Estate Planning Blog Articles

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

What Is Needed in Estate Plan Besides a Will?

Having a will is especially important if you have young children, says FedWeek’s recent article entitled “Estate Planning Doesn’t Stop with Making a Will.”  In your will, you can nominate guardians, who would raise your children in the event neither you nor your spouse is able to do so.

When designating a guardian, try to be practical.

Remember, your closest relatives—like your brother and his wife—may not necessarily be the best choice.

And keep in mind that you’re acting in the best interests of your children.

Be sure to obtain the consent of your guardians before nominating them in your will.

Also make sure there’s sufficient life insurance in place, so the guardians can comfortably afford to raise your children.

Your estate planning isn’t complete at this point. Here are some of the other components to consider:

  • Placing assets in trust will help your heirs avoid the hassle and expense of probate.
  • Power of Attorney. This lets a person you name act on your behalf. A “durable” power will remain in effect, even if you become incompetent.
  • Life insurance, retirement accounts and payable-on-death bank accounts will pass to the people you designate on beneficiary forms and won’t pass through probate.
  • Health care proxy. This authorizes a designated agent to make medical decisions for you, if you can’t make them yourself.
  • Living will. This document says whether you want life-sustaining efforts at life’s end.

Be sure to review all of these documents every few years to make certain they’re up to date and reflect your current wishes.

Reference: FedWeek (Dec. 28, 2022) “Estate Planning Doesn’t Stop with Making a Will”

Does My Estate Plan Need an ‘ePlan’?

Modern estate plans should include what’s known as an “ePlan” to manage online accounts and online data. There are four specific steps to creating an effective ePlan, says American Legion’s recent article entitled “Estate planning and online accounts.”

  1. Create a List of Accounts and How to Access Them. Your list should specify the username, password account number and a description of what’s included in each account. Make sure to keep this list up to date.
  2. Store and Protect Your Info. Develop a plan for storing information, including saving the list you compiled and backing up important data files and account information. Since an ePlan account list contains sensitive information, such as usernames and passwords, it’s important to maintain the security and confidentiality of this list.
  3. Designate a Digital Executor. The laws of many states give access to online accounts to the executor of an estate. However, in some cases, state law may restrict access, if the executor doesn’t have the password or an estate plan does not clearly grant powers to the executor to access these accounts.
  4. Give Your Executor “Digital Directions.” Draft a letter of instruction to the digital executor and tell him or her how to manage your online accounts and digital assets. It may also include suggestions on the distribution of accounts, assets, files and information to family.

Note that Google, Facebook, Twitter, Apple and other companies have policies for when an account holder dies. These policies may permit an account holder to designate a “Legacy Contact” to manage the account; require specific documentation before a deceased person’s account can be closed, such as a copy of a death certificate; or automatically close an account after an extended period of inactivity, such as three months.

Digital estate planning is a new and dynamic field. By adding an ePlan to your estate plan, you can be certain your executor will take the right steps to preserve and protect these accounts and that valuable and sentimental data can be passed on to family and loved ones.

Reference: American Legion (Dec. 13, 2022) “Estate planning and online accounts”

The Basics of Estate Planning

No matter how BIG or small your net worth is, estate planning is a process that ensures your assets are handed down the way you want after you die.

Forbes’ recent article entitled “Estate Planning Basics” explains that everybody has an estate.

An estate is nothing more or less than the sum total of your assets and possessions of value. This includes:

  • Your car
  • Your home
  • Financial accounts
  • Investments; and
  • Personal property.

Estate planning is the process of deciding which people or organizations are to get your possessions or assets after you’ve died.

It’s also how you leave directions for managing your care and assets if you are incapacitated and unable to make financial or medical decisions. That is done with powers of attorney, a healthcare directive and a living will.

Your estate plan details who gets your assets. It also designates who can make critical healthcare and financial decisions on your behalf should you become incapacitated. If you have minor children, your estate plan also lets you designate their legal guardians, in case you die before they reach 18. It also allows you to name adults to safeguard their financial interests.

Your estate plan directs assets to specific entities or people in a legally binding manner. If you want your daughter to have your coin collection or your favorite animal rescue organization to get $500, it’s all mapped out in your estate plan.

You can also create a trust to safeguard a minor child’s assets until they reach a certain age. You can also keep assets out of probate. That way, your beneficiaries can easily access things like your home or bank accounts.

All estate plans should include documents that cover three main areas: asset transfer, medical needs and financial decisions. Ask an experienced estate planning attorney to help you create your estate plan.

Reference: Forbes (Nov. 16, 2022) “Estate Planning Basics”

Should I Look at I-Bonds for My Estate Plan?

