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!
Monday, February 11, 2013
Most Popular Posts of 2012
In looking over the analytics for my website I decided to compile a list of the five most popular posts.
Should I Transfer My Home To My Children
Do Heirs Have to Pay Off Their Loved Ones Debts
Gay Couples Health Care Benefits and Taxes
Understanding the Perils of adding Another Person to Your Bank Account
Joint Bank Accounts and Medicaid Eligibility
In reviewing the numbers I noticed that most people who come to my website are concerned about the financial implications of planning their estates. I will take this into account in writing posts for 2013.
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.
Monday, October 29, 2012
Minnesota Transfer on Death Deed, Part 3: How Do You Get One?
Twin Cities Estate Planning Attorney Explains the Steps Necessary to Use a Minnesota Transfer on Death Deed
If you are a property owner and wish to use a transfer on death deed (“TODD”) to transfer that property without the hassle of probate, you must
Choose a beneficiary or beneficiaries
Execute a valid deed that expressly states that it is effective only upon your death
Record the deed in the county in which the property is located prior to your death.
Pay the filing fee.
A few things to note. If the property is jointly owned then all owners must sign the deed. And as #3 above states, it is not enough to execute the deed - you must also record it with the proper county before 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.
Monday, October 15, 2012
Minnesota Transfer on Death Deed: Should I Use it To Transfer My House?
Minnesota Estate Planning Attorney Discusses the Benefits of Using a Transfer on Death Deed to Transfer a Home
Minnesota has a unique tool to for use in avoiding probate known as a Transfer on Death Deed (“TODD”). In 2008 Minnesota’s legislature passed a law that allows the owner of real estate to execute a deed naming a beneficiary who, upon the current owner’s death, will succeed to ownership of that property.
There are several benefits to using a Transfer on Death Deed to transfer real property to someone.
You Retain Your Ownership Interests. The property is not transferred until the your death. So, you retain full ownership of the property during your life. So, you may choose to remain living in the home, sell it, borrow against it or give it away without restriction.
Your Home Is Still Protected. The finanacial obligations of the beneficiary will not affect your rights to the property. This is because the beneificary does NOT have any "present interest" in the property so if he/she has any legal actions such as bankruptcy, lawsuits, or divorce that are brought against the beneficiary won’t affect the property. This offers you a lot of protection in leaving the property to someone who may not be the best at managing money as a creditor may NOT file a lien against property subject to a transfer on death deed.
Your Heirs Will Avoid Probate For That Home. Again, this is probably the main reason why people choose a Transfer on Death Deed. The real estate won’t be subject to the costs and time of court probate proceedings- the beneficiary simply submits an affidavit and death certificate with the county recorder. This allows the home to transfer to the beneficiary quickly and inexpensively. It allows avoids the "ease of contest" often found in probate procedures.
You Can Revoke It. This means that you can change or delete the beneficiaries named in the document, even without their consent. Names can be deleted or added as the you sees fit. Or, you can revoke the entire document and dispose of the property in another manner (e.g. sell it or put it into a trust).
You Have Not Given a Gift. Because you are not giving the beneficiary a present interest in the home, there is no gift. This avoids issues with having to file a gift tax return or potential problems if you end up needing medicaid (medical assistance) in the future.
As these come up quite often in my practice, whether between partners or parents and children, I will address the different aspects of Transfer on Death Deeds in a series of future posts.
Thursday, August 02, 2012
BREAKING: Gay Marriage and Inheritance Rights, Part 3: Court Rules That Gay Spouse CAN Inherit!
A Minneapolis Lawyer Discusses the Recent Hennepin County Probate Decision on Inheritance Rights for Same Sex Couples
As a lawyer who specializes in the field of non-traditional families, I have to admit that this is an outcome that I would never have predicted.
