Sunday, March 16, 2014
When to Involve Children in Estate Planning
When to Involve Adult Children in the Estate Planning Process
Individuals who are beginning the estate planning process may assume it's best to have their adult child(ren) join them in the initial meeting with an estate planning attorney, but this may cause more harm than good.
This issue comes up often in the estate planning and elder law field, and it's a matter of client confidentiality. The attorney must determine who their client is- the individual looking to draft an estate plan or their adult children- and they owe confidentiality to that particular client.
The client is the person whose interests are most at stake. In this case, it is the parent. The attorney must be certain that they understand your wishes, goals and objectives. Having your child in the meeting could cause a problem if your child is joining in on the conversation, which may make it difficult for the attorney to determine if the wishes are those of your child, or are really your wishes.
Especially when representing elderly clients, there may be concerns that the wishes and desires of a child may be in conflict with the best interests of the parent. For example, in a Medicaid and long-term care estate planning context, the attorney may explain various options and one of those may involve transferring, or gifting, assets to children. The child's interest (purely from a financial aspect) would be to receive this gift. However, that may not be what the parent wants, or feels comfortable with. The parent may be reluctant to express those concerns to the attorney if the child is sitting right next to the parent in the meeting.
Also, the attorney will need to make a determination concerning the client's competency. Attorneys are usually able to assess a client's ability to make decisions during the initial meeting. Having a child in the room may make it more difficult for the attorney to determine competency because the child may be "guiding" the parent and finishing the parents thoughts in an attempt to help.
The American Bar Association has published a pamphlet on these issues titled "Why Am I Left in the Waiting Room?" that may be helpful for you and your child to read prior to meeting with an attorney.
Tuesday, November 05, 2013
19 Smart Ways to Protect Your Assets
Minneapolis Estate Planning and Probate Lawyer Explains How to Protect Your Assets
Smart Way #1: Make a promise to yourself -- now. Make a personal commitment to yourself and your family that you will do everything possible to protect your family and your assets.
Smart Way #2: Identify your personal and financial goals. If you could have anything you want, personally and financially, what would it be? What are your dreams? How do you and your spouse want to spend your retirement years?
Smart Way #3: Discover which tools you can use to achieve those goals. You have many legal tools at your disposal that, when used correctly, will create exactly the plan you want for yourself and your family. Ask your estate planning attorney to explain the tools that will achieve your personal and financial goals.
Smart Way #4: Avoid probate and the Court system, as appropriate. Create a family estate plan that, upon your death, distributes your assets to your heirs without going through the Court-supervised process called probate. Most often a Revocable Living Trust is used for this purpose.
Smart Way #5: Reduce income taxes whenever possible. Create a family asset protection plan that eliminates unnecessary income and capital gains taxes and minimizes all other taxes. Without proper planning, much of your estate can be lost to various types of taxes.
Smart Way #6: Protect yourself with insurance. Lawsuits can quickly tie up your assets. And if the other party wins the lawsuit, the judgment against you could quickly deplete your funds. If you drive frequently, own rental property, or operate a business, buy an umbrella liability policy that protects your assets from lawsuits.
Smart Way #7: Provide for future health care and financial decisions. Your family estate plan should protect you and your spouse if the time comes when either of you cannot make decisions. Your estate planning attorney can make sure you have the legal documents in place so a competent, trusted person can make these important decisions according to your wishes.
Smart Way #8: Plan now to fund nursing home care. Sadly, many people think the only way they can pay for their nursing home care is by spending down their estate. But, in fact, you can fund your long-term care in ways that do not require that you spend down your estate. One common way is with long-term care insurance. Don’t wait until it’s too late to decide how to fund your nursing home care. Do it now, long before you need it.
Smart Way #9: Pay close attention to Alzheimer’s disease and its associated costs -- even if you have no reason to worry about it. Many people who never expect Alzheimer’s disease to strike have had to face its problems with no advance planning. So, plan for Alzheimer’s disease now, while you have time. This includes the need to address issues of backup decision-makers, assisted living, and nursing home care. If your children can care for you later in life, that’s fine. If they cannot, your advance planning will pay big dividends. Plan for the worst -- and hope for the best. Then, in either case, you will have all your bases covered.
Smart Way #10: Keep all control within your family. If you don’t plan properly, you could find that a friend or relative has petitioned the Court to intervene on your behalf. Once a judge gets involved, you have ongoing legal and accounting expenses, plus more problems and hassles than you would ever want to endure. The smart way to plan for your later years is to keep total control within your family.
