Estate Planning Blog Articles

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What Is Needed in Estate Plan Besides a Will?

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

When designating a guardian, try to be practical.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is Estate Planning and Writing Will the Same Thing?

An estate plan is a broader plan for your assets that may apply during your life as well as after your death. A will states where your assets will pass after you die, who will be the guardian of your minor children and other directions. A will is often part of an estate plan, but an estate plan covers much more.

Yahoo’s recent article entitled “How Is Estate Planning Different From Will Planning?” says that if you’re thinking about writing your will or creating an estate plan, it can be a good idea to speak with an experienced estate planning attorney.

A will is a legal document that describes the way you want your assets transferred after your death. It can also state your wishes when it comes to how your minor children will be cared after your death. Wills also nominate an executor who’s in charge of carrying out the actions in your will.

Without a will, your heirs may spend significant time, money and energy trying to determine how to divide up your assets through the probate court. When you die intestate, the succession laws where you reside determine how your property is divided.

Estate planning is much broader and more complex than writing a will. A will is a single tool, and an estate plan involves multiple tools, such as powers of attorney, advance directives and trusts.

Estate planning may include thinking through topics even beyond legal documents, like deciding who has the power to make healthcare decisions on your behalf while you’re alive, in addition to deciding how your assets will be distributed after your death.

Therefore, wills are part of an estate plan. However, an estate plan is more than just a will.

A will is just a first step when it comes to creating an estate plan. To leave your family in the best position after your death, create a comprehensive estate plan, so your assets can end up where you want them.

Reference: Yahoo (Oct. 20, 2022) “How Is Estate Planning Different From Will Planning?”

Can I Contest Dad’s Will While He’s Still Living?

The Maryland Daily Record’s recent article entitled “Wills cannot be challenged until testator dies, Md. appeals court says” explains the Court of Special Appeals said a will or revocable trust is only a draft document until its drafter, or testator, has died.

As a result, those challenging a living person’s will or trust would be merely “presumptive heirs” who have no legal standing to challenge a legal document that’s not yet final.

“Pre-death challenges to wills may be a waste of time – the testator might replace the will with a new one, die without property, or the challenger might die before the testator,” Judge Andrea M. Leahy wrote for the Court of Special Appeals.

The appellate court’s decision was the second defeat for Amy Silverstone, whose legal challenge to her mother Andrea Jacobson’s will was dismissed by a Montgomery County Circuit Court judge for lack of standing.

Silverstone argued that the will should be declared void based on her claim that her aunt unduly influenced her mother. The mother suffers from dementia and memory impairment.

This undue influence led Silverstone’s mother, Andrea Jacobson, to change her will in 2018 to expressly “disinherit” Silverstone and her son, Silverstone alleged.

The mother’s new will stated that Silverstone and her son shall not “in any way be a beneficiary of or receive any portion of the trust or the grantor’s estate.”

The disinheritance came amid a falling out between mother and daughter, according to court documents.

Silverstone’s challenge to the will and related trust is premature while her mother is alive, the court held.

Reference: The Maryland Daily Record (Dec. 12, 2022) “Wills cannot be challenged until testator dies, Md. appeals court says”

The Basics of Estate Planning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Documents are Needed in an Emergency?

Most people don’t have any idea where to start when it comes to their emergency documents.  This often keeps them from going anywhere near their estate planning. This is a big mistake, says a recent article, “3 tasks your family needs to complete to ease any anxiety over unexpected emergencies,” from MarketWatch.

Estate planning is not just about wealthy people putting assets into trusts to avoid paying taxes. Estate planning includes preparing for life as well as death. This includes a parent preparing for surgery, for instance, who needs to have the right documents in place so family members can make emergency medical or financial decisions on their behalf. Estate planning also means being prepared for the unexpected.

Power of Attorney. Everyone over age 18 should have a POA, so a trusted person can take over their financial decisions. The POA can be as specific or broad as desired and must follow the laws of the person’s state of residence.

Medical Directives. This includes a Medical Power of Attorney, HIPAA authorization and a Living Will. The Medical POA allows you to appoint an agent to make health care decisions on your behalf. A HIPAA authorization allows someone else to gain access to medical records—you need this so your agent can talk with all medical and health insurance personnel. A living will is used to convey your wishes concerning end of life care. It’s a serious document, and many people prefer to avoid it, which is a mistake.

All of these documents are part of an estate plan. They answer the hard questions in advance, rather than putting family members in the terrible situation of having to guess what a loved one wanted.

