Estate Planning Blog Articles

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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”

How Is a Notary Used in Estate Planning?

After the coronavirus pandemic hit, and the virus spread continued to surge throughout 2021, the methods of getting a document quickly and safely notarized evolved, reports WTOP’s article entitled “What Is a Notarized Document — and Where Can I Get Something Notarized?”

“Notaries have bent over backwards to accommodate the varying needs during the pandemic,” says Bill Anderson, vice president of government affairs at the National Notary Association. “The pandemic didn’t stop business. Even though we’ve been working from home, and it’s been harder than usual to get work done, the types of documents that required notarization before the pandemic continue to require notarization during the pandemic.”

A notary is appointed by the state to serve as an impartial witness to protect against fraud. They act as gatekeepers during the signing of important documents. Moreover, they’re required to follow specific rules in accordance with state laws and regulations. Notarization is an official process in which the parties of a transaction make certain that a document is authentic and legitimate.

Notarization entails the verification of a signer’s identity, their willingness to sign without duress or intimidation, along with their awareness of the document’s contents.

Notarizations can also be called “notarial acts.”

There are three common types of notarial acts:

  • Acknowledgments, where a signer declares the signature on the document is his or her own, made willingly, for documents, such as real property deeds, powers of attorney, and trusts.
  • Jurats which verifies that paperwork is truthful. This typically involves documents associated with criminal or civil justice systems.
  • Certified copies include certifying the copying or reproduction of certain papers.

A notary will ask to see a current ID that has a photo, physical description and signature. He or she will also record the details of the notarization in a chronological journal of notarial acts.

If a document fails any of the criteria, the notary will refuse to validate the document.

The process is complete when the notary affixes his or her signature and seal of office on a notarial certificate.

Reference: WTOP (Aug. 26, 2021) “What Is a Notarized Document — and Where Can I Get Something Notarized?”

How Do I Write a Will?

You should get the basic estate planning documents in order and revisit them regularly. Everyone should have a will, but it’s only one of several significant estate planning documents in a comprehensive plan.

US News’ recent article entitled “10 Steps to Writing a Will” says that many of a typical household’s assets, such as retirement accounts, can be transferred outside of a will by naming beneficiaries. Documents, like financial and medical powers of attorney, can also be more powerful in determining the outcome of an estate.

Find an Experienced Estate Planning Attorney. Most situations will require an estate planning attorney, especially when you have a large estate, a blended family, or other complex situations.

Select Beneficiaries. A common mistake people make when planning their estate is failing to name or update beneficiaries on key accounts that work with the plans outlined in their wills. The beneficiary listed on bank accounts, life insurance and other financial accounts will have control over the will.

Choose the Executor. The executor of your will has the task of carrying out your wishes detailed in the will.

Choose a Guardian for Your Minor Children. If you have minor children, you must designate a guardian in your will. That way you can name the person you want to care for your children, in the event you die while they are yet minors.

Be Specific About Who Gets What. One of the most time-consuming aspects of creating a will may be deciding which assets to include and determining who will receive what. Consider the types of assets being allocated to heirs to help with decision-making and management.

Be Clear About Who Gets What. Think practically about how your property will be distributed. A big reason children stop speaking after a parent’s death is because there’s boilerplate language directing tangible assets, such as artwork, collectibles, or jewelry, to be divided equally among children.

Attach a Letter. You can attach an explanatory letter to your will. This letter may provide additional detail about certain wishes. This is also called a “Letter of Last Instruction.”

Sign the Will Properly. If you fail to execute your will properly, it may result in the document being deemed invalid. An experienced estate planning attorney will know precisely what is required as far as witnesses and notarization.

Find a Place for Your Will. Inform a person you trust about the location of your will as well as any other important legal papers and passwords to financial institutions. In addition, it’s wise to store the original copy somewhere secure, such as in a fireproof safe.

Review and Update Your Will. A will should be updated every few years.

Reference: US News (May 31, 2021) “10 Steps to Writing a Will”