Estate Planning Blog Articles

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

Is the Pandemic Motivating People to Do Estate Planning?

A survey from Policygenius, an online insurance marketplace, found that most people (60.4%) didn’t have a will, but that may be about to change. Nearly 40% of survey respondents (39.7%) said they feel it’s more important to get a will because of the pandemic.

PR Newswire’s recent article entitled “Policygenius survey finds Americans with misconceptions about estate planning” reports that many respondents also held misconceptions about the estate planning process, which may a reason they avoid it.

The survey found that more than one in five respondents (22.8%) who think getting a will is too expensive overestimated the cost by hundreds or even thousands of dollars.

A total of 48.2% incorrectly thought that their possessions would automatically pass to their spouse, if they died without a will. That may suggest that people may not be creating wills because they think they don’t need them.

There were 24.1% respondents who said that they don’t have a will because they haven’t had time to put one together, and more than half of those respondents (62%) were parents.

The survey also found that respondents prioritized family, with more than a third of them (35.9%) saying that having a child is the most important life event for someone, if they want to create a will. About two-thirds (65.5%) said that making the process of inheritance as easy as possible is one of their top three important issues, when getting a will.

Just 39.3% knew that if someone passes away without a will, a court will determine who gets their assets.

The Policygenius survey is based on responses from a nationally representative sample of 2,689 Americans ages 25 and over. It was conducted by SurveyMonkey from July 16 through July 17, 2020.

Ask an experienced estate planning attorney about a will and a comprehensive estate plan.

Reference: PR Newswire (Dec. 2, 2020) “Policygenius survey finds Americans with misconceptions about estate planning”

Wills

Do I Really Need a Will?

No one enjoys pondering their own mortality, but we can all help unburden our loved ones after we’ve gone, by creating a will.

Bankrate’s recent article entitled “Why it’s important for every adult to get a will” explains why you need a will and how to protect what you most cherish after you pass away.

Many people think that a will must be a complicated document full of confusing legal jargon. However, the purpose of a will is really very simple despite its importance. A will is a legal document that disposes of your property at your death. In addition, wills address several issues required to be resolved after death, such as who will care for your children, who will make decisions about your estate and who will receive your assets? Every adult should have a will that speaks to these issues.

There are several types of wills which are customized based on your property and assets. Some people have specific instructions regarding special bequests at their death, and others pass everything to a surviving spouse and children.

Testamentary will. This will is prepared in advance and is signed in front of witnesses. This is the most common type of will.

Holographic will. This is a will that is written by hand and is frequently a last resort in emergency situations. It is not valid in all states.

Oral will. This is a verbal will that’s spoken in front of witnesses. However, most courts prefer instructions in writing. As a result, an oral will isn’t a form that is widely recognized or recommended.

Mutual will. A couple can create a joint will, so that when one spouse dies, the other remains bound by the existing will’s terms.

Pour-over will. This type of will is used when you plan to “pour” your assets into a previously established trust at your death.

There are many reasons why you should have a will. A will can:

  • Clearly identify ownership of your property
  • Name a legal guardian for your children
  • Shorten the legal process of assigning your assets
  • Make donations of assets to charitable organizations
  • Make specific gifts; and
  • Save on estate tax.

Speak to an experienced estate planning attorney about the right will for your situation.

Reference: Bankrate (Nov. 6, 2020) “Why it’s important for every adult to get a will”

executor selection

How Does Court Choose an Executor if a Will Isn’t Available?

An executor is the person who’ll manage your estate by protecting your assets, paying your debts and distributing the remaining property according to the terms in the will. But Programming Insider’s recent article, “Role of the Court When There is No Will For an Estate, asks “what would happen if someone dies without a will and, therefore, without appointing a personal representative?”

This is known as dying “intestate.” When it happens, the probate court must decide who will act as the estate’s administrator or personal representative. The judge’s decision will be based on state law, which will say how to prioritize potential fiduciaries in an administrator’s appointment. Every state has a prioritized list of preferred executors, and some states offer detailed guidance, like Oklahoma, which has a prioritized list. If more than one person is equally entitled to be appointed, a court has the option to appoint one or more executors.

