Categories
Elder Law Estate Planning Guardianship

You Need a Power of Attorney in Your Estate Plan

A power of attorney is an important legal document that allows a person, known as the principal, to designate a person of their choice to become their agent, acting on their behalf. This is usually done when the principal is unable to manage their financial affairs due to disability, illness or incapacity. It must be done while the principal is still competent, notes Delco Times in the article “What’s the difference between guardianship and power of attorney?” There are also instances when power of attorney is used when the principal is unable to conduct their own affairs, because they are traveling or are deployed overseas.

Related documents are the health care power of attorney and the durable power of attorney. A durable financial power of attorney is a document where the principal designates the powers that the agent may exercise over their finances. The powers granted by this document can be used by the agent, regardless of the principal’s capacity or disability.

The principal has the option to grant very broad authority to their agent. For instance, the principal could give their agent the authority to gift all their assets, while they are still living. That’s why it is very important for the specific provisions in the power of attorney to be carefully reviewed and tailored to the principal’s wishes. There are risks in naming an agent, since they are able to exercise complete control over the principal’s assets. The agent must be 100% trustworthy.

A health care power of attorney allows an agent to make decisions about the principal’s health. Note that this document is operative only when a copy is provided to the attending physician, and the physician determines that the principal is incompetent.

Both health care power of attorney and financial power of attorney may be revoked by the principal at any time and for any reason.

If the principal has not had these documents prepared in advance and then becomes incompetent by reason of injury, illness, or mental health issues, they may not have the legal right to sign the power of attorney. When this happens, it is necessary for a guardianship proceeding to occur, so that other people may be named to take charge of the person’s financial and health affairs. Advance planning is always preferred.

If an individual is born with a disability that impacts their capacity and upon attaining legal age, does not have the capacity to sign a power of attorney, then a guardianship proceeding will be necessary. The court must determine if the person is truly incapacitated and if there might be an alternative to appointing a guardian. Once the guardian is appointed, the principal no longer has the legal right to make decisions on their own behalf.

A guardianship is a much more restrictive tool than a power of attorney. For one thing, the power of attorney generally does not need the involvement of the court. There is always the possibility that a guardian is appointed who does not know the family or the individual. A durable power of attorney allows a person to appoint someone they know and trust to help them and their family, if and when they become incapacitated.

Speak with your estate planning attorney about how power of attorney works, and when guardianship issues might arise. Being prepared in advance by having the right documents in place, is always better than having the family going to court and hoping that the right decisions are made.
Reference: Delco Times (May 8, 2019) “What’s the difference between guardianship and power of attorney?”

Categories
Elder Law Estate Planning

What’s the Difference Between a Life Estate and an Irrevocable Trust?

What’s the Difference Between a Life Estate and an Irrevocable Trust? Investopedia’s recent article asks “Life Estate vs. Irrevocable Trust: What’s the Difference?” The article explains that a life estate and an irrevocable trust are two different ways to make certain that assets are transferred to the right party. Each of these has advantages and disadvantages.

A life estate that’s used to gift property will divide the ownership between the giver and receiver. Some parents create a life estate to reduce their assets to qualify for Medicaid. While the parent still has some interest in the property, Medicaid doesn’t count it as an asset. A life estate lasts for the lifetime of its creator and it prohibits the selling of the asset, without the permission of its beneficiaries. Therefore, a parent can’t sell a home without the permission of his children, if they are beneficiaries of the life estate.

If you’re attempting to be eligible for Medicaid and are concerned that your home will disqualify you, ask your estate planning or Medicaid planning attorney about an irrevocable trust. With this trust, if a husband and wife both own a home, the husband can transfer his portion to his wife, and his Medicaid eligibility won’t include the home.

There must be a five-year gap between the creation of the trust and the application for Medicaid. If there isn’t, those funds will be counted as part of existing assets when determining Medicaid eligibility. Therefore, you can’t start an irrevocable trust right before you apply for Medicaid if you want to receive those benefits.

One negative of an irrevocable trust is that the founder of the trust relinquishes any rights he has to the home. However, the beneficiary of the trust can’t sell the home, unless he or she is also named as a trustee. Once an irrevocable trust has been created, the trustee can’t take back control of the trust.

