Estate Planning Blog Articles

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Should I Give the Kids My House in My Estate Planning?

Houses make for terrible wealth transfer vehicles. Bequeathing a house can mean passing along financial burdens, red tape, home maintenance responsibilities, potential family conflict and housing market volatility, says Kiplinger’s recent article, “Your Home Would Be a Terrible Inheritance for Your Kids.”

Communication about plans is critical. A study from Money & Family found that 68% of homeowners plan to leave a home or property to heirs. However, 56% haven’t told them about their plans. That will surprise the recipients who may or may not want or be able to service an inherited home.

Suppose you bequeath a house to an heir or heirs. In that case, they’ll have to make an immediate plan for home maintenance, mortgage payments (if necessary), utilities, property taxes, repairs and homeowners’ insurance. Zillow says this can amount to as much as $9,400 annually, not including mortgage payments.

The psychology of the home. Owners often have deep emotional attachments to their homes. Therefore, when people gift their homes to children and heirs, they’re not just giving an asset — they’re endowing them with all the good memories that were made on that property. Emotional connections to the home can be nearly as powerful as a strong attachment to a living being.

Beneficiaries may struggle to make practical choices about the inherited property because of the home’s sentimental value. This emotional aspect can cloud judgment and hinder the effective management and allocation of assets.

The financial burdens and family conflicts for beneficiaries. Inheriting a home entails a range of financial responsibilities that can quickly add up.

Property taxes, insurance premiums, ongoing maintenance costs and unexpected repairs can strain beneficiaries’ financial resources dramatically. If beneficiaries already have their own homes, inheriting an additional property can exacerbate financial burdens and potentially hinder their own financial goals, retirement plans and aspirations. The passing of a family member can also sometimes lead to conflicts among heirs, potentially exacerbating existing fractures in relationships among siblings and other family members.

According to a 2018 study, nearly half (44%) of respondents saw family strife during an estate settlement. Disagreements can cause tension, strain relationships and even result in lengthy legal battles.

Estate Planning can Protect Beloved Pets

While pets are still legally considered possessions, they are also recognized as family members deserving of a safe and happy future, says a recent article from The Record-Courier, “Estate planning for pets.”

Estate planning for pets involves creating provisions for the pets’ care and well-being if their owner becomes incapacitated or after the owner’s passing. The goal of estate planning for pets is to be sure that they will receive the same level of care, attention and resources they enjoyed even if their owner is unable or alive to care for them.

Estate planning for pets involves more than securing funds for their care. It requires a complete plan to protect their future, from designating caregivers, addressing specific needs, habits, preferences, daily routines, and personality quirks, considering any legal or financial issues and planning for alternate solutions if the primary plan becomes unattainable.

The more details addressed in the estate plan for the pet, the better protected they will be.

Designating a guardian for the pet is usually the most important step. This is the person you want to care for the pet and probably bring the pet into their home. It is critical to have a detailed conversation with the potential guardian to ensure that they understand what they are being asked to do and ensure they can and are willing to follow your wishes.

You should have one or even two backup guardians, if the primary guardian becomes unable or unwilling to serve. The estate plan should also prepare for a situation where no designated people can care for the pet and provide an alternate solution, such as placing the pet in a no-kill shelter or charging the trustee with finding a good home.

Designation of sufficient funds is also necessary. Consider how long the pet is likely to live, the cost of veterinary care in your community, and any emergency care.

Different legal documents are used to prepare estate plans addressing care for a pet. A pet trust is a legally recognized document, with funds set aside for the pet’s care in the trust, managed by the trustee by the terms of the trust. You can also use provisions in your last will and testament, with a designated individual nominated to care for the pet. However, the trust is more enforceable, with the trustee having a fiduciary obligation to carry out the terms of the trust.

Estate planning with pets in mind is a responsible way to ensure that your beloved animal companions have a secure future even if you cannot provide it for them. Your estate planning attorney will be able to create a pet trust to alleviate any concerns about your pet’s future.

