Estate Planning Blog Articles

Estate & Business Planning Law Firm Serving the Providence & Cranston, RI Areas

Can I Add Real Estate Investments in My Will?

Motley Fool’s recent article entitled “How to Include Real Estate Investments in Your Will” details some options that might make sense for you and your intended beneficiaries.

A living trust. A revocable living trust allows you to transfer any deeds into the trust’s name. While you’re still living, you’d be the trustee and be able to change the trust in whatever way you wanted. Trusts are a little more costly and time consuming to set up than wills, so you’ll need to hire an experienced estate planning attorney to help. Once it’s done, the trust will let your trustee transfer any trust assets quickly and easily, while avoiding the probate process.

A beneficiary deed. This is also known as a “transfer-on-death deed.” It’s a process that involves getting a second deed to each property that you own. The beneficiary deed won’t impact your ownership of the property while you’re alive, but it will let you to make a specific beneficiary designation for each property in your portfolio. After your death, the individual executing your estate plan will be able to transfer ownership of each asset to its designated beneficiary. However, not all states allow for this method of transferring ownership. Talk to an experienced estate planning attorney about the laws in your state.

Co-ownership. You can also pass along real estate assets without probate, if you co-own the property with your designated beneficiary. You’d change the title for the property to list your beneficiary as a joint tenant with right of survivorship. The property will then automatically by law pass directly to your beneficiary when you die. Note that any intended beneficiaries will have an ownership interest in the property from the day you put them on the deed. This means that you’ll have to consult with them, if you want to sell the property.

Wills and estate plans can feel like a ghoulish topic that requires considerable effort. However, it is worth doing the work now to avoid having your estate go through the probate process once you die. The probate process can be expensive and lengthy. It’s even more so, when real estate is involved.

Reference: Motley Fool (June 22, 2020) “How to Include Real Estate Investments in Your Will”

That Last Step: Trust Funding

Neglecting to fund trusts is a surprisingly common mistake, and one that can undo the best estate and tax plans. Many people put it on the back burner, then forget about it, says the article “Don’t Overlook Your Trust Funding” from Forbes.

Done properly, trust funding helps avoid probate, provides for you and your family in the event of incapacity and helps save on estate taxes.

Creating a revocable trust gives you control. With a revocable trust, you can make changes to the trust while you are living, including funding. Think of a trust like an empty box—you can put assets in it now, or after you pass. If you transfer assets to the trust now, however, your executor won’t have to do it when you die.

Note that if you don’t put assets in the trust while you are living, those assets will go through the probate process. While the executor will have the authority to transfer assets, they’ll have to get court approval. That takes time and costs money. It is best to do it while you are living.

A trust helps if you become incapacitated. You may be managing the trust while you are living, but what happens if you die or become too sick to manage your own affairs? If the trust is funded and a successor trustee has been named, the successor trustee will be able to manage your assets and take care of you and your family. If the successor trustee has control of an empty, unfunded trust, a conservatorship may need to be appointed by the court to oversee assets.

There’s a tax benefit to trusts. For married people, trusts are often created that contain provisions for estate tax savings that defer estate taxes until the death of the second spouse. Income is provided to the surviving spouse and access to the principal during their lifetime. The children are usually the ultimate beneficiaries. However, the trust won’t work if it’s empty.

Depending on where you live, a trust may benefit you with regard to state estate taxes. Putting money in the trust takes it out of your taxable estate. You’ll need to work with an estate planning attorney to ensure that the assets are properly structured. For instance, if your assets are owned jointly with your spouse, they will not pass into a trust at your death and won’t be outside of your taxable estate.

Move the right assets to the right trust. It’s very important that any assets you transfer to the trust are aligned with your estate plan. Taxable brokerage accounts, bank accounts and real estate are usually transferred into a trust. Some tangible assets may be transferred into the trust, as well as any stocks from a family business or interests in a limited liability company. Your estate planning attorney, financial advisor and insurance broker should be consulted to avoid making expensive mistakes.

You’ve worked hard to accumulate assets and protecting them with a trust is a good idea. Just don’t forget the final step of funding the trust.

Reference: Forbes (July 13, 2020) “Don’t Overlook Your Trust Funding”

Will James Brown’s Estate Finally Be Settled after 15 Years?