Kiplinger’s recent article entitled “What Are I-Bonds?” compiled answers to some frequently asked questions about series I bonds.

How is the interest rate determined? The composite rate has two parts: (i) a fixed rate that stays the same for the life of the bond; and (ii) an inflation rate based on the consumer price index (CPI). Each May and November, the U.S. Treasury Department announces a new fixed rate and inflation rate that apply to bonds issued during the following six months. The inflation rate changes every six months from the bond’s issue date.

How does interest accrue? They earn interest monthly from the first day of the month of the issue date, and interest is compounded semi-annually. Interest is added to the bond’s principal value. Note that you can’t redeem an I-Bond in the first year, and if you cash it in before five years, you forfeit the most recent three months of interest. If you check your bond’s value at TreasuryDirect.gov, within the first five years of owning it, the amount you’ll see will have the three-month penalty subtracted from it. As a result, when you buy a new bond, interest doesn’t show until the first day of the fourth month following the issue month.

How many I-Bonds can I buy? You can purchase up to $10,000 per calendar year in electronic bonds through TreasuryDirect.gov. You can also buy up to $5,000 each year in paper bonds with your tax refund. For those who are married filing jointly, the limit is $5,000 per couple.

How are I-Bonds taxed? I-Bond interest is free of state and local income tax. You can also defer federal tax until you file a tax return for the year you cash in the bond or it stops earning interest because it has reached final maturity (after 30 years), whichever comes first. You can also report the interest every year, which may be a good choice if you’d rather avoid one large tax bill in the future.

If you use the bonds’ proceeds to pay for certain higher-education expenses for your spouse, your dependents, or yourself, you may avoid federal tax. However, you must meet several requirements to be eligible. Among them, the bond owner must have been at least 24 years old by the issue date and have income that falls below specified limits.

Reference: Kiplinger (Oct. 11, 2022) “What Are I-Bonds?”

Why Is a Will So Important?

A 2020 Gallup poll found that less than half of Americans have a will or have made plans regarding how they would like their money and estate handled in the case of their death. The poll also showed that Americans ages 65 and up are the most likely to have a will.

Yahoo News’ recent article entitled “How To Write A Will: The Importance Of A Will And Living Will” says that no matter your age, it’s important to have a will to be in control of what happens with your own assets. A will is a legal document that establishes a person’s wishes regarding the distribution of their assets — money, real estate, etc. — and the care of any minor children.

Without a will, state law may control who gets your “probate” assets and when. Having a will can save an enormous amount of time and money in estate administration and the process of having a guardian appointed for your minor children, if needed.

There’s a big difference between a will and a living will. A living will is a document that lets you state in advance how you want to be treated under certain medical situations, if you’re unable to make those decisions for yourself at a later time.

These differ by state law. However, they generally cover end-of-life decision-making and treatment options. General medical decisions unrelated to end of life care are typically covered in a health care power of attorney. Some states combine these two documents into one directive.

Unlike a living will, which specifically provides instructions for medical care during your lifetime, a will lets you to decide in advance who you want to receive your assets upon your death, and who you want to be in charge of handling the administration of your estate. If you have minor children, a will also allows you to nominate a guardian for them.

When creating a will, think about the “what,” the “who” and the “how.” To do so, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What assets do you have?
  • To whom do you want to leave them?
  • Who do you want to be in charge of making sure that happens?
  • Who do you want to be responsible for your minor children?
  • How do you want the assets transferred?

Reference: Yahoo News (Aug. 17, 2022) “How To Write A Will: The Importance Of A Will And Living Will”

Who Inherited from the Estate of ‘the Man in Black’?

Johnny Cash spent a few years in the Air Force, where he and his friends created their first band.  He then met his first wife, Vivian, and they married in 1954. Their first daughter, Rosanne, was born in 1955, followed by Kathleen, Cindy, and Tara. Johnny and Vivian divorced in 1966.

MSN’s recent article entitled “Here’s Who Inherited Johnny Cash’s Wealth After He Died” reports that June Carter Cash helped Johnny Cash turn his life around, after he became addicted to drugs and alcohol. They married in 1968 and welcomed their son John Carter Cash a few years later. June also had two kids, Rosie and Carlene, from her first marriage.

After a long and prolific music career, Cash left behind plenty of cash for his son, but little for his daughters according to his will. He’d amassed a $60 million to $100 million fortune. The Nashville Ledger reported that just before his death, he finalized his estate details. Since then, the money continued to grow, reaching as much as $300 million.

