Avoid These 2 Common Causes For Dispute Over Your Estate Plan—Part 2

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Avoid These 2 Common Causes For Dispute Over Your Estate Plan—Part 2

Wednesday, December 23rd, 2020

In the first part of this series, we discussed one of the most frequent causes for dispute over your estate plan. Here, we’ll look at another leading cause for dispute and offer strategies for its prevention.No matter how well you think you know your family, you can never predict how they’ll behave when you die or if you become incapacitated.Family dynamics are complicated and prone to conflict during even the best of times, but when tragedy strikes a key member of the household, minor tensions and disagreements can explode into bitter conflict. And when access to money is involved, the potential for discord is exponentially increased.No one wants to believe their family would ever end up battling one another in court over inheritance issues or a loved one’s life-saving medical treatment, but we see it all the time. This is especially true for those who rely on do-it-yourself estate planning documents found online.The good news is you can dramatically reduce the odds of such conflict by enlisting the support of an experienced lawyer like us to assist you in creating your estate plan. Even the best set of documents will be unable to anticipate and navigate the complex emotional dynamics that make up your life and family, but we can.Last week, we discussed one of the most common reasons for dispute, poor fiduciary selection, which involves selecting the wrong trustee, executor, or guardian for your kids. Today, we focus on another leading catalyst for conflict: contests to the validity of your will and/or trust.2. Contesting the validity of wills and trustsThe validity of your will and/or trust can be contested in court for a few different reasons. If such a contest is successful, the court declares your will or trust invalid, which effectively means the document(s) never existed in the first place. Obviously, this would likely be disastrous for everyone involved, especially your intended beneficiaries.However, just because someone disagrees with what he or she received in your will or trust doesn’t mean that person can contest it. Whether or not the individual agrees with the terms of your plan is irrelevant; it is your plan after all. Rather, he or she must prove that your plan is invalid (and should be thrown out) based on one or more of the following legal grounds:

  • The document was improperly executed (signed, witnessed, and/or notarized) as required by state law.
  • You did not have the necessary mental capacity at the time you created the document to understand what you were doing.
  • Someone unduly influenced or coerced you into creating or changing the document.
  • The document was procured by fraud.

Furthermore, only those individuals with “legal standing” can contest your will or trust. Just because someone was intimately involved in your life, even if they’re a blood relative, doesn’t automatically mean they can legally contest your plan.

Those with the potential for legal standing generally fall into two categories: 1) Family members who would inherit, or inherit more, under state law if you never created the document. 2) Beneficiaries (family, friends, and charities) named or given a larger bequest in a previous version of the document.

Solution: There are times when family members might contest your will and/or trust over legitimate concerns, such as if they believe you were tricked or coerced into changing your plan by an unscrupulous caregiver. However, that’s not what we’re addressing here.

Here, we’re addressing—and seeking to prevent—contests that are attempts by disgruntled family members and/or would-be beneficiaries seeking to improve the benefit they received through your plan. We’re also seeking to prevent contests that are a result of disputes between members of blended families, particularly those that arise between spouses and children from a previous marriage.

First off, working with an experienced lawyer like us is of paramount importance if you have one or more family members who are unhappy—or who may be unhappy—with how they are treated in your plan. This need is especially critical if you’re seeking to disinherit or favor one part of your family over another.

Some of the leading reasons for such unhappiness include having a plan that benefits some children more than others, as well as when your plan benefits friends, unmarried domestic partners, and/or other individuals instead of, or in addition to, your family. Conflict is also likely when you name a third-party trustee to manage an adult beneficiary’s inheritance because he or she is likely to be negatively affected by the sudden windfall of money.

In these cases, it’s vital to make sure your plan is properly created and maintained to ensure these individuals will not have any legal ground to contest your will or trust. One way you can do this is to include clear language that you are making the choices laid out in your plan of your own free will, so no one will be able to challenge your wishes by claiming your incapacity or duress.

Beyond having a sound plan in place, it’s also crucial that you clearly communicate your intentions to everyone affected by your will or trust while you’re still alive, rather than having them learn about it when you’re no longer around. Indeed, we often recommend holding a family meeting (which we can help facilitate) to go over everything with all impacted parties.

Outside of contests originated by disgruntled loved ones, the potential for your will or trust to cause dispute is significantly increased if you have a blended family. If you are in a second (or more) marriage, with children from a prior marriage, there’s an inherent risk of dispute because your children and spouse often have conflicting interests.

To reduce the likelihood of dispute, it’s crucial that your plan contain clear and unambiguous terms spelling out the beneficiaries’ exact rights, along with the rights and responsibilities of executors and/or trustees. Such precise terms help ensure all parties know exactly what you intended.

If you have a blended family, it’s also essential that you meet with all affected parties while you’re still alive (and of sound mind) to clearly explain your wishes in person. Sharing your intentions and hopes for the future with your spouse and children is key to avoiding disagreements over your true wishes for them.

Prevent disputes before they happen

The best way to deal with estate planning disputes is to do everything possible to make sure they never occur in the first place. This means working with us as your Personal Family Lawyer® to put planning strategies in place aimed at anticipating and avoiding common sources of conflict. Moreover, it means constantly reviewing and updating your plan to keep pace with your changing circumstances and family dynamics.

Whether the potential dispute arises from disgruntled heirs, sibling rivalries, or the conflicting interests of members of your blended family, your Personal Family Lawyer® is specifically trained to predict and prevent such conflicts. Meet with us today to learn more.

Avoid These 2 Common Causes For Dispute Over Your Estate Plan—Part 1

Wednesday, December 23rd, 2020

No matter how well you think you know your loved ones, it’s impossible to predict exactly how they’ll behave when you die or if you become incapacitated. Of course, no one wants to believe their family would ever end up battling one another in court over inheritance issues or a loved one’s life-saving medical treatment, but the fact is, we see it all the time.

Family dynamics are extremely complicated and prone to conflict during even the best of times. And when tragedy strikes a key member of the household, even minor tensions and disagreements can explode into bitter conflict. When access to money is on the line, the potential for discord is exponentially increased.

The good news is you can drastically reduce the odds of such conflict through estate planning with the support of a lawyer who understands and can anticipate these dynamics. This is why it’s so important to work with an experienced lawyer like us when creating your estate plan and never rely on generic, do-it-yourself planning documents found online. Unfortunately, even the best set of documents will be unable to anticipate and navigate complex emotional matters like this, but we can.

By becoming aware of some of the leading causes of such disputes, you’re in a better position to prevent those situations through effective planning. Though it’s impossible to predict what issues might arise around your plan, the following 2 things are among the most common catalysts for conflict.

1. Poor fiduciary selection

Many estate planning disputes occur when a person you’ve chosen to handle your affairs following your death or incapacity fails to carry out his or her responsibilities properly. Whether it’s as your power of attorney agent, executor, or trustee, these roles can entail a variety of different duties, some of which can last for years.

The individual you select, known as a fiduciary, is legally required to execute those duties and act in the best interests of the beneficiaries named in your plan. The failure to do either of those things, is referred to as a breach of fiduciary duty.

The breach can be the result of the person’s deliberate action, or it could be something he or she does unintentionally, by mistake. Either way, a breach—or even the perception of one—can cause serious conflict among your loved ones. This is especially true if the fiduciary attempts to use the position for personal gain, or if the improper actions negatively impact the beneficiaries.

Common breaches include failing to provide required accounting and tax information to beneficiaries, improperly using estate or trust assets for the fiduciary’s personal benefit, making improper distributions, and failing to pay taxes, debts, and/or expenses owed by the estate or trust.

If a suspected breach occurs, beneficiaries can sue to have the fiduciary removed, recover any damages they incurred, and even recover punitive damages if the breach was committed out of malice or fraud.

Solution: Given the potentially immense responsibilities involved, you need to be extremely careful when selecting your fiduciaries, and make sure everyone in your family knows why you chose the fiduciary you did. You should only choose the most honest, trustworthy, and diligent individuals, and also be careful not to select those who might have potential conflicts of interest with beneficiaries.

Moreover, it’s vital that your planning documents contain clear terms spelling out a fiduciary’s responsibilities and duties, so the individual understands exactly what’s expected of him or her. And should things go awry, you can add terms to your plan that allow beneficiaries to remove and replace a fiduciary without going to court.

We can assist you with selecting the most qualified fiduciaries; drafting the most precise, explicit, and understandable terms in all of your planning documents; as well as ensuring that your family understands your choices, so they do not end up in conflict when it’s too late. In this way, the individuals you select to carry out your wishes will have the best chances of doing so successfully—and with as little conflict as possible.

Next week, we’ll continue with part two in this series discussing common causes for dispute over estate planning.

As your Personal Family Lawyer®, we can guide you to make informed, educated, and empowered choices to protect yourself and the ones you love most. Contact us today to get started with a Family Wealth Planning Session.

Got a ‘Blended Family’?

Wednesday, December 23rd, 2020

Learn From Tom Petty’s Mistakes: His Daughters and Widow Are Now Locked In Bitter Battle Over His Estate

This week Tom Petty’s daughters escalated the battle over their late father’s estate by filing a lawsuit against Petty’s second wife that seeks $5 million in damages. In the lawsuit, Adria Petty and Annakim Violette, claim their father’s widow, Dana York Petty, mismanaged their father’s estate, depriving them of their rights to determine how Petty’s music should be released.

Petty died in 2017 of an accidental drug overdose at age 66. He named Dana as sole trustee of his trust, but the terms of the trust give the daughters “equal participation” in decisions about how Petty’s catalog is to be used. The daughters, who are from Petty’s first marriage, claim the terms should be interpreted to mean they get two votes out of three, which would give them majority control.

Alex Weingarten, an attorney for Petty’s daughters, issued a statement to Rolling Stone magazine, asserting that Perry’s widow is not abiding by Petty’s wishes for his two children.

“Tom Petty wanted his music and his legacy to be controlled equally by his daughters, Adria and Annakim, and his wife, Dana. Dana has refused Tom’s express wishes and insisted instead upon misappropriating Tom’s life’s work for her own selfish interests,” he said.

In April, Dana filed a petition in a Los Angeles court, seeking to put Petty’s catalog under control of a professional manager, who would assist the three women in managing the estate’s assets. Dana alleged that Adria had made it difficult to conduct business by acting abusive and erratic, including sending angry emails to various managers, record label reps, and even members of Petty’s band, the Heartbreakers.

Since Petty’s death, two compilations of his music have been released, including “An American Treasure” in 2018 and “The Best of Everything” in 2019. Both albums reportedly involved intense conflict between Petty’s widow and daughters, over “marketing, promotional, and artistic considerations.”

In reply to the new lawsuit, Dana’s attorney, Adam Streisand, issued a statement claiming the suit is without merit and could potentially harm Petty’s legacy.

