Sunday, March 03, 2013
Estate Planning for Gay Familes, Part I: The 4 Essential Documents
Minnesota Lawyer Lists the Critical Documents Every Same-Sex Couple Must Have.
Under current Minnesota (and Federal) law, gay couples do not have any rights to such basic things as: 1) inheriting from each other; 2) making medical decisions for each other; 3) handling financial matters for each other; 4) naming a guardian for a minor child; or 5) continuing to live in the family home if only one partner is listed on the deed.
Will – A will tells who should inherit your property when you pass away, who you want your executor to be, and who will become guardians of any minor children. These issues are all especially important for unmarried individuals. In most states, an unmarried partner does not have inheritance rights, so any property owned by his or her deceased partner would go to other family members. Also, in the case of many gay and lesbian couples, the living partner is not necessarily the biological or adoptive parent of any minor children, which could lead to custody disputes in an already very difficult time. Therefore, it’s critical to nominate guardians for minor children.
Financial power of attorney – A power of attorney (for financial matters) dictates who is authorized to manage your financial affairs in the event you become incapacitated. Otherwise, it can be very difficult or impossible for the non-disabled partner to manage the disabled partner’s affairs without going through a lengthy guardianship or conservatorship proceeding.
Advance healthcare directive – A power of attorney for healthcare, informs caregivers as to who is responsible for making healthcare decisions for someone in the event that a person cannot make them for himself, such as in the event of a serious accident or a condition like dementia.
HIPAA Waiver - allows the persons named to discuss your care with a doctor BUT not to make decisions.
If you don't have these documents, your partner may be prohibited from keeping your assets, living in your home, paying your bills, or making your medical decisions.
Call now to protect your family!
Sunday, February 24, 2013
Will or Won’t? Things a Will Won’t (or Can’t) Do
A Minnesota Estate Planning Lawyer Explains the Limitations of Using a Will to Handle Your Estate
Wills offer many benefits and are an important part of any estate plan, regardless of how much property you have. Your will can ensure that after death your property will be given to the loved ones you designate. If you have children, a will is necessary to designate a guardian for them. Without a will, the courts and probate laws will decide who inherits your property and who cares for your children. But there are certain things a will cannot accomplish.
A will has no effect on the distribution of certain types of property after your death. For example, if you own property in joint tenancy with another co-owner, your share of that property will automatically belong to the surviving joint tenant. Any contrary will provision would only be effective if all joint tenants died at the same time.
If you have named a beneficiary on your life insurance policy, those proceeds will not be subject to the terms of a will and will pass directly to your named beneficiary. Similarly, if you have named a beneficiary on your retirement accounts, including pension plans, individual retirement accounts (IRAs), 401(k) or 403(b) retirement plans, the money will be distributed directly to that named beneficiary when you pass on, regardless of any will provisions.
Brokerage accounts, including stocks and bonds, in which you have named a transfer-on-death (TOD) beneficiary will be transferred directly to the named beneficiary. Vehicles may also be titled with a TOD beneficiary, and would therefore transfer to your beneficiary, regardless of any provisions contained in your will. Similar to TODs, bank accounts may have a pay-on-death beneficiary named.
The will’s shortcomings are not limited to matters of inheritance. A simple will cannot reduce estate taxes the way some kinds of trust plans can. Neither can a will protect the inheritance you leave your heirs from creditors. Perhaps your heirs are young and you would like to make sure they can get their inheritance at certain ages or intervals (marriage, education or having children).
A trust, not a will, is also necessary to arrange for care for a beneficiary who has special needs. A will cannot provide for long-term care arrangements for a loved one. However, a special needs trust can provide financial support for a disabled beneficiary, without risking government disability benefits.
A will cannot help you avoid probate. Assets left through a will generally must be transferred through a court-supervised probate proceeding, which can take months, or longer, at significant expense to your estate. If it’s probate you want to avoid, consider establishing a living trust to hold your significant assets.