Smart Way #11: Create your plan now, while everyone involved is competent to make decisions. Seniors often come to our office seeking help only to learn that they are too late to correct a terrible situation. We feel awful when we must tell them that the much-needed planning should have been done two, five or ten years earlier. Don’t wait until you need help to create your plan. By then, it’s too late.
Smart Way #12: Review your plan at least once a year. Every time your circumstances change or your goals change, you should change your estate plan. If your plan is not up to date, the unintended consequences to you and your family could be disastrous. Make an appointment at least every year to meet with your estate planning attorney. Then you can go over your plan and discuss any changes in your life circumstances.
Smart Way #13: Make proper decisions concerning your retirement benefit distributions. Make sure your estate plan maximizes income-tax-free deferrals and minimizes income and estate taxes.
Smart Way #14: Work closely with your physician about your Medicare coverage. Often skilled nursing services and home health coverage are terminated or denied with little or no input from your treating physician. Before you go without health care that could be covered by Medicare, talk with your physician about your concerns so that he or she can help you get the Medicare coverage you deserve.
Smart Way #15: Think about future housing options. Start from the perspective of where you would like to live. Then determine if you could afford this option by comparing your monthly income along with your life savings to the initial cost and the ongoing financial commitment you would have to make. Make sure you consider (1) your healthcare needs that will not be covered by insurance, (2) financial security for your surviving spouse, and (3) your desire to pass on a legacy to your children.
Smart Way #16: If you are in a second marriage, decide how you will handle the high cost of nursing home care. If you are not able to pay $5,000 per month to a nursing home and want your children from an earlier marriage to receive your property, a Marital Agreement alone will not do the trick. Medicaid ignores these contracts and considers all of the couple’s assets, whether owned jointly or individually, in determining Medicaid eligibility. A better choice is to include in your Marital Agreement a provision that requires each spouse to obtain and maintain long-term care insurance. Also, you can include additional provisions that clearly state that the healthy spouse is able to take all necessary steps to protect his or her separate property from a Medicaid “spend-down.”
Smart Way #17: Keep the lines of communication open within your family. If one of your children will be managing your finances, you should take specific steps to help him or her avoid conflict within your family. Insist that your child disclose to other family members what has been done on your behalf. You can do this by adding this instruction to your Trust or General Durable Power of Attorney. By doing this you accomplish two things: One, you keep everyone in the loop so feelings of distrust are eliminated. And two, you reduce the risks of financial abuse because other family members will know how your finances are being managed.
Smart Way #18: Don’t let incapacity put your family at risk for criminal or social worker investigations. Many professionals are responsible for protecting frail and elderly people from predators. If your legal documents don’t provide clear legal authority and guidance on how to manage your assets, the police or adult protective services could step in and question your children’s actions and motives. If authorities investigate your children’s actions, at worst, they could file criminal charges. At best, an investigation by adult protective services could return a “finding” of no current financial abuse. You can eliminate these risks to your children -- and avoid becoming a burden to your children -- with a competent estate plan.
Smart Way #19: Hire a competent, experienced estate planning attorney to create an estate plan. The areas of estate planning and elder law are far too complex to hire just any attorney. Often, strategies used in estate planning to minimize taxes directly conflict with strategies used in elder law planning to protect assets and achieve Medicaid eligibility for nursing home care. In situations where both goals are important, you and your family need a lawyer who has in-depth knowledge and experience with both sets of rules and strategies. Most attorneys are not qualified to provide these services. Make sure the estate planning attorney you hire has the knowledge, skill, judgment, and experience to create a competent plan for you and your family.
Monday, October 14, 2013
Helping the Family Prepare for Loved Ones in Advancing Age
Advance Planning Can Help Relieve the Worries of Alzheimer’s Disease
The “ostrich syndrome” is part of human nature; it’s unpleasant to observe that which frightens us. However, pulling our heads from the sand and making preparations for frightening possibilities can provide significant emotional and psychological relief from fear.
When it comes to Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, more Americans fear being unable to care for themselves and burdening others with their care than they fear the actual loss of memory. This data comes from an October 2012 study by Home Instead Senior Care, in which 68 percent of 1,200 survey respondents ranked fear of incapacity higher than the fear of lost memories (32 percent).
Advance planning for incapacity is a legal process that can lessen the fear that you may become a burden to your loved ones later in life.
