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”

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”

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”

Why Shouldn’t I Wait to Draft my Will?

There are countless reasons why people 50 and over fail to write a will, update a previous one, or make other estate planning decisions. Market Watch’s recent article entitled “We beat up 6 of your excuses for not writing a will (or updating an old one)” takes a closer look at those six reasons, and how to help overcome them.

Excuse No. 1: You have plenty of time. Sure, you know you need to do it. However, it’s an easy thing to move down on your priority list. We all believe we have time and that we’ll live to be 100. However, that’s not always the case. Set up an appointment with an experienced estate planning lawyer ASAP because what gets scheduled gets done.

Excuse No. 2: You don’t have a lot of money. Some think they have to have a certain amount of assets before estate planning matters. That isn’t true. Drafting these documents is much more than assigning your assets to your heirs: it also includes end-of-life decisions and deciding who would step in, if you were unable to make financial decisions yourself. It’s also wise to have up-to-date documents like a power of attorney and a living will in case you can’t make decisions for yourself.

Excuse No. 3: You don’t want to think about your death. This is a job that does require some time and energy. However, think about what could happen without an up-to-date estate plan. Older people have seen it personally, having had friends pass without a will and seeing the children fighting over their inheritance.

Excuse No. 4: It takes too much time. There’s a misconception about how time-consuming writing a will is. However, it really can be a fairly quick process. It can take as little as 2½ hours. First, plan on an hour to meet with the lawyer; an hour to review the draft; and a half-hour to sign and execute your documents. That is not a hard-and-fast time requirement. However, it is a fair estimate.

Excuse No. 5: You’d rather avoid making difficult decisions. People get concerned about how to divide their estate and aren’t sure to whom they should leave it. While making some decisions in your estate plan may seem final, you can always review your choices another time.

Excuse No. 6: You don’t want to pay an attorney. See this as investment in your loved ones’ futures. Working with an experienced estate planning attorney helps you uncover and address the issues you don’t even know you have. Maybe you don’t want your children to fight. However, there can be other issues. After all, you didn’t go to law school to learn the details of estate planning.

Reference: Market Watch (March 12, 2022) “We beat up 6 of your excuses for not writing a will (or updating an old one)”

How Do I Write a Will?

A poorly written or out-of-date will can be costly and ruin an otherwise well-planned estate. Yahoo Entertainment’s recent article entitled “11 Steps to Writing a Will” tells you how to get started and complete your will in 10 simple steps:

  1. Hire an Estate Planning Attorney. Individuals or families with relatively simple financial situations may be able to use an online, reputable software program to complete their wills. However, many situations require an estate planning attorney, such as blended families.
  2. Choose your Beneficiaries. A big mistake people make when planning their estate is failing to name or update beneficiaries on key accounts that work with the plans outlined in their wills. The beneficiary designation on an account supersedes the will, but it’s good to be consistent.
  3. Name an Executor. The executor is responsible for carrying out the wishes expressed in your will.
  4. Select a Guardian for Your Minor Children. It’s common to name multiple guardians, in case one of them named isn’t able to accept the responsibility of guardianship.
  5. Be Specific About Your Bequests. One of the most time-consuming aspects of creating a will can be deciding which assets to include and determining who will get what.
  6. Be Realistic About your Bequests. Practically consider how assets will be distributed. A big reason children stop speaking after a parent’s death is because of boilerplate language directing tangible assets, such as artwork or jewelry, to be divided equally among children.
  7. Attach a Letter of Last Instruction. You can attach an explanatory letter to your will that can serve as a personal way to say goodbye and also provide additional details about certain wishes.
  8. Sign the Will Properly. If you don’t, a will may be declared invalid. Witnesses must sign your will, and in many states, the witnesses can’t be under 18 and those who stand to inherit (“interested parties”).
  9. Keep Your Will in a Safe and Accessible Spot. Make certain that someone you trust knows where to find your will and other important papers and passwords to financial institutions.
  10. Review and Keep Your Up-to-date. Wills should be updated every five years or so, or sooner if you have a major life event, such as the birth or adoption of a new child or grandchild, a divorce, or the death of a spouse or parent.
  11. Add Other Important Estate Planning Documents. A will by itself may not meet all of your estate planning needs. A trust is another estate planning tool that lets you transfer assets when and how you want. A living will communicates your desires for medical treatment or a power of attorney that allows a third party to make financial and legal decisions, along with the will and should be your next step after writing your will.

