Estate Planning Blog Articles

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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”

Some Key Documents Should Be Considered Before Sending Your Child Off to College

In the United States, as soon as a minor turns 18, they’re typically considered a legal adult.

As a result, parents no longer have any authority to make decisions for their child, including financial and health care decisions.

Yahoo’s recent article entitled “Don’t Let Your Child Leave for College Without Signing Three Critical Documents” asks what if your adult child becomes sick or is in an accident and ends up hospitalized?

Because of privacy laws, known as Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), you wouldn’t have any rights to get any information from the hospital regarding your child’s condition. Yes, we know you’re her mother. However, that’s the law!

You also wouldn’t have the ability to access his or her medical records or intercede on your child’s behalf regarding medical treatment and care.

If your child’s unable to communicate with doctors, you’d also have to ask a judge to appoint you as your child’s guardian before being able to be told of his or her condition and to make any healthcare decisions for them.

While this is hard when your child is still living at home, it’s a huge headache if your child is attending college away from home.

However, there’s a relatively easy fix to address this issue:

Ask an experienced estate planning attorney about drafting three legal documents for your child to sign:

  • A Durable Power of Attorney (DPOA) for Health Care. This document designates the parent as your child’s patient advocate.
  • A HIPAA Authorization gives you access to your child’s medical records and lets you to discuss his or her health condition with doctors.
  • A DPOA for Financial Matters, designates the parent as your child’s agent, so that you can manage your child’s financial affairs, including things like banking and bill paying, in case your child becomes sick or injured, or is unable to act for any reason.

Reference:  Yahoo (Aug. 2, 2022) “Don’t Let Your Child Leave for College Without Signing Three Critical Documents”

Does the Way I Title My Assets Have an Impact on My Estate?

FedWeek’s recent article entitled “How Assets Are Titled Can Make a Big Difference discusses the different ways property may be titled, and the significance of each one.

The way in which you take title to assets can affect your estate, taxes and perhaps the disposition of the asset if a couple divorces. Many couples want assets to be titled simply in the event something happens to one, so the other spouse can take possession immediately without taxes or complications. Joint ownership may be the simplest way to meet most of these objectives. However, this can get complicated if any number of things happen, such as divorce, second marriage, children from multiple marriages, adoption and blended families of all types.

It’s critical to be educated on the different types of ownership, so you know when a change may be needed. Here are the main options:

Holding Assets in Your Own Name is simple and inexpensive. However, if you become incompetent, those assets might be mismanaged. At your death, individually owned assets may have to go through probate.

Joint Tenants with Right of Survivorship is when one co-owner dies, all assets held this way automatically pass to the survivor. One joint owner can take over if the other is incapacitated, and jointly held assets don’t go through probate.

Tenants in Common means there’s a divided interest, although none of the owners may claim to own a specific part of the property. At the death of one of the joint owners, the share owned by the deceased must pass through their will to determine ownership. The surviving joint owner doesn’t automatically own the entirety of assets.

Tenancy by the Entirety is a type of joint ownership similar to rights of survivorship for married couples. It lets spouses own property together as a single legal entity. Ownership can’t be separated, which means creditors of an individual spouse may not attach and sell the property. Only creditors of the couple may make claims against the property.

With Entity Ownership, you might create a trust, a partnership (such as a family limited partnership), or a limited liability company (LLC) to hold assets. These entities may provide protection from creditors and tax benefits.

Community Property may only be used by married couples in community property states (Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington, and Wisconsin). Each person owns an undivided interest in the entire property. When a spouse dies, the survivor automatically receives the entire interest, so there’s no need for probate. Community property can’t be controlled by a person’s will or trust.

Ask an experienced estate planning attorney to review your estate plan and how assets are titled.

Reference: FedWeek (July 27, 2022) “How Assets Are Titled Can Make a Big Difference”

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”

Do Young Adults Need a Will?

Everyone, age 18 and older, needs at least some basic estate planning documents. That’s true even if you own very little. You still need an advance health care directive and a power of attorney. These documents designate agents to make decisions for you, in the event you become incapacitated.