The South Carolina Supreme Court in June finally began sorting out the litigation that has been part of Brown’s estate since his death. The court held that Brown was never legally married to his fourth wife, Tomi Rae Hynie, because she had not annulled a previous marriage.

Wealth Advisor’s recent article entitled “Might The Battle Over James Brown’s Estate Finally Be Coming To A Close After Nearly 15 Years” explains that the court’s decision weakens her claim to the estate. The estate has been valued to be worth between $5 million and $100 million. It’s the first real move forward in years. According to The New York Times, “the Supreme Court instructed the lower court to “promptly proceed with the probate of Brown’s estate in accordance with his estate plan,” which called for the creation of a charitable trust to help educate poor children.”

South Carolina law stipulates that Hynie, as Brown’s widow, would have had the right to a third of his estate’s value, no matter what his will instructed.

Hynie was married in 2001 to Javed Ahmed, a Pakistani man who already had three wives in his native country. Her lawyers argued that since Ahmed was a bigamist, their marriage was void. South Carolina’s lower courts agreed, holding that her marriage to Brown was valid.

However, the South Carolina Supreme Court disagreed. “All marriages contracted while a party has a living spouse are invalid, unless the party’s first marriage has been ‘declared void’ by an order of a competent court,” the Court explained.

Hynie’s counsel will be filing “a petition to reconsider and rehear the decision.”

Hynie is entitled as spouse to a share of Brown’s valuable music copyrights under federal law. She has already settled part of her dispute with the estate, agreeing to give 65% of any proceeds from her so-called termination rights—copyrights that, though once sold, can return to the songwriter or his heirs after several decades—to charity.

Brown’s will had bequeathed $2 million for scholarships for his grandchildren. The will said that his costumes and other household effects were to go to six of his children, and the remainder of the estate was to go to the charitable trust for the poor, called the “I Feel Good Trust.”

The South Carolina Supreme Court ruling is significant, because Brown’s 2000 will said, “Any heirs who challenged it would be disinherited. However, several of his children and grandchildren sued after his death,” notes The New York Times.

Reference: Wealth Advisor (July 20, 2020) “Might The Battle Over James Brown’s Estate Finally Be Coming To A Close After Nearly 15 Years”

What Happens When a Will Is Challenged?

What happens when estate planning doesn’t go according to plan? A last will and testament is a legally binding contract that determines who will get a person’s assets. However, according to the article “Can you prevent someone from challenging your will?” in the Augusta Free Press, it is possible for someone to bring a legal challenge.

Most will contests are centered around five key reasons:

  • The deceased had a more recent will.
  • The will was not signed voluntarily.
  • The deceased was incapacitated, when she signed the will.
  • The will was not signed in front of the right number of witnesses.
  • The will was signed under some kind of duress or mental impairment.

What is the best way to lessen the chances of someone challenging your will? Take certain steps when the will is created, including:

Be sure your will is created by an estate planning attorney. Just writing your wishes on a piece of paper and signing and dating the paper is not the way to go. Certain qualifications must be met, which they vary by state. In some states, one witness is enough for a will to be properly executed. In others, there must be two and they can’t be beneficiaries.

The will must state the names of the intended beneficiaries. If you want someone specific to be excluded, you’ll have to state their name and that you want them to be excluded. A will should also name a guardian, if your children are minors.  It should also contain the name of an alternate executor, in case the primary executor predeceases you or cannot serve.

What about video wills? First, make a proper paper will. If you feel the need to be creative, make a video. In many states, a video will is not considered to be valid. A video can also become confusing, especially if what you say in the paper will is not exactly the same as what’s in the video. Discrepancies can lead to will contests.

Don’t count on those free templates. Downloading a form from a website seems like a simple solution, but some of the templates online are not up to date. They also might not reflect the laws in your state. If you own property, or your estate is complex, a downloaded form could create confusion and lead to family battles.

Tell your executor where your will is kept. If no one can find your will, people you may have wanted to exclude from your estate will have a better chance of succeeding in a will challenge. You should also tell your executor about any trusts, insurance policies and any assets that are not listed in the will.