Wednesday, February 20, 2013
Estate Planning Lessons, Part 2: Marriage Is Not Enough - You Must Get a Financial Power of Attorney Now
This continues my series on lessons I learned in handling the estates of my parents who both passed away last year. This post will discuss reasons why you should plan things now - do not wait!
I am an estate planning attorney with the knowledge and experience to handle complex issues but found myself running around at the last minute to take care of things for my own father. It turns out that my father had never signed a financial power of attorney. What does that mean? It means that his wife was unable to handle simple financial transactions on his behalf while he was in the hospital and unable to do things like go to the bank. But they're married you say. For many financial matters, even a spouse does not have the right to act on your behalf. For instance, a spouse may not deal with anything listed solely in your name. This generally includes such things as your retirmenet plan, stocks or bank accounts.
So, on a Thursday afternoon I was in my office (instead of the hospital) drafting a power of attorney for him to sign so that his wife could take care of some financial matters he thought were crucial in his last few days of life. Then I ran it to the hospital and got it signed and notarized.
You could look at this and note that we were lucky as he was awake, competent and alert enough to know what he wanted done and still capable of signing the Power of Attorney - even one day later and that would not have been the case. Many people simply put it off unti it's too late and the family has to fight to get a conservatorship to be allowed to make decisions they know the loved one would have wanted.
Please plan now so no one is running around trying to get these things done during such a difficult time.
Thursday, February 07, 2013
Estate Planning Lessons, Part 1: Ownership of Property in Another State
As noted in a prior post, the year 2012 was a difficult one for me personally with the loss of both my parents. It has been emotional and trying to deal with the losses and then, on top of that, try to work through their estates with two different sets of family. This is the first post conveying some of the lessons I've learned in my continuing attempt to educate others about the need to work with someone to properly plan your estate.
Even the family of an estate planning attorney can be unprepared for an unexpected event. A week before my father's death I found out that he owned property in North Dakota. It turns out that my great grandfather had land there and divided it up between his children who did the same all the way down the line so that now my siblings and I own a piece of North Dakota land. At least we will own it once we go through the probate process and have the deed changed to our names.
You may think "Well, you're an estate planning attorney so can't you just take care of that?" Unfortunately for us, I can't as I'm not licensed in North Dakota. So, now we will need to hire a North Dakota attorney several thousand dollars to get the property into our names. No, the irony is not lost on me.
So, this post is to urge you to talk to your loved ones about what you own or ask what they may own so that you can properly manage things now before it's too late. If I would have known about the North Dakota property earlier, I would have urged my Dad to get a trust and deed the property into it so that we would now be able to avoid the hassle, expense and pain of going through probate in another state.
Wednesday, January 16, 2013
Common Question Wednesday: Should I Add Another Person (Partner or Child) to the Title of the House
Minneapolis attorney specializing in nontraditional estate planning answers the question of whether an individual should add his/her unmarried partner to the deed to a home
As an estate planning attorney specializing in nontraditional estates, I get a lot of questions specific to situations that may not normally be heard as often by one of my more "traditional estate planning" colleagues. I've decided to begin a new monthly post entitled "Common Question Day" to respond to some of these questions.
First up is the most common question I am asked by unmarried couples and seniors looking to make things easier on loved ones.
QUESTION: SHOULD I ADD SOMEONE TO THE DEED TO MY (OUR) HOUSE?
While I hear this question most often from couples who are not legally married, the answer remains the same for anyone - outside of a legal spouse - considering whether to add another person(s) to a deed to the home. This means that the answer applies to parents considering adding a child, a person wanting to add a sibling or even a friend.
The short answer is that I do NOT recommend adding another person to the title to your home. This is so for the reasons listed below:
1. Lender Consent. If the property is encumbered by a mortgage, the first issue to consider is whether adding another to the deed will violate the terms of your loan documents.