Two of my prior posts discussed the inheritance issue facing James Morrison of Hennepin County, Minnesota. Briefly, Mr. Morrison legally married Thomas Proehl in California during the brief window in which same sex marriage was permitted in that state. Upon their return to Minnesota Mr. Proehl died of a heart attack and Mr. Morrison subsequently learned that there was $250,000 in life insurance benefits and in a solo bank account for which Mr. Proehl had not named a beneficiary. Further, Mr. Proehl did not have a will specifying where his estate should go in the event of his death.
After failing to make his case with the insurance and retirement companies, Mr. Morrison argued to the Hennepin County Probate Court that, because they were legally married in California, he was entitled to inherit the $250,000 from Mr. Proehl's estate. In a surprising ruling yesterday, the Hennepin County Probate judge agreed and granted Mr. Morrison the right to inherit the $250,000.
Referee George Borer held that Minnesota’s Defense of Marriage Act (MN DOMA) does not deny a same-sex partner the right to inherit the other’s assets. His opinion noted that the MN DOMA bill as initially drafted included language prohibiting “the benefits of marriage” to same-sex couples but that language was removed prior to passage into law. Referee Borer stated that the removal of “benefits of marriage” language appeared to be an “intentional legislative compromise that allowed the passage of this bill.” Hennepin County Probate Judge Jay Quam signed off on the referee’s order stating that the Legislature’s rejection of the “benefits” language was not accidental and acknowledged that this case was “unlike any that has come before Minnesota’s probate court.”
The judge also noted that what made Mr. Proehl and Mr. Morrison different was “that they were a married, same-sex couple in a state where that status is legally unwelcome.”
This is a great outcome for Mr. Morrison and I hope he can put this all behind him now as I must have been emotionally wrenching to have this drag on for so long.
I certainly feel this is the right decision for this couple, but I fear it may lead to some unintended consequences. I will discuss these possible issues in the next post in this series.
Monday, December 12, 2011
6 Events Which May Require a Change in Your Estate Plan
6 Events Which May Require a Change in Your Estate Plan
Creating a Will is not a one-time event. You should review your will periodically, to ensure it is up to date, and make necessary changes if your personal situation, or that of your executor or beneficiaries, has changed. As 2011 winds to a close, it's a great time to reflect back on the changes in your life. Keep in mind that there are a number of life-changing events that require your Will to be revised, including:
Change in Marital Status: If you have gotten married or divorced, it is imperative that you review and modify your Will. With a new marriage, you must determine which assets you want to pass to your new spouse or step-children, and how that may relate to the beneficiary interest of your own children. During a divorce it is a good practice to revise your Will, to formally remove your soon-to-be ex spouse as a beneficiary. Under Minnesota law, a divorce will remove your ex spouse as a beneficiary of your will even if you don't actively change your will. The law treats the ex as if he or she predeceased you (insert sarcastic comment here) so you shouldn't worry that your ex will inherit via your will once the divorce is complete. But what about during the divorce? Most clients with whom I've worked on these matters do not want their spouse to inherit while the divorce is pending, but that does not happen by law or inaction. If you are going through a divorce, you must take active steps to ensure that the spouse you are divorcing will no longer inherit through a will that hasn't been updated to reflect your current status. While you’re at it, you should also change your beneficiary on any life insurance policies, pensions, or retirement accounts as these trump even your will. You may have disinherited your spouse from your will but if you forgot to change your life insurance policy he or she will still received the proceeds of that policy until you state otherwise. Estate planning is complicated when there are children from multiple marriages, and an attorney can help you ensure everyone is protected, which may include establishing a trust in addition to the revised Will.
If one of your Will’s beneficiaries experiences a change in marital status, that may also trigger a need to revise your Will.