Don’t expect that everything will go as you planned. Prepare for things to go sideways, to protect your loved ones. It is costly, time-consuming and stressful to bring an estate challenge, but the same is true on the receiving end. If you want your beneficiaries to receive the assets you intend for them, a good estate planning attorney is the right way to go.

Reference: Augusta Free Press (July 12, 2020) “Can you prevent someone from challenging your will?”

How Can I Combat the Social Isolation of Coronavirus?

Local and state governments are asking that we socially distance ourselves to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

The CDC recommends that anyone who’s age 60 and older avoid crowds, and that those in a community with an outbreak remain at home as much as possible.

AARP’s recent article entitled “How to Fight the Social Isolation of Coronavirus” gives us some ideas to keep in mind to decrease the threat of social isolation and loneliness as the pandemic continues:

  1. Social isolation and loneliness are significant health issues. These related conditions impact a great number of adults in the U.S. It is thought of as being the equivalent of smoking 15 cigarettes a day! According to research from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, 43% of adults over 60 in the U.S. reported feeling lonely.
  2. Prepare and stay in contact. It’s crucial that we talk to family and friends to develop a plan to safely stay in regular touch, as we socially distance ourselves—or if required to self-quarantine for a possible exposure or are in isolation for a COVID-19 infection. This should confirm whom you can contact, if you need help getting food, medicine and other supplies.
  3. Find helpful organizations. Create a list of charitable and other local organizations that you or the people in your plan can contact, if access is needed to information, health care services, support and resources.
  4. Don’t forget about pets. Pets are a great source of love and companionship, and they can help combat loneliness. In fact, some pets have been linked with owners’ longevity. Just as you need to be sure you have enough supplies for you and family, be stocked with food and other supplies for your furry friends.
  5. Keep in mind those who are at the greatest risk for social isolation and loneliness. People with the highest risk of serious illness from COVID-19 and who should be the most aware of social distancing, will also be the most at risk of increased social isolation and loneliness. While planning is important, know that many individuals will likely experience increased social isolation and loneliness.

Reaching out to friends, family, and neighbors can help protect all of us from COVID-19, as well as social isolation and loneliness.

Reference: AARP (March 16, 2020) “How to Fight the Social Isolation of Coronavirus”

Can I Get Paid to Be a Caregiver for a Family Member Who’s a Vet?

AARP’s recent article entitled “Can I Get Paid to Be a Caregiver for a Family Member?” says that you may be able to get paid to be a family caregiver, if you’re caring for a veteran. Veterans have four plans for which they may qualify.

Veteran Directed Care. Similar to Medicaid’s self-directed care program, this plan lets qualified former service members manage their own long-term services and supports. Veteran Directed Care is available in 37 states, DC, and Puerto Rico for veterans of all ages, who are enrolled in the Veterans Health Administration health care system and require the level of care a nursing facility provides but want to live at home or the home of a loved one. A flexible budget (about $2,200 a month) lets vets choose the goods and services they find most useful, including a caregiver to assist with activities of daily living. The vet chooses the caregiver and may select any physically and mentally capable family member, including a child, grandchild, sibling, or spouse.

Aid and Attendance (A&A) Benefits. This program supplements a military pension to help with the expense of a caregiver, and this can be a family member. A&A benefits are available to veterans who qualify for VA pensions and meet at least one of the following criteria. The veteran:

  • Requires help from another to perform everyday personal functions, such as bathing, dressing, and eating
  • Is confined to bed because of disability
  • Is in a nursing home because of physical or mental incapacity; or
  • Has very limited eyesight, less than 5/200 acuity in both eyes, even with corrective lenses or a significantly contracted visual field.

Surviving spouses of qualifying veterans may also be eligible for this benefit.

Housebound Benefits. Veterans who get a military pension and are substantially confined to their immediate premises because of permanent disability are able to apply for a monthly pension supplement. It’s the same application process as for A&A benefits, but you can’t get both housebound and A&A benefits simultaneously.

Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers. This program gives a monthly stipend to family members, who serve as caregivers for vets who require help with everyday activities because of a traumatic injury sustained in the line of duty on or after Sept. 11, 2001. The vet must be enrolled in VA health services and require either personal care related to everyday activities or supervision or protection, because of conditions sustained after 9/11. The caretaker must be an adult child, parent, spouse, stepfamily member, extended family member or full-time housemate of the veteran.