What is advance planning for incapacity?
Under the American legal system, competent adults can make their own legally binding arrangements for future health care and financial decisions. Adults can also take steps to organize their finances to increase their likelihood of eligibility for federal aid programs in the event they become incapacitated due to Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia.
The individual components of advance incapacity planning interconnect with one another, and most experts recommend seeking advice from a qualified estate planning or elder law attorney.
What are the steps of advance planning for incapacity?
Depending on your unique circumstances, planning for incapacity may include additional steps beyond those listed below. This is one of the reasons experts recommend consulting a knowledgeable elder law lawyer with experience in your state.
Write a health care directive, or living will. Your living will describes your preferences regarding end of life care, resuscitation, and hospice care. After you have written and signed the directive, make sure to file copies with your health care providers.
Write a health care power of attorney. A health care power of attorney form designates another person to make health care decisions on your behalf should you become incapacitated and unable to make decisions for yourself. You may be able to designate your health care power of attorney in your health care directive document, or you may need to complete a separate form. File copies of this form with your doctors and hospitals, and give a copy to the person or persons whom you have designated.
Write a financial power of attorney. Like a health care power of attorney, a financial power of attorney assigns another person the right to make financial decisions on your behalf in the event of incapacity. The power of attorney can be temporary or permanent, depending on your wishes. File copies of this form with all your financial institutions and give copies to the people you designate to act on your behalf.
Plan in advance for Medicaid eligibility. Long-term care payment assistance is among the most important Medicaid benefits. To qualify for Medicaid, you must have limited assets. To reduce the likelihood of ineligibility, you can use certain legal procedures, like trusts, to distribute your assets in a way that they will not interfere with your eligibility. The elder law attorney you consult with regarding Medicaid eligibility planning can also advise you on Medicaid copayment planning and Medicaid estate recovery planning.
Monday, September 30, 2013
12 Problems That Could Cost Your Family a Fortune – and Their Solutions
Minnesota Estate Planning Attorney Discusses Frequent Issues/Concerns that Arise When Handling Someone's Estate
Problem #1: Probate. Probate is the Court-supervised process of passing title and ownership of a deceased person’s property to his or her heirs. The process consists of assembling assets, giving notice to creditors, paying bills and taxes, and passing title to property when the judge signs the order. Probate can cost your loved ones a sizeable portion of your estate. The biggest portion of the costs are the fees charged by attorneys and personal representatives for their services for the estate, in addition to filing fees, costs of publication, fees for copies of death certificates, filing and recording fees, bond premiums, appraisal and accounting fees, and so on. Often the fees of attorneys and personal representatives are based on a hourly rate, and while they can tell you what their hourly rate is, they cannot tell you the number of hours their services will take, so they cannot tell you what their total fees will be. Like surgery, probate can be simple and easy, but frequently probate can have very drastic and damaging results. Accordingly, like surgery, because of its uncertainty in terms of both the potential for problems and high costs and fees, probate is something best to prepare for if you can. You can avoid a substantially larger probate process by having an estate planning lawyer set up and fund a Revocable Living Trust. Since the Trust actually owns your assets, no significant probate of the estate will be required, saving your family many thousands of dollars.
Problem #2: Lawsuits and Creditors. Protect the property you leave to your partner/spouse and children from the claims of their creditors, ex-spouses, and the IRS. This can best be done with proper creditor protection provisions in a Revocable Living Trust.
Problem #3: Estate Taxes. For married couples, protect your assets from state and federal estate taxes by setting up and funding a tax-saving Credit Shelter Trust. Under current law, a Credit Shelter Trust will completely protect your assets from estate taxes for estates valued up to a certain amount will have to pay federal estate taxes. What is that amount? No one knows right now. The current exemption is $5,000,000 a person or $10,000,000 for a married couple.
Further, in Minnesota, the estate limit is $1,000,000 so your estate will pay taxes TO THE STATE for anything over $1,000,000. The tax rates generally comes out to 10% of the assets over that 1,000,000 mark.
Most couples don’t realize that the value of their estate for purposes of determining estate taxes includes their life insurance death benefit proceeds. Your estate includes EVERY asset you own at the time of death: real estate; cash, stocks, bonds, life insurance, retirement accounts, automobiles and personal property. It is not difficult to reach the $1,000,000 mark once all these assets are added up.