“This misguided and meritless lawsuit sadly demonstrates exactly why Tom Petty designated his wife to be the sole trustee with authority to manage his estate,” he said. “Dana will not allow destructive nonsense like this to distract her from protecting her husband’s legacy.”

Destructive disputes

The fight over Petty’s music demonstrates a sad but true fact about celebrity estate planning. When famous artists leave behind extremely valuable—yet highly complex—assets like music rights, contentious court disputes often erupt among heirs, even with planning in place.

The potential for such disputes is significantly increased for blended families like Petty’s. If you’re in a second (or more) marriage, with children from a prior marriage, there is always a risk for conflict, as your children and spouse’s interests often aren’t aligned. In such cases, it’s essential to plan well in advance to reduce the possibility for conflict and confusion.

Petty did the right thing by creating a trust to control his music catalog, but the lawsuit centers around the terms of his trust and how those terms divide control of his assets. While it’s unclear exactly what the trust stipulates, it appears the terms giving the daughters “equal participation” with his widow in decisions over Petty’s catalog are somewhat ambiguous. The daughters contend the terms amount to three equal votes, but his widow obviously disagrees.

Reduce conflict with clear terms and communication

It’s critical that your trust contain clear and unambiguous terms that spell out the beneficiaries’ exact rights, along with the exact rights and responsibilities of the trustee. Such precise terms help ensure all parties know exactly what you intended when setting up the trust.

What’s more, you should also communicate your wishes to your loved ones while you’re still alive, rather than relying on a written document that only becomes operative when you die or should you become incapacitated. Sharing your intentions and hopes for the future can go a long way in preventing disagreements over what you “really” wanted.

For the love of your family

While such conflicts frequently erupt among families of the rich and famous like Petty, they can occur over anyone’s estate, regardless of its value. As your Personal Family Lawyer®, we can not only help you draft clear terms for all of your planning documents, but also facilitate family meetings, where you can explain your wishes to your loved ones in person and answer any questions they may have.

Doing both of these things can dramatically reduce the chances of conflict over your estate and bring your family closer at the same time. And if you have a blended family (meaning children from a prior marriage), we have more ideas about how you can head off future conflict at the pass with proper planning now. Contact a Personal Family Lawyer® today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session.

4 Ways Wise Planning Can Protect Your Family’s Assets

Wednesday, December 23rd, 2020

While most people assume only the uber wealthy need to worry about asset protection, those with less wealth and fewer assets may be at even greater risk. For example, if you’re a multi-millionaire, a $50,000 judgment against you might not be that big of a burden. But for a family with a modest income, home, and savings, it could be catastrophic.

Asset protection planning isn’t something you can put off until something happens. Like all planning, to be effective, you must have asset protection strategies in place well before something happens. Plus, your asset protection plan isn’t a one-and-done deal: It must be regularly updated to accommodate changes to your family structure and asset profile.

There are numerous planning strategies available for asset protection, but three of the most common include the following:

1. Insurance

Purchasing different forms of insurance—health, auto, watercraft, and homeowner’s—should always be the first line of defense to protect your assets. Whether you’re ultimately found at fault or not, if you’re ever sued, defending yourself in court can be extremely costly.

Insurance is designed not only to help you pay damages if a lawsuit against you is successful, but the insurance company is also responsible for hiring you a lawyer and paying his or her attorney’s fees to defend you in court, whether you lose or win. However, insurance policies come with various amounts of coverage, which can be exceeded by large judgments, so you should also seriously consider buying umbrella insurance.

Should your underlying insurance policy max out, an “umbrella” policy will help cover any remaining damages and legal expenses. We can evaluate your current policies and advise you about the types and amounts of insurance you should have for maximum asset protection.

2. Statutory exemptions

Another way to protect your family’s assets is by taking full advantage of federal and state laws that make certain types of assets “exempt” from creditor claims and judgements. Depending on your state, the availability and amount of protection offered by such exemptions can vary.

For example, many states offer a homestead exemption, which protects a certain amount—or even the full value—of the equity you have in your primary residence from creditors. If your state provides a generous homestead exemption, paying down your mortgage could protect funds that are otherwise vulnerable.

Similarly, federal and state laws classify many retirement plans, such as 401ks and IRAs, as exempt assets, while some states also offer significant, or complete, exemptions for life insurance policies and annuities, as well.

Even though exemptions won’t offer you total protection, they can provide significant shelter for certain assets. Plus, using statutory exemptions is something that can be accomplished without investing anything—all that’s required is for you to understand how best to structure your investments to take advantage of these exemptions. Meet with us for a Family and Asset Protection Planning Session to learn what kinds and amounts of exemptions are available in your location.

3. Business entities

Owning a business can be an incredible wealth-generating asset for your family, but it can also be a serious liability. Indeed, without the proper protection, your personal assets are extremely vulnerable if your company ever runs into trouble. For example, if your business is currently a sole proprietorship or general partnership, you are personally liable for any debts or lawsuits incurred by your business.

Structuring your business as a limited liability company (LLC) or S corporation is typically the best way to go for many small businesses. When properly set up and maintained, both entities create an impenetrable barrier between your personal assets and your business activities. Creditors, clients, and other potentially litigious individuals can go after assets owned by your company, but not your personal assets.

If you own any kind of business, even just a side gig to earn extra income, you should seriously consider creating a protective entity to ensure any liabilities incurred by your company won’t affect your personal assets. We can help you select, put in place, and maintain the proper entity structure for your particular business operation.

4. Estate Planning

While each of the asset-protection scenarios shared above are “maybes,” there is one certainty in life—death. It’s coming for all of us. And your death, or an incapacity before it, is the biggest risk to your family’s assets. Planning in advance for what is certain to come is a gift to the people you love the most.

If you’ve been putting it off, now is the time to get it handled, and we’ve made it easy for you to do that.

You work way too hard to leave your assets at risk. Call your Family Protection Lawyers® at Cornerstone to schedule your Family and Asset Protection Planning Session, and let’s get this taken care of now. During your Family and Asset Protection Planning Session, you’ll become educated, informed, and empowered to know you’ve made the right decisions, at the most affordable cost, for the people you love.

Learning From Celebrity Estate Planning Mistakes

Wednesday, December 23rd, 2020

Most of us enjoy gossiping about celebrities, but today we’ll talk about them and learn some really importand do’s and don’ts when it comes to estate planning. Special guest Safura Khan joins us from the Cornerstone team this week as we learn from the mistakes (and good decisions) of celebrities like Paul Walker, Muhammed Ali, Heath Ledger and more. And later, we’ll answer a great listener question about the difference between a will and a living will.

The Real Cost To Your Family: Not Planning For Incapacity

Wednesday, December 23rd, 2020

Although many people plan for what will happen when they pass away, most people don’t have a plan for what would happen if they were incapacitated due to an accident or illness. The consequences of not planning properly can leave your family in a lurch in more ways than one.

3 Warning Signs of a Financial Scam

Wednesday, December 23rd, 2020

Nobody likes to admit they’ve fallen for a financial scam, but the fact is, it’s easier than ever to get caught up in one. This is especially true in today’s all-digital world, where practically every shred of data related to your personal and financial background can be found online.

While no one is forcing you to use the Internet to manage your financial accounts, purchase goods and services, or communicate with the outside world, these days it’s nearly impossible to live your life without the web. This net-based existence can feel somewhat unnerving for those of us who came of age while the tech revolution was already underway, but for the elderly, who lived the vast majority of their lives offline, it can be absolutely overwhelming.

Given their lack of tech experience, coupled with the fact that many of them are undergoing varying levels of cognitive decline and sometimes live lonely, isolated lives, scammers view seniors as easy targets. And many of today’s con artists are so sophisticated, even the most intelligent and educated can be duped.

To protect your aging loved ones (and yourself) from such predators, it’s critical to know the warning signs of financial exploitation. The following are three big red flags to watch for:

1. Unexpected requests

If a family member or friend contacts you out of the blue asking for money, especially via email or text, you should be wary. If the request comes from an unfamiliar email address or phone number, you should be extremely wary. While such requests aren’t totally unheard of, never send money unless you can verify the individual’s identity.

A popular con, known as the Grandparent Scam, involves someone calling and pretending to be your grandchild. The “grandchild” explains he or she is in trouble and needs money immediately. The caller then asks you to wire the money or give it to a third party, usually someone posing as a lawyer or police officer.

No matter how urgent the caller may sound, you should always verify their identity. One of the easiest ways to do this is by having the person call you back on his or her phone. Or if the individual’s phone is dead or lost, you can ask them questions only the actual person would know the answer to, such as the name of their first pet. If they refuse, seem unusually aggressive, or act odd, do not send money.

Outside of relatives and friends, scammers often pretend to be from the IRS or another government agency, demanding immediate payment of back taxes or some other debt. They might even threaten you with arrest, ruined credit, or additional fines if you fail to comply. And if they don’t directly ask for money, they sometimes ask for verification of your personal information or direct you to visit a phishing website that secretly puts data-collecting viruses on your computer.

Regardless if it’s done by phone, email, social media, or text, no government agency collects money this way. Moreover, legitimate organizations will be more than happy to verify they are who they claim to be, and will never demand on-the-spot payment. No matter if it’s a government agency, a financial institution, law enforcement, an attorney, or a private business, you should always be allowed to verify the legitimacy of the request and consult with a trusted advisor like us before making any financial transaction.

2. Unsolicited money-making ventures

Whether through a savvy business deal or by winning the lottery, we all fantasize about striking it rich. And if you’re retired on a fixed income, this fantasy can be all-the-more alluring. Scammers know this and will use your dreams of easy money to trick you into investing in a too-good-to-be-true venture that promises big bucks for little or no effort.

There are endless variations on this popular con, from wealthy foreign nationals needing assistance transferring money to more legitimate-sounding business deals offering huge payoffs with no risk. These messages sometimes appear as if they were sent to you accidentally, making it feel like fortune has finally favored you—just like you always dreamed it would.

But in reality, strangers don’t just randomly offer other strangers incredible money-making opportunities. What kind of trustworthy business person would seek to partner with someone they’ve never met? And if it’s such a great investment, why not recruit someone they know or simply do it themselves? Indeed, any unsolicited money-making venture you receive online from a person you don’t know is almost certainly a scam.

Many such scams originate in foreign countries with people who aren’t fluent in English, so messages with incorrect spelling, poor grammar, and/or unusual phrasing are often a dead giveaway. Other tip-offs include messages containing the following (or very similar) language:

  • You’ve won one of several valuable prizes.
  • You’ve been specially selected for this one-time offer.
  • You’ll get a free bonus if you buy our product.
  • You’ve won money in a foreign lottery.
  • This investment is low risk and offers a higher return than anything else.
  • Our product is free, but we need to put shipping and handling charges on your credit card.
  • Advance payments or fees are required to clear the promised funds or complete the offer.