Reference: The Record-Courier (Oct. 21, 2023) “Estate planning for pets”

Social Security Scammers Embracing Artificial Intelligence

Seniors now need to be extra careful about Social Security scams since fraudsters have embraced AI (Artificial Intelligence) to manipulate people into revealing secure information, says a recent article from U.S. News & World Report, “AI and the Risks of Social Security Fraud.” The schemes are sophisticated and appear entirely legitimate, making them harder to discern from real messages from the Social Security Administration.

The Office of the Inspector General recently launched a task force to investigate the use of AI and deter AI-related Social Security scams. The OIG recognizes the risk of criminals using AI to make their schemes easier and faster to execute and the deceptions more credible and realistic.

You’ll want to know about AI risks if you receive Social Security benefits. Here are some guidelines to keep both your identity and finances safe.

Criminals commonly use robocalls or chatbots. The messages sound as if they come from legitimate government representatives and trick seniors into disclosing personal information or even making fraudulent payments using voice synthesis and natural language processing. This can also happen on a website, with an AI-generated video of the U.S. president or an official with the Social Security Administration announcing a new Social Security benefit and encouraging retirees to sign up by following a link on the video. The link takes the user to a fraudulent website, where they are asked to provide essential information, including their Social Security number and other details. Once the information is provided, thieves can re-route the monthly benefit to an unauthorized account.

Be wary if you receive an email from a source you don’t recognize. Don’t respond to text messages from people or organizations you don’t know. If you receive a suspicious phone call, hang up. If someone claims to be calling from Social Security, hang up, call the local Social Security office yourself, and explain what happened.

If you haven’t already, set up a my Social Security account online at That’s where you’ll indicate the bank account to receive your benefit, and you can tell SSA not to change it unless you appear in person at the local SSA office.

The SSA doesn’t initiate contact with recipients by email, text, or phone. Anyone saying they are from the SSA using these methods is a scammer. Even if your phone displays the call is coming from the SSA, know that it’s very easy for criminals to manipulate caller ID to make the call appear to come from whomever and whatever number they want.

Thieves now use digital technology to trick seniors into revealing personal information. As technology changes, so do the means of stealing. Stay current on common scams and protect your retirement benefits and finances from AI-driven fraud.

Reference: U.S. News & World Report (Sep. 29, 2023) “AI and the Risks of Social Security Fraud”

Is Mick Jagger Thinking about Estate Planning?

The “Satisfaction” singer, who is putting out a new album with the band, said that while the Rolling Stones have no plans right now to sell their post-1971 catalog — which includes Black and Blue and Tattoo You — but have some ideas of what to do with it eventually.

People’s recent article entitled, “Mick Jagger Hints Rolling Stones May Leave $500M Album Fortune to Charity to ‘Do Some Good in the World,’” reports that in a new interview with WSJ Magazine, the 80-year-old rock legend said they could give the approximately half a billion dollars they would get from selling it to their heirs, but “the children don’t need $500 million to live well. Come on.”

So he said that “maybe” the money could go to charity instead. “You maybe do some good in the world,” added Jagger.

Meanwhile, he and fellow bandmembers Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood are releasing another album. Their upcoming release, Hackney Diamonds, is the band’s first album of original music in 18 years.

Jagger noted to WSJ that there are a number of guests featured on the album, including Paul McCartney, who contributed bass, Elton John and Stevie Wonder on the piano, and Lady Gaga, who contributed vocals to their song “Sweet Sound of Heaven,” while working in the same studio as the band during one session.

Jagger revealed that he had put a deadline pressure on the group to keep the album on track, saying, “What I want to do is write some songs, go into the studio, and finish the record by Valentine’s Day. Which was just a day I picked out of the hat — but everyone can remember it. And then we’ll go on tour with it, the way we used to.”