Reference: Yahoo Entertainment (Jan. 4, 2022) “11 Steps to Writing a Will”

How Can I Clean Up My Estate Plan?

Chicago Business Journal’s recent article entitled “8 steps to tidy up your estate plan now” gives you some items to think about when working through your affairs.

Make certain that your plan is accurate and up to date. Your basic documents, which include your will, health care directive and power of attorney, should be in place and up-to-date. Review them to confirm that they’re consistent with your wishes and the current laws.

Review your named beneficiaries and fiduciaries. Confirm that the names of designated beneficiaries and fiduciaries are accurate. Most assets will pass under your will or through trusts, other accounts such as retirement, or life insurance may pass directly to a named (or contingent) beneficiary. If your planning circumstances have changed since creating these designations, update them.

Review your life and property insurance coverage. Be sure that these policies offer adequate coverage and meet their intended purpose. As your wealth increases, the planning purposes behind a term policy for risk mitigation purposes or a whole life policy to ensure ample liquidity upon death may become unnecessary. However, if your assets’ value has grown, you may need to re-examine if the current property coverage is sufficient to minimize your increased potential liability.

Ensure that your beneficiaries have enough liquidity. The estate administration process can be slow and tiresome. It’s possible that a person may not have immediate access to liquidity after a spouse’s death, depending on how assets are titled. A temporary (but major) burden can be avoided, by confirming at least some liquidity will be titled in or directly available to your spouse after you have passed.

Locate and compile important information and account identification. A difficult step in estate administration is locating a decedent’s assets. Make this process easier for loved ones, by creating a list of your accounts, property of significant value, liabilities and contacts at each financial institution. Make the list easily accessible to your family or executor, and update it whenever opening or closing an account.

Review digital assets and online accounts. These assets are frequently overlooked as to access and ownership after death. Instead of divulging passwords or allowing account access, you can add a “digital assets clause” to your planning documents. This lets named parties access specific items within the bounds of accepted legal standards.

Draft a letter of wishes. This document allows you to fully express your intentions and hopes, as well as any explanations or instructions you want to impart to your loved ones.

Plan to review. Repeat the review process regularly and calendar a reminder to give yourself an annual financial and planning checkup.

Reference: Chicago Business Journal (Dec. 2, 2021) “8 steps to tidy up your estate plan now”

What Estate Planning Does My Child Need at 18?

This 18th birthday milestone legally notes the transition from minors to official adults, bringing with it major changes in legal status, says NJ Family’s recent article entitled “What You Need to Know (Legally and Medically) On Your Teen’s 18th Birthday.”

Adults—even your 18-year-old— is entitled to privacy rights. This means that anyone not given explicit rights via a power of attorney and HIPAA (the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) release, among other important documents, can be denied info and access—even parents. Here’s what every family should have:

Power of Attorney. A power of attorney (POA) gives an agent (such as you as the parent) the authority to act on behalf of a principal (your adult child) in specific matters stated in the POA.

You can also have a POA for medical decisions and one for finances.

HIPAA Release. When kids become legal adults, they have a right to complete health privacy under HIPAA. That means no one can see their information without permission, even you!

Ask your child to sign a HIPAA release form (which is often included along with the medical power of attorney), to let their health providers share relevant information.

Wills. A simple Will is a good idea. It may also be a good time for you to review your estate plan to see how circumstances changed.

The wisest and safest way to get a credit card for your adult child is to add your child to your account. That way you can monitor transactions. Students also get an immediate bump in their credit score, which is important for renting apartments. However, the main point is to teach them skills and how to be responsible with money.

Talk with an experienced estate planning attorney about drafting all of the necessary legal documents for your newly-minted legally adult kid.

Reference: NJ Family (Oct. 6, 2021) “What You Need to Know (Legally and Medically) On Your Teen’s 18th Birthday”

Why Should I Update My Estate Plan?

The majority of Americans don’t have an updated estate plan in place. This can create a major headache for their families, in the event that anything happens to them.

Fox 43’s recent article entitled “Majority of Americans have outdated estate plans” explains that estate planning is making some decisions now for what you want to happen in the future, if you’re unable to make decisions then.