The probate court has the final decision as to who will serve as the estate’s administrator or personal representative, even including a person who is named as executor in a will or is entitled to be chosen as a valid executor. The court will award authority to an administrator and will issue letters of administration or letters of testamentary. This authorizes the person to serve as an estate’s personal representative. Some people who might otherwise be entitled to serve as an executor may be disqualified based on state law. Here are some of the factors that a judge may consider when disqualifying a potential executor:

  • An executor must be an adult, who is at least 18 years old. However, some states require the minimum age of 21.
  • Criminal History. Some states don’t permit someone who’s been convicted of a serious crime to serve as the fiduciary representative of a decedent’s estate. Other states only require a potential executor to notify the court of any felony convictions.
  • Residency. This may be a factor in a person’s ability to serve as a personal representative. Some states let nonresidents serve in some circumstances. Some let nonresidents serve, if it’s a close relative. Finally, some other states require a nonresident executor to post a bond or use an agent within the state to process services and the court’s communication.
  • Business Relationship. There may be state laws as to who may be an executor if the decedent was an active member of a partnership; and
  • It also may be difficult for a noncitizen to serve as an estate’s personal representative.

Generally, probate judges have a lot of latitude and discretion on this selection.

Reference: Programming Insider (Nov. 9, 2020) “Role of the Court When There is No Will For an Estate

estate plan

Despite Pandemic, Many Still Don’t Have an Estate Plan

It’s true—many people still believe that they don’t have enough assets so they don’t need a will, or that their money will automatically go to a next of kin. Both of these beliefs are wrong. While the title of this CNBC article is “More people are creating wills amid the pandemic,” the story’s focus is on the fact that most Americans don’t have a will. If you belong to this group, here’s what happens when you die.

The state you live in has laws about who will receive your assets if you die without a will, known as intestacy. Let’s say you live in New York. Your surviving spouse and children will receive your assets. However, in Texas, your assets will be entered into the state’s intestacy probate process, and your relatives will divide up your assets. Want to be in charge of who inherits your property? Have a will created with an experienced estate attorney.

Young adults think they don’t need a will, but Covid-19 has taken the lives of many healthy, young people. Every adult over age 18 needs a will. If you don’t have one, your loved ones—even if it’s your parents—will inherit a legal mess that will take time and money to fix.

If you have children and no will, there’s no way to be sure who will raise your children. The court will decide. Choose your guardians, name them in your will and be sure to name additional choices just in case the first guardian can’t or won’t serve. You should also appoint someone to be in charge of your children’s money.

What if you had a will created 10 or twenty years ago? That’s another big mistake. Your life changes, the law changes, and so do relationships. Life insurance policies, retirement plans, and transfer-on-death instruments are all legally binding contracts. The last will you made will be used, and if you haven’t updated your will or other documents, then the old decisions will stand. Remember that contracts supersede wills, so no matter how much you don’t want your ex to receive your life insurance proceeds, failing to change that designation won’t help your second spouse. You should review and update all documents.

Doing it yourself is risky. You won’t know if your will is valid and enforceable, if you do it from an online template. Your heirs will have to fix things, which can be expensive. The cost of an estate plan depends on the complexity of your situation. You may only need a will, power of attorney and advance directive. You may also need trusts to pass property along with minimal taxes. An estate planning attorney will be able to give you an idea of how much your estate plan will cost.

Talking about death and planning for it is a difficult topic for everyone, but a well-planned estate plan is one of the most thoughtful gifts you can give to your loved ones.

Reference: CNBC (Oct. 5, 2020) “More people are creating wills amid the pandemic”

leave estate to pet

Can I Leave My Pet Some of My Estate?

The Minneapolis Star Tribune’s article entitled “Who will take care of Fido when you’re gone? Minnesotans put trust in trusts reports that Minnesotans are setting up trusts to care for their pets in the event they survive them.

This is a fairly new law in Minnesota. Since it was enacted in 2016, Minnesotans have been setting aside money to guarantee the care of their animals after they die or are incapacitated. With a pet trust, there’s a guarantee that the money earmarked to care for the animal will be there for the animal as intended. A trust can designate a separate caretaker, trustee and a trust enforcer to care for the animal, manage the money. and make certain the care is being provided as instructed in the trust.

A pet trust can contain instructions on the type of food, medical care, exercise and housing the pet will get, as well as the pet’s end of life and burial or cremation directions.