A well-designed estate plan costing between $3,000 and $6,000 will save a significant amount in federal estate taxes. Other ways you can avoid or reduce estate taxes include setting up (1) an Irrevocable Trust for your children, grandchildren or other heirs, (2) an Irrevocable Life Insurance Trust, (which detaches your life insurance benefits from your estate), (3) a Charitable Remainder Trust, and (4) Second-to-die Life Insurance so you can pay estate taxes for pennies on the dollar.
Problem #4: Income Taxes. A family can lower its overall income taxes by setting up a Family Limited Partnership to own income-producing property. A parent can do this by setting up a Family Limited Partnership and making gifts of limited partnership interests to the other limited partners, normally their children or grandchildren who pay income tax at lower tax rates. A Family Limited Partnership is an excellent tool to shift income to partners who pay taxes at lower rates. It is also an effective way to make gifts and still keep total control of the property owned by the partnership.
Problem #5: Lawsuits. Protect your assets from lawsuits by doing any or all of the following, as appropriate: (1) purchasing an umbrella liability insurance policy, (2) setting up a Family Limited Partnership, (3) setting up a program for lifetime gifting, (4) setting up a Limited Liability Company, and (5) incorporating. Further, you can protect your children from lawsuits by putting their inheritances into a Discretionary Trust. This is especially important if your children are likely to become professionals subject to potential malpractice actions or, on the other hand, are spendthrifts!
Problem #6: Inexperienced Beneficiaries. Protect your assets from being wasted by young or inexperienced family members. Most beneficiaries spend their entire inheritances in less than two years, regardless of the size of the estate or the heir’s socio-economic background. Your lawyer can set up your Family Trust with protective provisions that provide guidance and safeguard your life savings.
Problem #7: Guardianships. Protect your assets from the high costs of incapacity by (1) setting up a Living Trust so you avoid the need for a guardianship, (2) drawing up an Advance Healthcare Directive, and (3) drawing up a Health Care Power of Attorney.
Problem #8: Nursing Home Care. Protect joint assets from the high costs of nursing home care. Buy insurance that covers nursing home care and provides a death benefit that returns the money spent on nursing home care to your heirs.
Problem #9: Unwanted Medical Care. Protect your assets from unwanted and costly medical care by having an Advance Healthcare Directive and Health Care Powers of Attorney that spell out your instructions, including which medical care, treatment and procedures you want -- and which you don’t want.
Problem #10: Unwanted Emergency Care. Protect your assets from unwanted emergency care. If you have a terminal illness, you can draw up and sign a Pre-hospital Medical Directive that will tell emergency personnel not to resuscitate you in the event of a medical emergency. This directive is often referred to as a “Do Not Resuscitate Order”.
Problem #11: Ineffective Estate Plans. Protect your assets from an ineffective estate plan. Don’t depend on pre-printed “cookie cutter” form kits or document preparation services for your estate plan. Contrary to what you may have heard or read, one size does not fit all! You may think you have precisely what you need. But you will never know -- because your family members will have to clean up the mess. You see, after you die, your family members will try to use your documents to settle your estate. And if the documents weren’t drafted correctly, they will cause additional expense and long delays because a probate will have to be done to convey title to your assets.
Problem #12: Unqualified Lawyers. Many attorneys are getting into estate planning because it’s less stressful than other areas of law. Not surprisingly, most of these newcomers focus on the needs of senior citizens and almost never deal with issues affecting young families. If you have young children, make sure you choose an independent attorney who focuses their law practice on asset protection and estate planning for young families. This will help insure that the lawyer you choose has the knowledge, skill, experience and judgment necessary to fully protect your family and your assets, and to give you advice and counsel that is in your best interests.
Monday, September 16, 2013
A Simple Will Is Not Enough
A Minnesota Estate Planning Attorney Explains Why You Need to do More Than Draft a Will
A basic last will and testament cannot accomplish every goal of estate planning; in fact, it often cannot even accomplish the most common goals. This fact often surprises people who are going through the estate planning process for the first time. In addition to a last will and testament, there are other important planning tools which are necessary to ensure your estate planning wishes are honored.
Do you have a pension plan, 401(k), life insurance, a bank account with a pay-on-death directive, or investments in transfer-on-death (TOD) form?
When you established each of these accounts, you designated at least one beneficiary of the account in the event of your death. You cannot use your will to change or override the beneficiary designations of such accounts. Instead, you must change them directly with the bank or company that holds the account.
Special Needs Trusts
Do you have a child or other beneficiary with special needs?