When Richards, 79, pushed back, Jagger said he told him, “‘It may never happen, Keith, but that’s the aim. We’re going to have a f—ing deadline.’ ”

“Otherwise, we’re just going to go into the studio, for two weeks, and come out again, and then six weeks later, we’re going to go back in there. Like, no. Let’s make a deadline,” he added.

In the end, the deadline pressure worked. The band recorded basic tracks in four weeks, missing their Valentine’s Day target by just a few weeks.

In an emotional moment, the trio also touched on what it was like to record the album without their longtime drummer, Charlie Watts, who died in August 2021 at age 80.

“Ever since Charlie’s gone it’s different, he’s number four,” Richards said. “He’s missing, he’s up there. Of course he’s missed incredibly.”

Reference: People (Oct. 3, 2023) “Mick Jagger Hints Rolling Stones May Leave $500M Album Fortune to Charity to ‘Do Some Good in the World’”

Does Your State Have an Inheritance Tax?

Most Americans aren’t concerned with the $12.92 million threshold for the federal estate tax. However, some states are not as generous with estate tax exemptions, and others impose inheritance taxes on heirs, reports the article “States That Won’t Tax Your Death” from Kiplinger. State death taxes can become expensive for loved ones.

Death taxes are tax liabilities incurred by heirs when you die. In some states, heirs pay death taxes on even small inheritances. For example, heirs in Nebraska pay a death tax rate of 15% on inheritances over $25,000. The good news is that if you live in a state with no estate or inheritance tax, you don’t have to worry about a state death tax.

If taxes are a big consideration for where you live, consider the pros and cons before making any big decisions. Not every state is as tax-friendly regarding other taxes, fees, or the overall cost of living.

  • Alabama has no death taxes and low grocery taxes.
  • Alaska has no death taxes, and Alaska pays residents to live in the state through the Permanent Fund Dividend. In 2023, the payment was $1,312.
  • Arizona has no death tax, low-income taxes and a flat income rate of 2.5%.
  • Arkansas has no estate or death taxes, and a recent tax cut bill reduced income taxes.
  • California is generally a high-tax state with high costs of living, but there is no death tax.
  • Colorado has no death tax and the highest EV credit of any state.
  • Delaware is known to be very business friendly. However, it’s also a state with no sales tax, no state estate tax and no inheritance tax.
  • Florida has no death taxes, and what appeals to many new arrivals is no state income tax.
  • Georgia has no estate or inheritance tax.
  • Idaho doesn’t have an inheritance tax, but some types of retirement income, including pensions, are taxable.
  • Indiana has no inheritance tax and a fairly low flat-income tax rate of 3.15% (although some counties impose income taxes of their own).
  • Kansas has no inheritance tax or estate tax.
  • Louisiana has no death taxes and some of the lowest property taxes in the country.
  • Michigan has no estate tax or inheritance tax.
  • Mississippi taxes groceries but has no death tax or estate tax.
  • Missouri has no state death tax.
  • Montana has no state death tax.
  • Nevada has no inheritance taxes and no income tax.
  • New Hampshire doesn’t have a death tax, and there’s no personal income tax, but there is a tax on interest in dividends.
  • New Mexico has no estate or inheritance tax.
  • North Carolina has no death taxes and low property taxes.
  • North Dakota has no estate or inheritance tax, and the highest income tax rate is 2.5%.
  • Ohio has no death taxes but does have high property taxes.
  • Oklahoma has no death tax; low property and income tax rates never reach 5%.
  • South Carolina has no death tax or inheritance tax.
  • South Dakota has no inheritance tax and no state income taxes.
  • Tennessee has no estate, inheritance, or income tax.
  • Texas has no income tax and no inheritance tax.
  • Utah has no death tax but is one of 11 states that taxes Social Security retirement benefits.
  • Virginia has high income tax rates but no inheritance or state estate taxes.
  • West Virginia has no death tax.
  • Wisconsin has no death or state estate taxes. However, property and income tax rates are high.
  • Kiplinger ranks Wyoming as one of the best states for middle-class families because of the state’s overall low tax burden. There’s also no inheritance tax.