Remember that a life estate and an irrevocable trust aren’t always mutually exclusive. It’s possible to place an asset (like a home) in an irrevocable trust and keep a life estate. In that case, you’re irrevocably transferring ownership of your house to the trust. However, you still keep control. In this case, you are permitted to sell the home, remodel, or rent out a room, but the house itself—or the sales proceeds from it—would remain in the irrevocable trust.

In this situation, a parent would also not risk giving their children part of the tax liability that is associated with owning a home. The parent would keep more personal control over the house and wouldn’t need their child’s permission to sell the home. This may be the best option because it would still allow the parents to apply for Medicaid and not have the property count in their assets, but he or she would remain the sole decision-maker for the house.

What’s the Difference Between a Life Estate and an Irrevocable Trust? Both have their pros and cons, but a combination of the two can often be the best answer. Make no moves either way, without the advice of an experienced elder law attorney.

Reference: Investopedia (June 16, 2019) “Life Estate vs. Irrevocable Trust: What’s the Difference?”

RELATED ARTICLE:

“Life Estate vs. Irrevocable Trust: What’s the Difference?”

Do I Need a Living Trust or a Will? Or Both?

“Tax planning is one element of estate planning, and in many estates is the least important factor. The larger issue is: Who will inherit and what will they inherit?” First National Trust Update April 2015

“A man of 70 need not be always feeling, much less talking, about his approaching death, but a wise man of 70 should always take it into account. …He would be criminally foolish not to make, indeed not to have made long since, his will.” C. S. Lewis (1898-1963)

Do I need a living trust or a will? Or both? This is just one of the reasons people think they want a trust: to ensure that the value of their overall estate will not decrease, because of the cost of probate. The most common way to do that is with a trust, says The Houston Chronicle in the article “Elder Law: Which should I have—A Living trust or a will?”

In some states, probate is not an expensive or overly time-consuming issue. Texas, for example, has what is called an independent administration. Executors handle the tasks involved in settling an estate and distributing assets to beneficiaries. As a result, there’s very little court involvement. However, New York does not have that process and as a result probate has extensive court involvement. An estate planning attorney in your area will be able to explain the details of your state’s procedures and discuss whether a trust is right for your estate. They’ll also explain the difference between different types of trusts.

The trust most frequently used to avoid probate, is known as a revocable trust, living trust or an “inter vivos” trust.

Selecting the best type of trust for each situation is different. Here are some advantages of living trusts:

Avoiding probate. The cost of probate alone is not reason enough to use a trust. However, if your assets are in trusts, you may not need to file an inventory listing your assets with the court. That’s not always required in every jurisdiction, but if it is required where you live, a trust can help keep your asset list private, by ensuring that it is only seen by beneficiaries.

Asset management for incapacity. A living trust goes into effect, while you are alive. If you become incapacitated, an alternate trustee can step in to manage assets, pay bills and ensure that finances are taken care of.

Avoiding probate in another state. If you own out-of-state property, your estate may need to be probated in your home state and in the other state. If you have a living trust, out-of-state parcels of land can be deeded into the trust during your lifetime, thus avoiding the need for probate in another state. After your passing, your trustee can handle the out-of-state property in the living trust.

Administrative ease. There are, unfortunately, instances when Power of Attorney can be challenged by financial institutions. The authority of a trustee is more likely to be recognized, by banks, investment companies, etc.

There are some questions about whether it’s better to have a living trust or a will. The most complex part of having a living trust, is the process of funding the trust. It is imperative for the trust to work, that every asset you own is either transferred into the trust or retitled into the name of the trust. If assets are left out or incorrectly funded, then probate will probably be necessary. This can occur, even if only one single asset is left out.

If an asset is controlled by beneficiary designation, then the trust may not need to be named a beneficiary, should you want it to pass directly to one or more beneficiaries.

Funding the trust becomes complicated, when retirement accounts are involved. Consult with an experienced estate planning attorney, if you want to make the trust a designated beneficiary of a retirement account. This is because very specific and complex rules may limit the ability to “stretch” the distributions from the account.

Using a trust instead of a will-based plan is growing in popularity, but it should never be an automatic decision. An estate planning attorney will be able to explain the pros and cons of each strategy and help you and your family decide which is better for you and what advanced directives are required.