Leaving money directly to a beneficiary who has long-term special medical needs may threaten his or her ability to qualify for government benefits and may also create an unnecessary tax burden. A simple vehicle called a special needs trust is a more effective way to care for an adult child with special needs after your death.
Conditional Giving with Living or Testamentary Trusts
Do you want to place conditions on some of your bequests?
If you want your children or other beneficiaries to receive an inheritance only if they meet or continually meet certain prerequisites, you must utilize a trust, either one established during your lifetime (living trust) or one created through instructions provided in a will (testamentary trust).
Estate Tax Planning
Do you expect your estate to owe estate taxes?
A basic will cannot help you lower the estate tax burden on your assets after death. If you think your estate will be liable to pay taxes, you can take steps during your lifetime to minimize that burden on your beneficiaries. Certain trusts operate to minimize estate taxes, and you may choose to make some gifts during your lifetime for tax-related reasons.
Joint Tenancy with Right of Survivorship
Do you own a house with someone “in joint tenancy”?
“Joint tenancy” is the most common form of house ownership with a spouse. This form of ownership is also known as “joint tenancy with right of survivorship,” “tenancy in the entirety,” or “community property with right of survivorship.” When you die, your ownership share in the house passes directly to your spouse (or the other co-owner). A provision in your will bequeathing your ownership share to a third party will not have any effect.
Monday, June 24, 2013
8 Reasons Young People Should Write a Last Will and Testament
A Minneapolis Estate Planning Attorney Discusses the Reason Young People Should Think About Their Estate Plans
Imagine if writing a last will and testament were a pre-requisite to graduating from high school. The graduate walks across the stage, hands the completed will to the principal, and gets the diploma in return. It might sound strange because most 18 year olds have little in terms of assets but it’s a good idea for all adults to draft a last will and testament.
Graduation from college is another good milestone to use as a reminder to create an estate plan. If you haven’t created a will by the time you marry – or are living with a partner in a committed relationship – then it’s fair to say you are overdue.
Think you don’t need an estate plan because you’re broke? Not true. Here are eight excellent reasons for young people to complete a last will and testament. And they have very little to do with money.
You are entering the military. Anyone entering the military, at 18 or any other age, should make sure his or her affairs are in order. Even for an 18-year-old, that means creating a will and other basic estate planning documents like a health care directive and powers of attorney.
You received an inheritance. You may not think of the inheritance as your asset, especially if it is held in trust for you. But, without an estate plan, the disposition of that money will be a slow and complicated process for your surviving family members.
You own an animal. It is common for people to include plans for their pets in their wills. If the unthinkable were to happen and you died unexpectedly, what would happen to your beloved pet? Better to plan ahead for your animals in the event of your death. You can even direct the sale of specific assets, with the proceeds going to your pet’s new guardian for upkeep expenses.
You want to protect your family from red tape. If you die without a will, your family will have to take your “estate” (whatever money and possessions you have at the time of your death) through a long court process known as probate. If you had life insurance, for example, your family would not be able to access those funds until the probate process was complete. A couple of basic estate planning documents can keep your estate out of the probate court and get your assets into the hands of your chosen beneficiaries much more quickly.
You have social media accounts. Many people spend a great deal of time online, conversing with friends, storing important photos and documents and even managing finances. Without instructions from you, will your family know what to do with your Facebook account, your LinkedIn account, and so forth?
You want to give money or possessions to friends or charities. When someone dies without a will, there are laws that dictate who will receive any assets. These recipients will include immediate family members like parents, siblings, and a spouse. If you want to give assets to friends or to a charity, you must protect your wishes with a will.
You care about what happens to you if you are in a coma or persistent vegetative state. We all see the stories on the news – ugly fights within families over the prostrate bodies of critically ill children or siblings or spouses. When you write your will, write a health care directive (also called a living will) and a financial power of attorney as well. This is especially important if you have a life partner to whom you are not married so they can make decisions on your behalf.
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.
Sunday, February 03, 2013
Should You Borrow From Your Retirement Account?
Borrowing from your retirement accounts: Issues to consider
So you have credit card debt, overdue mortgage payments, or suddenly need to buy a new car. We’ve all been there. You need money now, and your retirement accounts continue to climb. Fortunately, many employers allow you to take out loans on these accounts, but should you really begin spending that money before you retire?
