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”

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”

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”

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”

Is Putting a Home in Trust a Good Estate Planning Move?

A typical estate at death will include a personal residence. It’s common for a large estate to also include a vacation home, or family retreat. Leaving real property in trust is common.

Estate plans that include a revocable trust will fund the trust by a pour-over, says Kiplinger’s recent article entitled “Should You Own Your Home in Your Trust?”

A settlor (the person establishing a trust) often will title their home to the revocable trust, which becomes irrevocable at death.

Another option is a Qualified Personal Residence Trust, which is irrevocable, to gift a valuable home to a trust for the settlor’s children. With a QPRT, the house is passed over a term of years while the original owner continues to live there, so the gift passes with little or no gift or estate tax.

Some trusts arising from a decedent estate will hold the home belonging to the settlor without any instructions for its disposal or retention. Outside of very large trusts, a requirement to actually purchase homes for beneficiaries in the trust is far less common.

It is more common in a large trust to have terms that let the trustee buy a home for a beneficiary outside the trust or keep the settlor’s home in the trust for a beneficiary’s use, including purchasing a replacement home when requested.

The trustee will hopefully propose a plan that will satisfy the beneficiary without undue risk to the trust estate or exceeding the trustee’s powers. The most relevant considerations for homeownership in a trust are:

  • The competing needs of other trust beneficiaries
  • The purchase price and costs of maintaining the home
  • The size of the trust as compared to those costs
  • Other sources of income and resources available to the beneficiary; and
  • The interests of the remaindermen (beneficiaries who will take from the trust when the current beneficiaries’ interests terminate).

The terms of the trust may require the trustee to ignore some of these considerations.

Each situation requires a number of decisions that could expose the trustee to a charge that it has acted imprudently.

Those who want to create a trust should work with an experienced estate planning attorney to avoid any issues.

Reference: Kiplinger (Feb. 8, 2022) “Should You Own Your Home in Your Trust?”

Can You Inherit a House with a Mortgage?

Inheriting a home with a mortgage adds another layer of complexity to settling the estate, as explained in a recent article from Investopedia titled “Inheriting a House With a Mortgage.” The lender needs to be notified right away of the owner’s passing and the estate must continue to make regular payments on the existing mortgage. Depending on how the estate was set up, it may be a struggle to make monthly payments, especially if the estate must first go through probate.

Probate is the process where the court reviews the will to ensure that it is valid and establish the executor as the person empowered to manage the estate. The executor will need to provide the mortgage holder with a copy of the death certificate and a document affirming their role as executor to be able to speak with the lending company on behalf of the estate.

If multiple people have inherited a portion of the house, some tough decisions will need to be made. The simplest solution is often to sell the home, pay off the mortgage and split the proceeds evenly.

If some of the heirs wish to keep the home as a residence or a rental property, those who wish to keep the home need to buy out the interest of those who don’t want the house. When the house has a mortgage, the math can get complicated. An estate planning attorney will be able to map out a way forward to keep the sale of the shares from getting tangled up in the emotions of grieving family members.

If one heir has invested time and resources into the property and others have not, it gets even more complex. Family members may take the position that the person who invested so much in the property was also living there rent free, and things can get ugly. The involvement of an estate planning attorney can keep the transfer focused as a business transaction.

What if the house has a reverse mortgage? In this case, the reverse mortgage company needs to be notified. You’ll need to find out the existing balance due on the reverse mortgage. If the estate does not have the funds to pay the balance, there is the option of refinancing the property to pay off the balance due, if the wish is to keep the house. If there’s not enough equity or the heirs can’t refinance, they typically sell the house to pay off the reverse mortgage.

Can heirs take over the existing loan? Your estate planning attorney will be able to advise the family of their rights, which are different than rights of homeowners. Lenders in some circumstances may allow heirs to be added to the existing mortgage without going through a full loan application and verifying credit history, income, etc. However, if you chose to refinance or take out a home equity loan, you’ll have to go through the usual process.

Inheriting a house with a mortgage or a reverse mortgage can be a stressful process during an already difficult time. An experienced estate planning attorney will be able to guide the family through their options and help with the rest of the estate.

Reference: Investopedia (April 12, 2022) “Inheriting a House With a Mortgage”