When the pet trust law was being debated in the Minnesota Legislature, there was the idea that pet trusts are frivolous, an option only for wealthy eccentrics like New York real estate and hotel tycoon Leona Helmsley. She died in 2007 leaving $12 million for the care of her dog, Trouble. The courts later reduced that amount to $2 million.

In the North Star State, the amount of money put into a trust to care for a pet can’t be excessive, or a judge might decrease the amount.

A pet trust can be used to care for an animal before the owner dies but is disabled or incapacitated. When the pet dies, depending on how the trust was created, the money left in the trust would be distributed to heirs or could go to another designated person or charity.

In states where pet trusts are not available, a person could write in their will that a relative will inherit a pet, and the pet owner could also leave the person money to pay for the animal’s care. However, because pets are legally considered personal property, they cannot own property or inherit assets themselves. As a result, there’s nothing that would prevent the relative designated to care for the animal to take it to the pound after you die and spend the cash on themselves.

A pet trust can provide a plan for animal lovers who want to own pets late in life but may be concerned the pet might outlive them. Talk to an experienced estate planning attorney about pet trusts in your state.

Reference: StarTribune (Sep. 23, 2020) “Who will take care of Fido when you’re gone? Minnesotans put trust in trusts”

estate planning

Cornelius Vanderbilt Created an Estate Plan, but Should I?

AJC’s recent article entitled “Why Vanderbilts should inspire you to create an estate plan” explains that when Cornelius Vanderbilt died, his son, William, inherited most of the fortune and nearly doubled it within a decade. However, after that came a drop in the cash, and after just a few decades, the fortune had been spent. Therefore, none of Vanderbilt’s descendants stayed among the wealthiest people in the country.

When 120 Vanderbilt family members recently gathered for a reunion at Vanderbilt University, not one was a millionaire. In a century, the largest estate America has ever known had dwindled to next to nothing.

Let’s look at why this happens and how you can prevent this from happening to your estate.

America is currently in the midst of the greatest transfer of wealth ever. An estimated $59 trillion will be transferred to heirs, charities and taxes between 2007 and 2061. However, roughly 70% of wealth transfers aren’t successful. This means that sometimes heirs get practically nothing. There are three reasons for this failure:

  1. No trust and communication among heirs because they’re all concerned about their share.
  2. Heirs are unprepared to inherit an estate, which may include managing investments or a business. In many cases, other family members don’t know how it works.
  3. Heirs have no clue where the money should go and what purpose it should serve because no one is thinking long term about what is best for the family assets.

It’s common for business owners to believe that an estate plan is enough to keep everything in order, but they don’t consider their business. This is the reason why succession planning is vital. This planning determines what happens to the business itself and lays out the strategy, so it continues to operate smoothly after it’s passed to the heirs.

Let’s look at some tips for dealing with estate planning that should make for a smooth transition:

Create a plan. If you die without a will, state probate law will determine who gets your assets. This may not be what you want. Talk to an experienced estate planning attorney to be certain that everything is drawn up correctly.

Discuss the issues with your heirs. Talk to your family about the financial details. Make sure that your heirs know the details of your estate, so they can start to manage and oversee it once you die.

Get heirs involved in the process. Likewise, heirs can help plan based on their knowledge, future availability and expectations. By planning now, no one will be caught unaware about what to do with the estate.

Ready your heirs. Educate your heirs on how to manage and oversee your assets, especially if you have a succession plan for a business. Discuss the company’s mission and vision, and what you want the company to achieve.

Organize your financial documents. Get all financial documents in a single location and label everything clearly to help out your heirs. Keep this in a safe location, and let your heirs know where it’s located. Your attorney should also have a copy of your will, estate plan and succession plan (if applicable).

Get help from experts. Help forge a relationship between your heirs and your financial team, which may include a financial adviser, an estate planning attorney and an accountant. This will allow your heirs to know who to call, if things get complicated. It’ll also help to prepare them for what they’re supposed to be doing, once they get their inheritance.

Communication is the key. Talking with your experts and your heirs will make certain that everyone understands each other’s roles, regardless of whether it’s a small business or a multimillion-dollar empire.

