Estate Planning Blog Articles

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Can I Avoid Password Problems for My Family in Estate Planning?

Barron’s recent article entitled “How to Ensure Heirs Avoid a Password-Protected Nightmare” explains that even financial planners may not consider until too late, how difficult it can be to recover and access a loved one’s accounts after they pass away. Since we are much more paperless with our finances, getting access to these accounts can be extremely hard for heirs, if they don’t have the right information. That’s because digital accounts are protected by encryption, multifactor authentication and federal data privacy laws.

Create a list of digital accounts and instructions on how to access them. The list should include not only financial assets but social media and other accounts. Digital accounts that loved ones or advisors may need to access following a death include:

  • Traditional financial accounts
  • Cryptocurrency accounts
  • Home payment and utilities accounts
  • Health insurance benefits
  • Email accounts
  • Social media
  • Smartphone accounts
  • Storage and file-sharing
  • Photo, music and video accounts
  • E-commerce accounts
  • Subscriptions to streaming services, such as Netflix, newspapers, music services; and
  • Loyalty/rewards programs for airlines and hotels.

Create a list of accounts, passwords and access information, keeping it up to date as information changes and letting a trusted person, such as an executor or estate planning attorney, know its location. Without a password list, it can be a nightmare.

Note that with every digital account, there’s a specific process that heirs must undertake to gain access, which should then be communicated clearly in your estate plan. Make a list of all digital assets and their access information, but don’t include this in the will itself, since the document is part of the public record in probate.

Being prepared well ahead of time can help your family avoid additional stress and delays as they probate your estate. It also ensures that they don’t forfeit significant financial assets concealed behind an impenetrable digital wall.

Reference: Barron’s (Dec. 15, 2021) “How to Ensure Heirs Avoid a Password-Protected Nightmare”

Why Do I Need an Estate Planning Attorney?

Pennsylvania News Today’s recent article entitled “Top 7 Reasons You Need An Estate Lawyer says that when you think about hiring a real estate lawyer, it might seem a little unsettling. However, let’s look at these reasons and why you might require them.

Estate Planning. You might want to consider this, but everyone passes away. It’s important that your family is ready for this. An experienced estate planning attorney can help you through this process and make certain everything is prepared. You should have a will. This document says what should happen with your assets when you pass away.

Trusts. A trust helps manage assets before someone dies. If you only have one or two assets you want given to someone, a will is adequate. However, if you own extensive property, ask an experienced estate planning attorney about setting up a trust. This will help your family keep living in your home, even after you’re gone without worrying about it being sold out from under them.

Probate. The probate court oversees the distribution of a person’s estate according to the instructions in their will. Probate can be a lengthy and expensive process, depending on where you live and the complexity of your assets or family situation. An estate planning attorney can help you with strategies to avoid it. A probate attorney can help you, so your family doesn’t have to worry about dealing with that stress or spending a vast amount of money necessary to do this correctly.

Guardianship. Guardianships are used when parents pass away and leave minor children behind. You can designate a guardian for your minor children in your will.

Elder Law Services. Seniors frequently need help managing finances and health care decisions. An experienced estate planning attorney or elder law attorney can help your loved ones through these complicated matters.

Estate Investments. An experienced attorney can also advise you on how to make smart investments for your family and can make certain that the transaction goes smoothly, and that any moves work with your estate planning objectives.

Tax Issues. Taxes may be owed on estates worth more than five million dollars. This can make it hard for heirs who don’t have access to this much money upfront. An estate planning attorney can help you avoid taxes, so your family doesn’t have to deal with this problem.

Estate planning is a process that should be started as soon as possible. You’ll need an estate planning lawyer who is knowledgeable and experienced to help.

Reference: Pennsylvania News Today (Nov. 11, 2021) “Top 7 Reasons You Need An Estate Lawyer”

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”

Do Young Adults Need Estate Planning?

Estate planning has an image problem, particularly with younger generations, says The Financial Post’s November 15th article entitled, “The case for estate planning in your 20s: At any age, some things are dear to you.”

If your 22 and don’t own a home, aren’t married and don’t have any dependent children, writing a will may seem like a waste of time and money. However, if you ask yourself “what do you want to see happen to your treasures if you pass away?

With no estate plan, a young adult will have no say over what happens to their treasures one day.

A recent survey shows very few young adults have an up-to-date will. It is less than 20%.

One reason for this poor result is that the term “estate planning” makes the process seem inaccessible or irrelevant for anyone not of a certain age or with significant assets.

However, considering your wishes earlier in life when your needs are simpler can make the process feel more natural and manageable when your life — and needs — become more complex as you get older.

The pandemic is a reminder that none of us knows for sure if we will have a later.

Drafting a will gives you the power to decide where everything from your savings and investments to your sentimental belongings and even your pets will go when you pass away.

Many people wait until they get married, buy a house, or have kids to draft a will. However, every adult needs one. Think about what would happen to your assets and property, if something happens to you.

People with spouses often mistakenly assume everything will go to that person, if they have no will in place.

However, state law will dictate exactly what assets will go to their spouse, and what might go to other relatives, such as their parents. If that’s not how you would have wanted it to go, you’re out of luck.

Leaving an up-to-date record of your wishes is the best thing you can do for your family.

Reference: Financial Post (Nov. 15, 2021) “The case for estate planning in your 20s: At any age, some things are dear to you”

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”

Should I Write My Own Will?

Only a third of Americans have estate planning documents, according to a 2021 study. However, the pandemic has caused many to start taking estate planning more seriously. The research saw a 63% increase from last year in adults between the ages of 18 and 34 who have a will or another estate planning document. A total of 24% of all adults surveyed also said that COVID made them see a greater need for estate planning and take action.

