet’s care, by a person you name to be their caretaker. In many instances, any money left in the trust after the pet passes can be donated to a charitable organization, usually, one that cares for animals.

Finally, the person creating the trust can decide if they want it to be “irrevocable” and therefore permanent and very difficult to change, or if they want it to be “revocable” with the flexibility to amend and alter it at a later date. Once an irrevocable trust is created, it cannot be changed. Trusts should be created with the help of an experienced trusts and estate planning attorney, who will know how to create the trust and what type of trust will best suit your needs.

Reference: The Daily Sentinel (Jan. 23, 2020) “When is a trust worth the cost and effort?”

You Can Protect Pets after You’re Gone

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Many of us consider our pets members of the family, but the law does not. In most states, if not all, pets are considered property, reports the East Valley Tribune in the article “Trusts can help provide for a pet’s future.” That means you can’t leave them your house or open a bank account in their name. However, you can take measures to protect your pets from what could happen to them after you pass away.

The simple thing to do is to make arrangements with a trusted family member or friend to take care of your pet and leave some money for their care. The problem is, there’s no way to enforce this, and it’s all based on trust. What happens if something unexpected happens to your trusted family member or friend, and they can’t care for your pet? You’ve also given them funds that they are not legally required to spend on your pet.

Another choice is to leave your pet to a no-kill animal shelter. However, shelters, even no-kill shelters, can be stressful for animals who are used to a family home. There’s also no way to know when your pet will be adopted since most people come to shelters to adopt puppies and kittens. There is also the issue of the shelter itself. Will it continue to operate after you are gone and protect your pet?

The best way that many people care for their pets, is by having a pet trust created. An estate planning attorney in your state will know if your state is among the many that allow a pet trust to be created to benefit and protect your pet.

Start by naming a guardian or caretaker for your pets, including instructions on whether your pets should be kept together. If you are not sure about a guardian, name additional guardians, in case one does not wish to serve. Then, determine how much money you need to leave for the pet’s care for its life. This will depend upon the animal’s age, health, and life expectancy. There will need to be adequate funding for any medical issues. The trust can specify whether you want your pet to undergo expensive surgeries or whether they should be kept comfortable at any cost.

You’ll want to make sure to name a guardian who you are confident will care for your pet or pets in the same manner as you would.

A pet trust will also require you to name a trustee, who will be in charge of disbursing the funds as they are needed. The trustee can also check on the pet to be sure your pet is being well-cared for and your instructions are being followed. The money in the trust must only be used by the person for the care of the pets.

A pet trust will give you the peace of mind of knowing that your beloved companion animals are being cared for, even when you are not here to care for them. Speak with an estate planning attorney to learn how to make a pet trust part of your overall estate plan.

Reference: East Valley Tribune (Oct. 14, 2019) “Trusts can help provide for a pet’s future”

What Happens to Older Pets, When People Go into Nursing Homes

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Americans love their pets. Cats, dogs, birds, fish, and exotic animals bring families joy and companionship. There are millions of pets in homes all over the United States. A family might have a cat or dog for ten years or much longer. An older person might have a pet to increase a feeling of safety and to ward off loneliness and depression. Let’s explore what happens to older pets when people go into nursing homes.

Although some assisted living centers allow some pets (subject to restrictions on the size, type, and the number of animals), generally speaking, nursing homes do not allow residents to keep their pets in the facility. The options a person has will depend on many factors, such as available relatives or friends who could take in the pet. Some of the more common things that happen to older pets, when the owner goes into the nursing home include:

  • The pet gets to continue living in the home, because the nursing home resident’s spouse, friend or other relative remain living in the house. This situation is usually the best option for the pet. They stay in familiar territory and do not get disrupted by having to live somewhere else.
  • A friend or relative takes in the pet for the older loved one. The animal has to adjust to a different location, owner and schedule. However, at least they have a home.
  • The pet gets re-homed through a rescue organization. Sometimes these groups are breed-specific, like the entities that find homes for retired greyhound racing dogs.
  • The animal gets taken to a shelter. Some shelters serve as no-kill adoption centers, but many are not. If the pet gets adopted, they get a chance at life with a new family. If no one takes them, they will likely get euthanized.
  • The pet gets abandoned. Tragically, millions of animals get left every year to fend for themselves. While life on the streets is hard enough for a young, strong cat or dog, an older pet is unlikely to survive.
  • The animal has the good fortune of getting rescued by a no-kill sanctuary or a non-profit agency that takes in older pets.