Reference: The Houston Chronicle (Feb. 15, 2019) “Elder Law: Which should I have—A Living trust or a will?”

3. owning a home – https://www.frankbrunolaw.com/property-transfers-and-gift-taxes-basics/

Property Transfers and Gift Taxes: Basics.

As we age, our needs change. That includes our needs for the property that we own. For one person, the family home was rented to the daughter and her spouse as a “rent-to-own” property. This is generous, since it gives the daughter an opportunity to build equity in a home. The parent had questions about what kind of a deed would be needed for this transaction, and if any gift taxes need to be paid on the gift of the house and a separate parcel of land. The answers are presented in the article “Dealing with property transfers and gift taxes” from Chicago Tribune.

For starters, there are tax advantages while the person is living, since the home is an investment for the owner, as described above. On the day that the home is deeded over to the daughter, she will own the home at the cost basis of the parent. Here is why. The IRS defines the “cost basis” of a real estate property as the price that the owner paid for it, plus the cost of purchase and any fees associated with the sale plus the cost of any new materials or structural improvements.

When you give someone a home, they receive it at the price that was paid for it plus these costs.

Let’s say this person paid $50,000 for the family home, and it’s now worth $700,000. If you give the home to a family member, it’s as if she paid $50,000 for it, not $700,000. There may be tax consequences when she goes to sell it, but that’s in the distant future.

It’s different if the home is inherited. In that case, if the house was valued at $700,000 on the date that the owner died, the heir’s cost basis would be $700,000. However, if the heir sold the property on the exact same day (this is an unlikely scenario), there would be no tax owed on the sale for the heir.

This is a very simplified explanation of how a home can be passed from one generation to the next. It would be best to speak with a good estate attorney, who can evaluate all the factors, since every situation is different. One suggestion might be to put the property into a living trust, in which case the daughter will still pay rent to the parent, but then would inherit the property when the parent died.

The estate planning attorney could use the same living trust for the separate parcel of land. Once the home and the land are deeded into the living trust, the owner can state her wishes for how the properties are to be used.

As for the question of gift taxes, anyone can give anyone else $15,000 per year, with no need to file any forms with the IRS or pay any taxes. If you give someone more than $15,000 in one year, the IRS requires a gift tax form with the federal income tax return.

A meeting with an estate planning attorney to discuss Property Transfers and Gift Taxes: Basics is the best way to ensure that the transfer of a family home to a family member is handled correctly and that there are no surprises.

Reference: Chicago Tribune (April 23, 2019) “Dealing with property transfers and gift taxes”

Categories
Elder Law Estate Planning

Someday’ Is Sooner than You Think

If you and your siblings have been worrying about older parents please understand that ‘someday’ is sooner than you think.

The cause for sleepless nights for many, now comes from worrying about older parents. As parents age, it becomes more important to talk with them about a number of “someday” issues, advises Kanawha Metro in the article Preparing for someday.” As their lives move into the elder years, your discussions will need to address housing, finances and end-of-life wishes.

Where do your parents want to spend their later years? It may be that they want to move to an active retirement community not far from where they live now, or they may want a complete change of scenery, perhaps in a warmer climate.

One family made arrangements for their mother to take a tour of a nearby senior-living community, after their father passed. By showing their mother the senior-living community, they made an unknown, slightly intimidating thing into a familiar and attractive possibility. Because she saw the facility with no pressure, just a tour and lunch, she knew what kind of options it presented. The building was clean and pretty, and the staff was friendly. Therefore, it was a positive experience. She was able to picture herself living there.

Money becomes an issue, as parents age. If the person who always handled the family finances passes away, often the surviving spouse is left trying to figure out what has been done for the last five decades. A professional can help, especially if they have had a long-standing relationship.

However, when illness or an injury takes the surviving spouse out of the picture, even for a little while, things can get out of control fast. It only takes a few weeks of not being able to write checks or manage finances, to demonstrate the wisdom of having children or a trusted person named with a power of attorney to be able to pay bills and manage the household.

As parents age and their health becomes fragile, they need help with doctor appointments. Having a child or trusted adult go with them to speak up on their behalf, or explain any confusing matters, is very important.