2. Liability and Asset Protection. Joining someone else as a co-owner of your property may expose that property to the claims of your co-owner's creditors.
3. Loss of Control. As the sole owner, you have absolute control over the property. For example, you alone have the right to decide whether to sell it, and at what price, whether to refinance, take out a home equity loan, and what improvements should be made. However, once another person acquires an ownership interest you will also need their consent in all these matters.
4. Gift Tax Consequences. Under the current IRS rules, a person can give away a fixed amount of money or property per person per year ($14,000 in 2013). Any gift exceeding this limit may require the donor to pay gift taxes. If you give an interest to another rather than selling the share at fair market value, it may trigger the requirement to file a gift tax return so you should consult with a tax professional.
5. Capital Gains. A transfer by deed during the donor's lifetime (instead of by a Will upon death) can have other adverse tax consequences. If you leave the land to someone in a Will, the heir receives a "step up" basis. This means that when the heir eventually sells the property, capital gains taxes are computed based on the value of the property at the date of your death--not when you originally purchased the property. Since land usually increases in value over time, the "step up" basis reduces capital gains taxes. However, if you make a gift of that same property during your lifetime, there is no "step up" basis; rather the basis will be the same as yours and can trigger increased taxes.
6. Medicaid Eligibility. Transfers of property may also affect Medicaid eligibility. This topic is much too complex to cover here, but suffice it to say that unless you make the transfer more than five years before filing your Medicaid application, you may be disqualified for Medicaid assistance.
If you are thinking “should I add someone to the deed to my house” please stop and consider the above and speak with an attorney and tax professional before making any changes to the title. An important question is, "What issues do I need to address before deciding whether to add someone to my deed?" It may not be possible to fully resolve all the potential problems associated with co-ownership of property, but a skillful legal professional can at least help avoid unpleasant surprises in the process.
Friday, December 28, 2012
Unique Estate Law: 2012 Wrap Up for a Nontraditional Law Firm
An Estate Planning Attorney Provides a Personal Review of 2012
The state of the firm
For Unique Estate Law 2012 was a fantastic year. The firm beat projections and I was able to assist more clients than ever before. I had referrals from a wide range of sources and a constant stream of clients coming through my website. I’ve done well enough to start advertising on a local radio station and in a local magazine. I have met many wonderful people and have given them guidance and peace of mind when facing an uncertain future.
Two major losses
But, for Chris Tymchuck, it was the worst year of my life.
Why was it such a bad year personally? In November both my Dad and Mom died within a week of each other. They were 66 and 64 respectively so it hadn’t occurred to the family that they might be gone so soon. While my father had battled cancer for 11 years he was in no worse shape in the end than in prior battles. And my Mom had never been sick a day in her life.
Why am I writing about this?
Why do I share such personal information on a law firm website? Because, it is a cautionary tale of what happens in a blended family when little or no preparation is done.
I was recently sharing my story with two clients and they said, “I can’t believe this is happening to you who spend your time making sure that people like us are ok and covered. You have to share your story with people so they understand that this can, and does, happen.” And they’re right.
I write this blog to assist clients and colleagues with things to consider when drafting estate plans for all types of families – both traditional and non-traditional – and the blog has paid off for me. I feel that, in keeping with the spirit in which I write I must use the lessons of 2012 to further education clients and colleagues through this medium. In short, to give back as the blog has given me so much.
Is it relevant to Unique Estate Law?
Why is my story relevant to this site? Because part of the reason that I specialize in non-traditional families is because I grew up in one – or several – and know the complications that come with being raised with in a complex web of interrelated (and sometimes not) people.
My parents divorced and each remarried and had kids with a subsequent spouse. In addition, my Mom remarried a third time and became a stepparent herself. So, that means I have a stepdad, stepmom, 3 half-brothers, a half-sister, a step brother and a step sister. That, of course, doesn’t include the “traditional” family members such as aunts, uncles and still-living grandparents. There are a lot of people to factor into planning, mourning and administering for someone.