There are not enough sanctuaries or agencies to meet the need of all of the older pets without homes. However, with a little detective work, you can probably find one or two in your area. Posting the question on social media can help you find a place for a pet to get to live out their golden years.  You can also check with local pet rescue and lost pet groups on social media for suggestions about where to take an older pet, so they do not get abandoned or euthanized.

If you or a family member are in the market for a pet, consider adopting an older one. Although a cute puppy is hard to resist, an older animal can actually be a better pet for a family with children. Older pets tend to be more settled and patient than high-energy young ones. The older pet is also likely already trained, so you will have less work on your hands. You can also have the satisfaction of knowing that you saved a life.

References: Huffpost. “Pet Retirement Home Rescues Dogs In Their Golden Years.” (accessed November 8, 2019) https://www.huffpost.com/entry/vintage-pet-rescue_n_5c141e0de4b049efa7524659

Protect Your Pets After You’re Gone

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Currently, 67% of American households own at least one pet, and many people now consider long-term planning for them to be just as important as for two-legged family members, says The Atlanta Journal Constitution in the article “When you’re gone, what happens to your pets?” Pets are viewed as valued members of the family in many homes. They provide companionship, and there have been studies showing that their presence helps to reduce stress. They often sleep in the same bed as their owners and go on vacations with their human family.

If you think about it, our animal companions are completely vulnerable if we die. They can’t take care of themselves. If something happens to their owners, it is possible that they could be taken to a shelter and euthanized. If you don’t want to be kept up at night worrying about this, a pet trust should be part of your conversation with an estate planning attorney.

A 2018 Realtor.com survey found that 79% of millennials who purchased a home said that they would pass on a home and find another one, no matter how perfect, if it did not meet the needs of their pets. This all highlights how important it is for many people to ensure their pet’s needs are met.

So the question is: How can you protect your pets?

Understand that pets are considered property and have no legal rights. It’s entirely up to their owners to plan for their care. With a pet trust, an owner can be sure that some of those needs are met and addressed. In setting up a trust, there are some questions to consider:

  • What’s the difference between a pet trust and a will?
  • What are the pet trust laws in my state?
  • How much money do I need to put into the pet trust?
  • What happens to any funds left over, when the pet dies?
  • Can you tap 401(k) or other retirement funds to care for a pet?

After you have decided to create a pet trust, the first thing to consider is how much money it would need. To calculate that, look at the life expectancy of each pet and factor the average vet bill, food bill and any additional money in case of an emergency. The ASPCA says that the annual cost to care for a dog is between $737 to $1,404. Caring for a cat averages about $800. Of course, the specific cost depends on the age, breed, weight and other features of your pet, such as whether the animal has any medical needs. You should then calculate how many years your pet will likely need care. Some pets can live a very long time, like horses and birds.

Next, identify caregivers who will commit to caring for your pets. You should then talk with your estate planning attorney about the features you want in your pet trust. A pet trust allows you to leave money to a loved one or friend to care for the pet in a trust that is legally binding. That means the money must be used for the pet’s care. It can be very specific, including how often the pet should go to the vet and what its standard of living should be. The executor or lawyer could go to court to enforce the contract, which protects your pets.

Typically, the trustee holds property “in trust” for the benefit of the pet. Payments to a designated caregiver are made on a regular basis. The trust, depending upon the state in which it is established, continues for the life of the pet or 21 years, whichever comes first. Some states allow pet trusts to continue beyond 21 years.