Change in Relationship Status: If you enter or end a serious relationship in which you plan(ned) to leave your unmarried partner assets, you should meet with an estate-planning attorney who is well versed in the complexities of planning for unmarried couples. I handle many unmarried clients who have planned their estates together and if they ever break up, they will need to take active steps to revise their plans. Unlike for legally married couples, there is no law to automatically disinherit a partner after a breakup. While I do carefully draft these plans to include such provisioins, they will still be interpreted in court, which may lead to a lengthy and expensive court battle over those assets. This is the exact situation these couples attempted to avoid by coming to me in the first place. If you are entering a relationship that is not legally recognized, you should also meet with an attorney upon deciding to leave assets to each other OR if you want that person to handle medical or financial decisions on your behalf. I have experience handling nontraditional estate planning and can help you draft the right plan to protect your family.
Births: Upon the birth of a new child, the parents should amend their Wills immediately, to include the names of the guardians who will care for the child if both parents die. Also, parents or grandparents may wish to modify the distribution of assets provided in their Wills, to include the new addition to the family.
Deaths or Incapacitation: If any of the named executors or beneficiaries of a Will, or the named guardians for your children, pass away or become incapacitated, your Will should be revised accordingly.
Change in Assets: Your Will may need to be changed if the value of your assets has significantly increased or decreased, or if you dispose of an asset. You may want to modify the distribution of other assets in your estate, to account for the changed value or disposition of the asset. Further, you may wish to set up a trust to handle some of your assets to as to avoid probate or leave them to a minor.
Change in Employment: A change in the amount and/or source of income means your Will should be examined to see if any changes must be made to that document. Retirement or changing jobs could entail moving to another state, thus subjecting your estate to the laws of that state when you die. If the change in income modifies your investing, saving or spending habits, it may be time to review your Will and make sure the distribution to your beneficiaries will be as you intended.
Changes in Probate or Tax Laws: Wills should be drafted to maximize tax benefits, and to ensure the decedent’s wishes are carried out. If the laws regarding taxation of the estate, distribution of assets, or provisions for minor children have changed, you should have your Will reviewed by an estate planning attorney to ensure your family is fully protected and your wishes will be fully carried out.
Monday, October 17, 2011
What’s Involved in Serving as a Personal Representative in a Minnesota Probate?
The personal representative is the person designated in a Will as the individual who is responsible for performing a number of tasks necessary to wind down the decedent’s affairs. [While a will merely nominates someone to act as personal representative subject to approval by the court, this post uses the term “personal representative” to refer both to the nominated and appointed personal representative.] Generally, the personal representative’s responsibilities involve taking charge of the deceased person’s assets, notifying beneficiaries and creditors, paying the estate’s debts and distributing the property to the beneficiaries. The personal representative may also be a beneficiary of the Will, though he or she must treat all beneficiaries fairly and in accordance with the provisions of the Will.
The first priority for a personal representative is to find out if the deceased had a valid Will. Then the personal representative should locate the original Will. The personal representative should also be sure to order certified copies of the Death Certificate if that hasn’t already been done. The personal representative will be responsible for notifying all persons who have an interest in the estate, including those who are named as beneficiaries in the Will and any known creditors. A list of all assets must be compiled, including value at the date of death.
The personal representative must take steps to secure all assets, whether by taking possession of them, or by obtaining adequate insurance. Assets of the estate include all real and personal property owned by the decedent; overlooked assets sometimes include stocks, bonds, pension funds, bank accounts, safety deposit boxes, annuity payments, holiday pay, and work-related life insurance or survivor benefits. The personal representative must also compile a list of the decedent’s debts, including, credit card accounts, loan payments, mortgages, home utilities, tax arrears, alimony and outstanding leases.
Whether the Will must be probated depends on a variety of factors, including size of the estate and how the decedent’s assets were titled. An experienced probate or estate planning attorney can help determine whether probate is required, and assist with carrying out the personal representative’s duties. If the estate must go through probate, the personal representative must file the appropriate documents with the probate court in order to be appointed legal representative. Upon approval of the appointment, the court will issue a document called Letters Testamentary authorizing the personal representative to act on behalf of the estate to pay all of the decedent’s outstanding debts, provided there are sufficient assets in the estate. After debts have been paid, the personal representative must distribute the remaining real and personal property to the beneficiaries, in accordance with the wishes set forth in the Will. Because the personal representative is accountable to the beneficiaries of the estate, it is extremely important to keep complete, accurate records of all expenditures, correspondence, asset distribution, and filings with the court and government agencies.
