Estate Planning Is for Everyone, at Every Age

As we go through the many milestones of life, it’s important to plan for what we know is coming. Equally important is planning for the unexpected. An estate planning attorney works with individuals, families, and businesses to plan for what lies ahead, says the Cincinnati Business Courier in the article “Estate planning considerations for every stage of life.” For younger families, having an estate plan is like having life insurance: it is hoped that the insurance is never needed, but having it in place is comforting.

For others, in different stages of life, an estate plan is needed to ensure a smooth transition for a business owner heading to retirement, protecting a spouse or children from creditors or minimizing tax liability for a family.

Here are some milestones in life when an estate plan is needed:

Becoming an adult. It is true that for most 18-year-olds, estate planning is the last thing on their minds. However, most states consider these people to be legal adults, and their parents no longer automatically control many things in their lives. If parents want or need to be involved with medical or financial matters, certain estate planning documents are needed. All new adults need a general power of attorney and health care directives to allow someone else to step in if something occurs.

That can be as minimal as a parent talking with a doctor during an office appointment or making medical decisions during a crisis. A HIPAA release should also be prepared. A simple will should be considered, especially if assets are to pass directly to siblings or a significant person in their life, to whom they are not married.

Getting married. Marriage unites individuals and their assets. For newly married couples, estate planning documents should be updated for each spouse. Marriage often means two individuals will merge their estate plans, so documents need to reflect this. A review of their accounts and assets is also good to make sure the new spouse becomes a joint owner, primary beneficiary, and initial fiduciary. In addition to the legal documents of wills, powers of attorney, healthcare directives, something else that needs to be updated to the name of the new spouse or trust are beneficiary designations. This is also a time to start keeping a list of assets, now that someone else may need to access accounts.

When children join the family. Whether born or adopted, the entrance of children into the family makes an estate plan especially important. Choosing guardians who will raise the children in the absence of their parents is the hardest thing to think about, but it is critical for the children’s well-being. A nomination of guardian can make the transition smoother and prevent unnecessary delays in the court system during an already difficult time. A revocable trust may be a means of allowing the seamless transfer and ongoing administration of the family’s assets to benefit the children and other family members.

Part of business planning. Estate planning should be part of every business owner’s plan. If the unexpected occurs, the business will benefit from advance planning by having a set of procedures in place. The owner’s family will also be better off, regardless of whether they are involved in the business. At the very least, business interests should be directed to transfer out of probate, allowing for an efficient transition of the business to the right people without the burden of probate estate administration.

If a divorce occurs. Divorce is a sad reality for more than half of today’s married couples. The post-divorce period is the time to review the estate plan to remove the ex-spouse, change any beneficiary designations, and plan for new fiduciaries. It’s important to review all accounts to ensure that any controlling-on-death accounts are updated. A careful review by an estate planning attorney is worth the time to make sure no assets are overlooked.

Upon retirement. Just before or after retirement is an important time to review an estate plan. Children may be grown and take on roles of fiduciaries or be in a position to help with medical or financial affairs. This is the time to plan for wealth transfer, minimizing estate taxes, and planning for incapacity.

Reference: Cincinnati Business Courier (Sep. 4, 2019) “Estate planning considerations for every stage of life.”

How Do I Discuss My Parents’ Long-Term Financial Goals With Them?

A recent study by Ameriprise Financial found that more than one-third of adult children say they haven’t had a conversation about their parents’ long-term financial goals. Even though discussing this delicate topic may seem uncomfortable, addressing it now can help avoid challenges and uncertainty in the future. To that end, the Ameriprise Family Wealth Checkup study found that individuals who talk about money matters feel more confident about their financial future.

The Enterprise’s recent article, “Four financial questions to ask your parents,” provides some questions that can help you start the dialogue.

“What do you want to achieve in the next five or 10 years?” Understand your parents’ aspirations for the next few years. This includes their personal and financial goals and when they plan to retire (if they haven’t already). Do they want to move closer to their grandchildren or to warmer weather? Getting an idea of how they want to spend their time will help you know what to expect in the years ahead.