I’ve spent the last couple of months grieving and assisting my family with working through the health care decisions, then memorials, estates and other issues associated with facing the illness and then death of parent. I plan to spend the next few posts discussing some of the lessons I’ve learned by being on the other side – education to practice so to speak – as my hope is to assist others to avoid some of the pitfalls we now face.
I can’t say that anything good has really come out of the losses I suffered this year but I will say that it confirmed my choice of profession. First, because I found relief in returning to work and assisting my clients and second because I feel that I use my law degree in the best possible way – to assist others to prepare for, and perhaps face, the worst times in their lives. For that I am grateful.
Monday, November 26, 2012
Estate Planning: Leaving Assets to a ‘Troubled’ Heir
A Minnesota Estate Planning Attorney Discusses Complex Estate Planning Techniques
If you have a child who is addicted to drugs or alcohol, or who is financially irresponsible, you already know the heartbreak associated with trying to help that child make healthy decisions. Perhaps your other adult children are living independent lives, but this child still turns to you to bail him out – either figuratively or literally – of trouble.
If these are your circumstances, you are probably already worrying about how to continue to help your child once you are gone. You predict that your child will misuse any lump sum of money left to him or her via your will. You don’t want to completely cut this child out of your estate plan, but at the same time, you don’t want to enable destructive behavior or throw good money after bad.
Trusts are an estate planning tool you can use to provide an inheritance to a worrisome heir while maintaining control over how, when, where, and why the heir accesses the funds. This type of trust is sometimes called a spendthrift trust.
As with all trusts, you designate a trustee who controls the funds that will be left to the heir. This trustee can be an independent third party (there are companies that specialize in this type of work) or a member of the family. It is often wise to opt for a third party as a trustee, to prevent accusations among family members about favoritism.
The trust can specify the exact circumstances under which money will be disbursed to the heir. Or, more simply, the trust can specify that the trustee has complete and sole discretion to disburse funds when the heir applies for money. Most parents in these circumstances discover that they wish to impose their own incentives and restrictions, rather than rely on the judgment of an unknown third party.
The types of conditions or incentives that can be used with a trust include:
Drug or alcohol testing before funds are released
Payments directly to landlords, colleges, etc., rather than payment to the heir
Disbursement of a specified lump sum if the heir graduates from university or keeps the same job for a certain time period
Payment only to a drug or alcohol rehab center if the child is in an active period of addiction
Disbursement of a lump sum if the child remains drug free
Payments that match the child’s earned income
If you are considering writing this type of complex trust, it is advisable to seek assistance from a qualified and experienced estate planning attorney who can help you devise a plan that best accomplishes your wishes with respect to your child.
Monday, November 26, 2012
The ‘Sandwich Generation’ – Taking Care of Your Kids While Taking Care of Your Parents
The ‘Sandwich Generation’ – Taking Care of Your Kids While Taking Care of Your Parents
“The sandwich generation” is the term given to adults who are raising children and simultaneously caring for elderly or infirm parents. Your children are one piece of “bread,” your parents are the other piece of “bread,” and you are “sandwiched” into the middle.
Caring for parents at the same time as you care for your children, your spouse and your job is exhausting and will stretch every resource you have. And what about caring for yourself? Not surprisingly, most sandwich generation caregivers let self-care fall to the bottom of the priorities list which may impair your ability to care for others.
Following are several tips for sandwich generation caregivers.
Hold an all-family meeting regarding your parents. Involve your parents, your parents’ siblings, and your own siblings in a detailed conversation about the present and future. If you can, make joint decisions about issues like who can physically care for your parents, who can contribute financially and how much, and who should have legal authority over your parents’ finances and health care decisions if they become unable to make decisions for themselves. Your parents need to share all their financial and health care information with you in order for the family to make informed decisions. Once you have that information, you can make a long-term financial plan.