Having an estate plan in place is another part of the business of aging that needs to be accomplished. It may be helpful to go with your parents to meet with an estate planning attorney to create documents that include a last will and testament, durable power of attorney and advanced health care directive. Without these documents, executing their estate or helping them if they become incapacitated will be more complex, and more costly.

Eliminate a scavenger hunt by making sure that at least two siblings know where the originals of these documents are.

One of the more difficult conversations has to do with end-of-life and funeral arrangements. Where do your parents want to be buried, or do they want to be cremated? What should be done with their remains?

What do they want to be done with their personal belongings? Are there certain items that they want to be given to certain members of the family, or other people they care for? One family used masking tape and a marker to write the names of the people they wanted to receive certain items.

Finally, what do they want to happen to their pets? If there is a family member who says they will take their parent’s pet, can that person be trusted to follow through? There needs to be a Plan A, Plan B and Plan C so that the beloved pet can be assured a long and comfortable life after their owner has passed.

Yes, these are difficult conversations. However, not having them can lead to far more difficult issues. Knowing what your loved ones wish to happen, and making it enforceable with an estate plan, provides everyone in the family with peace of mind.

Related Articles:

Categories
Elder Law Estate Planning

What are the “Must Have” Estate Planning Documents?

What are the “Must Have” Estate Planning Documents?

“Leave nothing for tomorrow which can be done today” Abraham Lincoln

“There is nothing like the death of a moneyed member of the family to show persons as they really are, virtuous or conniving, generous or grasping. Many a family has been torn apart by a botched-up will. Each case is a drama in human relationships — and the lawyer, as counselor, draftsman, or advocate, is an important figure in the dramatis personae. This is one reason the estates practitioner enjoys his work, and why we enjoy ours.” Jesse Dukeminier and Stanley M. Johanson, introduction to 1972 edition of Family Wealth Transactions: Wills, Trust, Future Interests, and Estate Planning.

What do Aretha Franklin, Kurt Cobain, and Prince have in common? Aside from being famous and talented, each of these stars passed away without a will. All three had the money and attorneys to draft a proper estate plan, but for whatever reason, they didn’t draft one. It’s a good lesson to not neglect your estate plan.

Motley Fool reports in the article, “3 Must-Have Estate Planning Documents To Get Done This Year,” that dying without a will creates numerous problems for your family. If there are no legal instructions in place, probate law dictates the distribution of your assets and selection of guardians for your minor children, which can cause problems. Regardless of your personal situation, you should think about creating these three important estate planning documents.

Will. A will is used to distribute your estate, according to your instructions. A will can say how much and what type of asset each heir will receive, to minimize family fighting after your death. If you have young children, you can designate guardians in your will to be in charge of their care. If you die without a will, the probate judge will order who becomes their guardian.

You also need a will to make charitable bequests, to expedite the probate court process and to reduce or eliminate estate taxes. When you draft your will, you’ll appoint trusted people to serve as the executor and the trustee.

Living will. A living will can take effect while you are still alive. This is a legal document that sets out your instructions for medical treatment, if you become unable to communicate, such as whether or not you want to be placed on life support. A living will can relieve the emotional burden from your family of having to make difficult decisions.

Power of attorney. This legal document helps in the event you’re incapacitated or in the hospital in an unresponsive state. A power of attorney gives the individual you designate the authority to transact financial and legal matters on your behalf. Set up a power of attorney, before you need it. If you don’t and you’re unable to make decisions, your family may have to petition the court to get those powers, which costs time and money.

Estate planning is a huge favor that you’re doing for your family. Get these three legal documents in place.

ReferenceMotley Fool (February 18, 2019) “3 Must-Have Estate Planning Documents To Get Done This Year”

This post answered the question What are the “Must Have” Estate Planning Documents?

Categories
Elder Law Estate Planning

A Love Letter to Your Family

A Love Letter to Your Family.

“A real love letter is made of insight, understanding, and compassion. Otherwise it’s not a love letter. A true love letter can produce a transformation in the other person, and therefore in the world. But before it produces a transformation in the other person, it has to produce a transformation within us. Some letters may take the whole of our lifetime to write.”
― Thich Nhat Hanh, Your True Home: The Everyday Wisdom of Thich Nhat Hanh: 365 days of practical, powerful teachings from the beloved Zen teacher

“Wish not so much to live long as to live well.” – Poor Richard’s Almanack, 1738

Now, to the 70% of Americans who do not have an estate plan, the article “Senior Spotlight: Composing the ‘family love letter’” from the Lockport Journal should help you understand why this is so important. One reason why people don’t take care of this simple task, is because they don’t fully understand why estate planning is needed. They think it’s only for the wealthy, or that it’s only for old people, or even that it’s only about death and taxes.