“Where is your financial information located in case of an emergency?” An incident can happen at any time, so it’s essential that you know how to access key personal, financial and estate planning documents. You should have the contact info for their financial adviser, tax professional, and estate planning attorney, and be sure your parents have the right permissions set, so you can step in when the need arises. You should also ask your parents to share the passwords for their primary accounts or let you know where you can find a password list.

“How do you see your legacy?” Talk to your parents about how they want to be remembered and their plans for making that happen. These components can be essential to the discussion:

  • Ask them if they have an updated will or trust, and if there’s anything they’d like to disclose about how the assets will be distributed.
  • Health care choices and expenses are often a big source of stress for retirees. Talk to your parents about their current health priorities and the future and have them formalize their wishes in a health-care directive, which lets them name a loved one to make medical decisions, if they’re unable to do so.

“How can I help?” Proactively offering to help may get rid of some of the frustrations or relieve stress for even the most independent and well-prepared parents. The assistance may be non-financial, like doing house projects or giving them more time with their grandchildren. You should also look into including an attorney in the discussion, in case your parents have estate planning questions.

Retirement and legacy planning can be complex. However, taking the time to have frequent conversations with your parents can help you all prepare for the future.

Reference: The Enterprise (August 19, 2019) “Four financial questions to ask your parents”

How Do I Have the Financial Talk with My Parents?

GOBankingRates recently released a survey that found that 73% of Americans haven’t had conversations with aging parents about their finances. Moreover, 22% of the survey’s respondents said they never plan to have this talk with their parents, because they believe their finances are none of their business.

That’s a really big mistake.

Forbes’ recent article, “What You Don’t Know About Your Parents’ Finances Could Ruin Yours” says that if you don’t take the time to chat to your parents about their finances, your own finances could be affected. This is because there’s a good chance you’ll have to get involved with your parents’ financial lives, as they age. This can impact your own financial well-being, if you aren’t ready for that task.

As Americans are living longer, there’s an increased risk of health issues, which can lead to significant financial consequences. About 80% of older adults have at least one chronic condition like heart disease, diabetes, dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s disease is becoming increasingly prevalent as people live longer. The number of Americans living with Alzheimer’s disease is expected to more than double to 14 million by 2050, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.

However, just 5% of adults ages 55 to 60 have long-term care insurance, and only 11% of adults 65 and older have it. Long-term care insurance helps cover the cost of care in an assisted-living facility, nursing home or even at home. Medicare doesn’t pay for this sort of care–which easily runs well over $8,000 a month.

If you and your parents don’t talk about how to pay for any care they might need, you could become your parents’ long-term care plan. That could mean you pay these expenses or stop working to help care for a parent.

Those who haven’t had detailed discussions with their parents about their finances can anticipate facing a larger burden than those who have been able to help their parents start managing their money better, by having discussions with them.

If you have siblings, it is important for all the children to be on the same page regarding the parents’ finances and long term care plans. This will help everyone involved be better prepared.

Another important reason to talk to your parents about their finances sooner rather than later, is to see if they have a will, power of attorney and living will or advance health care directive. If they don’t, consult with an experienced estate planning attorney. The sooner you address these issues, the better.

Reference: Forbes (July 17, 2019) “What You Don’t Know About Your Parents’ Finances Could Ruin Yours”

Why Is a Revocable Trust So Valuable in Estate Planning?

A revocable trust is sometimes an investment that people are hesitant to make, but they are worth the time and money. There’s quite a bit that a trust can do to solve big estate planning and tax problems for many families.

As Forbes explains in its recent article, “Revocable Trusts: The Swiss Army Knife Of Financial Planning,” trusts are a critical component of a proper estate plan. There are three parties to a trust: the owner of some property (settlor or grantor), who turns it over to a trusted person or organization (trustee) under a trust arrangement to hold and manage for the benefit of someone (the beneficiary). A written trust document will spell out the terms of the arrangement.

One of the most useful trusts is a revocable trust (also known as an inter vivos trust) where the grantor creates a trust, funds it, manages it by themselves, and has unrestricted rights to the trust assets (corpus). The grantor has the right at any point to revoke the trust, by simply tearing up the document and reclaiming the assets, or perhaps modifying the trust to accomplish other estate planning goals.