Reference: Kiplinger (Oct. 12, 2023) “States That Won’t Tax Your Death”

How Much Water Should I Drink Each Day?

The average human body is more than 60% water. It comprises about two-thirds of your brain and heart, 83% of your lungs, 64% of your skin and even 31% of your bones. It’s involved in almost every process that keeps you alive. So, if you’ve joined the water-drinking craze, you’re doing yourself a big favor.

“Water is essential for your body’s survival,” says Crystal Scott, registered dietitian-nutritionist with Top Nutrition Coaching. “It helps regulate your temperature, transports nutrients, removes waste, lubricates your joints and tissues, and it also plays a crucial role in maintaining the delicate balance of electrolytes and fluids in your body.”

You lose water when you breathe, sweat, urinate and metabolize food and drink into energy, explains Fortune’s recent article, “It’s not 8 glasses a day anymore. Here’s how much water you should drink each day.”

If you don’t replace that fluid, your health can go downhill quickly. Without water, you’ll die in only a few days. There are simply too many systems that depend on it.

“It’s the starter when looking at any form of change or issues with your nutrition or your lifestyle—assess water intake first and foremost,” says Scott. “It helps with fullness cues, it can improve cognitive function, mood, physical performance, and can prevent health problems like constipation, kidney stones, and urinary tract infections. It’s one of the foundational building blocks.”

The common rule of thumb you’ve likely heard is the 8×8 rule: Drink eight 8-ounce cups of water daily. If you’re achieving that, you’re doing well but may benefit from some adjustments. Your intake recommendation may also vary based on life circumstances. For example, if you live in a hot and humid climate, get a lot of physical activity, are pregnant, or are breastfeeding, you may need more water daily than the average adult. Your doctor can help guide you.

The National Academy of Science, Engineering, and Medicine recommends an average daily water intake of about 125 ounces for men and about 91 ounces for women. If you’re not getting exactly that amount every day, you’re probably still close or even over because you also get water from food. While it’s rare, it is possible to drink too much water, a condition known as hyponatremia. It occurs when water in your system overwhelms your kidneys, which can’t keep up with a normal filtration rate.

However, for most of us, the bigger issue is getting enough water. While it’s helpful to keep tabs on actual ounces, your body is the best indicator of whether you’re well-hydrated. Your body will show certain signs when you don’t get enough water.

“Urine color is a really great indicator of hydration status,” says Scott. You’re golden if your toilet water is pale yellow or clear after you pee. Dark yellow or amber-colored urine is a sign your body needs fluids. Headaches, migraines, bad sleep, constipation, dizziness and feeling light-headed or confused can also be signs of dehydration.

Reference: Fortune (May 6, 2023) “It’s not 8 glasses a day anymore. Here’s how much water you should drink each day”

What Should I Know About Parkinson’s Disease?

Parkinson’s disease is a progressive disease of the brain and nervous system that impacts an individual’s ability to move. However, those with the disease can have a range of symptoms, some unrelated to movement. Not everyone with Parkinson’s will have the same symptoms or experience them to the same degree.

VeryWell Health’s recent article, “Researchers Find 2 New Early Signs of Parkinson’s,” notes that common Parkinson’s symptoms include the following:

  • Motor symptoms
  • Muscle stiffness
  • Slowness of movement
  • Tremors
  • Non-Motor Symptoms
  • Constipation
  • Low blood pressure
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Frequent urination, incontinence, or difficulty emptying the bladder
  • Mood or Cognition Problems
  • Apathy
  • Memory problems
  • Depression, anxiety, and
  • Psychosis.

Other Symptoms include:

  • Drooling
  • Pain
  • Decreased ability to smell
  • Speech problems
  • Changes in vision
  • Sleep problems
  • Excessive daytime sleepiness; and
  • Fatigue.