Speak with your estate planning attorney about protecting your pet. If you rely on an informal plan, your pet may be out of luck, if something happens to the caregivers, or if they have a change of heart. You’ll feel better knowing that you’ve put a plan into place for your beloved furry friends.

Reference: The Atlanta Journal Constitution (September 24, 2019) “When you’re gone, what happens to your pets?”

What Happens When There’s No Will or the Will Is Invalid?

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The Queen of Soul’s lack of a properly executed estate plan isn’t the first time a celebrity died without a will, and it surely will not be the last says The Bulletin in the article “Aretha Franklin and other celebrities died without an estate plan. Will you?”

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Howard Hughes, and Prince all died without a valid will and estate plan. When actor Heath Ledger died, his will left everything to his parents and three sisters. The will had been written before his daughter was born and left nothing to his daughter or her mother (it should be noted that if Ledger lived in California he would have needed a trust to avoid probate). Ledger’s family later gave all the money from the estate to his daughter.

Getting started on a will is not that challenging if you work with an experienced estate planning attorney. They often start clients out with a simple information gathering form, sometimes in an online process or on paper. They’ll ask a lot of questions, like if you have life insurance, a prenup, who you want to be your executor and who should be the guardian of your children.

Don’t overlook your online presence. If you die without a plan for your digital assets, you have a problem known as “cyber intestacy.” Plan for who will be able to access and manage your social media, online properties, etc., in addition to your tangible assets, like investment accounts and real property.

Automatic bill payments and electronic bank withdrawals continue after death, and heirs may struggle to access photographs and email. When including digital estate plans in your will, provide a name for the person who should have access to your online accounts. Check with your estate planning attorney to see if they are familiar with digital assets. Do a complete inventory, including frequent flyer miles, PayPal and other accounts.

Remember that if you don’t make a will or trust, the state where you live has laws that will decide for you. Each state has different statutes determining who gets your assets. They may not be the people you wanted, so that’s another reason why you need to have a will or trust.

Life insurance policies, IRAs, and other accounts that have beneficiaries are handled separately from the will. Beneficiaries receive assets directly and that bypasses anything written in a will, so you should confirm and keep documentation that specifies who your beneficiaries are. This is especially important for unmarried millennials, Gen Xers, divorced people, single individuals, and widows and widowers, who may not have designated someone as a beneficiary.

Don’t forget your pets. Your heirs may not want your furry family members, and they could end up in a shelter and euthanized if there’s no plan for them. You can sign a “pet protection” agreement or set up a pre-funded pet trust. Some states allow them; others do not. Your estate planning attorney will be able to help protect your beloved pets as well as your family.

Reference: The Bulletin (Sep. 14, 2019) “Aretha Franklin and other celebrities died without an estate plan. Will you?”

Including Animals in Your Estate Plan

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Estate planning helps to create a strategy for managing assets while we are living and their distribution when we pass away. That includes determining what happens to our tangible property as well as financial investments, retirement accounts, etc. An estate plan can also be used to protect the well-being of our beloved companion animals, says The Balance in the article “Estate Planning for Fido: How to Set Up a Pet Trust.”

Pet trusts were once thought of as something only for extremely wealthy or eccentric individuals, but today “regular” people today use pet trusts to ensure that if they die before their pets, their pets will have a secure future.

Every state and the District of Columbia, except for Washington, now has laws governing the creation and use of pet trusts. Knowing how they work and what they can and cannot do will be helpful if you are considering having a pet trust made as part of your estate plan.

When you set up a trust, you are the “grantor.” You have the authority as creator of the trust to direct how you want the assets in the trust to be managed, for yourself and any beneficiaries of the trust. The same principal holds true for pet trusts. You set up the trust and name a trustee. The trustee oversees the money and any other assets placed in the trust for the pet’s benefit. Those funds are to be used to pay for the pet’s care and related expenses. These expenses can include:

  • Regular care by a veterinarian,
  • Emergency veterinarian care,
  • Grooming, and
  • Feeding and boarding costs.