The family fight has to do with one song in particular, Ring of Fire. June Carter Cash, Johnny Cash and Merle Kilgore wrote the song together which was released in 1963, five years before June and Johnny got married. Decades later, it’s caused a heated debate among the Cash children. Since June and Johnny only had one biological child together, John Carter Cash, it meant that all their other children were excluded from getting royalties from the song. The four kids that Cash had with his first wife — Rosanne, Cindy, Tara, and Kathleen — didn’t get any of the royalties from the song.

Johnny gave each of his four daughters $1 million in his will. However, that’s nothing compared to the steady stream of royalties generated by the hit country song. Moreover, after Cash died, fans began playing the song again, raking in millions more in royalties.

There are conflicting stories about the origins of Ring of Fire. According to the Irish Examiner, Johnny told Vivian that he gave June “half credit” on the tune—but only because he felt bad that June was low on funds. The New York Daily News reported that Cash and Merle Kilgore wrote the song while on a fishing trip. However, since Johnny was going through his divorce with Vivian at the time, he added June as a writer so the tune wouldn’t be tied entirely to him. Regardless of the actual origins of the song, Johnny, Merle Kilgore and June are the officially credited writers of the song.

However, Johnny’s daughters eventually sued their brother, John Carter Cash. They also wanted to earn royalties from the song. However, they lost their case in 2007. As a consequence, John Carter Cash is the publishing rights owner for at least some of his dad’s extensive musical legacy.

Reference: MSN (July 19, 2022) “Here’s Who Inherited Johnny Cash’s Wealth After He Died”

When Should I Hire an Estate Planning Attorney?

Kiplinger’s recent article entitled “Should I Hire an Estate Planning Attorney Now That I Am a Widow?” describes some situations where an experienced estate planning attorney is really required:

Estates with many types of complicated assets. Hiring an experienced estate planning attorney is a must for more complicated estates. These are estates with multiple investments, numerous assets, cryptocurrency, hedge funds, private equity, or a business. Some estates also include significant real estate, including vacation homes, commercial properties and timeshares. Managing, appraising and selling a business, real estate and complex investments are all jobs that require some expertise and experience. In addition, valuing private equity investments and certain hedge funds is also not straightforward and can require the services of an expert.

The estate might owe federal or state estate tax. In some estates, there are time-sensitive decisions that require somewhat immediate attention. Even if all assets were held jointly and court involvement is unnecessary, hiring a knowledgeable trust and estate lawyer may have real tax benefits. There are many planning strategies from which testators and their heirs can benefit. For example, the will or an estate tax return may need to be filed to transfer the deceased spouse’s unused Federal Estate Unified Tax Credit to the surviving spouse. The decision whether to transfer to an unused unified tax credit to the surviving spouse is not obvious and requires guidance from an experienced estate planning attorney.

Many states also impose their own estate taxes, and many of these states impose taxes on an estate valued at $1 million or more. Therefore, when you add the value of a home, investments and life insurance proceeds, many Americans will find themselves on the wrong side of the state exemption and owe estate taxes.

The family is fighting. Family disputes often emerge after the death of a parent. It’s stressful, and emotions run high. No one is really operating at their best. If unhappy family members want to contest the will or are threatening a lawsuit, you’ll also need guidance from an experienced estate planning attorney. These fights can result in time-intensive and costly lawsuits. The sooner you get legal advice from a probate attorney, the better chance you have of avoiding this.

Complicated beneficiary plans. Some wills have tricky beneficiary designations that leave assets to one child but nothing to another. Others could include charitable bequests or leave assets to many beneficiaries.

Talk to an experienced attorney, whose primary focus is estate and trust law.

Reference: Kiplinger (July 5, 2022) “Should I Hire an Estate Planning Attorney Now That I Am a Widow?”

Did Former NFL Tackle and Fox Sports Commentator Tony Siragusa have an Estate Plan?

In June 2022, former NFL tackle and Fox Sports commentator Tony “The Goose” Siragusa died at the age of 55. The death of the popular athlete was confirmed to TMZ Sports by Siragusa’s former teammate Jamal Lewis. Lewis also played on the Baltimore Ravens Super Bowl winning team in 2001.

MSN’s recent article entitled “What Was NFL Legend Tony Siragusa’s Net Worth When He Died?” says that no cause of death was included with the announcement of Siragusa’s passing.

Siragusa was first drafted by Indianapolis and played a dozen years in the NFL before working more than 10 years on the sidelines for Fox Sports.

In a 2012 interview with Howard Stern, he revealed that his father died young from a heart attack at the age of 48, and that heart disease runs in the Siragusa family.

As a success both before and after his playing career, Tony left behind a sizable net worth when he died.

At the time that Siragusa died in 2022 his net worth was $6 million, according to Celebrity Net Worth. He also earned a $500,000 annual salary for his on-camera work with “Fox on Sunday.”