Reference: AARP (May 15, 2020) “Can I Get Paid to Be a Caregiver for a Family Member?”

Can I Disinherit Anyone I Want?

If there’s someone you believe is more deserving or needs more of your help, that may mean someone else in your life may receive little or nothing from you when you die. However, be careful—disinheriting an heir is not as simple as leaving them out of your will, explains the article “How to Disinherit an Heir” from smart asset.

Disinheriting an heir means you’ve prevented them from receiving a portion of your estate, when you die. A local estate planning lawyer will know what your state requires, and every state’s laws are different.

One way is by leaving the person out completely. However, this could also leave your will up for interpretation, as there may be questions raised about your intent. A challenge could be raised that you didn’t mean to leave them out—and that could create stress, expenses and family fights.

You may also disinherit a person, by stating in your will that you do not wish to leave anything to this specific person. You might even provide information about why you are doing this, so your intent is clear. There could still be challenges, even with your providing reasons for cutting the person out of your will.

Disinheriting someone can be a tricky thing to do. It requires professional help. Working with an experienced estate planning attorney who has experience in will contests, may be your best choice for an estate planning attorney.

There are instances where relatives known and unknown to you are entitled to make a claim on your estate. An experienced estate planning attorney may suggest a search for relatives to ensure that no surprises come out of the woodwork, after your passing.

There are some relatives who cannot be disinherited, even in a legally binding last will and testament. In many states, you may not disinherit your spouse or children. Most states protect spouses from being disinherited, and in some states, children are legally entitled to a certain amount of your property. However, in most states, you may disinherit parents, if they outlive you.

There are many reasons you may want to disinherit someone. You may have been estranged from a child or a cousin for many years, or you may believe they have enough financial resources and want someone else to receive an inheritance from you.

Many high-profile individuals have declared that their children will not receive an inheritance, preferring to give their assets to charitable foundations or organizations working for causes they support.

Whatever your reasons for disinheriting someone, make sure you go about it with professional help to ensure that your wishes are followed after you die.

Reference: smart asset (June 1, 2020) “How to Disinherit an Heir”

Cat Is Fighting for Her Inheritance?

A year later, and the estate of Chanel creative director Karl Lagerfeld is not yet finalized. However, some details have emerged that, while Lagerfeld’s cat Choupette is an heir, she isn’t the only one who will inherit a share of Lagerfeld’s grand fortune.

The seven beneficiaries are trying to access Lagerfeld’s assets that include real estate in Paris and Monaco, a bookstore and designer furniture.

Choupette is a blue-cream tortie Birman cat who was owned by German fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld from around December 2011 until Lagerfeld’s death in February 2019 at the age of 85.

The designer’s feline has her own agent and, according to The New York Times, at the height of her fame she had two minders, a bodyguard, a concierge veterinarian and a personal chef.

Wealth Advisor’s article entitled “Karl Lagerfeld’s cat is locked in inheritance battle” says that Lagerfeld’s “trusted” accountant for many decades, 87-year-old Lucien Frydlender has been named to manage the creative director’s finances. In addition, Frydlender is responsible for distributing the estate, according to Lagerfeld’s will.

However, an investigation by French publication Le Parisienfeatured in Voici magazine found that Frydlender hasn’t been taking calls from the beneficiaries. The magazine also says that “after closing his office in September 2019, the former collaborator of Karl Lagerfeld has simply disappeared from the radar,” raising questions for those involved.

Frydlender’s wife has defended her husband and assured the public that there’s nothing suspicious going on. She says he’s not “on an island paradise with a hidden treasure.” Instead, she tells reporters that he’s “very sick”.

When Choupette the cat will get her inheritance and what that will look like is unknown. It’s been more that a year since the death of her owner, Lagerfeld. Choupette fans have been concerned for the pet, but the cat isn’t scrounging in garbage cans: she made over $4 million in 2015.

“People came by the store and said how sad they were, and half of it was about Choupette,” Caroline Lebar, head of communications for the Karl Lagerfeld brand, admits. “They’d say, ‘If she’s alone, I’ll take her home.'”

However, Lebar promises Choupette is in safe hands, living in Paris with Lagerfeld’s former housekeeper Françoise Caçote. “She is in good shape, and is surrounded by love.”