A pet trust can also be used to provide directions for end of life care and treatment for pets, as well as burial or cremation arrangements you may want for your pet.

In most instances, the pet trust remains in place for the entire life span of the pet once it is established. Some states, however, place a time limit on how long a pet trust can continue. For animals with very long lives, like certain birds or horses, you’ll want to be sure the pet trust will be created to last for the entire life span of your pet. In several states, the limit is 21 years. When you set up a pet trust, make sure the estate planning attorney has experience with pet trusts and knows the laws of your state governing them.

Creating a pet trust is like creating any other type of trust. An estate planning attorney can help with drafting the documents, helping you select a trustee, and if you’re worried about your pet outliving the first trustee, naming any successor trustees.

Here are some things to consider when setting up your pet’s trust:

  • What’s your pet’s current standard of living and care?
  • What kind of care do you expect the pet’s new caregiver to offer?
  • Who do you want to be the pet’s caregiver, and who should be the successor caregivers?
  • How often should the caregiver report on the pet’s status to the trustee?
  • How long do you expect the pet to live?
  • How likely is your pet going to develop a serious illness?
  • How much money do you think your pet’s caregiver will need to cover all pet-related expenses?
  • What should happen to the money, if any remains in the pet trust, after the pet passes away?

The last item is important if you don’t want any funds to disappear. You might want to have the money split up to your beneficiaries to your will, or you may want to have it donated to charity. The pet trust needs to include a contingency plan for these scenarios.

Another point: think about when you want the pet trust to go into effect. You may not expect to become incapacitated, but these things do happen. Your pet trust can be designed to become effective if you become incapacitated.

Make sure the pet trust clearly identifies your pet so no one can abuse its terms and access trust funds fraudulently. One way to do this is to have your pet microchipped and record the chip number in the pet document. Also include photos of your pet and a physical description.

Be as specific as necessary when creating the document. If there are certain types of foods that you use, list them. If there are regular routines that your pet is comfortable with and that you’d like the caregiver to continue, then detail them. The more information you can provide, the more likely it will be that your pet will continue to live as they did when you were taking care of them.

Finally, make sure that your estate planning attorney, the trustee, and the pet’s designated caregiver all have a copy of your pet trust, so they are certain to follow your wishes.

Reference: The Balance (March 27, 2019) “Estate Planning for Fido: How to Set Up a Pet Trust”

Iconic Designer Leaves a Fortune for Beloved Cat

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The Burmese cat owned by Lagerfeld stands to inherit a sizable amount of the designer’s fortune, estimated at some $300 million, according to a report from CBS News titled “Karl Lagerfeld’s cat to inherit a fortune, but may not be richest pet.” The beloved cat, named Choupette, was written into his will in 2015, according to the French newspaper Le Figaro.

Before Lagerfeld died on Feb. 19, the cat already had an income of her own, appearing in ads for cars and beauty products. She has nearly 250,000 followers on Instagram and is an ambassador for Opel, the French car maker. She is also the subject of two books. Choupette has had her own line of makeup for the beauty brand Shu Uemura.

Lagerfeld was a German citizen, but he and Choupette were residents of France, where the law prohibits pets from inheriting their human owner’s wealth. German law does permit a person’s wealth to be transferred to an animal.

There are three approaches that Lagerfeld might have taken to ensure that his beloved cat would be assured of her lifestyle, after his passing. One would have been to create a foundation, whose sole mission is to care for the cat, with a director who would receive funds for Choupette’s care.

A second way would be to donate money to an existing nonprofit and stipulate that funds be used for the cat’s care. A third would be to leave the cat to a trusted individual, with a gift of cash that was earmarked for her care.

It is not uncommon today for people to have pet trusts created to ensure that their furry friends enjoy a comfortable lifestyle after their humans have passed. Estate laws in the U.S. vary by state, but they always require that a human have oversight over any funds or assets entrusted to a pet. Courts also have a say in this. There are reasonable limits on what a person can leave to a pet. A court may not honor a will that seeks to leave millions for the care of a pet. However, it has happened before.