Consider this idea: an estate plan is about protecting yourself while you are alive, protecting your family when you have passed and leaving a legacy for the living.

Some of the main elements of an estate plan are to create and execute documents that provide for incapacity and death, as well as provide information about your assets, liabilities and wishes.

You’ve spent a lifetime accumulating assets. It is now time to sit down with family members and have a heart-to-heart talk about the details of the estate and what your intentions are with respect to its distribution. The subject of death can be challenging for all. However, discussing your estate plan is vital, if you want to protect your family from what might come after you are gone. Each family has its own goals, so it’s a good idea to talk about it frankly, while you still can.

Without discussions and an estate, the chances of a family split, assets not going where you had intended and unnecessarily higher costs in taxes and legal fees, are a very real possibility.

If speaking about these topics is too hard, you may want to write your family a love letter. It would contain all the information that your family would need at the time of your death or if you become incapacitated because of illness or injury.

Your estate plan should also include the documents needed, so your family can make decisions on your behalf, if you are incapacitated. That includes a power of attorney, a health care directive and may include others specific to your situation.

Ideally, all this information will be located in one convenient place. Don’t put it on a computer where you use a password. If the family cannot access your computer, all your hard work will be useless to them. Put it in a folder or a notebook, that is clearly labeled and tell family members where it is.

They’ll need this information:

  • A list of your important contacts — your estate planning attorney, financial advisor, CPA, insurance broker and medical professionals.
  • Credit card information, frequent flier miles.
  • Insurance and benefits including all health, life, disability, long-term care, Medicare, property deeds, employment and any military benefits.
  • Documents including your will, power of attorney, birth certificates, military papers, divorce decrees and citizenship papers.

Think of these materials and discussions as your opportunity to make a statement for the future generation. If you don’t have an estate plan in place already or if you have not reviewed your estate plan in more than a few years, it’s time to make an appointment for a review. Your life may have not changed, but tax laws have, and you’ll want to be sure your estate is not entangled in old strategies that no longer benefit your family.

ReferenceLockport Journal (Feb. 16, 2019) “Senior Spotlight: Composing the ‘family love letter’

Categories
Elder Law Estate Planning

Using Trusts to Maintain Control of Inheritances

Using Trusts to Maintain Control of Inheritances.

“The spendthrift robs his heirs the miser robs himself.” Jean De La Bruyere

“If the Nation is living within its income, its credit is good. If, in some crises, it lives beyond its income for a year or two, it can usually borrow temporarily at reasonable rates. But if, like a spendthrift, it throws discretion to the winds, and is willing to make no sacrifice at all in spending; if it extends its taxing to the limit of the peoples power to pay and continues to pile up deficits, then it is on the road to bankruptcy.” Franklin D. Roosevelt

Trusts, like estate plans, are not just for the wealthy. They are used to provide control, in how assets of any size are passed to another person. Leaving an inheritance to a beneficiary in a trust, according to the article from Times Herald-Record titled “Leaving inheritances to trusts puts you in control,” can protect the inheritance and the asset from being mishandled. Protection can be the main intention for creating a trust.

For many parents, the inheritance equation is simple. They leave their estate to their children “per stirpes,” which in Latin translates to “by roots.” In other words, the assets are left to children according to the roots of the family tree. The assets go to the children, but if they predecease you, the assets go to their children. The assets remain in the family. If the child dies after the parent, they leave the inheritance to their spouse.

An alternative is to create inheritance trusts for children. They may spend the money as they wish, but any remaining assets goes to their children (your grandchildren) and not to the surviving spouse of your child. The grandchildren won’t gain access to the money, until you so provide. However, someone older, a trustee, may spend the money on them for their health, education and general welfare. The inheritance trust also protects the assets from any divorces, lawsuits or creditors.