Yahoo Life’s recent article entitled “Planning to Write Your Own Will? Here’s What You Need to Know” explains that an online form may be cheaper. However, hiring a lawyer could save you money in the future. If you don’t understand or review the probate laws in your state, when you try to write your will on your own, it can cost you and your loved ones more in the long run. It can mean added court fees, legal fees and stress. If there are any mistakes in your will, it can take a long time for it to clear probate court.

Drafting a will through an attorney is a way to make certain that your assets will be transferred the way you want them to, giving you and your loved ones more peace of mind.

You should hire an experienced estate planning attorney because the state’s probate code and tax laws are constantly changing.

If you write your own will, it is possible that a minor mistake can cause the will to be invalid or contested.

Once you create your will, it is vital that you execute or sign it correctly according to state law. That means having the correct number of witnesses, the right formal language above the will-maker’s signature and the legal requirements of your state.

Even if you decide to write your own will, you should ask an attorney to review it for you.

When you use an experienced estate planning attorney, you can fix any mistakes and know that your will is legally sound.

Many attorneys offer estate plan audits for those who have documents and want to make sure they work the way they think they do.

Reference: Yahoo Life (Sep. 17, 2021) “Planning to Write Your Own Will? Here’s What You Need to Know”

Don’t Follow Queen of Soul: Think about Estate Planning

The Albuquerque Journal’s recent article entitled “Learn from Aretha’s estate mess and ‘Think’” talks about the new bio pic called “Respect” that traces 20 years of the life of Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul and the number one singer of all time in a Rolling Stone ranking from 2010.

Aretha died in 2018. She had four sons from either three or four fathers. Their ages spanned 15 years. The oldest, born when Aretha was 12, has special needs and lives in a group home. When she passed, all evidence pointed to the fact that she had no will. The sons – in birth order, Clarence, Edward, Ted, and Kecalf – agreed to a friendly and equal split of the estate. Michigan law supported this. They designated a cousin, Sabrina, as the executor.

This was good, until Sabrina started finding wills. There were two from 2010 and one from 2014. They were all in Aretha’s handwriting, the last one in a spiral notebook found under cushions of a sofa.

Michigan law permits an entirely handwritten will and even allows a will to be unsigned, if it clearly shows the decedent’s wishes. Her 2014 will first named the three younger sons as co-executors.  Aretha then crossed out all names but Kecalf. Ted and an attorney appointed to represent Clarence challenged Kecalf’s competence to serve as Aretha’s executor.

But wait! A fourth will was found. That one was actually typed and established a trust for Clarence. Aretha initialed some pages, but she didn’t sign it.

At that point, Sabrina gave up and resigned as Aretha’s executor.

The probating of Aretha’s estate went from a friendly division of assets to a hot mess.

The sons were now “playing games that they can score,” and wondering if Aretha stopped to think what she was trying to do to them.

The Probate Court judge appointed Aretha’s friend Reginald Turner, who recently was named President of the American Bar Association, as temporary estate representative.

The sons’ fighting is ongoing.

Aretha’s estate has a lot of issues. Don’t be like the Queen. Get your estate plan set and revise it, as needed, with the help of an experienced estate planning attorney.

Reference: Albuquerque Journal (Sep. 12, 2021) “Learn from Aretha’s estate mess and ‘Think’

Talk to Parents about Estate Planning without Making It Awkward

If you don’t have this conversation with parents when they are able to share information and provide you with instructions, helping with their care if they become incapacitated or dealing with their estate after they pass will be far more difficult. None of this is easy, but there are some practical strategies shared in the article “How to Talk to Your Parents About Estate Planning” from The Balance.

Parents worry about children fighting over estates after they pass, but not having a “family meeting” to speak about estate planning increases the chance of this happening. In many cases, family conflicts lead to litigation, and everyone loses.

Start by including siblings. Including everyone creates an awareness of fairness because no one is being left out. A frank, open conversation including all of the heirs with parents can prevent or at least lessen the chances for arguments over what parents would have wanted. Distrust grows with secrets, so get everything out in the open.

When is the right time to have the conversation? There is no time like the present. Don’t wait for an emergency to occur—what most people do—but by then, it’s too late.

Estate planning includes preparing for issues of aging as well as property distribution after death. Health care power of attorney and financial power of attorney need to be prepared, so family members can be involved when a parent is incapacitated. An estate planning attorney will draft these documents as part of creating an estate plan.

The unpredictable events of 2020 and 2021 have made life’s fragile nature clear. Now is the time to sit down with family members and talk about the plans for the future. Do your parents have an estate plan? Are there plans for incapacity, including Long-Term Care insurance? If they needed to be moved to a long-term facility, how would the cost be covered?

Another reason to have this conversation with family now is your own retirement planning. The cost of caring for an ailing parent can derail even the best retirement plan in a matter of months.

Define roles among siblings. Who will serve as power of attorney and manage mom’s finances? Who will be the executor after death? Where are all of the necessary documents? If the last will and testament is locked in a safe deposit box and no one can gain access to it, how will the family manage to follow their parent’s wishes?

Find any old wills and see If trusts were established when children were young. If an estate plan was created years ago and the children are now adults, it’s likely all of the documents need to be revised. Review any trusts with an estate planning attorney. Those children who were protected by trusts so many years ago may now be ready to serve as executor, trustees, power of attorney or health care surrogate.

Usually, a complete understanding of the parent’s wishes and reasons behind their estate plan takes more than a single conversation. Some of the issues may require detailed discussion, or family members may need time to process the information. However, as long as the parents are living, the conversation should continue. Scheduling an annual family meeting, often with the family’s estate planning attorney present, can help everyone set long-term goals and foster healthy family relationships for multiple generations.

Reference: The Balance (Oct. 15, 2021) “How to Talk to Your Parents About Estate Planning”