After discussing trusts with your attorney, they will draft the trust document and re-title property to the trust. The assets transferred to a revocable trust can be reclaimed at any time. The grantor has unrestricted rights to the property. During the life of the grantor, the trust provides protection and management, if and when it’s needed.

Let’s examine the potential lifetime and estate planning benefits that can be incorporated into the trust:

  • Lifetime Benefits. If the grantor is unable or uninterested in managing the trust, the grantor can hire an investment advisor to manage the account in one of the major discount brokerages, or they can appoint a trust company to act for them.
  • Incapacity. A trusted spouse, child, or friend can be named as trustee to care for and represent the needs of the grantor/beneficiary. The trustee will manage the assets during incapacity, without having to declare the grantor incompetent and petitioning for a guardianship or conservatorship. This can be a stressful legal proceeding that makes the grantor a ward of the state. This proceeding can be expensive, public, humiliating, restrictive and burdensome. However, a well-drafted trust (along with powers of attorney) avoids this. If and when the grantor has recovered, they can resume the duties as trustee.
  • Estate Planning. A revocable trust is a great tool for estate planning because it bypasses probate, which can mean considerably less expense, stress and time. When creating your estate plan, make sure to think of more than just the trust. Ask your attorney about how the trust fits in with the rest of your estate plan: a will, powers of attorney, medical directives and other considerations.

Even though a trust is something that most people should consider, not anyone can create one. Your trust should be created by a very competent trust attorney, after a discussion about what you want to accomplish.

Reference: Forbes (February 20, 2019) “Revocable Trusts: The Swiss Army Knife Of Financial Planning”

What are the “Must Have” Estate Planning Documents?

What do Aretha Franklin, Kurt Cobain, and Prince have in common? Aside from being famous and talented, each of these stars passed away without an estate plan. All three had the money and attorneys to draft a proper estate plan, but for whatever reason, they didn’t draft one. It’s a good lesson to not neglect your estate plan.

Motley Fool reports in the article, “3 Must-Have Estate Planning Documents To Get Done This Year,” that dying without an estate plan creates numerous problems for your family. If there are no legal instructions in place, probate law automatically dictates the distribution of your assets and selection of guardians for your minor children, which can cause problems or be contrary to your wishes. Regardless of your personal situation, you should think about creating these three important estate planning documents:

Trust. A trust is used to distribute your estate according to your instructions with more privacy, fewer costs, and less time than using just a will. A trust can say how much and what type of asset each heir will receive, to minimize family fighting after your death. If you have young children, you can designate guardians in your trust who will be in charge of their care and take care of any assets left to them. If you die without a trust, the probate judge will order who becomes their guardian and takes care of their money.

You also need a trust to make charitable bequests, to expedite the probate court process and to reduce or eliminate estate taxes. When you draft your trust, you’ll appoint trusted people to serve as the executor and the trustee.

Advance Health Care Directive. An advance health care directive (sometimes called a living will) can take effect while you are still alive. This is a legal document that sets out your instructions for medical treatment if you become unable to communicate, such as whether or not you want to be placed on life support. An advance health care directive can relieve the emotional burden from your family of having to make difficult decisions because you’ve already communicated your wishes through this document.

Power of Attorney. This legal document helps in the event you’re incapacitated or in the hospital in an unresponsive state. A power of attorney gives the individual you designate, also known as an agent, the authority to transact financial and legal matters on your behalf. Set up a power of attorney, before you need it. If you don’t and you’re unable to make decisions, your family may have to petition the court to get those powers, which costs time and money.

Estate planning is a huge favor that you’re doing for your family. Get these three legal documents in place.

Reference: Motley Fool (February 18, 2019) “3 Must-Have Estate Planning Documents To Get Done This Year”

Why Do Singles Need These Two Estate Planning Tools?

Morningstar’s article, “2 Estate-Planning Tools That Singles Should Consider” explains that a living will, or advance medical directive, is a legal document that details your wishes for life-sustaining treatment. It’s a document that you sign when you’re of sound mind and says you want to be removed from life supporting measures, if you become terminally ill and incapacitated.

If you’re on life support with no chance of getting better, you’d choose to have your family avoid the expense and stress of keeping you alive artificially.

Like a living will, a durable power of attorney for healthcare is a legal document that names an agent to make healthcare decisions for you, if you are unable to make them yourself.