The Los Angeles Daily News’ recent article entitled “Estate planning, often overwhelming, starts with the basics” reminds us that incapacity doesn’t just happen to the elderly. It can happen from an accident, a health crisis, or an injury. To have these documents in place, you just need to state the person you want to make decisions for you and generally what those decisions should be.

An experienced estate planning attorney will help you draft your will by using a questionnaire you complete before your initial meeting. This helps you to organize and list the information required. It also helps the attorney spot issues, such as taxes, blended families and special needs. You will list your assets — real property, business entities, bank accounts, investment accounts, retirement accounts, stocks, bonds, cars, life insurance and anything else you may own. The estimated or actual value of each item should also be included. If you have life insurance or retirement plans, attach a copy of the beneficiary designation form.

An experienced estate planning attorney will discuss your financial and family situation and offer options for a plan that will fit your needs.

The attorney may have many different solutions for the issues that concern you and those you may not have considered. These might include a child with poor money habits, a blended family where you need to balance the needs of a surviving spouse with the expectations of the children from a prior marriage, a pet needing ongoing care, or your thoughts about who to choose as your trustee or power of attorney.

There are many possible solutions, and you aren’t required to know them before you move ahead with your estate planning.

If you are an adult, you know generally what you own, your name and address and the names of your spouse and children or any other beneficiaries you’d like to include in your plan. So, you’re ready to move ahead with your estate planning.

The key is to do this now and not procrastinate.

Reference: Los Angeles Daily News (July 24, 2022) “Estate planning, often overwhelming, starts with the basics”

Did COVID Spark More Estate Planning?

Those who have had a serious bout with the coronavirus (COVID-19) are 66% more likely to have created a will than those who did not get as sick, according to Caring.com’s 2022 Wills and Estate Planning Study.

COVID has accounted for more than one million deaths in the United States thus far.

MSN’s recent article entitled “More Young Adults Are Making This Surprising and Smart Money Move” says that it may be even more surprising that the number of adults in the 18-to-34 age range who now have estate planning documents has jumped 50% in the pandemic era.

Nonetheless, many people of all ages continue to put off the process of creating this key estate planning document.

Two-thirds of Americans still don’t have a will.

Caring.com found that among those who don’t have a will, a third say they think they don’t have enough wealth to warrant one.

However, even if you don’t have an expensive home, a large IRA and other valuable assets to pass on, you can still benefit from creating a will.

There’s no minimum level of wealth needed to have an estate plan, and every adult should have a basic plan in place to care for their own needs and the needs of their family.

The Caring.com survey of more than 2,600 adults found that—you guessed it—good old-fashioned procrastination is the primary reason people don’t create a will. About 40% admit to this factor.

Not surprisingly, the survey also found that those with higher incomes are more likely to put off getting a will due to procrastination.

Those people with lower incomes don’t prioritize a will because they don’t feel they have the assets to justify this important legal document.

Reference: MSN (July 24, 2022) “More Young Adults Are Making This Surprising and Smart Money Move”

What are Mistakes to Avoid with Beneficiary Designations?

Many people don’t know that their will doesn’t control who inherits all of their assets when they die. Some assets pass by beneficiary designation. Assets like life insurance, annuities and retirement accounts all pass by beneficiary designation.

Kiplinger’s recent article entitled “Beneficiary Designations: 5 Critical Mistakes to Avoid” lists five critical mistakes to avoid when dealing with your beneficiary designations:

