Estate Planning Blog Articles

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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”

What are Mistakes to Avoid with Beneficiary Designations?

Many people don’t know that their will doesn’t control who inherits all of their assets when they die. Some assets pass by beneficiary designation. Assets like life insurance, annuities and retirement accounts all pass by beneficiary designation.

Kiplinger’s recent article entitled “Beneficiary Designations: 5 Critical Mistakes to Avoid” lists five critical mistakes to avoid when dealing with your beneficiary designations:

  1. Failing to designate any beneficiary at all. Many people forget to name a beneficiary for retirement accounts or life insurance. They may forget, didn’t know they had to, or just never got around to filling out the forms. If you don’t name a beneficiary for life insurance or retirement accounts, the company will apply its rules about where the assets will go after you die. For life insurance, the proceeds will typically be paid to your probate estate. For retirement benefits, if you’re married, your spouse will most likely receive the assets. However, if you’re unmarried, the retirement account will likely be paid to your probate estate, which has negative income tax ramifications.
  2. Failing to consider special circumstances. Not every family member should get an asset directly. This includes minor children, those with specials needs and people who can’t manage assets or with creditor issues.
  3. Misspelling a beneficiary’s name. Beneficiary designation forms can be filled out incorrectly and the beneficiary designation form may not be specific. People also change their names through marriage or divorce, or assumptions can be made about a person’s legal name that later prove incorrect. Failing to have names match exactly can cause delays in payouts, and in a worst-case scenario of two people with similar names, it can result in a court case.
  4. Forgetting to update your beneficiaries. Your choice of beneficiary may likely change over time as circumstances change. Naming a beneficiary is part of an overall estate plan, and just as life changes, so should your estate plan. Beneficiary designations are an important part of that plan—make certain that they’re updated regularly.
  5. Failing to review beneficiary choices with legal and financial advisers. How beneficiary designations should be completed is a component of an overall financial and estate plan. Involve your legal and financial advisers to determine what’s best for your circumstances. Note that beneficiary designations are designed to guarantee that you have the ultimate say over who will get your assets when you pass away. Taking the time to carefully (and correctly) choose your beneficiaries and then periodically reviewing those choices and making any necessary updates will allow you to remain in control of your money.

Reference: Kiplinger (June 6, 2022) “Beneficiary Designations: 5 Critical Mistakes to Avoid”

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”

How Did Rock Star’s Estate Planning Help Future Musicians?

The Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation, a nonprofit supporting music education in at-risk public schools, announced it had received a “transformative donation” from the late Eddie Van Halen.

MSN’s recent article on this is entitled “Eddie Van Halen left a huge donation in his will to support music education for kids”

Before his death in October 2020, Van Halen was involved with the foundation and supported the nonprofit over the years.

He made numerous appearances at the organization’s events and took part in various opportunities helping teach music to kids. As part of his will, Van Halen made a considerable donation that will have a profound effect on the foundation for many years.

The Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation was inspired by the movie titled Mr. Holland’s Opus. It is the story of the profound effect a dedicated music teacher had on generations of students. Michael Kamen, who wrote the score for the film, started the foundation in 1996 as his commitment to the future of music education.

The foundation says that Van Halen’s donation “will enable MHOF to fulfill requests from a greater number of schools, add employees to its staff, improve the foundation’s technology and more.”

“Eddie’s support and friendship over the years meant the world to us and to his fans. His passion for music and our work created a strong bond, which is evident in his extraordinary bequest,” Felice Mancini, President and CEO of MHOF said in a statement.

“To know how much our foundation meant to Eddie is intensely humbling and gratifying to all of us – and we know that Eddie’s family is confident that his powerful legacy and values live on through our efforts.”

Van Halen’s son, Wolfgang Van Halen, will continue the family’s involvement and support of the organization. He has donated proceeds from his single “Distance” to the foundation in support of school music programs across the country and as a dedication to his father.

“Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation and the work they do for music education was always something that was important to my father,” Van Halen said in a statement. “I am incredibly proud to help facilitate this donation as he wished. Mr. Holland’s Opus are champions for our musicians of the future, and it is my privilege to continue supporting that mission and carrying on my pop’s legacy.”

Reference: MSN (April 21, 2022) “Eddie Van Halen left a huge donation in his will to support music education for kids”

Half of Americans Making More than $100K Don’t Have a Will

About 70% of participants in a new survey from Wealth, an estate planning platform, said that they want to pass wealth down to their loved ones. However, only about half (53%) have an estate plan. And only about a third (32%) say they have a will in place.

Think Advisor’s recent article entitled “Nearly Half of Families Earning $100K or More Lack an Estate Plan: Survey” reports that the survey found that people of color, in particular, face accessibility barriers. This group is 14% less likely to have an estate plan in place than their counterparts in the sample.

Wealth’s findings were based on a survey conducted in the U.S. by WALR in partnership with Manifest in the last two weeks of last year among 10,000 employed respondents ages 30 to 55 with a household income of more than $100,000.

The survey results showed that the main factor keeping people from securing their financial legacy is the notion that estate planning should be done in the future rather than now — possibly because 45% of respondents said they avoid thinking about death.

Another misperception is that estate planning is only for the very wealthy: 42% of survey participants said they don’t own anything valuable and as a reason they do not have a plan, and 30% said they don’t have enough money.

Wealth said it behooves employers to make employees aware of estate planning in their benefits packages.

Just 13% of the sample said they receive estate planning as an employee benefit.

About 72% of the respondents who don’t have a plan said they’d be more likely to create a will if the services were offered by their employer.

“Estate planning should not only be available to high-net-worth households,” Rafael Loureiro, Wealth’s co-founder and chief executive, said in a statement. “Employees of all income levels and walks of life can benefit from financial clarity and emotional peace of mind that comes with having an estate plan.”

The survey found that 40% haven’t gotten around to setting up an estate plan, although 70% say they eventually will do it and about 45% say that they actively avoid thinking about death (especially men and 51% of millennials). Almost half (45%) also think it’s inappropriate to talk about money with friends, missing out on valuable financial advice.

Reference: Think Advisor (March 29, 2022) “Nearly Half of Families Earning $100K or More Lack an Estate Plan: Survey”

Should an Estate Plan Include a Cabin on the Lake?

If you don’t plan appropriately and thoughtfully, problems may arise with respect to this property and your family when you are gone, says Kiplinger’s recent article entitled “Your Vacation Home Needs an Estate Plan!”

Speaking with your spouse and children is a good first step to help determine interest in retaining the property for the next generation and financial ability to maintain it. Let’s look at three ways you can plan for your vacation home.

Leave a Vacation Home to Children Outright During Life or at Death. An outright transfer of the home via a deed to children is the easiest way to transfer a vacation home.

However, if your children all own the property equally, they all have an equal say as to its use and management.

As a result, all decisions require unanimous agreement, which can prove challenging and be ripe for disagreement. Suggest that they create a Use and Maintenance Agreement to determine the terms and rules for the property usage. The contract would require all children to agree.

Form a Limited Liability Company (LLC). This is a tool often used by families, where each family member has a certain amount of membership interests in a home or to give away a home in a controlled manner. The operating agreement states the rules for governing the use and management of the property.

Put the Vacation Home in a Trust. A trust is another way to help with the ownership and transfer of vacation homes. Ask an experienced estate planning attorney about how this might work for your family.

Planning for your family’s vacation property is important to help avoid litigation and maintain family peace.

Addressing how the property will be paid for and setting aside money for it—as well as selecting the right structure for your family to use and enjoy the property—will help avoid issues in the future.

Reference: Kiplinger (Feb. 1, 2022) “Your Vacation Home Needs an Estate Plan!”

Why Shouldn’t I Wait to Draft my Will?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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