Reference: AJC (Sep. 25, 2020) “Why Vanderbilts should inspire you to create an estate plan”

estate plan audit

Does My Estate Plan Need an Audit?

You should have an estate plan because every state has statutes that describe how your assets are managed, and who benefits if you don’t have a will. Most people want to have more say about who and how their assets are managed, so they draft estate planning documents that match their objectives.

Forbes’ recent article entitled “Auditing Your Estate Plan” says the first question is what are your estate planning objectives? Almost everyone wants to have financial security and the satisfaction of knowing how their assets will be properly managed. Therefore, these are often the most common objectives. However, some people also want to also promote the financial and personal growth of their families, provide for social and cultural objectives by giving to charity and other goals. To help you with deciding on your objectives and priorities, here are some of the most common objectives:

  • Making sure a surviving spouse or family is financially OK
  • Providing for others
  • Providing now for your children and later
  • Saving now on income taxes
  • Saving on estate and gift taxes in the future
  • Donating to charity
  • Having a trusted agency manage my assets, if I am incapacitated
  • Having money for my children’s education
  • Having retirement income; and
  • Shielding my assets from creditors.

Speak with an experienced estate planning attorney about the way in which you should handle your assets. If your plan doesn’t meet your objectives, your estate plan should be revised. This will include a review of your will, trusts, powers of attorney, healthcare proxies, beneficiary designation forms and real property titles.

Note that joint accounts, pay on death (POD) accounts, retirement accounts, life insurance policies, annuities and other assets will transfer to your heirs by the way you designate your beneficiaries on those accounts. Any assets in a trust won’t go through probate. “Irrevocable” trusts may protect assets from the claims of creditors and possibly long-term care costs, if properly drafted and funded.

Another question is what happens in the event you become mentally or physically incapacitated and who will see to your financial and medical affairs. Use a power of attorney to name a person to act as your agent in these situations.

If, after your audit, you find that your plans need to be revised, follow these steps:

  1. Work with an experienced estate planning attorney to create a plan based on your objectives
  2. Draft and execute a will and other estate planning documents customized to your plan
  3. Correctly title your assets and complete your beneficiary designations
  4. Create and fund trusts
  5. Draft and sign powers of attorney, in the event of your incapacity
  6. Draft and sign documents for ownership interest in businesses, intellectual property, artwork and real estate
  7. Discuss the consequences of implementing your plan with an experienced estate planning attorney; and
  8. Review your plan regularly.

Reference: Forbes (Sep. 23, 2020) “Auditing Your Estate Plan”

Picasso's estate

Dividing Pablo Picasso’s Estate, a Disaster

Picasso left behind 1,885 paintings, 1,228 sculptures, 7,089 drawings, as well as tens of thousands of prints, thousands of ceramic works and 150 sketchbooks when he passed away in 1973. He owned five homes and a large portfolio of stocks and bonds. “The Master” fathered four children with three women. He was also thought to have had $4.5 million in cash and $1.3 million in gold in his possession when he died. Once again, Picasso did not leave a will. Distributing his assets took six years of contentious negotiations between his children and other heirs, such as his wives, mistresses, legitimate children and his illegitimate ones.

Celebrity Net Worth’s recent article entitled “When Pablo Picasso Died He Left Behind Billions Of Dollars Worth Of Art … Yet He Left No Will” explains that Picasso was creating art up until his death. Unlike most artists who die broke, he had been famous in his lifetime. However, when he died without a will, people came out of the woodwork to claim a piece of his valuable estate. Only one of Picasso’s four children was born to a woman who was his wife. One of his mistresses had been living with him for decades. She had a direct and well-documented influence on his work. However, Picasso had no children with her. Dividing his estate was a disaster.

A court-appointed auditor who evaluated Picasso’s assets after his death said that he was worth between $100-$250 million (about $530 million to $1.3 billion today, after adjusting for inflation). In addition to his art, his heirs were fighting over the rights to license his image rights. The six-year court battle cost $30 million in legal fees to settle. But it didn’t settle for long, as the heirs began fighting over the rights to Picasso’s name and image. In 1989, his son Claude sold the name and the image of Picasso’s signature to French carmaker Peugeot-Citroen for $20 million. They wanted to release a sedan called the “Citroen Xsara Picasso.” However, one of Picasso’s grandchildren tried to halt the sale because she disagreed with the commission paid to the agent who brokered the deal—but oddly enough, the consulting company was owned by her cousin, another Picasso.