3. Requests for personal information

Whenever someone unfamiliar asks you for personal information like a credit card number, Social Security number, or your mother’s maiden name, proceed with extreme caution. Ask them why they need this information. Request they verify their identity. Enquire about alternate methods of proceeding that do not require such private information.

Reputable sources will respect your privacy and be more than willing to provide you with identity verification, or at least offer an alternate way for you to proceed without the need for such personal data. For example, if you receive an email request for your credit card number, look up the organization’s phone number using a source other than what they provide in the email, and ask if you can call and give your information over the phone instead.

One such con has scammers call claiming to be from the Social Security Administration (SSA), and the number may even come up on your caller ID as the SSA. The caller says your Social Security number has been stolen, used in a crime, or suspended. To protect your funds, they direct you to withdraw the money in your bank account and transfer it to a gift card. The scammers then ask for the gift card PIN number for “safekeeping.” They also may try to get you to reveal your SS number by having you verify it over the phone.

However, the SSA does not suspend your Social Security number, nor will it ever direct you to withdraw money from your bank account. What’s more, any situation in which you’re told to buy gift cards and then give out the cards’ PIN number is undoubtedly a scam.

Today’s most sophisticated scammers don’t even need to ask you for your personal data: They can steal it simply by having you open an email attachment or visit a website that’s loaded with data-scraping bots. Don’t open email attachments from strangers—or even friends and family if the attachment seems unusual. Set all of your social media accounts to private so that your personal info isn’t public. And invest in anti-virus and anti-spyware programs to protect your computer from hacking.

Protect your loved ones from all possible threats

By becoming familiar with how such deceptions work and knowing what to look for, you and your loved ones will be far less likely to be conned. At the same time, you should also do everything you can to safeguard your family’s finances from other threats that have nothing to do with fraud.

Without comprehensive estate planning, your family’s wealth and assets are in real danger of being seriously depleted or lost in the event of your death or incapacity. Meet with us as your Personal Family Lawyer® to learn about the best planning strategies to put in place to ensure your loved ones will be taken care of no matter what happens to you.

The Real Cost To Your Family: Not Planning For Incapacity

Wednesday, December 23rd, 2020

This is the first in an ongoing series of NLBM articles discussing the true costs and consequences of failed estate planning. The series highlights a few of the most common—and costly—planning mistakes we encounter with clients. If the series exposes any potential gaps or weak spots in your plan, meet with your Personal Family Lawyer to learn how to properly address them.

When it comes to estate planning, most people automatically think about taking legal steps to ensure the right people inherit their stuff when they die. And these people aren’t wrong.

Indeed, putting strategies in place to protect and pass on your wealth and other assets is a fundamental part of the planning equation. However, providing for the proper distribution of your assets upon your death is just one part of the process.

And it’s not even the most critical part.

Planning that’s focused solely on who gets what when you die is ignoring the fact that death isn’t the only thing you must prepare for. You must also consider that at some point before your eventual death, you could be incapcitated by accident or illness.

Like death, each of us is at constant risk of experiencing a devastating accident or disease that renders us incapable of caring for ourselves or our loved ones. But unlike death, which is by definition a final outcome, incapacity comes with an uncertain outcome and timeframe.

Incapacity can be a temporary event from which you eventually recover, or it can be the start of a long and costly event that ultimately ends in your death. Indeed, incapacity can drag out over many years, leaving you and your family in an agonizing limbo. This uncertainty is what makes incapacity planning so incredibly important.

In fact, incapacity can be a far greater burden for your loved ones than your death. This is true not only in terms of its potentially ruinous financial costs, but also for the emotional trauma, contentious court battles, and internal conflict your family may endure if you fail to address it in your plan.

The goal of effective estate planning is to keep your family out of court and out of conflict no matter what happens to you. So if you only plan for your death, you’re leaving your family—and yourself—extremely vulnerable to potentially tragic consequences.

Where to start

Planning for incapacity requires a different mindset and different tools than planning for death. If you’re incapacitated by illness or injury, you’ll still be alive when these planning strategies take effect. What’s more, the legal authority you grant others to manage your incapacity is only viable while you remain alive and unable to make decisions about your own welfare.

If you regain the cognitive ability to make your own decisions, for instance, the legal power you granted others is revoked. The same goes if you should eventually succumb to your condition—your death renders these powers null and void.

To this end, the first thing you should ask yourself is, “If I’m ever incapacitated and unable to care for myself, who would I want making decisions on my behalf?” Specifically, you’ll be selecting the person, or persons, you want making your healthcare, financial, and legal decisions for you until you either recover or pass away.

You must name someone

The most important thing to remember is that you must choose someone. If you don’t legally name someone to make these decisions during your incapacity, the court will choose someone for you. And this is where things can get extremely difficult for your loved ones.

Although laws differ by state, in the absence of proper estate planning, the court will typically appoint a guardian or conservator to make these decisions on your behalf. This person could be a family member you’d never want managing your affairs, or a professional guardian who charges exorbitant fees. Either way, the choice is out of your hands.

Furthermore, like most court proceedings, the process of naming a guardian is often quite time consuming, costly, and emotionally draining for your family. If you’re lying unconscious in a hospital bed, the last thing you’d want is to waste time or impose additional hardship on your loved ones. And this is assuming your family members agree about what’s in your best interest.

For example, if your family members disagree about the course of your medical treatment, this could lead to ugly court battles between your loved ones. Such conflicts can tear your family apart and drain your estate’s finances. And in the end, the individual the court eventually appoints may choose treatment options, such as invasive surgeries, that are the exact opposite of what you’d actually want.

This potential turmoil and expense can be easily avoided through proper estate planning. An effective plan would give the individuals you’ve chosen immediate authority to make your medical, financial, and legal decisions, without the need for court intervention. What’s more, the plan can provide clear guidance about your wishes, so there’s no mistake or conflict about how these vital decisions should be made.

What won’t work

Determining which planning tools you should use to grant and guide this decision-making authority depends entirely on your personal circumstances. There are several options available, but choosing what’s best is something you should ultimately decide after consulting with an experienced lawyer like us.

That said, we can tell you one planning tool that’s totally worthless when it comes to your incapacity: a will. A will only goes into effect upon your death, and then it merely governs how your assets should be divided, so having a will does nothing to keep your family out of court and out of conflict in the event of your incapacity.

The proper tools for the job

There are multiple planning vehicles to choose from when creating an incapacity plan. And this shouldn’t be just a single document; instead, it should include a comprehensive variety of multiple planning tools, each serving a different purpose.

Though the planning strategies you ultimately put in place will be based on your particular circumstances, it’s likely that your incapacity plan will include some, or all, of the following:

Healthcare power of attorney: An advanced directive that grants an individual of your choice the immediate legal authority to make decisions about your medical treatment in the event of your incapacity.

Living will: An advanced directive that provides specific guidance about how your medical decisions should be made during your incapacity.

Durable financial power of attorney: A planning document that grants an individual of your choice the immediate legal authority to make decisions related to the management of your finances, real estate, and business interests.

Revocable living trust: A planning document that immediately transfers control of all assets held by the trust to a person of your choosing to be used for your benefit in the event of your incapacity. The trust can include legally binding instructions for how your care should be managed and even spell out specific conditions that must be met for you to be deemed incapacitated.

Don’t let a bad situation become much worse

You may be powerless to prevent your potential incapacity, but proper estate planning can at least give you control over how your life and assets will be managed if it does occur. Moreover, such planning can prevent your family from enduring needless trauma, conflict, and expense during this already trying time.

If you’ve yet to plan for incapacity, meet with us as your Personal Family Lawyer® right away. We can counsel you on the proper planning vehicles to put in place, and help you select the individuals best suited to make such critical decisions on your behalf. If you already have planning strategies in place, we can review your plan to make sure it’s been properly set up, maintained, and updated. Contact us today to get started.

5 Estate Planning Must-Dos if You’re Getting Divorced—Part 2

Wednesday, December 23rd, 2020

I the first part of this series, we discussed a couple of the most critical updates you must make to your estate plan if you’re getting divorced. Here, we’ll cover the last three of these must-do planning tasks.

Because getting divorced can be overwhelming on so many different levels, updating your estate plan often takes a back seat to other seemingly more-pressing priorities. But failing to update your plan for divorce can have potentially tragic consequences, some of which you may have never even considered before.

In fact, it’s critical that you update your plan not only after the divorce is final, but as soon as you know the split is inevitable. Until your divorce is final, your marriage is legally in full effect, so if you die or become incapacitated while the divorce is still ongoing and you haven’t updated your plan, your soon-to-be ex spouse could end up with complete control over your life and assets.

For example, if you suddenly die of a heart attack while the divorce is ongoing and never got around to changing your estate plan, it’s quite likely that your future ex would inherit everything. And if that’s not bad enough, if you were to become incapcitated in a car accident during the divorce, the very person you’re paying big money to legally remove from your life could be granted complete authority over all of your legal, financial, and healthcare decisions.

This is something your divorce attorney won’t think to bring up, but it’s literally one of the most critical matters you need to handle if you’re ending your marriage. Last week, we discussed the first two estate planning changes you must make—updating your power of attorney documents and beneficiary designations—and today we’ll share the remaining three.

3. Create a new will

You should create a new will as soon as you decide to get divorced, because once you file, you may not be able to change your will. Rethink how you want your assets divided upon your death. This most likely means naming new beneficiaries for any assets that you’d previously left to your future ex and his or her family. And unless it’s your wish, you’ll probably no longer want your ex—or any of his or her family—listed as your will’s executor or administrator, either.

Some states have community-property statutes that entitle your surviving spouse to a certain percentage of the marital estate upon your death, regardless of what’s in your will. This means if you die before the divorce is final, you probably won’t be able to entirely disinherit your surviving spouse through the new will.

However, it’s almost certain you wouldn’t want him or her to get everything. Given this, you should update your will as soon as possible once divorce is inevitable to ensure the proper individuals inherit the remaining percentage of your estate should you pass away while your divorce is still ongoing.

And should you choose not to create a new will during the divorce process, don’t assume that your old will is automatically revoked once the divorce is final. State laws vary widely in regards to how divorce affects a will. In some states, your will is revoked by default upon divorce. While in others, unless it’s officially revoked, your entire will—including all provisions benefiting your ex—remains valid even after the divorce is final.

In light of this uncertain legal landscape, it’s critical that you consult with us as soon as you know divorce is on the horizon. We can help you understand the law and how to best navigate it when creating your new will—whether you do so before or after your divorce is over.