Reference: Wealth Advisor (June 9, 2020) “Karl Lagerfeld’s cat is locked in inheritance battle”

What Happens If Power of Attorney Documents are Rejected?

It is frustrating when a bank or other financial institution declines a Power of Attorney. It might be that the form is too old, the bank wants their own form to be used, or there seems to be a question about the validity of the form. A recent article titled “What to know if your bank refuses your power of attorney” from The Mercury discusses the best way to prevent this situation, and if it occurs, how to fix it.

The most important thing to know is just downloading a form from the internet and hoping it works is always a bad idea. There are detailed rules and requirements about notices and acknowledgments and other requirements. Specific language is required. It is different from state to state. It’s not a big deal if the person who is giving the power of attorney is alive, well and mentally competent to get another POA created, but if they are physically or legally unable to sign a document, this becomes a problem.

There have been many laws and court cases that defined the specific language that must be used, how the document must be witnessed before it can be executed, etc. In one case in Pennsylvania, a state employee was given a power of attorney to sign by her husband. She was incapacitated at the time after a car accident and a stroke. He used the POA to change her retirement options and then filed for divorce.

At issue was whether she could present evidence that the POA was void when she signed it, invalidating her estranged husband’s option and his filing for her benefits.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court found that a third party (the bank) could not rely on a void power of attorney submitted by an agent, even when the institution did not know that it was void at the time it was accepted. For banks, this was a clear sign that any POAs had to be vetted very carefully to avoid liability. There was a subsequent fix to the law that provided immunity to a bank or anyone who accepts a POA in good faith and without actual knowledge that it may be invalid. However, it includes the ability for a bank or other institution or person to request an agent’s certification or get an affidavit to ensure that the agent is acting with proper authority.

It may be better to have both a POA from a person and one that uses the bank or financial institution’s own form. It’s not required by law, but the person from the bank may be far more comfortable accepting both forms, because they know one has been through their legal department and won’t create a problem for the bank or for them as an employee.

There are occasions when it is necessary to fight the bank or financial institution’s decision. This is especially the case, if the person is incapacitated and your POA is valid.

If there is any doubt about whether the POA would be accepted by the bank, now is the time to check and review the language and formatting with your estate planning or elder law attorney to be sure that the form is valid and will be acceptable.

Reference: The Mercury (July 7, 2020) “What to know if your bank refuses your power of attorney”

Did ‘The Gambler’ Have Estate Planning?

An article from Wealth Advisor entitled “What Kenny Rogers Leaves Behind After Four Divorces And Restaurant Armageddon,” says that he was a hit machine, racking up an estimated $250 million through extensive touring, TV appearances, and constant radio play.

Rogers was a singer, songwriter, actor, record producer and entrepreneur.

He was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2013 and charted more than 120 hit singles.  He topped the country and pop album charts for more than 200 individual weeks in the U.S. alone. He sold more than 100 million records worldwide during his lifetime, making him one of the best-selling music artists of all time.

However, Rogers may not have left a lot of that money behind. He built a 425-restaurant chain in the 1990s that should have been his retirement plan. However, those restaurants closed everywhere, except in Asia. He had no licensing fees for use of the name, so there’s no revenue for his heirs.

The issue is whether Rogers accumulated sufficient wealth in life to support the lifestyles of his family. He left a wife (his fifth) and five adult kids behind. Kenny paid out $60 million to settle his fourth divorce in 1993, which was half his fortune.

While it was a while after his commercial peak, he started working on a smaller scale and married again, raising his two youngest kids. Kenny continued to tour and record, but his health became an issue. He decided the 2017 tour would be his last— and he was forced to cancel that one as well.

Kenny most likely only had whatever cash he set aside in conventional investment accounts, working real estate and other retirement assets. It’s unclear how much that was, but it’s probably enough to keep his widow comfortable for the rest of her life. That’s another challenge with late marriages. Roger died at 81, and wife No. 5 is just 57.

So, in theory, she needs those assets to last another 40 years to maintain her lifestyle.

Reference: Wealth Advisor (March 23, 2020) “What Kenny Rogers Leaves Behind After Four Divorces And Restaurant Armageddon”