An estate plan includes a will, and it might also include a trust. The will covers the distribution of property upon death, names an executor to be in charge of the estate and, if there are minor children, is used to name a guardian who will raise them.

A list of important information is not required by law. However, it should be created when you are working on your estate plan. This includes the important contacts from doctors to CPAs and financial advisors. Even more helpful would be to include a complete health profile with dates of previous surgeries, current medications with dosage information and pharmacy information.

Don’t overlook information about your digital life. Names of financial institutions, account numbers, usernames and passwords are all needed if your agent needs to access funds. Do not place any of this information in your will, as you’ll be handing the keys to the vault to thieves. Create a separate document with this information and tell your agent where to find the information if they need it.

Reference: MarketWatch (Nov. 19, 2022) “3 tasks your family needs to complete to ease any anxiety over unexpected emergencies”

Can I Protect My Elderly Parents?

Estate planning requires the ability to be realistic about current health and assets, while considering the inevitable changes to come. For adults with aging parents, having a well-thought out estate plan, regardless of the size of the estate, becomes more urgent as the time to use the documents draws closer. A recent article, “Accessing needs of aging parents,” from The News-Enterprise explains the steps adult children need to take to protect their parents.

There are four key factors to consider: medical needs, housing and care needs, finances and legal needs. All require candid, non-emotional assessments.

Start with medical, housing and care needs. Consider the next five years. Is it likely their medical condition may decline? How will their present home work, if they are unable to manage steps or need to sleep and toilet on the same level? If their home is not conducive for aging in place, will they consider moving to a better situation—or can they afford to make any changes?

Next, examine health and care needs. Do they have long-term care insurance or do they expect to apply for Medicaid? If one spouse will need memory care or one spouse dies, will the surviving spouse have the resources needed to remain in home and receive the care they need? An experienced estate planning attorney will be able to evaluate their financial situation with regard to becoming eligible for Medicaid, if this will be needed. There is a five-year look-back period for Medicaid, so advance action is necessary to protect assets.

Do they have any estate planning documents in place? Is there a will, and when was it prepared? Ask any estate planning attorney how many times seniors have told their children a will exists, only for the children to learn the will is forty years old, woefully out of date and declared invalid by the probate court. Deceased individuals may be listed as agents for Power of Attorney and Medical Power of Attorney. Funds left for heirs may no longer exist. Laws for power of attorney may not include required provisions as a result of changes to the law.

More complicated issues may exist. If appreciated real estate property has been deeded to loved ones to protect the property from nursing home costs, are the beneficiaries prepared to pay the resulting taxes? If deeded real estate property was intentionally left unrecorded, transferring property could become a legal quagmire.

The best solution is to have an experienced estate planning attorney meet with the parents, review any existing documents and prepare an updated set of documents to achieve the parent’s goals, protect them in case of medical emergencies and allow parents and children to gain the peace of mind of knowing they are ready for the future. This includes a will, power of attorney, health care power of attorney, HIPAA release, living will and, depending upon the situation, may also include trusts.

Reference: The Times-Enterprise (Nov. 5, 2022) “Accessing needs of aging parents”

The Benefits of a Good Estate Plan

If you don’t have a comprehensive estate plan, state law will control. That’s unlikely to coincide with what you would choose to do. MSN’s recent article entitled “What is estate planning?” discusses the benefits of estate planning.

Minimizes taxes. Clever structuring of flexible retirement accounts, such as a Roth IRA, can help funnel more tax-free money to your heirs, while other tax-planning strategies like strategic charitable giving can help you mitigate estate taxes.

Prevents family disputes. The possibility of a fight about who gets what of value or even a sentimental treasure can arise without proper planning.

Clarifies your directives. Although you may have always intended for your niece to get a certain heirloom, unless it’s written out in your estate plan, it may not get into her hands. If you clearly spell out your wishes with the help of an experienced estate planning attorney, you can help your loved ones remember you fondly or at least get what you intended.

Avoids the time and expense of probate court. Done correctly, a trust can help your family avoid the hassles of probate court. Because of the ease of using a trust, more people are doing an end-run around probate and setting up their assets this way. You don’t need as much wealth as you might think to make it worthwhile.

Keeps your family assets together. Trusts can be a good way to make sure your money stays in the family. With the help of an estate planning attorney, a trust can keep a beneficiary from blowing your lifetime of hard work in a few years.

Protects your heirs. If you have minor children, a will can instruct who will take care of them. A living will can help heirs avoid some difficult health decisions during a parent’s end of life.