4. Amend your existing trust or create a new one

If you have a revocable trust set up, you’ll want to review and update it, too. Like wills, the laws governing if, when, and how you can alter a trust during a divorce can vary, so you should do it as soon as legally possible. In addition to reconsidering what assets your ex spouse should receive through the trust, you’ll probably want to replace him or her as a successor trustee if they are so designated.

And if you don’t have a trust in place, you should seriously consider creating one, especially if you have minor children. Trusts provide a wide range of powers and benefits unavailable through a will, and they’re particularly well-suited for blended families. Given the likelihood that both you and your spouse will eventually get remarried—and perhaps have more children—trusts are an invaluable way to protect and manage the assets you want your children to inherit.

By using a trust, for example, should you die or become incapacitated while your kids are minors, you can name someone of your choosing to serve as successor trustee to manage their money until they reach adulthood, making it impossible for your ex to meddle with their inheritence.

Beyond this key benefit, trusts afford you several other levels of enhanced protection and control not possible with a will. So you should at least discuss creating a trust with an experienced lawyer like us before ruling out the option entirely.

5. Revisit your plan once your divorce is final

During the divorce process, your main planning concern is limiting your soon-to-be ex’s control over your life and assets should you die or become incapacited before divorce is final. Given this, the individuals to whom you grant power of attorney, name as trustee, designate to receive your 401k, or add to your estate plan in any other way while the divorce is ongoing are often just temporary.

Once the divorce is final and your marital property has been divided up, you should revisit all of your estate planning documents and update them accordingly based on your new asset profile and living situation. From there, your plan should continuously evolve along with your life circumstances, particularly following major life events, such as getting remarried, having additional children, and/or when close family members pass away.

Don’t wait; act now!

Even though divorce can be one of life’s most difficult transitions, it’s vital that you make the time to update your estate plan during this trying time. Meet with us as your Personal Family Lawyer® to review your plan immediately upon realizing that divorce is unavoidable.

Putting off updating your plan, even for a few days, during a divorce can make it legally impossible to change certain parts of your plan, so take action now. And if you’ve yet to create any estate plan at all, an impending divorce is the perfect time to finally take care of this crucial task. Contact us today to get the process underway with a Family Wealth Planning Session.

5 Estate Planning Must-Dos if You’re Getting Divorced—Part 1

Wednesday, December 23rd, 2020

Divorce can be traumatic for the whole family. Even if the process is amicable, it involves many tough decisions, legal hassles, and painful emotions that can drag out over several months, or even years.

That said, while you probably don’t want to add any more items to your to-do list during this trying time, it’s absolutely critical that you review and update your estate plan—not only after the divorce is final, but as soon as possible once you know the split is inevitable.

Even after you file for divorce, your marriage is legally in full effect until your divorce is finalized. That means if you die while the divorce is still ongoing and you haven’t updated your estate plan, your soon-to-be-ex spouse could end up inheriting everything. Maybe even worse, in the event you’re incapacitated before the divorce is final, your ex would be in complete control of your legal, financial, and healthcare decisions.

Given the fact you’re ending the relationship, you probably wouldn’t want him or her having that much control over your life and assets. If that’s the case, you must take action, and chances are, your divorce attorney is not thinking about these matters on your behalf.

While some state laws limit your ability to completely change your estate plan once your divorce has been filed, the following are a few of the most important updates you should consider making as soon as possible when divorce is on the horizon.

1. Update your power of attorney documents for healthcare, financial, and legal decisions

If you are incapacitated by illness or injury during the divorce, who would you want making life-and-death healthcare decisions on your behalf? If you’re in the midst of divorce, chances are you’ll want someone other than your soon-to-be ex making these important decisions for you. If that’s the case, you must take action. Contact us now; don’t wait.

Similarly, who would you want managing your finances and making legal decisions for you? In light of the impending split, you’ll most likely want to select another individual, particularly if things are anything less than friendly between the two of you. Again, you have to take action if you do not want your spouse making these decisions for you. Don’t wait, contact us if you know divorce is coming.

2. Update your beneficiary designations

Failing to update beneficiary designations for assets that do not pass through a will or trust, such as life insurance policies and retirement accounts, is one of the most frequent—and tragic—planning mistakes made by those who get divorced. If you get remarried following your divorce, for example, but haven’t changed your IRA beneficiary designation to name your new spouse, the ex you divorced 10 years ago could end up with your retirement savings upon your death.

That said, in most states, once either spouse files divorce papers with the court, neither party can legally amend their beneficiaries without the other’s permission until the divorce is final. Given this, if you’re anticipating a divorce, you may want to consider changing your beneficiaries prior to filing divorce papers. If your divorce is already filed, you should consult with us to see if changing beneficiaries is legal in your state—and in your best interest.

Finally, if naming new beneficiaries is not an option for you now, once the divorce is finalized it should be your number-one planning priority. In fact, put it on your to-do list right now!

Next week, we’ll continue with part two in this series on the critical estate-planning updates you should make when divorce is inevitable.

4 Critical Estate Planning Tasks to Complete Before Going on Vacation

Wednesday, December 23rd, 2020

Going on vacation entails lots of planning: packing luggage, buying plane tickets, making hotel reservations, and confirming rental vehicles. But one thing many people forget to do is plan for the worst. Traveling, especially in foreign destinations, means you’ll likely be at greater risk than usual for illness, injury, and even death.

In light of this reality, you must have a legally sound and updated estate plan in place before taking your next trip. If not, your loved ones can face a legal nightmare if something should happen to you while you’re away. The following are 5 critical estate planning tasks to take care of before departing.

1. Make sure your beneficiary designations are up-to-date

Some of your most valuable assets, like life insurance policies and retirement accounts, do not transfer via a will or trust. Instead, they have beneficiary designations that allow you to name the person (or persons) you’d like to inherit the asset upon your death. It’s vital you name a primary beneficiary and at least one alternate beneficiary in case the primary dies before you. Moreover, these designations must be regularly reviewed and updated, especially following major life events like marriage, divorce, and having children.

2. Create power of attorney documents

Outside of death, unforseen illness and injury can leave you incapacitated and unable to make critical decisions about your own well-being. Given this, you must grant someone the legal authority to make those decisions on your behalf through power of attorney. You need two such documents: medical power of attorney and financial durable power of attorney. Medical power of attorney gives the person of your choice the authority to make your healthcare decisions for you, while durable financial power of attorney gives someone the authority to manage your finances. As with beneficiary designations, these decision makers can change over time, so before you leave for vacation, be sure both documents are up to date.

3. Name guardians for your minor children

If you’re the parent of minor children, your most important planning task is to legally document guardians to care for your kids in the event of your death or incapacity. These are the people whom you trust to care for your children—and potentially raise them to adulthood—if something should happen to you. Given the monumental importance of this decision, we’ve created a comprehensive system called the Kids Protection Plan that guides you step-by-step through the process of creating the legal documents naming these guardians. You can get started with this process right now for free by visiting our user-friendly website.

4. Organize your digital assets

If you’re like most people, you probably have dozens of digital accounts like email, social media, cloud storage, and cryptocurrency. If these assets aren’t properly inventoried and accounted for, they’ll likely be lost forever if something happens to you. At minimum, you should write down the location and passwords for each account, and ensure someone you trust knows what to do with these digital assets in the event of your death or incapacity. To make this process easier, consider using LastPass or a similar service that stores and organizes your passwords.

Complete your vacation planning now

If you have a vacation planned, be sure to add these 5 items to your to-do list before leaving. And if you need help completing any of these tasks—or would simply like us to double check the plan you have in place—consult with us as your Personal Family Lawyer®.

We recommend you complete these tasks at least 8 weeks before you depart. However, if your trip is sooner than that, call and let us know you need a rush Family Wealth Planning Session, and we’ll do our best to fit you in as soon as possible. Contact us today to get started.

Family Emergency Response Plan

Wednesday, December 23rd, 2020

When it comes to estate planning, naming your legal guardians for your minor children in the event something happens to you and your spouse is probably one of the hardest, but most important, decisions you’ll make. On today’s podcast, we’ll cover the critical steps you should follow to select and name the right guardians for kids.

The Importance Of Advanced Healthcare Directives

Wednesday, December 23rd, 2020

Have you considered what would happen to you if you were hospitalized and unable to communicate? Do you have the proper documentation in place to ensure that the people you choose to act and speak on your behalf are able to do so? On this episode, Hani will discuss why many people think they have prepared for this type of situation, but oftentimes have overlooked several very important steps.

6 Questions to Consider When Selecting Beneficiaries For Your Life Insurance Policy—Part 2

Wednesday, December 23rd, 2020

In the first part of this series, we discussed the first three of six questions you should ask yourself when selecting a life insurance beneficiary. Here we cover the final half.

Selecting a beneficiary for your life insurance policy sounds pretty straightforward. But given all of the options available and the potential for unforeseen problems, it can be a more complicated decision than you might imagine.

For instance, when purchasing a life insurance policy, your primary goal is most likely to make the named beneficiary’s life better or easier in some way in the aftermath of your death. However, unless you consider all of the unique circumstances involved with your choice, you might actually end up creating additional problems for your loved ones.

Last week, we discussed the first three of six questions you should ask yourself when choosing a life insurance beneficiary. Here we cover the remaining three:

4. Are any of your beneficiaries minors?

While you’re technically allowed to name a minor as the beneficiary of your life insurance policy, it’s a bad idea to do so. Insurance carriers will not allow a minor child to receive the insurance benefits directly until they reach the age of majority—which can be as old as 21 depending on the state.

If you have a minor named as your beneficiary when you die, then the proceeds would be distributed to a court-appointed custodian tasked with managing the funds, often at a financial cost to your beneficiary. And this is true even if the minor has a living parent. This means that even the child’s other living birth parent would have to go to court to be appointed as custodian if he or she wanted to manage the funds. And, in some cases, that parent would not be able to be appointed (for example, if they have poor credit), and the court would appoint a paid fiduciary to hold the funds.

Rather than naming a minor child as beneficiary, it’s better to set up a trust for your child to receive the insurance proceeds. That way, you get to choose who would manage your child’s inheritance, and how and when the insurance proceeds would be used and distributed.

5. Would the money negatively affect a beneficiary?

When considering how your insurance funds might help a beneficiary in your absence, you also need to consider how it might potentially cause harm. This is particularly true in the case of young adults.

For example, think about what could go wrong if an 18 year old suddenly receives a huge windfall of cash. At best, the 18 year old might blow through the money in a short period of time. At worst, getting all that money at once could lead to actual physical harm (even death), as could be the case for someone with substance-abuse issues.