Hold another all-family meeting with your children and your parents. If you are physically or financially taking care of your parents, talk about this honestly with your children. Involve your parents in the conversation as well. Talk – in an age-appropriate way – about the changes that your children will experience, both positive and challenging.
Prioritize privacy. With multiple family members living under one roof, privacy – for children, parents, and grandparents – is a must. If it is not be feasible for every family member to have his or her own room, then find other ways to give everyone some guaranteed privacy. “The living room is just for Grandma and Grandpa after dinner.” “Our teenage daughter gets the downstairs bathroom for as long as she needs in the mornings.”
Make family plans. There are joys associated with having three generations under one roof. Make the effort to get everyone together for outings and meals. Perhaps each generation can choose an outing once a month.
Make a financial plan, and don’t forget yourself. Are your children headed to college? Are you hoping to move your parents into an assisted living facility? How does your retirement fund look? If you are caring for your parents, your financial plan will almost certainly have to be revised. Don’t leave yourself and your spouse out of the equation. Make sure to set aside some funds for your own retirement while saving for college and elder health care.
Revise your estate plan documents as necessary. If you had named your parents guardians of your children in case of your death, you may need to find other guardians. You may need to set up trusts for your parents as well as for your children. If your parent was your power of attorney, you may have to designate a different person to act on your behalf.
Seek out and accept help. Help for the elderly is well organized in the United States. Here are a few governmental and nonprofit resources:
www.benefitscheckup.org – Hosted by the National Council on Aging, this website is a one-stop shop for determining which federal, state and local benefits your parents may qualify for
www.eldercare.gov – Sponsored by the U.S. Administration on Aging
www.caremanager.org -- National Association of Professional Geriatric Care Managers
www.nadsa.org – National Adult Day Services Association
Monday, November 05, 2012
Minnesota Transfer on Death Deed, Part 4:Can You Cancel a Transfer on Death Deed After It's Filed?
In this series of posts, we've been discussing transferring a home via a transfer on death deed. You own property in your name alone and want to be sure that it goes to the beneficiary of your choice without the expense and delay of probate. So, after reading these informative blog posts, you decide to use a Transfer on Death Deed (“TODD”) to achieve this purpose.
But what happens if you change your mind after you have executed and filed the deed with the county? Can you cancel or change the TODD?
Yes. The Deed does not do anything to your rights over the property during your lifetime. It only takes affect upon your death. Therefore, nothing is set in stone until after death. You may, at any time, change the beneficiary or cancel the deed altogether. But, you MUST file the transfer on death deed revocation prior to your death.
Monday, October 22, 2012
Minnesota Transfer on Death Deed, Part 2: Why Should I Get One?
A Minneapolis Attorney Explains How to Get a Valid Transfer on Death Deed
In my series on the use of the Minnesota Transfer on Death Deed, I've been explaining the benefits of using the TODD. It is a simple - and relatively inexpensive - process to draft and record a transfer on death deed. If you are still asking "Why should I get one?" let me provide you with a couple of real world examples of the use of a Transfer on Death Deed.
I have a gay couple, Jeff and Nathan, as clients who have been together for 5 years and came to see me about protecting each other in case of tragedy. Jeff owns their home alone as he bought it before he got together with Nathan. Jeff is, of course, concerned that Nathan get the home if anything happens to him.
Can't Jeff Just Add Nathan to the Title of the Home?
Yes. This is a common answer given to people like Jeff, especially by nonlawyer advisors. BUT JEFF MUST EXERCISE CAUTION: If Jeff puts Nathan on the deed to the home, he has given him a gift, which can have current tax implications. Also, Nathan loses the beneficial tax treatment - called a "step up" - received upon inheriting an asset. The tax imlications of this method are covered in other posts but suffice it to say that gifting the home could cause Nathan and Jeff money and hassle.
Another issue no client ever wants to consider? What if Jeff and Nathan break up? Now they still jointly own the home so must deal with it in their dissolution. Does one buy the other out or are they forced to sell the home and split the proceeds?