Sound estate planning can help avoid several potentially troubling problems.

Reference: MSN (Oct. 13, 2022) “What is estate planning?”

What Happens When Inheritances are Unequal?

In this case, one brother left New York and had nothing to do with his brother for the rest of their lives. Uneven inheritances almost always lead to poor feelings between siblings, says a recent article “Where There’s a Will, There Can Be a War” from Next Avenue.

Wills have a way of frustrating a basic desire for equal treatment among siblings. If an older sibling works in the family business and receives full control of it in the will, siblings who inherit non-voting stock are likely to feel slighted, even if they never set foot in the business. Can this be avoided?

There are a few ways to avoid this kind of outcome. One option is to name each child as a beneficiary of a life insurance policy equal to the value of the stock passed to the oldest child. In this way, all children will feel they have been fairly treated.

If one child lives closest to the parents and takes on their care in their later years, the parents often leave this child the majority of their estate. It would be helpful for parents to explain this to the other siblings, so they understand why this has been done. A family meeting in person or online to explain the parent’s decision may be helpful. This gives the children time to process the information. Learning it for the first time after the parents die can be a surprise. Combining the surprise with grief is never a good idea.

For some families, an estate planning attorney can be helpful to serve as a mediator and/or buffer when this news is shared.

In some states, wills and trusts can include no-contest clauses. These forbid beneficiaries to receive any inheritance, if they challenge the will after the death of the parent. If one child receives more than another child, the other child could lose the smaller amount if they contest the will. Some attorneys recommend leaving the children enough to make it worth their while not to engage in litigation.

When unequal is fair. There are times when uneven inheritances are entirely fair. One child may have a substance abuse issue, or one may earn a six-figure salary while the other is eking out a living in a low-paying position. The parents may wish to leave more to a struggling family member and the other child may actually be relieved because the sibling will not need their financial assistance. A conversation with the family may eliminate confusion and clarify intent.

In all cases, the heirs and those who expect to be heirs must remember the estate planning attorney who creates the will or trust works for the parent and not for them. It’s the estate planning attorney’s role to counsel their clients, which they can do best if they have the complete picture of how the family dynamics operate.

Reference: Next Avenue (Oct. 13, 2022) “Where There’s a Will, There Can Be a War”

Top 10 Success Tips for Estate Planning

Unless you’ve done the planning, assets may not be distributed according to your wishes and loved ones may not be taken care of after your death. These are just two reasons to make sure you have an estate plan, according to the recent article titled “Estate Planning 101: 10 Tips for Success” from the Maryland Reporter.

Create a list of your assets. This should include all of your property, real estate, liquid assets, investments and personal possessions. With this list, consider what you would like to happen to each item after your death. If you have many assets, this process will take longer—consider this a good thing. Don’t neglect digital assets. The goal of a careful detailed list is to avoid any room for interpretation—or misinterpretation—by the courts or by heirs.

Meet with an estate planning attorney to create wills and trusts. These documents dictate how your assets are distributed after your death. Without them, the laws of your state may be used to distribute assets. You also need a will to name an executor, the person responsible for carrying out your instructions.

Your will is also used to name a guardian, the person who will raise your children if they are orphaned minors.

Who is the named beneficiary on your life insurance policy? This is the person who will receive the death benefit from your policy upon your death. Will this person be the guardian of your minor children? Do you prefer to have the proceeds from the policy used to fund a trust for the benefit of your children? These are important decisions to be made and memorialized in your estate plan.

Make your wishes crystal clear. Legal documents are often challenged if they are not prepared by an experienced estate planning attorney or if they are vaguely worded. You want to be sure there are no ambiguities in your will or trust documents. Consider the use of “if, then” statements. For example, “If my husband predeceases me, then I leave my house to my children.”

Consider creating a letter of intent or instruction to supplement your will and trusts. Use this document to give more detailed information about your wishes, from funeral arrangements to who you want to receive a specific item. Note this document is not legally binding, but it may avoid confusion and can be used to support the instructions in your will.

Trusts may be more important than you think in estate planning. Trusts allow you to take assets out of your probate estate and have these assets managed by a trustee of your choice, who distributes assets directly to beneficiaries. You don’t have to have millions to benefit from a trust.

List your debts. This is not as much fun as listing assets, but still important for your executor and heirs. Mortgage payments, car payments, credit cards and personal loans are to be paid first out of estate accounts before funds can be distributed to heirs. Having this information will make your executor’s tasks easier.