The personal representative is also responsible for filing all tax returns for the deceased person including federal and state income tax returns and estate tax filings, if applicable. Please note that Minnesota law entitles a personal representative to reasonable compensation for his or her services. Unfortunately, there is no guidance offered on the appropriate amount of this fee so it’s a good idea to discuss compensation with other family members to avoid later disputes. I find it helpful to spell out the compensation in the will so that others know and understand that the deceased intended to offer payment to the personal representative.
Thursday, October 13, 2011
Probate Process, Part V: Should You Choose Informal or Formal Probate?
As stated in my prior posts, there are many different paths to choose when an estate needs to go through probate in Minnesota. Perhaps the most key decision is whether to take the formal or informal path. The terms informal and formal refer to the type of procedure used to appoint a personal representative to handle the decedent’s affairs and to accept a Will for probate.
Informal probate is the most commonly used form, and is easiest for parties to use when the assets are straightforward and when everyone involved gets along. The formal probate process is required in many situations such as:
problems with the will
high probability for dispute between heirs
when there are expected to be problems with the administration.
if the estate is insolvent (meaning there is more debt than assets)
Further, there are situations where formal probate is strongly recommended or even required. For instance, if there is no one trustworthy to act as personal representative, it might be better to proceed formally to ensure court oversight of the process. For nontraditional families, formal probate may offer a way to officially resolve disputes so as to avoid later challenges to the distribution of assets. On the other hand, the court may not be on the side of relationships outside of blood or marriage. Understandably, many nontraditional families may be wary of court involvement in family business.
The informal probate process
The informal probate process commences when an applicant presents an application to a registrar instead of a judge. The application asks the registrar to appoint the personal representative and accept the will, if there is one. The registrar then approves the estate to proceed informally and makes sure the paperwork (e.g the will, petition for informal probate, affidavit of acceptance by personal representative, list of interested persons) is complete. The registrar is not involved between when the estate is approved and when the final accounting is due. This process has less oversight by the court and additional costs from hearings are not incurred.
The formal probate process
The formal process starts with a probate attorney filing a petition with the court on behalf of a petitioner asking a judge to: 1) determine the heirs of the deceased; 2) verify the validity of the will; and 3) appoint a personal representative. Counties differ on whether the petitioner and attorney in a formal probate must appear in front of a district court judge so check with a probate attorney to verify the requirements in your county. After deciding to file for formal probate, a petitioner must also determine whether the estate should be supervised, meaning the court must sign off on any distributions to heirs before they are made, or unsupervised, meaning the personal representative does not need the court to approve anything before closing the estate.
Upon receipt of the petition for formal probate, the court reviews the paperwork and approves the Personal Representative. At that point, the personal representative is able to work to resolve all outstanding issues in the estate. Keep in mind that commencing a formal probate proceeding provides the petitioner with access to the judge later on if a judge’s signature is required on matters subsequent to the appointment of a personal representative. The formal process is generally more expensive due to consistent attorney intervention in obtaining the court’s approval and signature and in attending any required hearings.
The probate process can be complicated and confusing so it is a good idea for family members to meet with an experienced probate attorney to assist with making a decision on which probate process to pursue. Further, to minimize court involvement and ensure your "stuff" goes to the people of your choice, you must have a will. Don't leave things to chance - or the State - and don't leave your loved ones with the added stress, and expense, of trying to figure out what you wanted. Protect your family with an estate plan designed to limit hassle, delay and expense so decisions like choosing informal versus formal probate are easy allowing those left to focus on more important matters.
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.