In addition to the money Siragusa made through football both in the game and on the sidelines, he was also an actor. Siragusa had a role in the hit HBO TV series “The Sopranos,” as well as other parts. Siragusa also hosted “Man Caves” on the DIY Network, as well as other TV appearances.

As news of Siragusa’s death spread, Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay tweeted that Siragusa was the strongest player he’d ever seen in Irsay’s’ half-century in football. Siragusa was drafted by Indianapolis in 1990.

“I’m heartbroken as is all of Colts Nation,” Irsay also tweeted.

Siragusa is survived by his wife, Kathy Siragusa, and their three children.

Referring to the death of his former teammate, Jamal Lewis said, “It’s a sad day to be a Raven.”

Reference: MSN (June 22, 2022) “What Was NFL Legend Tony Siragusa’s Net Worth When He Died?”

Addressing Vacation Home in Another State in Estate Planning

Many families have an out-of-state cabin or vacation home that’s passed down by putting the property in a will. While that’s an option, this strategy might not make it as easy as you think for your family to inherit this home in the future.

Florida Today’s recent article entitled “Avoiding probate: What is the best option for my out-of-state vacation home?” explains the reason to look into a more comprehensive plan. While you could just leave an out-of-state vacation home in your will, you might consider protecting your loved ones from the often expensive, overwhelming and complicated process of dealing both an in-state probate and an out-of-state probate.

There are options to help avoid probate on an out-of-state vacation home that can save your family headaches in the future. Let’s take a look:

  • Revocable trust: This type of trust can be altered while you’re still living, especially as your assets or beneficiaries change. You can place all your assets into this trust, but at the very least, put the vacation home in the trust to avoid the property going through probate. Another benefit of a revocable trust is you could set aside money in the trust specifically for the management and upkeep of the property, and you can leave instructions on how the vacation home should be managed upon your death.
  • Irrevocable trust: similar to the revocable trust, assets can be put into an irrevocable trust, including your vacation home. You can leave instructions and money for the management of the vacation home. However, once an irrevocable trust is established, you can’t amend or terminate it.
  • Limited liability company (LLC): You can also create an LLC and list your home as an asset of the company to eliminate probate and save you or your family from the risk of losing any other assets outside of the vacation home, if sued. You can protect yourself if renting out a vacation home and the renter decides to sue. The most you could then lose is that property, rather than possibly losing any other assets. Having beneficiaries rent the home will help keep out-of-pocket expenses low for future beneficiaries. With the creation of an LLC, you’re also able to create a plan to help with the future management of the vacation home.
  • Transfer via a deed: When you have multiple children, issues may arise when making decisions surrounding the home. This is usually because your wishes for the management of the house are not explicitly detailed in writing.
  • Joint ownership: You can hold the title to the property with another that’s given the right of survivorship. However, like with the deed, this can lead to miscommunication as to how the house should be cared for and used.

Plan for the future to help make certain that the property continues to be a place where cherished memories can be made for years to come. Talk to a qualified estate planning attorney for expert legal advice for your specific situation.

Reference: Florida Today (July 2, 2022) “Avoiding probate: What is the best option for my out-of-state vacation home?”

Do I Need an Estate Plan If I’m 25?

Florida Today’s recent article entitled “No matter your age, income or crushing debt, you should have an estate plan” explains that the purpose of a good estate plan is that it allows you to maintain control over how your assets are distributed if you die.

It names someone to make decisions for you, if you can no longer act for yourself. Let’s look at the different documents that are necessary.

Power of attorney: If you become incapacitated, someone still needs to pay your bills and handle your finances. A POA names the person you’d want to have that responsibility.

Health care surrogate: This document is used if you become incapacitated and appoints the individual whom you want to make health care decisions on your behalf.

Last will and testament: This document designates both who oversees your estate, who gets your assets and how they should be transferred.

Beneficiary designations: Part of your planning is to name who should receive money from life insurance policies, annuities, retirement accounts and other financial accounts.

HIPAA Waiver: This is a legal document that allows an individual’s health information to be used or disclosed to a third party. Without this, loved ones may not be able to be a part of decisions and treatment.

Trust. A trust can facilitate passing property to your heirs and potentially provide tax benefits for both you and your beneficiaries.

As you can see, there are a number of reasons to have an estate plan.

Estate planning isn’t only for the rich, and it doesn’t have to be overly complicated.

An experienced estate planning lawyer, also called a trusts and estates attorney, can work with you to create an estate plan customized to your needs, financial affairs and family situation.

Putting your wishes in writing will make certain that your affairs are in order for now and in the future and help your family.

Reference: Florida Today (May 28, 2022) “No matter your age, income or crushing debt, you should have an estate plan”