What about a will?
But, if Jeff merely states in his will that Nathan will get the home, Nathan will be forced to incur the expense, and suffer the delay, of going through the probate process.
What is the solution?
You guessed it. By properly executing and filing a Minnesota Transfer on Death Deed, Jeff can state that, upon his death, the home is to go outright to Nathan. Because the transfer does not happen until after Jeff's death, there is no gift during his life so no worries about gift tax issues. And, Nathan inherits the home so receives the full benefit of the step up in basis for the value of the home - allowing him to avoid increase captial gains taxes. Last, Nathan will not need to open the probate to get the deed to their home in his own name. Again, the Transfer on Death Deed will save Jeff and Nathan hassle and money both during life and after death.
Susan and Emily have been together for together for 15 years and own their home jointly. Susan has a 22-year-old daughter, Stephanie, from a prior relationship and whom Emily has not adopted. They are first concerned with caring for each other if someone happens to one of them. Because the home is jointly owned, if one dies, the other will become the full owner. But, what happens at the death of both of them? Who will get the home?
Because they've been together so long, Emily feels that Stephanie is like a daughter to her as well. She never adopted her because there is still another parent in the picture. But, it is important to her that their home eventually go to Stephanie. Of course, Susan agrees with that so how do we get the home to Stephanie at the death of both clients?
Use a Will?
This solution creates the same issues as in hypothetical #1. But, it also has another one. Susan can't use the will to state what will happen to the home at her death as she owns it jointly with Emily. And her will can't really control what happens to her property after it's been inherited by another, in this case Emily.
Does a Transfer on Death Deed Help?
Somewhat. It will avoid an issue if, upon Susan's death, Emily neglects to draft a will and her estate is transferred through the laws of intestacy (no will). Because Stephanie is not legally related to Emily, she will not inherit through intestacy. It will also help if Emily's will leaves everything to her sister as a Transfer on Death Deed takes priority over the will so Emily will still get the house.
But, it does not help if Susan dies and Emily decides to revoke the Transfer on Death Deed. The TODD's are fully revokable by the suriving grantor even for property owned jointly where both owners executed and filed a valid deed prior to the death of the first owner.
So, the Transfer on Death Deed doesn not provide a guarantee that the home will go to Stephanie should Susan die first.
If that is a concern, perhaps the clients should discuss getting a trust.
These are just a couple of examples where a Transfer on Death Deed may provide a fast and inexpensive solution to two different issues related to a personal residence. The next post will provide the short list of requirements to comply with the law on getting a Minnesota Transfer on Death Deed.
Wednesday, October 17, 2012
Minnesota Transfer on Death Deed, Part 4: Can You Change Your Mind?
We've been discussing the benefits of using a Minnesota Transfer on Death Deed to transfer your home to another person at your death. You own property in your name alone and want to be sure that it goes to the beneficiary of your choice without the expense and delay of probate. So, you decide to use a Transfer on Death Deed (“TODD”) to achieve this purpose.
Can you cancel a Minnesota Transfer on Death Deed?
Yes. The Deed does not do anything to your rights over the property during your lifetime. It only takes affect upon your death. Therefore, nothing is set in stone until after death. You may, at any time, change the beneficiary or cancel the deed altogether.
From within Hennepin County Unique Estate Law represents estate planning and elder law clients throughout Minnesota, including Minneapolis, Edina, Bloomington, St. Louis Park, Minnetonka, Plymouth, Wayzata, Maple Grove, St. Paul, and Brooklyn Park. The Minnesota law firm of Unique Estate Law focuses on all aspects of estate planning, including specialized wills, trusts, powers of attorney and medical directives for married couples, young families, blended families, single parents, gay families and those going through a divorce. Unique Estate Law also handles probate administration, asset protection, Medical Assistance planning, elder law, business succession planning, adoptions and cabin planning.