A durable power of attorney for healthcare can provide your instructions in circumstances in which you’re not necessarily terminally ill, but you are incapacitated.

When selecting an agent, find a person you trust enough to act on your behalf when you’re unable. Let this person know exactly how you feel about blood transfusions, organ transplants, disclosure of your medical information and other sensitive topics that may arise, if you’re incapacitated.

A power of attorney eliminates any confusion, especially if this person is someone other than your spouse. Your doctors will know exactly who the decision-maker is among your relatives and friends.

These two documents aren’t all that comprise a fully comprehensive estate plan. Singles should regularly make certain that the beneficiary designations on their checking and retirement accounts are up to date.

You should also consider your life insurance needs, especially if you have children and/or a mortgage.

It is also important to understand that a living will doesn’t address the issues of a will. A will ensures that your property is distributed after your death, in accordance with your wishes. Ask for help from an experienced estate planning attorney.

These two documents—a living will and a durable power of attorney—can help ensure that in a healthcare emergency, any medical and financial decisions made on your behalf are in accordance with what you really want. Speak with to an estate-planning attorney in your state to get definitive answers to your questions.

If you are in California, these two documents are often combined and are called an Advance Health Care Directive. 

Reference: Morningstar (April 23, 2019) “2 Estate-Planning Tools That Singles Should Consider”

What Are the Six Most Frequent Estate Planning Mistakes?

It is a grim topic, but it is an important one. Without a legal will in place, your loved ones may spend years stuck in court proceedings and spend a lot in legal fees to settle your estate. The San Diego Tribune writes in its recent article, 6 estate-planning mistakes to avoid, that without a plan, everything is more stressful and expensive. Let’s look at the top six estate planning mistakes that people need to avoid:

No Plan. Regardless of your age or financial status, it’s critical to have a basic estate plan. This includes crafting powers of attorney for both healthcare and finances and a will.

No Discussion. Once you create your plan, tell your family. Those you’ve named to take care of you, need to know what you’ve decided and where to find your plan.

Focusing Only on Taxes. Estate planning can be much more than just about tax avoidance. There are many other reasons to create an estate plan that have nothing to do with taxes, like charitable giving, special needs planning for a family member, succession planning in the event of incapacity and planning for children of a prior marriage, to name just a few.

Leaving Assets Directly to Children. If you leave assets directly to your children or grandchildren under age 18, it can cause unintended custodian or guardianship issues. Minors can’t own legal property, so a guardian will be appointed by the court to manage the property for them, until they reach age 18. If you don’t name a guardian, the court will appoint one for you and that person may have very different ideas about how the account should be managed and invested.

Making Mistakes with Ownership and Property Titles. With many blended families, you may want to preserve assets from an inheritance as your own separate property or from a prior marriage for your children. There are many tax consequences and control issues in blended families about which you may not be aware.

Messing Up Your Trust. Many people don’t properly fund or update their trusts. An unfunded trust doesn’t do anyone any good. Assets that aren’t titled in the name of the trust don’t avoid probate.

Finally, be sure to review your estate plan regularly, as your circumstances change.

Reference: San Diego Tribune (April 18, 2019) “6 estate-planning mistakes to avoid”

What Are the Five “Must Have” Estate Planning Documents?

WTHR 13’s recent article, “The 5 legal documents every adult should have” lists the five “must have” estate planning documents involved in estate planning.

  1. General Durable Power of Attorney. This document states who you want to make decisions if you’re unable to do so for yourself. Without it, your family may have to petition the courts to become your legal guardian/conservator, which can be time consuming and expensive. A power of attorney allows the person whom you select, to pay your mortgage or rent and your bills.
  2. Health Care Power of Attorney. (Also known as an Advance Healthcare Directive) This document plans for the situation, if you are unable to make your own health care decisions. You name someone you trust, like family members or friends, to do this on your behalf.
  3. Will. This says that when you pass away, here’s what I want to happen. A will states who will get your assets after your death. If you don’t have a valid will in place, the state laws of intestacy will govern what will happen to your estate—which may not be what you want.
  4. Living Will. This is the document in which you state your instructions for end-of-life care, such as life support. This document is used to make certain that your family and physicians know what you want your end-of-life care to be. A living will is much different than a will and many times may be incorporated into the Advance Healthcare Directive.
  5. Revocable Living Trust. This document can be important, if you’re a parent with young children and would like your assets passed down properly to your children if you die. Typically, if children are under 18, they’re legally minors and can’t receive assets. A trust can help coordinate the receiving your property and avoid probate on your death.