To help mitigate these potential complications, some life insurance companies allow your death benefit to be paid out in installments over a period of time, giving you some control over when your beneficiary receives the money. However, as discussed earlier, if you set up a trust to receive the insurance payment, you would have total control over the conditions that must be met for proceeds to be used or distributed. For example, you could build the trust so that the insurance proceeds would be kept in trust for beneficiary’s use inside the trust, yet still keep the funds totally protected from future creditors, lawsuits, and/or divorce.

6. Is the beneficiary eligible for government benefits?

Considering how your life insurance money might negatively affect a beneficiary is absolutely critical when it comes to those with special needs. If you leave the money directly to someone with special needs, an insurance payout could disqualify your beneficiary from receiving government benefits.

Under federal law, if someone with special needs receives a gift or inheritance of more than $2,000, they can be disqualified for Supplemental Security Income and Medicaid. Since life insurance proceeds are considered inheritance under the law, an individual with special needs SHOULD NEVER be named as beneficiary.

To avoid disqualifying an individual with special needs from receiving government benefits, you would create a “special needs” trust to receive the proceeds. In this way, the money will not go directly to the beneficiary upon your death, but be managed by the trustee you name and dispersed per the trust’s terms without affecting benefit eligibility.

The rules governing special needs trusts are quite complicated and can vary greatly from state to state, so if you have a child who has special needs, meet with us to ensure you have the proper planning in place, not just for your insurance proceeds, but for the lifetime of care your child may need.

Make sure you’ve considered all potential circumstances

These are just a few of the questions you should consider when choosing a life insurance beneficiary. Consult with us as your Personal Family Lawyer® to be certain you’ve thought through all possible circumstances.

And if you think you may need to create a trust—special needs or otherwise—to receive the proceeds of your life insurance, meet with us, so we can properly review all of your assets and consider how to best leave behind what you have in a way that will create the most benefit—and the least challenges—for the people you love. Schedule your Family Wealth Planning Session today.

6 Questions to Consider When Selecting Beneficiaries for a Life Insurance Policy

Wednesday, December 23rd, 2020

Selecting a beneficiary for your life insurance policy sounds pretty straightforward. You’re just deciding who will receive the policy’s proceeds when you die, right?

But as with most things in life, it’s a bit more complicated than that. It can help to keep in mind that naming someone as your life insurance beneficiary really has nothing to do with you: It should be based on how the funds will affect the beneficiary’s life once you’re no longer here.

It’s very likely that if you’ve purchased life insurance, you did so to make someone’s life better or easier in some way in the wake of your death. But unless you consider all of the unique circumstances involved with your choice, you might actually end up creating additional problems for the people you love.

Given the potential complexities involved, here are a few important questions you should ask yourself when choosing your life insurance beneficiary:

1. What are you intending to accomplish?

The first thing to consider is the “real” reason you’re buying life insurance. On the surface, the reason may simply be because it’s the responsible thing for adults to do. But we recommend you dig deeper to discover what you ultimately intend to accomplish with your life insurance.

Are you married and looking to replace your income for your spouse and kids after death? Are you single without kids and just trying to cover the costs of your funeral? Are you leaving behind money for your grandkids’ college fund? Are you intending to make sure your business continues after you’re gone? Or perhaps your life insurance is in place to cover a future estate-tax burden?

The real reason you’re investing in life insurance is something only you can answer. The answer is critical, because it is what determines how much and what kind of life insurance you should have in the first place. And by first clearly understanding what you’re actually intending to accomplish with the policy, you’ll be in a much better position to make your ultimate decision—who to select as beneficiary.

2. What are your beneficiary options?

Your insurance company will ask you to name a primary beneficiary—your top choice to get the insurance money at the time of your death. If you fail to name a beneficiary, the insurance company will distribute the proceeds to your estate upon your death. If your estate is the beneficiary of your life insurance, that means a probate court judge will direct where your insurance money goes at the completion of the probate process.

And this process can tie your life insurance proceeds up in court for months or even years. To keep this from happening to your loved ones, be sure to name—at the very least—one primary beneficiary.

In case your primary beneficiary dies before you, you should also name at least one contingent (alternate) beneficiary. For maximum protection, you should probably name more than one contingent beneficiary in case both your primary and secondary choices have died before you. Yet, even these seemingly straightforward choices are often more complicated than they appear due to the options available.

For example, you can name multiple primary beneficiaries, like your children, and have the proceeds divided among them in whatever way you wish. What’s more, the beneficiary doesn’t necessarily have to be a person. You can name a charity, nonprofit, or business as the primary (or contingent) beneficiary.

It’s important to note that if you name a minor child as a primary or contingent beneficiary (and he or she ends up receiving the policy proceeds), a legal guardian must be appointed to manage the funds until the child comes of age. This can lead to numerous complications (which we’ll discuss in detail next week in Part Two), so you should definitely consult with an experienced Family Law attorney like us if you’re considering this option.

When selecting your beneficiaries, you should ultimately base your decision on which person(s) or organization(s) you think would most benefit from the money. In general, you can designate one or more of the following examples as beneficiaries:

  • One person
  • Two or more people (you decide how money is split among them)
  • A trust you’ve created
  • Your estate
  • A charity, nonprofit, or business

3. Does your state have community-property laws?

If you’re married, you’ll likely choose your spouse as the primary beneficiary. But unless you live in a state with community-property laws, you can technically choose anyone: a close friend, your favorite charity, or simply the person you think needs the money most.

That said, if you do live in a community-property state, your spouse is entitled to the policy proceeds and will have to sign a form waiving his or her rights to the insurance money if you want to name someone else as beneficiary. Currently, community-property states include Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington, and Wisconsin.

Next week, we’ll continue with Part Two in this series discussing the remaining three questions to consider when naming beneficiaries for your life insurance policy.

As your Personal Family Lawyer®, we can guide you to make informed, educated, and empowered choices to plan for yourself and the ones you love most. Contact us today to get started with a Family Wealth Planning Session.

Understand What’s At Stake Before Agreeing to Serve as Trustee

Wednesday, December 23rd, 2020

Being asked by a family member or close friend to serve as trustee for their trust upon their death can be an incredible honor. At the same time, however, serving as a trustee can be a massive responsibility—and the role is not for everyone.

In fact, depending on the type of trust, the assets held by the trust, the specific terms of the trust, and the beneficiaries named, the job can require you to fulfill a wide range of complex (and potentially unpleasant) duties over the course of many years. What’s more, trustees are both ethically and legally required to properly execute those duties or face liability.

Given this, agreeing to serve as trustee is a decision that shouldn’t be made lightly. Indeed, sometimes the best thing you can do for everyone involved is to politely decline the job. Remember, you don’t have to take it. That said, depending on who nominated you, declining to serve may not be an easy or practical option. Or you might enjoy the opportunity to be a trustee, so long as you understand what it entails.

It’s best to make your decision about serving as trustee with eyes wide open. Here’s a brief look at what the job will likely entail, along with some situations where you might want to seriously think twice about agreeing.

What trustees do

As mentioned earlier, a trustee’s duties can vary tremendously depending on the size of the estate, the type of trust, and the trust’s specific instructions. That said, every trust comes with a few core requirements, primarily revolving around accounting for, managing, and distributing the trust’s assets to its named beneficiaries.

Regardless of the type of trust or the assets it holds, some of a trustee’s key responsibilities include:

  • Identifying and protecting the trust assets
  • Determining what the trust’s terms actually require you to do
  • Managing the trust assets for the term specified and distributing them properly
  • Filing income and estate taxes for the trust
  • Communicating regularly with beneficiaries
  • Being scrupulously honest, highly organized, and keeping detailed records
  • Closing the trust when the trust terms specify

Ultimately, trustees have a fiduciary duty to properly manage the trust in the best interest of all the trust beneficiaries. Consult with us for more in-depth details regarding the duties and responsibilities a specific trust will require of you as trustee.

Can I get help?

Fortunately, you’re not expected to go it alone: Trustees are encouraged to seek assistance from outside professionals to fulfill their duties. Remember, you do NOT need experience in law, finance, or taxes to serve as trustee. And while you won’t be able to profit from the job, you are able to be paid for your role as trustee.

That said, many trustees, especially family members, choose not to accept any payment beyond what’s required to cover the trust expenses. Yet, this all depends on your personal situation and relationship with the trust’s creator and beneficiaries, and of course, the nature of the assets in the trust. In either case, however, you won’t have to use your own funds to get the job done.

Signs the trustee role might be a bad idea

Given the sense of loyalty and filial responsibility that’s often involved, it might feel difficult to turn the trustee role down. But for a number of reasons, saying “no thanks” can sometimes be the best decision, not only for you, but for all parties involved.

Of course, this is an entirely personal decision and one you’ll ultimately have to make for yourself after considering all of the factors. That said, here are a few red flags that can signal the role might be better fulfilled by someone other than you:

  • Your job, family, and/or health situation is such that you won’t be able to give the job the time and attention it deserves. Some trusts can require far more work than others, and if the role would seriously impede your own life, you might consider declining.
  • You don’t get along with the beneficiaries. If there are underlying conflicts or bad blood with the people you’ll be required to serve, this could make the job incredibly difficult and unpleasant for everyone.
  • The trust’s terms are vague and/or unclear, leaving you in the position to make difficult decisions you don’t feel qualified to make. Such grey areas are especially troublesome when it comes to distributing trust assets to young adult beneficiaries, who might not be the most responsible with their spending and/or lifestyle.
  • It’s not clear exactly what assets the trust creator (grantor) owned, and/or the estate is highly unorganized. Tracking down and managing unorganized and/or poorly funded assets can be a massive undertaking—and potential liability.
  • Lawsuits are likely or already underway. As trustee, it’s your duty to defend the trust against lawsuits, and just doing this can be a huge expenditure of your time and energy. What’s more, if a lawsuit against the trust is successful, it could seriously reduce the trust’s value, making your job infinitely more challenging.

We can help you decide

Given the serious nature of a trustee’s responsibilities, you can meet with us as your Personal Family Lawyer® for help deciding whether or not to accept the job. We can offer a clear, unbiased assessment of what will be required of you based on the specific trust’s terms, assets, and beneficiaries.

And if you do decide to accept the trustee role, we can guide you step-by-step through the entire process, ensuring you effectively fulfill all of the grantor’s wishes with minimal risk. Serving as trustee can be a lot of work, but if you go into the job with eyes wide open and have the proper guidance, it can be an immensely rewarding experience. Contact us today to learn more.

Gen-X, 90210 Star Luke Perry’s Death Demonstrates the Importance of Planning for Incapacity

Wednesday, December 23rd, 2020

In late February, Luke Perry, who became famous starring in the 1990s TV series Beverly Hills 90210, suffered a massive stroke at age 52. He was hospitalized under heavy sedation, and five days later, when it became clear he wouldn’t recover, his family decided to remove life support.