This is also a good way for parents, who are concerned about the impact of their wealth on their children, to maintain some degree of control. One strategy is a graduated payment plan. A certain amount of money is given to the child at certain ages, often 20% when they reach 35, half of the remainder at age 40 and the balance at age 45. Until distributions are made to the heirs, a trustee may use the money for the person’s benefit at the trustee’s discretion.

The main concern is that money not be wasted by spendthrift heirs. In that situation, a spendthrift trust restricts payments to or for the beneficiary and may only be used at the trustee’s discretion. A lavish lifestyle won’t be funded by the trust.

If money is being left to a disabled individual who receives government benefits, like Medicaid or Supplemental Security Income (SSI), you may need a Special Needs Trust. The trustee can pay for services or items for the beneficiary directly, without affecting government benefits. The beneficiary may not receive any money directly.

If an older person is a beneficiary, you also have the option to leave them an “income only trust.” They have no right to receive any of the trust’s principal. If the beneficiary requires nursing home care and must apply for Medicaid, the principal is protected from nursing home costs.

An estate planning attorney will be able to review your family’s situation and determine which type of trust would be best for your family because using trusts to maintain control of inheritances works best.

ReferenceTimes Herald-Record (Feb. 16, 2019) “Leaving inheritances to trusts puts you in control”

Using Trusts to Maintain Control of Inheritances.

Categories
Elder Law Estate Planning

Kids Grown Up? Protect Them with These Three Documents

Kids Grown Up? Protect Them with These Three Documents

“Right is right even if no one is doing it; wrong is wrong even if everyone is doing it.”  Saint Augustine of Hippo

“Everybody knows how to raise children except for the people that have them.” P.J. O’Rourke

Without the right documents in place, you do not have the legal right to protect your own children, once they turn 18, says The National Law Review in an unsettling but must-read article titled “Three Critical Legal Documents Every Parent Should Get in Place Now to Safeguard Their Adult Children.”

There are only three documents and they are fairly straightforward. There is no reason not to have them in place. If your adult child was incapacitated by an accident or an illness, you would want to speak with the medical staff to find out how they are and what decisions need to be made. Whether you were making a phone call or arriving at the hospital, a nurse or doctor would not be permitted to speak with you about your own adult child’s condition or be involved with making any medical decisions.

It sounds unreasonable, and perhaps it is, but that is the law. There are steps you can take to ensure that you are not in this situation.

HIPAA Authorization Form gives you the authority to speak with healthcare providers. This is a federal law (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996) that safeguards who can access an adult’s private health data. HIPAA prevents healthcare providers from revealing any information to you or anyone else about a patient’s status. The practitioners could face severe penalties for violating HIPAA.

This is why you want to have a HIPAA authorization signed by your adult child and naming you as an authorized recipient.  This will give you the ability to ask for and receive information about your child’s health status, progress and treatment. This is especially important, if your child is unconscious or in an unresponsive state. The alternative? Going to court. That’s not what you want to be doing during a health emergency.

Healthcare Power of Attorney or health care proxy needs to be in place, so you can be named his or her “medical agent” and have the ability to view their medical records and make informed decisions on their behalf. Without this (or a court-appointed guardianship), healthcare decisions will be in the hands of healthcare providers only. That’s not a bad thing, if you implicitly trust your child’s doctor. However, if your child is incapacitated in an out-of-town hospital with healthcare providers you don’t know, you will want to be able to make decisions on his or her behalf.

Note that physicians prefer a single medical agent, not a handful. The concern is that if time is a critical factor and a group of family members do not agree on care, it may compromise the healthcare services that can be provided. You can name multiple agents in priority order. A mother might be listed as the medical agent, and if she is unable or unwilling to serve, the second person would be the father.

The third document is a General Power of Attorney. This would give you the right to make financial decisions on your child’s behalf, if they were to become incapacitated. You would have the legal right to manage bank accounts, pay bills, sign tax returns, apply for government benefits, break or apply a lease and conduct activities on behalf of your child. Without this document, you won’t be able to help your child without a court-appointed guardianship.

Keep in mind that these documents need to be updated every few years. If you try to use an older document, the bank or hospital may not accept them. Your adult child also has the ability to revoke these documents at any time, just by saying they revoke them or by putting it in writing. If you have an adult child living out of state, you want to have these documents prepared for your home state and their state of residence.