The timing of when a person starts having symptoms that could be a sign that Parkinson’s can also impact when they will be diagnosed. The new study found that many common symptoms of Parkinson’s—like tremors and memory problems—may appear many years before the diagnosis.

“Tremor, which is one of the most recognizable symptoms of Parkinson’s, was seen ten years before eventual diagnosis in our study,” Cristina Simonet, MD, a neurologist and a PhD candidate at Queen Mary University of London and the lead author of the study, told Verywell. “This is too long for patients to wait.”

Primary care providers play a critical part in recognizing the symptoms of Parkinson’s sooner. If they do, they can refer a patient to a specialist to diagnose or confirm it. There’s no cure for Parkinson’s. However, an earlier diagnosis is the key for ensuring that patients can access support sooner.

Reference: VeryWell Health (March 30, 2022) “Researchers Find 2 New Early Signs of Parkinson’s”

Why Your Will Is Just One Part of an Estate Plan

When a veterinarian’s third wife left him, he rushed to update his will and estate planning documents to ensure that she wouldn’t get anything when he died. However, the handwritten change he faxed to his life insurance company wasn’t accepted, so his three children from his first marriage spent six years embroiled in a fight with her after he died.

Most people make the mistake of assuming their will is the last word on who receives what when they die, according to a recent article, “Your Will Alone Won’t Guarantee Your Money Goes to Your Heirs,” from The Wall Street Journal. However, certain documents override wills, and chances are you’ve got more than a few: beneficiary forms for retirement accounts, life insurance and some bank and investment accounts. This is the case regardless of whether the accounts were opened through the workplace or on your own.

Failure to update them and your assets could end up in an ex-spouse’s accounts or a court battle. Estate planning attorneys say this is a growing issue as Americans juggle multiple accounts and have more of their net worth in retirement accounts.

You must be sure that all beneficiary forms match your current intent and estate plan. For one employee benefits attorney, the hardest part of the job is writing denial letters to children and parents, advising them they are not entitled to the accounts.

Some laws regarding pensions and spouses need to be explored and clarified. For example, an employee divorces and names an adult child as the new 401(k) beneficiary. The employee then remarries. Under federal law, the new spouse gets the 401(k), no matter what the beneficiary form or will says. The rules vary for beneficiary forms for different accounts, so each needs to be examined.

With 401(k)s, married spouses are automatically entitled to the money unless they formally waive it, and the waiver must be notarized. If no beneficiary and spouse are listed, the employer plan documents determine who is next in line.

With IRAs, in most states, you can name someone other than your spouse as a beneficiary without needing a waiver. You will need a waiver if you live in a community property state, like California or Texas. If no beneficiary is listed, the terms of the IRA agreement determine who inherits the IRA.

With insurance payouts, the employer plan documents control the payout, if the policy is a workplace plan obtained through your employer. If you purchased the policy independently, the insurance company’s rules govern. Litigation typically ends up in state court.

Want to protect your heirs?

Take beneficiary forms seriously, and don’t just sign and forget them. Be sure to include the beneficiaries’ proper name, date of birth and Social Security number.

Keep the documents updated according to the institution’s guidelines anytime there is a major life event, like getting married, divorced, or having children. Some states have laws automatically revoking designation upon divorce, but many do not.

For banks and investment accounts, people sometimes add a “payable on death” designation by filling out a special beneficiary form and then forget about it. If one child is named and not the other, this can lead to hurt feelings and fractured relationships.

These accounts and insurance policies must be aligned with your overall estate plan, or they may not work as you want.

Keep copies of beneficiary forms with your estate planning documents. You may want to send duplicate beneficiary forms to the bank, brokerage house, or insurance company and ask for one back with a stamp indicating it was received. You can sometimes check your account profile online to see if the change you requested has been made.