Perry died on March 4th, 2019 surrounded by his two children—21-year-old Jack and 18-year-old Sophie—along with his fiancé, ex-wife, mother, siblings, and others.

Whether or not you were a Luke Perry fan, it’s hard not to be somewhat shocked when someone so young, successful, and seemingly healthy passes away so suddenly. In these moments, the fragile impermanence of life becomes glaringly obvious. It’s life’s way of reminding us that incapacity and death can strike at any time, no matter who you are.

Such reminders can make you feel extremely vulnerable. And they can also be a precious reminder to make the most of life now.

Reminders of the fleeting nature of life can actually be a wonderful thing, if it motivates you to savor life now AND take the proper action to protect the ones you love through proper estate planning. And while we don’t yet know exactly what levels of planning Perry had in place, it appears he was thoughtful and responsible enough to have at least covered the basics.

Planning for incapacity and death

Perry was reportedly inspired to create his own estate plan following a fairly recent health scare. In 2015, after discovering he had precancerous growths during a colonoscopy, Perry created a will, leaving everything to his two children. Since Perry was worth an estimated $10 million, divorced with kids from the first marriage, and about to be married again, creating a will was the very least he could do.

But wills are just a small part of the planning equation. Wills only apply to the distribution of your assets following death, and even then, your will must go through the court process known as probate for your assets to be distributed. Because a will only comes into play upon your death, if you’re ever incapacitated by accident or illness as Perry was, it offers neither you nor your family any protections.

In Perry’s case, he was incapacitated by a stroke and on life support for nearly a week before he died. During this period, the fact Perry had a will was irrelevant because he was still alive. But given how events unfolded, it appears Perry had other planning vehicles in place to prepare for just this situation.

The power over life and death

During the time he was incapacitated, someone was called upon to make crucial medical decisions for Perry’s welfare, while his family was summoned to his side. To this end, it’s likely that Perry designated someone to serve as his medical decision-maker by granting them medical power of attorney. He may have also created a living will, which would provide specific instructions to this individual regarding how to make these medical decisions.

Granting medical power of attorney gives the person you name the authority to make healthcare decisions on your behalf in the event of your incapacity. The document that does this is known as an advance healthcare directive, and it’s an absolute must-have for every adult over age 18.

Perry was put on life support for nearly a week, and then he was removed from it and allowed to die without ever regaining consciousness—and without any apparent conflict between his loved ones. This indicates that someone in his family likely had the legal authority to make those heart-wrenching decisions over Perry’s life and death.

Without medical power of attorney, if any of Perry’s family were in disagreement over how his medical care should be handled, the family may have needed a court order to terminate life support. This could have needlessly prolonged the family’s suffering and made his death even more public, costly, and traumatic for those he left behind.

The power over your money

Along with medical power of attorney, every adult should also have financial durable power of attorney. In the event of your incapacity, financial durable power of attorney is an estate planning tool that gives the person you choose immediate authority to manage your finances, such as paying your bills, collecting government benefits, and overseeing your bank accounts.

We can’t be sure at this point whether or not Perry put in place durable power of attorney, but since this planning document goes hand-in hand with medical power of attorney, it’s almost certain he did. Yet seeing that Perry was only incapacitated for five days before his death, durable power of attorney may not seem totally necessary in his case.

But what if Perry’s incapacity had lasted a lot longer?

Given that Perry could have lingered on life support for months or years, it’s crucial that someone he trusted had the authority to manage his finances during his incapacity. Without durable power of attorney, the court will choose someone to manage your finances, and that someone might be a person you wouldn’t want anywhere near your life savings or checkbook.

What’s more, that someone could even be a “professional” who gets paid hefty hourly fees to handle things, even if you have family members who want to serve.

Learn from Perry’s example

While Perry’s death is certainly sad, if it inspires you to put the proper estate planning in place, it can ultimately prove immensely beneficial. Whether you already have a basic plan in place or nothing at all, meet with us as your Personal Family Lawyer® to get educated about the specifics necessary to keep your family out of court and out conflict if and when something happens to you.

We’ll help ensure that in the event of your incapacity, or when you die, your loved ones will have the same protections Perry’s had—and more. Contact us today to attend one of our live educational events or get started with a private Family Wealth Planning Session.

Why You Might Actually Owe Taxes in 2018

Wednesday, December 23rd, 2020

Like many taxpayers, if you’ve already filed your federal income taxes for 2018, you may be surprised to discover you’re not getting a refund this time. If so, this was almost certainly due to the sweeping tax overhaul made by the 2017 Tax Cut and Jobs Act (TCJA).

Since personal tax rates were lowered by the TCJA, it’s natural to assume you would owe less taxes, not more. But as you may have discovered, this isn’t always the case.

Seeing that the TCJA was promised to offer most people a tax break, understanding why you might owe more taxes in 2018 (rather than less) can be confusing. The following questions and answers are designed to shed some light on this situation, so you can start revising your tax strategies for coming years.

Q: What changed?

A: In addition to lowering personal income tax rates, the TCJA doubled the standard exemption to $12,000, added limits to deductions for state and local taxes (SALT), eliminated personal exemptions, set limits on deductions for home-mortgage interest, among many other changes.

Given all of the changes, you may find that you’re no longer withholding the proper amount of taxes from your paycheck and/or quarterly installments to the IRS. When filing, this can result in either overpaying your taxes (and getting a refund) or underpaying (and owing money).

Q: What does this mean for me?

A: In light of these new changes, you should carefully review your withholding and make adjustments if necessary. To help with this, the IRS published new withholding tables and updated its withholding calculator into which you can input your current tax data to see if you need to make any changes.

Q: How do I change my withholding?

A: If you work as an employee, you change your withholding by making adjustments to your W-4. If you work for yourself, you either increase or decrease your estimated quarterly payments.

A W-4 determines how much income tax is withheld from your pay by your employer. You fill out a W-4 when you start a new job, but you can change it at any time. Specifically, the form asks you for the number of allowances you want to claim based on personal factors, such as being married and/or having children and filing as head of household.

The more allowances you claim, the less federal income tax your employer will withhold, which translates to more money in your paycheck. The fewer allowances you claim, the more federal income tax your employer will withhold, lowering your take-home pay.

It’s important that you withhold the proper amount from your paycheck or make quarterly payments. Don’t withhold enough, and you’ll owe the IRS at the end of the year. Withhold too much, and you might get a big refund, but you’ve basically given the government an interest-free loan for that year.

Maximize your tax savings

Adjusting your withholding is just one of many strategies you can use to save on your taxes. Indeed, the TCJA also changed tax laws that have the potential to affect your estate planning strategies as well. In light of this, when the 2018 tax season wraps up, we’ll be pairing up with one of our favorite local CPAs to bring you support and guidance that you can use to maximize your tax savings in 2019 and beyond. Contact us as your Personal Family Lawyer® to learn more.

Retirement & Legal Planning – When DIY Works (And When It Doesn’t)

Wednesday, December 23rd, 2020

This week, we’ll get into a great conversation about DIY retirement and legal planning. We’ll uncover some pitfalls of applying the do-it-yourself mentality to this part of your life and how to avoid some of the common mistakes that others make.

Getting To Know Hani Amra

Wednesday, December 23rd, 2020

Welcome to the first episode of the “Family Wealth And Life Planning Podcast”. To kick things off, we’ll get to know Hani a bit better. We’ll find out how a few pivotal experiences led to his decision to become involved in estate planning, as well as how those experiences have shaped his philosophies.

Coming Soon: The Family Wealth & Life Planning Podcast

Wednesday, December 23rd, 2020

Two new episodes each month! Be sure to check out the Family Wealth & Life Planning Podcast with Hani Amra of Cornerstone Law Offices. We’ll discuss the importance of integrating your wealth & life planning and uncover the gaps that exist in so many of our financial plans. If you want a healthy financial future then this is the show for you. The first episode goes live on March 21st, 2019!

7 Events That Necessitate a Review of Your Estate Plan

Wednesday, December 23rd, 2020

Even if you put a totally solid estate plan in place, it can end up proving worthless if it’s not properly updated. Estate planning is not a one-and-done type of deal: It should continuously evolve along with your life circumstances.

No matter who you are, your life will inevitably change: families change, laws change, assets change, and goals change. In the absence of any major life events, we recommend reviewing your plan annually to make sure its terms are up to date.

Yet there are several common life events that require you to immediately update your plan—that is, if you want it to actually work and keep your loved ones out of court and out of conflict. To this end, if any of the following seven events occur, contact us right away.

1) You get married: Marriage not only changes your relationship status, it changes your legal status. Regardless of whether it’s your first marriage or fifth, you must take the proper steps to ensure your plan properly reflects your current wishes and needs.

After getting hitched, some of your most pressing concerns include: naming your new spouse as a beneficiary on your insurance policies and retirement accounts, granting him or her medical power of attorney and/or durable power of attorney (if that’s your wish), and adding him or her to your will and/or trust.

2) You get divorced: Since divorce can be so overwhelming, estate planning often gets overshadowed by the other dramatic new changes happening. But failing to update your plan for divorce can have devastating consequences.

Once divorce proceedings start, you’ll need to ensure your future ex is no longer eligible to receive any of your assets or make financial and medical decisions on your behalf—unless that’s your wish. Once the divorce is finalized and your property is divided, you’ll need to adjust your planning to match your new asset profile and living situation.

3) You give birth or adopt: Welcoming a new addition to your family can be a joyous occasion, but it also demands entirely new levels of planning and responsibility. At the top of your to-do list should be legally naming both long and short-term guardians for your child. Our Kids Protection Plan offers everything you need to complete this process for free right now.

Once you’ve named guardians, consider putting planning vehicles, such as trusts, in place for your kids. These documents can make certain the assets you want your child to inherit will be passed on in the most effective and beneficial way possible for everyone involved. Consult with us to learn which planning strategies are best suited for your family.

4) A loved one dies: The death of a family member, partner, or close friend can have major consequences for both your life and estate plan. If the person was included in your plan, you need to update it accordingly to fill any gaps his or her absence creates. From naming new beneficiaries, executors, and guardians to identifying new heirs to receive assets allocated to the deceased, make sure you address all voids the death creates as soon as possible.

5) You get seriously ill or injured: As with death, illness and injury are an unavoidable part of being human. If you’ve been diagnosed with a serious illness or are involved in a life-changing accident, you may want to review the people you’ve chosen to handle your healthcare decisions as well as how those decisions should be made. The person you want as your healthcare proxy can change with time, so be sure your plan reflects your current wishes.

6) You relocate to a new state: Since estate planning laws can vary widely from state to state, if you move to a different state, you’ll need to review and/or revise your plan to comply with your new home’s legal requirements. Some of these laws can be super complex, so consult with us to make sure your plan will still work exactly as you desire in your new location.