Real estate tycoon Leona Hemsley left many people stunned when she left $12 million for her Maltese dog. In 1991, German Countess Carlotta Liebenstein left her dog Gunther IV a princely sum of $80 million. To date, Gunther remains number one on the “Top Richest Pets” list.

For pets who are beloved parts of regular families and not millionaires in their own right, an estate planning attorney will be able to help you plan for your pet’s well-being if it should outlive you. Some states permit the use of a pet trust, and California is one of those states. Regardless of what option you choose, I highly recommend that you make a plan for a secure place for your pet and provide necessary funds for food, shelter, and medical care.

Reference: CBS News (Feb. 21, 2019) “Karl Lagerfeld’s cat to inherit a fortune, but may not be richest pet”

When Should I Review My Estate Plan?

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As life changes, you need to periodically review your estate-planning documents and discuss your situation with your estate planning attorney.

WMUR’s recent article, “Money Matters: Reviewing your estate plan,” says a common question is “When should I review my documents?”

Every few years is the quick answer, but a change in your life may also necessitate a review. Major life events can be related to a marriage, divorce, or death in the family; a substantial change in estate size; a move to another state and/or acquisition of property in another state; the death of an executor, trustee or guardian; the birth or adoption of children or grandchildren; retirement; and a significant change in health, to name just a handful.

When you conduct your review, consider these questions:

  • Does anyone in your family have special needs?
  • Do you have any children from a previous marriage?
  • Is your choice of executor, guardian, or trustee still okay?
  • Do you have a valid living will, durable power of attorney for health care, or a do-not-resuscitate to manage your health care, if you’re not able to do so?
  • Do you need to plan for Medicaid?
  • Are your beneficiary designations up to date on your retirement plans, annuities, payable-on-death bank accounts, and life insurance?
  • Do you have charitable intentions and if so, are they mentioned in your documents?
  • Do you own sufficient life insurance?

In addition, review your digital presence and take the necessary efforts to protect your online information, after your death or if you’re no longer able to act.

It may take a little time, effort, and money to review your documents, but doing so helps ensure your intentions are properly executed. Your planning will help to protect your family during a difficult time.

Reference: WMUR (January 24, 2019) “Money Matters: Reviewing your estate plan”

How Do I Include My Pet in My Estate Plan?

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How Do I Include My Pet in My Estate Plan?
pets included in estate plan

A recent survey of pet owners showed that nearly half (44%) of pet owners have prepared for the future care of their animals, in the event their pets outlive them. With traditional financial planning instruments like living trusts, life insurance, and annuities, pet owners can have peace of mind knowing their pets’ needs will be met.

Forbes’s article, “3 Financial Planning Tips For Pets Owners,” says that typically, “pet estate plans” should cover more than simply who will care for the pet, when you are no longer around. Expenses such as food, doggie day care, veterinarian bills and medication should also be considered.

20% of all respondents in the survey said they have financially planned for their pets’ future care. About 38% said they added the pet’s future caregiver as a beneficiary to a life insurance policy and 35% added more coverage to their life policies. 13% also recently purchased annuities naming the pet’s caregiver as the beneficiary.

However, many pet owners forget about end-of-life planning. Consider an individual trust for your pet or donating funds to your local humane society or pet shelter.

One question many have before adding a new animal to the family, is whether they can afford it. The cost of an animal from a breeder can be high, so a more affordable option is to check out your local humane society or animal rescue group. Remember that the costs of food, vet bills, and other supplies are just as important to think about, before making a pet a part of your family. Pets are too often returned to animal shelters, because pet parents were unable to afford to properly care for the pet.

Last, ask about pet insurance at your veterinarian. Many clinics offer plans and staff members will be able to talk to you about the right option based on the type of animal, breed, age and other criteria of your pet.

Simple steps like these will make certain your pets are cared for properly and without burden to the person who accepts your animals.

Reference: Forbes (January 27, 2019) “3 Financial Planning Tips For Pets Owners”