Claude created the Picasso Administration in Paris in the mid-90s. This entity manages the heirs’ jointly owned property, controls the rights to exhibitions and reproductions of the master’s works, and authorizes merchandising licenses for his work, name and image. The administration also investigates forgeries, illegal use of the Picasso name and stolen works of art. In the 47 years since his death, Picasso has been the most reproduced, most exhibited, most stolen and most faked artist of all time.

Pablo Picasso’s heirs are all very well off as a result of his art. His youngest daughter, Paloma Picasso, is the richest, with $600 million. She’s had a successful career as a jewelry designer.  She also enjoys her share of her father’s estate.

Reference: Celebrity Net Worth (Sep, 13, 2020) “When Pablo Picasso Died He Left Behind Billions Of Dollars Worth Of Art … Yet He Left No Will”

inheritance acceptance

Do I Have to Accept an Inheritance?

Most people don’t use a disclaimer because they’re not entitled to other assets to offset the value of the asset disclaimed. They don’t get to decide who gets their disclaimed asset.

MarketWatch’s recent article entitled “Can I reject an inheritance?” explains that the details can be found in Internal Revenue Code §2518. However, here are some of the basics about disclaimers.

In most states, a qualified disclaimer can be filed within nine months of an asset owner’s death. This disclaimer is irrevocable. Therefore, once it’s done, it’s done. This can create problems with IRAs because they have beneficiary designations, and the death claim can be processed with a few forms. As soon as the funds are transferred to an inherited IRA, disclaiming is no longer an option.

When a person disclaims an asset, the asset is distributed as though that beneficiary had died prior to the date of the benefactor’s death. Therefore, with an IRA, it is pretty simple. If you disclaim all or a part of the IRA, the funds pass on, based on the beneficiary designation.

The IRA usually has a secondary beneficiary named. If the beneficiaries in line to inherit the account are who you would want to inherit the account, disclaiming should transfer the account to them. However, if they’re not who you want to get the funds, you have little leverage to do anything about it.

If there are no other beneficiaries and you disclaimed, the money goes back into the decedent’s estate.

The funds would go through probate and be directed based upon his will. If there was no will (intestacy), the probate laws of the decedent’s state will dictate how the assets are distributed.

Having an IRA go through an estate is inefficient, time consuming and adds additional costs beyond the taxes.

All these drawbacks can be avoided, by properly designating beneficiaries.

Being wise with your beneficiary designations, also provides flexibility in your estate plan.

For example, you can set up beneficiary designations to purposely give an inheritor the option to disclaim to other family members, which is done when the primary beneficiary can disclaim to a family member that is in greater need of funds or is in a lower tax bracket.

Reference: MarketWatch (Aug. 25, 2020) “Can I reject an inheritance?”

state laws and estate planning

State Laws Have an Impact on Your Estate

Nj.com’s recent article entitled “Will N.J. or Florida’s tax laws affect this inheritance?” notes that first, the fact that the individual from Florida isn’t legally married is important.

However, if she’s a Florida resident, Florida rules will matter in this scenario about the vacation condo.

Florida doesn’t have an inheritance tax, and it doesn’t matter where the beneficiary lives. For example, the state of New Jersey won’t tax a Florida inheritance.

Although New Jersey does have an inheritance tax, the state can’t tax inheritances for New Jersey residents, if the assets come from an out-of-state estate.

If she did live in New Jersey, there is no inheritance tax on “Class A” beneficiaries, which include spouses, children, grandchildren and stepchildren.

However, the issue in this case is the fact that her “daughter” isn’t legally her daughter. Her friend’s daughter would be treated by the tax rules as a friend.

You can call it what you want. However, legally, if she’s not married to her friend, she doesn’t have a legal relationship with her daughter.

As a result, the courts and taxing authorities will treat both persons as non-family.

The smart thing to do with this type of issue is to talk with an experienced estate planning attorney who is well-versed in both states’ laws to determine whether there are any protections available.

Reference: nj.com (July 23, 2020) “Will N.J. or Florida’s tax laws affect this inheritance?”