An experienced estate planning attorney can help you with the creation of these documents, while creating an overall plan so that your wishes are followed, your legacy is protected and your family is secure.

Reference: WTHR 13 (April 17, 2019) “The 5 legal documents every adult should have”

Should I Try Using a DIY Will Online?

Although using a DIY site to draft a will can save money and time, sometimes doing it this way could lead to expensive and unpleasant estate planning mistakes.

Next Avenue’s article, “The Problems With Do-It-Yourself Online Wills” reported that one DIY estate planning service had typos on its site, and its estate-planning “packages” had the same document labeled with three different names. Even worse, some of these packages were missing a key estate planning document about which very few users would know to ask.

Many DIY estate planning sites have attorneys on staff, but access to specific help for your personal documents is rarely available. If personal advice is offered, it may cost much more to get it.

It is true that many of us would prefer to fill in the blanks in silence, then have to talk to anyone about our doubts or concerns. However, sometimes it helps—a great deal—to get professional advice.

If you prepare your taxes yourself and they end up incorrect, you and the IRS may end up working things out. However, if you decide to do your estate planning by yourself, you will never know the results of your DIY handiwork. Your loved ones will. And it may not be pleasant.

You need to have customized estate planning documents to avoid court involvement, to decrease administrative issues and to know that the job is done. The four basic estate planning documents are a will, a trust, power of attorney for financial matters and an advance health care directive. If you use any of these on a DIY site, you’ll be offered a fill-in-the-blank approach. However, each state has its own probate code, and the software package you use may have different names for these documents.

Some DIY websites have all of these documents for you, but only if you purchase their higher-end packages. Some offer limited attorney consultation, but it can be just a set of drop-down of questions with pre-written responses, rather than an actual conversation with an attorney.

The benefit of using a DIY service is that you’ll have a plan, quickly and cheaply as possible—which may be better than having no plan at all. Many programs presume that you already know what you want. The reality is that many people have no clue what they want or need. When you get into the complexities of family dynamics, with legal terms specific to your state and situation, DIY estate planning can cause more challenges than working with a qualified estate planning attorney.

Reference: Next Avenue (March 29, 2019) “The Problems With Do-It-Yourself Online Wills”

 

What’s My Plan If I’m an “Elder Orphan?”

Roughly 66% of those over 65 need some form of long-term care help, and the majority will depend on a spouse, partner, or their children for assistance. WFMZ TV’s recent article, “The single senior life: Elder orphans,” asks “what if they have none of the above?”

While you’re still healthy, you should make plans, in the event you find yourself in need of the help that is traditionally provided by a family member. There are solutions, but they require planning.

The first step is to hire an elder law attorney to create the documents to protect you, if you become incapacitated. Designate a friend, a physician, or licensed private fiduciary to make medical decisions and detail your wishes for your healthcare.

Anyone 18 years or older should have at least a durable power of attorney and an advance healthcare directive.

The next task is to consider where you want to live, like a neighborhood that is near public transportation, so you are not housebound. Begin looking at senior communities or assisted living facilities, and home-help services.

A somewhat unique strategy is to “adopt” a family, where a single elderly person agrees to leave his assets to a family who will help as they age and until they pass. Be careful about the family you select, to avoid any elder financial abuse. You should consider to leave these gifts, but do not inform the family until after you pass.

Another way to stay connected is via social media, like Facebook. Carol Marak, the editor of SingleCare, started a group for elder orphans. The group already has more than 35,000 members.

It’s critical that you develop a social network. Think about becoming a member of a class, volunteering somewhere, or taking up a hobby—something that will give you regular exposure to a new group of people on an on-going basis.

Some people who do have families lack close connections with their own flesh and blood, and if that is the case, while you may not be an elder orphan, you still need to create a plan to protect yourself as you age.

Reference: WFMZ TV (March 7, 2019) “The single senior life: Elder orphans”