  1. Failing to designate any beneficiary at all. Many people forget to name a beneficiary for retirement accounts or life insurance. They may forget, didn’t know they had to, or just never got around to filling out the forms. If you don’t name a beneficiary for life insurance or retirement accounts, the company will apply its rules about where the assets will go after you die. For life insurance, the proceeds will typically be paid to your probate estate. For retirement benefits, if you’re married, your spouse will most likely receive the assets. However, if you’re unmarried, the retirement account will likely be paid to your probate estate, which has negative income tax ramifications.
  2. Failing to consider special circumstances. Not every family member should get an asset directly. This includes minor children, those with specials needs and people who can’t manage assets or with creditor issues.
  3. Misspelling a beneficiary’s name. Beneficiary designation forms can be filled out incorrectly and the beneficiary designation form may not be specific. People also change their names through marriage or divorce, or assumptions can be made about a person’s legal name that later prove incorrect. Failing to have names match exactly can cause delays in payouts, and in a worst-case scenario of two people with similar names, it can result in a court case.
  4. Forgetting to update your beneficiaries. Your choice of beneficiary may likely change over time as circumstances change. Naming a beneficiary is part of an overall estate plan, and just as life changes, so should your estate plan. Beneficiary designations are an important part of that plan—make certain that they’re updated regularly.
  5. Failing to review beneficiary choices with legal and financial advisers. How beneficiary designations should be completed is a component of an overall financial and estate plan. Involve your legal and financial advisers to determine what’s best for your circumstances. Note that beneficiary designations are designed to guarantee that you have the ultimate say over who will get your assets when you pass away. Taking the time to carefully (and correctly) choose your beneficiaries and then periodically reviewing those choices and making any necessary updates will allow you to remain in control of your money.

Reference: Kiplinger (June 6, 2022) “Beneficiary Designations: 5 Critical Mistakes to Avoid”

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?”

Do I Need All Insurance after 65?

Seniors should be cautious about canceling their insurance policies. Consider your future insurability and your individual circumstances and life goals. There’s no one answer that fits everyone.

The primary purpose of life insurance is to replace lost income. Retirees may still want to keep their coverage because it can be an important tool in wealth transfer to the next generation.

US News’ recent article entitled “The Only Insurance Policies You Need After Retirement” advises that these guidelines can help determine which policies are essential and which could be a waste of money. Let’s look at how to decide which policies you need and which you can skip after age 65.

Must-Have Policies for Seniors. These two types of insurance are necessary for seniors.

  • Medical Insurance. The increasing cost of health care that comes with advanced age is a big reason to buy medical insurance. The Affordable Care Act requires everyone to maintain coverage. Most seniors 65+ are eligible for Medicare, and those still working may have benefits through their job. Note that Medicare doesn’t cover all medical costs, so look at buying a supplemental plan, such as Medigap and Part D coverage, to help pay for services not fully covered by Original Medicare. A Medicare Advantage Plan offered by private insurers is another way to fill in coverage gaps.
  • Homeowners or Renters Insurance. Seniors with valuable jewelry or other items may need to add a rider to their policy to fully insure these possessions. Mortgage lenders require homeowners to maintain coverage, but once the loan is paid off, it’s not required. It may be tempting to save money by canceling the policy, but that could be a costly mistake. That’s because a big loss would have to be replaced with savings.

Some Smart Options. There are other types of insurance that could be helpful to seniors.

  • Travel Insurance. Those who plan to travel extensively may want to buy travel insurance. Find a policy that includes features, such as emergency medical and medical evacuation services along with trip delay or cancellation insurance.
  • Auto Insurance. Auto insurance is required in almost every state. Any senior who is still driving and owns a vehicle should insure it properly.
  • Umbrella Insurance. This insurance provides additional liability coverage above and beyond what’s included in homeowner and car insurance. Your volunteer activities could put you at risk for a liability claim and warrant added insurance coverage.
  • An immediate annuity can help guard against outliving savings by providing a guaranteed source of income. Annuities can be purchased for a lump sum amount and provide monthly payments that are based on a person’s age and the purchase price.
  • Long-Term Care Insurance. Medicare won’t pay for ongoing custodial care in a nursing home or assisted living facility, and Medicaid is only available after a person has depleted almost all their assets.

One Type of Insurance to Cancel. Seniors who aren’t working don’t have a need for disability insurance.

Reference: US News (Feb. 27, 2020) “The Only Insurance Policies You Need After Retirement”