On one hand, there are benefits to borrowing from your retirement accounts. You are essentially borrowing your own money, so the payments you make, plus interest, go back into your account. Since it’s your own money, these payments do not affect your credit score, and most 401(k) loans have relatively low interest rates.
However, there are many risks associated with taking money from accounts like your 401(k). It is recommended that you see a financial advisor before making this decision to address the cost and potential ramifications of the loan.
First consider the reason for taking out a loan, and the multiple options that you face. A dire emergency is the only recommended cause for borrowing from these accounts; some plans even require it. If you’re looking to spend the money on something more frivolous, like a family vacation or a new entertainment system, however, you should consider alternate financing options.
The downside to these loans comes in handling the repayment plan. Interest paid to your own account sounds easy enough, but these payments are subject to taxes. Furthermore, once money is borrowed from your retirement account, it is no longer eligible for tax-deferred growth. Payments you make on the loan come from after-tax assets, so the money you repay into your account can end up getting taxed for a second time once you withdraw after retirement.
A standard 401(k) loan allows you to borrow up to half of your balance, with a maximum of $50,000. Normally, you have up to five years to repay the loan. Failure to do so within the five-year period means your loan will be deemed an early withdrawal, and will be subject to taxes as well as a 10% early withdrawal penalty.
If you are looking to borrow money from your retirement accounts, carefully consider your repayment plan in advance. It’s especially important to make certainthat you are secure in your employment; if you leave or lose your job, your loan payments will be due within 90 days. Consider borrowing only if interest on a loan from your retirement plan would be less than that of another loan alternative. A final tip: Continue contributing to your 401(k) while you pay off the loan to lessen the impact on your savings.
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.
Thursday, December 06, 2012
How To Prepare for a Meeting with an Estate Planning Attorney
Preparing to Meet With an Estate Planning Attorney
A thorough and complete estate plan must take into account a significant amount of information about your assets, your family, your property, and your wishes during and after your life. When you make your first appointment with an estate planning attorney, ask the attorney or the paralegal if they can provide a written list of important information and documents that you should bring to the meeting.
Generally speaking, you should gather the following information before your first appointment with your estate planning lawyer.
List the names, birth dates, death dates, and ages of all immediate family members, specifically current and former spouses, all children and stepchildren, and all grandchildren.
If you have any young or adult children with special needs, gather all information you have about their lifetime financial needs.
For all real property you own or can reasonably expect to acquire, gather the property description, your ownership interest information, the address, market value, any outstanding mortgage balance, and the most recent tax assessment.
For any personal property of value (such as vehicles, jewelry, coins, antiques, stamps, and art), compile a list that includes a description, the physical location of each item, your ownership interest information, the market value, and any liens against the property.
If you have an ownership interest in a business, make sure you have documents showing your ownership interest in the business, the business location, the names and contact information of other owners, and 2-3 years of past profit and loss statements.
Compile a list of all your financial accounts, including: checking accounts, savings accounts, investment accounts, stocks and bonds, and U.S. Treasury notes. If any of these accounts currently have designated beneficiaries, bring that information as well.
Gather all retirement savings information, including 401(k) plans, 403(b) plans, IRAs, life insurance policies, Social Security statements, and pension information. Make sure you have the account names, account numbers, current balances, outstanding loan balances, and currently named beneficiaries.
If any family members owe you debts, compile that information.
Questions to Think About
The following are some of the first questions your estate planning attorney will ask. You are not required to have answers ready for all these questions, but because some of them are complex, it is a good idea to think through these issues before your appointment.
Who will be beneficiaries of your property?
Do you want to bequeath any specific items of property to specific individuals?
Is there anyone you do not want to be a beneficiary of any of your property?
Do you plan to make any bequests to any nonprofit organizations – university, church, charity, or other organization?
Do you know who you want to act as executor of your will?
Do you know who you want to act as trustee of any trusts you establish?
If you have minor children, who do you want to appoint as guardian?
Do you want to make arrangements for your health and financial well-being in the event you become unable to make decisions for yourself?
Do you have specific wishes for your funeral?
Are you a registered organ donor?
During your initial consultation, your estate planning attorney will review your family and financial situation, discuss your wishes, answer your questions and suggest strategies to protect your family, wealth and legacy. It is my practice at this point to also provide you with a flat-fee quote for the best plan to fit the needs of your family. This fee includes all of the listed documents and any communications/meetings with me. It is important to me that you know the exact fee for your custom-drafted plan up front so there are no surprises later!
Call now to set up your initial consultation.
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.
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.