It’s important that every adult has an estate plan in place. Moreover, as you get older and you have a family, an estate plan becomes even more important.

These decisions can impact your family. It involves deciding who will care for your children. If you’re a parent with children under the age of 18, your estate plan can name the guardians of those children.

This is accomplished by having a clause in your will that states which person(s) will have the responsibility of caring for your minor children, in the event that you and your spouse pass away unexpectantly.

In your will, you’ll also name an executor who will carry out your wishes after your death.

You may ask an experienced estate planning attorney about whether you should have a trust to protect some of your assets.

You also should have your attorney draft a power of attorney, healthcare directive, living will and HIPAA waiver.

Many people don’t know where to get started. However, the good thing is ultimately it’s your decisions about what you want to happen, if you are unable to care for your loved ones.

Talk to an experienced estate planning attorney and do this sooner rather than later.

Reference: Fox 43 (Oct. 27, 2021) “Majority of Americans have outdated estate plans”

Is There More to Estate Planning Than Writing My Will?

Having a will is especially important if you have minor children. That’s because you can nominate guardians for your minor children in your will. Guardians are the people you want to raise your children, in the event that neither you or your spouse can do so.

Fed Week’s article entitled “Estate Planning: It’s Not Just about Making a Will” explains that when designating guardians, a person should be practical.

Closet relatives—such as a brother and his wife—may not necessarily be the best choice. They may be busy raising their own family and have plenty to look after, without adding your children to the equation.

You’re acting in the interests of your children, so be certain that you obtain the consent of your chosen guardians before nominating them in your will.

In addition, make sure you have sufficient life insurance in place, so the guardians can comfortably afford to raise your children.

However, your estate planning shouldn’t stop with a will and guardians. There are a number of other components to include:

  • Powers of attorney. A power of attorney allows a person you name to act on your behalf regarding financial matters.
  • Health care proxy. This authorizes another person to make medical decisions for you, if you are unable to do so yourself.
  • Living will. This document states your wishes on life-sustaining efforts.
  • HIPAA Waiver. This document allows healthcare professionals to provide information on a patient’s health to third parties, such as family members.
  • Letter of Last Instruction. This personal document is an organized way for you to give your family important information about your finances and perhaps your reasons for your choices in your will or trust. This letter isn’t a will or a substitute for one.
  • This is a way to avoid assets going through probate. The assets in trust can provide funds for your heirs under the rules you set up.

Ask an experienced estate planning attorney about developing a comprehensive estate plan.

Reference: Fed Week (September 28, 2021) “Estate Planning: It’s Not Just About Making a Will”

Do College Kids Need Estate Planning?

The topic of estate planning is frequently overlooked in the craze to get kids to college.

When your child leaves home, it’s important to understand that legally you may not hold the same rights in your relationship that you did for the first 18 years of your child’s life.

Wealth Advisor’s article entitled “Estate Planning Documents Every College Student Should Have in Place” says that it’s crucial to have these discussions as soon as possible with your college student about the plans they should put into place before going out on their own or heading to college. An experienced estate planning attorney can give counsel on the issues concerning your child’s physical health and financial well-being.

When your child turns 18, you’re no longer your child’s legal guardian. Therefore, issues pertaining to his or her health can’t be disclosed to you without your child’s consent. For instance, if your child is in an accident and becomes temporarily incapacitated, you couldn’t make any medical decisions or even give consent. As a result, you’d likely be denied access to his or her medical information. Ask your child to complete a HIPAA release. This is a medical form that names the people allowed to get information about an individual’s medical status, when care is needed. If you’re not named on their HIPAA release, it’s a major challenge to obtain any medical updates about your adult child, including information like whether they have been admitted to a hospital.

In addition, your child also needs to determine the individual who will manage their healthcare decisions, if they’re unable to do so on their own. This is done by designating a healthcare proxy or agent. Without this document, the decision about who makes choices regarding your child’s medical matters may be uncertain.

Your child should ensure his or her financial matters are addressed if he or she can’t see to them, either due to mental incapacity or physical limitations, such as studying abroad. Ask that you or another trusted relative or friend be named agent under your child’s financial power of attorney, so that you can help with managing things like financial aid, banking and tax matters.

Reference: Wealth Advisor (Sep. 24, 2021) “Estate Planning Documents Every College Student Should Have in Place”