7) Your assets or liabilities change significantly: Whenever your estate’s value dramatically increases or decreases, you should revisit your plan to ensure it still offers the maximum protection and benefits for yourself and your loved ones. Whether you inherit a fortune, take out a new loan, close your business, or change your investment portfolio, your plan should be adjusted accordingly.

Count on us for guidance and support

You can count on us as your Personal Family Lawyer® to ensure your estate plan is regularly reviewed and updated at all times. In fact, we have built-in processes to make sure this happens—be sure to ask us about them.

What’s more, rather than looking at the process as yet another task you have to accomplish, we view an annual review as a meaningful ritual that lets you see where your family has been and where you plan to go. But however you look at it, a regular review will put you at ease, knowing your family is protected and provided for no matter what happens. Contact a Personal Family Lawyer® today to schedule your review.

Could an IRA Trust Benefit Your Family?

Wednesday, December 23rd, 2020

Unlike most of your assets, individual retirement accounts (IRAs) do not pass to your family through a will. Instead, upon your death, your IRA will pass directly to the people you named via your IRA beneficiary designation form.

Unless you take extra steps, the named beneficiary can do whatever he or she wants with the account’s funds once you’re gone. The beneficiary could cash out some or all of the IRA and spend it, invest the funds in other securities, or leave the money in the IRA for as long as possible.

For a number of reasons that we’ll address more below, you might not want your heirs to receive your retirement savings all at once. One way to prevent this is to designate your IRA into a trust.

But you can’t just use any trust to hold an IRA; you’ll need to set up a special type of revocable trust specifically designed to act as the beneficiary of your IRA upon your death. Such a trust is referred to by different names—IRA Living Trust, IRA Inheritor’s Trust, IRA Stretch Trust—but for this article, we’re simply going to call it an IRA Trust.

IRA Trusts offer a number of valuable benefits to both you and your beneficiaries. If you have significant assets invested through one or more IRA accounts, you might want to consider the following advantages of adding an IRA Trust to your estate plan.

1. Protection from creditors, lawsuits, & divorce

While IRAs are typically protected from creditors while you’re alive, once you die and the funds pass to your beneficiaries, the IRA can lose its protected status when your beneficiary distributes the funds to him or herself. One way to counteract this is to leave your retirement assets through an IRA Trust, in which case your IRA funds will be shielded from creditors as long as they remain in the trust.

IRA Trusts are also useful if you’re in a second (or more) marriage and want your IRA assets to be used for the benefit of your surviving spouse while he or she is living, and then to distributed or be held for the benefit of your children from a prior marriage after your surviving spouse passes. This would ensure that your surviving spouse cannot divert retirement assets to a new spouse, to his or her children from a prior marriage, or lose them to a creditor before the funds ultimately get to your children.

2. Protection from the beneficiary’s own bad decisions

In addition to outside creditors, an IRA Trust can also help protect the beneficiary from his or her own poor money-management skills and spending habits. If the IRA passes to your beneficiary directly, there’s nothing stopping him or her from quickly blowing through the wealth you’ve worked your whole life to build.

When you create an IRA Trust, however, you can add restrictions to the trust’s terms that control when the money is distributed as well as how it is to be spent. For example, you might stipulate that the beneficiary can only access the funds at a certain age or upon the completion of college. Or you might stipulate that the assets can only be used for healthcare needs or a home purchase. With our support, you can get as creative as you want with the trust’s terms.

3. Tax savings

One of the primary benefits of traditional IRAs is that they offer a period of tax-deferred growth, or tax-free growth in the case of a Roth IRA. Yet if the IRA passes directly to your beneficiary at your death and is immediately cashed out, the beneficiary can lose out on potentially massive tax savings.

Not only will the beneficiary have to pay taxes on the total amount of the IRA in the year it was withdrawn, but he or she will also lose the ability to “stretch out” the required minimum distributions (RMDs) over their life expectancy.

A properly drafted IRA Trust can ensure the IRA funds are not all withdrawn at once and the RMDs are stretched out over the beneficiary’s lifetime. Depending on the age of the beneficiary, this gives the IRA years—potentially even decades—of additional tax-deferred or tax-free growth.

4. Minors

If you want to name a minor child as the beneficiary of your IRA, they can’t inherit the account until they reach the age of majority. So without a trust, you’ll have to name a guardian or conservator to manage the IRA until the child comes of age.

When the beneficiary reaches the age of majority, he or she can withdraw all of the IRA funds at once—and as we’ve seen, this can have serious disadvantages. With an IRA Trust, however, you name a trustee to handle the IRA management until the child comes of age. At that point, the IRA Trust’s terms can stipulate how and when the funds are distributed. Or the terms can even ensure the funds are held for the lifetime of your beneficiary, to be invested by your beneficiary through the trust.

Find out if an IRA Trust is right for you

While IRA Trusts can have major benefits, they’re not the best option for everyone. Laws regarding IRA Trusts vary widely from state to state, so in some places, they’ll be more effective than others. Plus, the value of IRA Trusts also varies greatly depending on your specific family situation, so not everyone will want to put these trusts in place.

If you have more than $150,000 in retirement accounts, consult with us as your Personal Family Lawyer® to find out if an IRA Trust is the most suitable option for passing on your retirement savings to benefit your family.

Overlooking This Basic Part of Your Estate Plan Can Be Tragic

Wednesday, December 23rd, 2020

The recent death of the CEO of QuadrigaCX, a major cryptocurrency exchange in Canada, demonstrates a basic, yet often-overlooked, tenet of effective estate planning:

In the event of your incapacity or death, if your heirs don’t know how to find or access your assets, those assets are as good as gone. Indeed, it’s as if those assets never existed at all.

While it might not be that big of a deal if the assets in question aren’t worth much money, in the case of QuadrigaCX’s owner Gerald Cotten, the lost assets were purportedly worth $145 million, representing the vast majority of the company’s crypto holdings.

The hefty sum effectively vanished after Cotten died without leaving instructions for how to access the digital currency’s security passcodes. The crypto holdings were owned by some 115,000 clients, who used the exchange to buy and store their digital coins.

An untimely death and a cold wallet

According to an affidavit filed in a Canadian court, Cotten, age 30, died suddenly of complications related to Crohn’s disease while traveling in India during December 2018. In January 2019, QuardigaCX filed for bankruptcy to protect itself from creditors, including all of the customers with crypto stored in the company’s electronic vault.

Ironically, the digital assets were lost in part because Cotten followed a security practice designed to safeguard the funds. Most of the company’s cryptocurrency holdings were stored in a “cold wallet,” or one that isn’t connected to the Internet. The use of a cold wallet is a common practice, since “hot wallets,” or those connected to the internet, are a frequent target of hackers.

This typically would’ve been a prudent measure, but Cotten reportedly stored the cold wallet on an encrypted laptop that only he knew how to get into.

According to Cotten’s widow, Jennifer Roberston, following multiple searches, she has been unable to find the passwords that will open the laptop and provide access to the company’s cold wallet. QuadrigaCX even brought in IT experts to get into Cotten’s laptop, but so far, all attempts have been unsuccessful.

Canadian financial authorities and independent auditors are currently investigating the case, with some even speculating that Cotten’s death was faked as part of a nefarious scheme connected to QuadrigaCX. Whether it ultimately turns out to be a simple case of carelessness or something more malicious, the lesson remains the same:

From cryptocurrency to safety deposit boxes and everything in between, your family must know how to find and access every asset you own, otherwise it could be lost forever.

In fact, there’s a total of more than $58 billion of unclaimed assets from across the country held by the State Department of Unclaimed Property. Much of that massive sum got there because someone died and their family didn’t know they owned the asset.

Incomplete estate planning

Another puzzling fact is that upon first glance, Cotten was diligent in his estate planning. Indeed, Cotten named Roberston as his estate’s executor and left her instructions for the complete distribution of his assets, including a private jet and multiple properties in Canada.

He even left behind $100,000 for the care of his two dogs—yet he managed to forget to include the passcodes that would unlock his company’s vast crypto assets. We believe that most people holding crypto assets haven’t taken the proper steps to ensure their heirs will know how to access these assets upon their incapacity or death.

Given this, if you own any digital currency like Bitcoin, be sure to call us to make certain these assets have been correctly included in your estate plan. Indeed, if you have any assets that might potentially be overlooked in the event of your incapacity or death, contact us now.

Easily avoidable

What makes this loss so tragic is that it could have been so easily avoided. Whether your estate is valued in millions or thousands, your plan must include a comprehensive inventory all of your assets. And as Cotten’s case shows, this inventory must also include a detailed instructions for how your heirs can find and access every asset.

As your Personal Family Lawyer®, a comprehensive asset inventory like this is a standard part of every estate plan we create. And whether it’s cryptocurrency, social media accounts, or online payment platforms like PayPal, this inventory will include detailed instructions for accessing all of your digital assets and their passcodes. Contact us today to get started with a Family Wealth Planning Session.

This article is a service of [name], Personal Family Lawyer®. We don’t just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session, ™ during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.

Reclaim Your Role as Your Child’s Primary Influence—Part 2

Wednesday, December 23rd, 2020

In the first part of this series, we discussed how today’s children are increasingly influenced more by their peers than their parents.

In today’s society, the once-unbreakable bond between parent and child is being increasingly eroded. This disconnect is wreaking havoc on children’s psychological development, while making parents feel powerless to get through to their kids.

In more than 20 years of work and research, world-renowned family physician and child-development expert Gabor Maté discovered that a mix of social, economic, and cultural changes following WWII are a leading factor in this detachment. These changes have made it difficult for parents to provide the level of attention and intimacy needed for their relationship with their kids to remain strong.

And to fill this void, children are increasingly turning to their peer group for role models and mentors—often with disastrous results.

“They [children] are not manageable, teachable, or maturing because they no longer take their cues from us,” says Maté. “Instead, children are being brought up by other immature children who cannot possibly guide them to maturity.”

Last week, we discussed how a lack of intimacy in the parent-child relationship has led kids to bond more intensely with their peers. Here, we’ll look at the devastating effects these peer-centered relationships can have, and how parents can reclaim their role as the chief-orienting influence in their children’s lives.

The crisis of the young

For evidence of just how unhealthy it can be when a child’s relationship with his or her peers matters more than the one they have with their parents, Maté points to the dramatic rise in violence, suicide, and mass shootings among today’s youth.

“The crisis of the young has manifested ominously in the growing problem of bullying in the schools and, at its very extreme, in the murder of children by children,” says Maté. “Such tragedies are only the most visible eruptions of a widespread malaise, an aggressive streak rife in today’s youth culture.”