Reference: The Wall Street Journal (Sep. 30, 2023) “Your Will Alone Won’t Guarantee Your Money Goes to Your Heirs”

How Can I Recession-Proof My Retirement?

Go Banking Rates’ recent article, “3 Ways to Recession Proof Your Retirement,” says there are a few moves you can make now while things are volatile and can pay off significantly down the road. Here are some of them:

Have A Financial Pro Look Over Your Plan. It’s wise to review your long-term financial plan with an expert regularly. You may be shocked by how much you can benefit from just one meeting. Even if you’ve already created a plan with the help of a professional, you may find that your plan needs adjusting, especially in an environment where economic factors are changing.

Protect Your Portfolio With Precious Metals. Precious metals frequently outperform other investments in a volatile market, and their value tends to rise with inflation. That makes them an effective hedge during uncertain economic times. You can open a gold or silver IRA, and funds can be rolled over from existing retirement accounts. You can also buy gold and silver directly.

Generate Passive Income and Receive Regular Payments. One of the most common ways to generate passive income is to own rental property, which usually requires a large upfront investment. One way to address this is with a company called Arrived. This company gives people access to the rental home market. For an initial investment of as little as $100, you can participate in their platform and buy shares of pre-vetted rental properties. All the work is done for you, and you’ll benefit from property appreciation as the value of the home appreciates over time.

You’ve likely been saving for retirement for a long time. Now is not the time to change that big-picture thinking. Keep up the safe and steady progress while also exploring ways to make the most of your savings.

Some of the best strategies along these lines are hedging your investments with something like gold or silver and building your passive income without taking on too much risk.

Whether or not you participate in those strategies, an experienced financial advisor can assess your circumstances and set the best path forward.

Reference:  Go Banking Rates (Aug. 1, 2023) “3 Ways to Recession Proof Your Retirement”

What Is Elder Law?

The U.S. population is aging, and baby boomers, the largest generation in history, have entered retirement age in recent years. Yahoo Finance’s recent article, “Elder Law Is More Important Than Ever. Why? Baby Boomers,” says that medical care has extended life and physical ability and grown more sophisticated.

“Questions surrounding mental competence, duration of care, and nature of treatments have become increasingly difficult to answer. The result has been a medical system that often implicates legal questions of individual autonomy, with some of the highest stakes that the courts recognize,” the article explains.

Estate Planning. Trusts and estates is the area of the law that governs how to manage your assets after death. You create trusts to hold, oversee and distribute assets according to your instructions. While they can be created when you’re alive, most establish trusts for handling their property after they’ve passed away.

Disability and Conservatorship. As you get older, your body or mind may fail. This is known as incapacitation. It is generally defined legally as when someone is either physically unable to express their wishes (such as being unconscious) or mentally unable to understand the nature and quality of their actions. If this occurs, you need someone to assist with activities of daily living. Declaring an individual mentally unfit or incapacitated is a complicated legal and medical issue.

Power of Attorney. Most seniors use power of attorney to plan for two main situations: (i) a medical power of attorney for family members to assume your care in the event you’re physically incapacitated for some reason, and (ii) a general power of attorney allows you plan for someone to manage your affairs, if you’re judged mentally incapacitated.

Medicare. Every American over 65 will most likely deal with Medicare, which provides no-cost or low-cost healthcare for those 65+. Almost all seniors enroll to receive at least some medical benefits under this program. Health care becomes an increasingly important part of your financial and personal life as you age. It’s important for the elderly to know their rights and responsibilities regarding healthcare.

Social Security. This is the retirement benefits program to help ensure that U.S. seniors have money on which to live. For senior citizens, understanding how these programs work is often essential. This is particularly true given the increased footprint that medical care plays in the lives of senior citizens and the complexities brought on by increasingly mobile seniors.

Reference: Yahoo Finance (Sep. 13, 2023) “Elder Law Is More Important Than Ever. Why? Baby Boomers”