Plan for digital assets. If you want your social media accounts to be deleted or emails available to a designated person after you die, you’ll need to start with a list of the accounts, usernames, passwords, whether the platform allows you to designate another person to have access to your accounts and how you want your digital assets handled after death. This plan should be in place in case of incapacity as well.

How will estate taxes be paid? Without tax planning properly done, your legacy could shrink considerably. In addition to federal estate taxes, some states have state estate taxes and inheritance taxes. Talk with your estate planning attorney to find out what your estate tax obligations will be and how to plan strategically to pay the taxes.

Plan for Long Term Care. The Department of Health and Human Services estimates that about 70% of Americans will need some type of long-term care during their lifetimes. Some options are private LTC insurance, government programs and self-funding.

The more planning done in advance, the more likely your loved ones will know what to do if you become incapacitated and know what you wanted when you die.

Resource: Maryland Reporter (Sep. 27, 2022) “Estate Planning 101: 10 Tips for Success”

How Not to Build a Family Football Dynasty

Pat Bowlen did everything right when planning for his NFL team to be transferred to new owners. He created a succession plan and filed it with the NFL, as required by the organization’s bylaws. He notified heirs of developments as they occurred. Despite this, for years before and after Bowlen died in 2019, the battle over his estate and ownership of the team was fiercer than any on the playing field, according to a recent article from Variety, “Broncos’ Fumbled Handoff Reveals Perils of NFL Estate Planning.”

With an average age of 72, National Football League owners are facing inheritance and estate planning challenges familiar to any family embarked upon planning for distribution of their possessions. However, it is on a gigantic scale. The average NFL franchise is worth around $4.14 billion, and ownership transfers must address not only taxes and estate law, but rules and restrictions of the NFL.

Trust and estate attorneys believe the NFL teams are ripe for succession problems. The value of the team, plus the scarcity—there are a limited number of teams, after all—is expected to lead to property disputes that can’t be easily resolved simply by selling the property and splitting the proceeds.

This past spring, a group led by Rob Walton, 77-year-old steward of the Walmart fortune and father of three, purchased the Broncos for $4.65 billion. The deal marked the conclusion of several years of high- profile legal battles where Bowlen family members went at it in court and in the media and underscores the unpredictable nature of succession planning.

What happened to the Bowlen family?

As Bowlen started to experience Alzheimer’s disease in the late 2000s, he started planning. In 2009, he revoked one trust to create a new one to be overseen by three trustees, who were each either a team executive or attorneys he’d known for many years. None was a member of the family.

The trust was created to manage a complex structure of the team’s ownership. The team was owned by PDB Sports, a limited partnership owned itself by Bowlen Sports Inc., which was owned by Patrick Bowlen and his brother John Bowlen. The trust would also operate other family-owned team properties, including Stadium Management Company, which operated Denver’s famous Mile High Stadium.

If the structure of the business wasn’t complex enough, the family’s internal relations were equally complicated. Seven children from two marriages, along with three siblings had been co-owners at various points in time and all had children of their own. No one agreed about the future of the team. They also disagreed about the competency and objectivity of the trustees.

Bowlen was the scion of a wealthy Canadian oil man. He and two brothers and one sister bought most of the Broncos in 1984 and the remainder of the team two years later. Each sibling owned about 25% of the team in 1986. The set up wasn’t sustainable because the NFL requires each team to identify one controlling owner. Over time, Pat Bowlen purchased equity from his siblings and gained control of the franchise. At the time of his death, he owned 76% of the team, and his brother John owned the other 24%.

Bowlen wanted the family to own the team just like the Rooney family, owners of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Selling the team was never part of his plan. However, his wishes were not expressed in his estate planning documents or trusts. The trustees declined a different succession plan from two daughters from his first marriage. When his second wife learned one of the daughters from the first marriage had attended an owner’s meeting in 2021, things got hotter. The second wife threatened to fire a trustee if the daughter from the first marriage began ascending as a controlling owner and the battles continued. The following years were filled with lawsuits and accusations.

There were many factors in this epic estate battle. However, it’s pretty likely having so many families embroiled in a high stakes battle would have undone any estate plan. A complex ownership structure, multiple families and a big price tag all contributed to the sale of the team, undermining Bowlen’s wishes to create a football family dynasty.

For most families, the stakes are not as high. However, the emotions can be just as intense. An estate plan created by an experienced estate planning attorney plus a plan for communication between all family members more often than not will achieve the desired goals.

Reference: Variety (Sep. 10, 2022) “Broncos’ Fumbled Handoff Reveals Perils of NFL Estate Planning”