Finally, this is not a time to download forms and hope for the best. An estate planning attorney will know more specifically what forms are used in your state and help you make sure that they are prepared correctly.

Reference: The National Law Review (Feb. 11, 2019) “Three Critical Legal Documents Every Parent Should Get in Place Now to Safeguard Their Adult Children”

Have your kids Grown Up? Protect Them with These Three Documents: HIPPA authorization, health care proxy, General Power of Attorney.

Categories
Elder Law Estate Planning Will Contest

Spare Your Family From a Feud: Make Sure You Have a Will

Spare Your Family From a Feud: Make Sure You Have a Will

“The problem with revenge is that it never gets what it wants; it never evens the score. Fairness never comes. The chain reaction set off by every act of vengeance always takes its unhindered course. It ties both the injured and the injurer to an escalator of pain…Why do family feuds go on and on?…the reason is simple: no two people, no two families, ever weigh pain on the same scale.” Lewis B. Smedes

“The family feuds or the village feuds often had to do with an idea of honor. Perhaps it was a peasant idea; perhaps this idea of honor is especially important to a society without recourse to law or without confidence in law.” V. S. Naipaul

If for no other reason than to avoid fracturing the family, as they squabble over who gets Aunt Rosie’s sideboard or Uncle Joe’s collection of baseball cards, everyone needs a will. It is true that having an estate plan created does require us to consider what we want to happen after we have died, which most of us would rather not think about.

However, whether we want to think about it or not, having an estate plan in place, and that includes a will, is a gift of peace we give to our loved ones and ourselves. It’s peace of mind that our family is being told exactly what we want them to do after we pass, and peace of mind to ourselves that we’ve put our plan into place.

A recent article from Fatherly, “How to Write a Will: 8 Tips Every Parent Needs to Know,” starts with the basic premise that a will prevents family squabbles. Families fight, when they don’t have clear direction of what the deceased wanted. That’s just one reason to have a last will and testament. However, there are other reasons.

A will is one way to ensure that your property is eventually distributed as you wish. Without a will, your estate is administered as an “intestate estate,” which means the state’s laws will determine who receives your assets after you pass. In some states, that means your spouse gets half of your estate, with your parents getting the rest (if there are no children). If the parents have died and there are no children, the rest of the estate may go to your siblings.

Most people—some studies say as many as 60% of Americans—don’t have a will. It’s hard to say why they don’t: maybe they don’t want to accept their own mortality, maybe they don’t understand what will happen when they die without a will, or perhaps they want to wreak havoc on their families. However, having a will is essential.

Don’t delay. If you don’t have a will in place, stop putting it off. Creating a will gives you the opportunity to effectuate your wishes, not that of the state. What if you don’t want your long-lost brother showing up just to receive a portion of your estate? How about if your ex-wife remains the beneficiary of your IRA?  If you don’t want someone to receive any of your assets, you need to have a will. Otherwise, there’s no way to know how the distribution will play out.

Be thoughtful about how you distribute your assets. If you have children and your will gives them your assets when they reach 18, will they be prepared to manage without blowing their inheritance in a month? A qualified estate planning attorney will be able to help you create a plan for distributing your wealth to children or other heirs in a sequence that will match their financial abilities. You may want to create a trust that will hold the assets, with a trustee who can ensure that assets are distributed in a wise and timely manner.

Every family is different, and today’s families, which often include children from prior marriages, require special planning. If you have remarried and have not legally adopted your spouse’s children from a previous marriage, they are not your legal heirs. If you want to make sure they inherit money or a specific asset, you’ll need to state that clearly in your will. If you are not married to your partner, they will not have any rights to your estate, unless a will is created that directs the assets you want them to inherit.

Parents of young children absolutely need a will. If you do not, and both parents pass away at the same time, their future will be determined by the court. They could end up in foster care, while awaiting a court decision. Battling grandparents may create a tumultuous situation. The court could also name a guardian who you would never have chosen. A will or trust lets you decide.

Speak with an estate planning attorney to make sure you have a will that is properly prepared and follows the laws of your state. You also want to have a power of attorney and a health care agent named. Having these plans made before you need them, gives you the ability to express your wishes in a way that can be legally enforced.

ReferenceFatherly (Feb. 6, 2019) “How to Write a Will: 8 Tips Every Parent Needs to Know”