Maté found that in the vast majority of childhood suicides, the key trigger was how the children were treated by their peers, not their parents. When kids consider acceptance from their peers as their primary source of fulfillment, rejection and bullying can be utterly Earth-shattering.

“The more peers matter,” says Maté, “the more children are devastated by the insensitive relating of their peers, by failing to fit in, by perceived rejection or ostracization.”

While youth bullying and violence are certainly nothing new, Maté believes the expanding influence of the Internet and social media makes today’s kids far more vulnerable.

“Technology and social media, which are very much geared and marketed toward strengthening the peer culture, give kids an additional power to do each other significant emotional harm,” says Maté.

The missing element

Outside of the obvious reasons why peers make terrible parenting substitutes, the crucial element missing from peer relationships is unconditional love.

“Absolutely missing in peer relationship is unconditional love and acceptance, the desire to nurture, the ability to extend oneself for the sake of the other, the willingness to sacrifice for the growth and development of the other,” says Maté.

Unconditional love is the most potent force in the parent-child bond, laying the foundation for the relationship’s strength, intimacy, and influence. Without unconditional love, the parenting relationship becomes no different than any other.

Just about anyone is capable of caring for another person as long as they fulfill their expectations. But outside of marriage, the family—chiefly, the parents—is typically the only source for this critically important factor.

Maté notes that some of today’s common disciplinary techniques can unintentionally signal to the child that parental love is only available if certain conditions are met. As an example, Maté explains how putting a child who’s throwing a tantrum into timeout can make it feel like the parent’s attention and love are merely conditional.

“Timeout withdraws your relationship from the child,” says Maté. “They learn they’re only acceptable to you if they please you. The relationship is seen as unstable and unreliable because it’s showing them you’re not available for them when they’re most upset.”

While this example is quite literal, Maté says that any behavior or action by the parent that threatens to undermine the unconditional nature of the parent-child relationship can be harmful. Without the underlying trust that their parents will be there for them no matter what, a children’s primary source of safety and trust becomes a source of insecurity.

When kids are in a state of insecurity, it’s easy for them to become defensive and enter into fight or flight mode. This makes them extremely difficult to communicate with, much less develop the level of intimacy needed for a close parental bond to form.

Reclaim your influence

To prevent children from seeking attachment from outside sources, Maté says parents must make their kids an offer that’s too good to refuse.

“Our challenge as parents is to provide an invitation that’s too desirable to turn down, a loving acceptance that no peer can provide,” says Maté.

Rather than resorting to special parenting techniques, Maté stresses that the best thing parents can do to become closer with their kids is to simply take pleasure in being with them.

“A real relationship with kids doesn’t depend on words; it depends on the capacity to be with them,” says Maté. “Welcome their presence with your body language and energy. Express delight in the child’s very being.” And your most challenging job as a parent is to do this even when they are pushing your every button, as all kids inevitably do.

No matter how your children are behaving, consider a way to show them that they’re loved and accepted unconditionally. This may go against everything you learned from your parents, but consider doing it anyway. And if you find this particularly difficult, take Mate’s advice and think back about what you would’ve really wanted from your own parents in such a situation.

“The ultimate gift is to make a child feel invited to exist in your presence exactly as he or she is at the moment,” says Maté. “Children must know they’re wanted, special, valued, appreciated, and enjoyed. For children to fully receive this invitation, it needs to be genuine and unconditional.”

When children get this level of acceptance, they naturally desire to become closer with whomever is offering it. Rather than fearing or being threatened by their parents, children want to be with them. They want to follow them.

Once this unconditional relationship is established and/or restored, Maté says that parents will be able to parent intuitively.

“If we know how to be with our children and who to be for them, we need much less advice on what to do,” says Maté. “Practical parenting approaches emerge spontaneously from our own experience. We don’t have to resort to techniques or manuals—we act from understanding and empathy.”

Express your love with estate planning

Estate planning is one of your chief responsibilities as a parent, but it’s also one of the greatest expressions of your unconditional love. You can use estate planning to show your children that you love them unconditionally, that you’re here for them no matter what, and you can even begin to involve them in the process right now to varying degrees depending on their age.

Indeed, the planning process itself can be an opportunity to enhance your connection with your kids. Communicating clearly about what you want to happen in the event of your incapacity or death (and talking with your children about what they want) can foster a deeper bond and sense of intimacy than just about anything else you can do.

Though such conversations can feel awkward, as your Personal Family Lawyer,® we can help guide and support you in having these intimate discussions in an age-and-stage appropriate way with your children. Indeed, our clients consistently share that after undergoing our estate planning process, they feel a deeper sense of connection with their children.

While estate planning isn’t likely to completely fix your relationship with your kids, it can be an important first step in regaining that all-important sense of intimacy and trust Maté describes. Contact us today to learn more.

This article is a service of [name], Personal Family Lawyer®. We don’t just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session, ™ during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.

Reclaim Your Role as Your Child’s Primary Influence—Part 1

Wednesday, December 23rd, 2020

Have you ever felt that the unbreakable bond you once had with your children is seriously eroding? It can feel as if the very foundation of your relationship is falling apart.

It may feel like you can no longer communicate with your kids. No matter how hard you try, your once-cooperative child is impossible to get through to, much less control. Their previous desire for your attention, connection, and affection has been replaced with distance, silence, and coldness.

This detachment leaves you feeling helpless and betrayed. In order to regain your influence, you try using the latest trendy parenting techniques, but nothing seems to break the deadlock. Feeling utterly powerless to regain your connection, you fall back on authoritarian methods of discipline you previously avoided.

But your attempts at discipline only seem to make things worse. Rather than bringing your children closer, they become even more defiant. Eventually, the gap grows so wide it seems totally unbridgeable.

Bridging the divide

If this sounds familiar, you might want to listen to Dr. Gabor Maté. Rather than offering a quick-fix solution to this complex issue, Maté combines the latest scientific research with his own 20 years of experience as a family physician to empower parents to earn back their children’s love and loyalty.

In numerous presentations, interviews, and the book Hold On To Your Kids: Why Parents Need to Matter More Than Peers, Maté explains the causes of this disconnect and describes how parents can reclaim their role as their children’s primary mentors and role models.

Maté posits that the main reason for children’s detachment is due to a growing lack of intimacy in the parent-child relationship. The foundation for parenting is centered around what developmental psychologists call an attachment relationship. An attachment relationship is based on children’s innate desire to connect with and belong to their parents.

This attachment forms the entire context for child rearing, and even the best parenting skills in the world can’t compensate for a lack of such a connection.

“The secret of parenting is not in what a parent does, but rather who the parent is to a child,” says Maté. “When a child seeks contact and closeness with us, we become empowered as a nurturer, a comforter, a guide, a model, a teacher, or a coach.”

A relational, not a behavioral issue

As long as the child desires to stay attached—emotionally connected and close—a deep sense of psychological intimacy will naturally arise. Above all else, this bond sets the stage for the parent to be the primary source of influence over the child’s identity, values, and personality.

“People think parenting comes from their responsibility, strength, and wisdom, but it doesn’t come from that,” says Maté. “It comes from the desire of the child to belong to you.”

Children who lack this connection with their parents or primary caregivers become extremely difficult to raise and even teach. Given this, Maté stresses the fundamental goal for parents is to ensure that their children want to connect and have a close relationship with them. This does not mean just giving your children whatever they want, but instead giving them what they likely need most—more time and connection with you.

“The starting point and primary goal in all of our connections with children ought to be the relationship itself, not conduct or behavior,” notes Maté.

Kids raising kids

Children will always try to distance themselves from their parents as a natural way of exerting their independence, and parents have traditionally remained their primary source of influence. What’s changed, according to Maté, is that in recent decades, a mix of social, economic, and cultural changes have seriously eroded parents’ ability to remain the chief-orienting influence in their children’s lives.

“Children’s attachments to parents are no longer getting the support required from culture and society,” says Maté. “It’s not a lack of love or parenting know-how, but the erosion of the attachment context that makes our parenting ineffective.”

For a variety of reasons, often centered around economics, many parents are no longer able to provide the level of attention and intimacy needed for the relationship with their kids to remain healthy and strong. And because children have a deep-seated psychological need for such attachment, they seek out another source to fill this void.

“If kids have an attachment void, their brains can’t handle it. So they seek to fill the void with their relationship with their peer group, which becomes their role model and mentor,” says Maté.

Following WWII, children have increasingly formed strong attachment relationships with their peers that compete with the bond traditionally filled by parents. These relationships can seriously erode parents’ influence and authority.

“They [children] are not manageable, teachable, or maturing because they no longer take their cues from us,” says Maté. “Instead, children are being brought up by other immature children who cannot possibly guide them to maturity.”

Dire consequences

Maté notes that it’s perfectly normal and healthy for children to have close relationships with their peers. The problem arises when these relationships supercede the ones they have with their parents.

“The most damaging of the competing attachments that undermine parental authority and love is the increased bonding of our children with their peers,” says Maté. “The bond with their peers becomes their primary attachment relationship: the relationships they care most about, have the highest emotional stake in, and are the guiding light for their behaviours, culture, norms, and so on.”

For many children today, peers have replaced parents as the most influential force in creating the core of their personalities. When children look to other children to serve as their role models and mentors, this can have dramatic effects on their psychological development. And as we’ll see in part two, in the worst cases, the consequences can be fatal.

Next week, we’ll continue with part two in this series on how parents can reclaim their role as the primary influence and mentor in their children’s lives.

This article is a service of [name], Personal Family Lawyer®. We don’t just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session, ™ during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.

Don’t Let Your Elderly Parents Become Victims of the Grandparent Scam

Wednesday, December 23rd, 2020

Imagine this… You are an elderly grandparent who lives alone.

You get a call in the middle of the night from your college-aged granddaughter. She’s frantic and crying, telling you she was mistakenly arrested while vacationing in Cancun.

She says she needs you to pay her $1,800 bond, or she’ll be transferred to a dangerous Mexican prison. The Mexican police told her she only has a few hours before she’s transferred, so she needs you to wire the money immediately.

She’s petrified about her parents finding out she was arrested and begs you not to tell them. Because she only has a couple of minutes to use the police station phone, the call ends abruptly before you can get any further details.

What do you do?

If you’re like the thousands of others who’ve gotten just such a call, you’d probably wire the money in a heartbeat. It is your grandchild’s life after all. However, just like the others, you’d soon find out that your granddaughter hasn’t been arrested and was never in Mexico.

The Grandparent Scam

Known as the Grandparent Scam, this con has been around for years, and while it may seem far fetched, it has tricked many caring seniors. And in recent months, there has been an uptick in the number of people falling prey to the deception.

The details can vary, but the scam typically works like this:

1) You get a call from someone pretending to be your grandchild. The “grandchild” explains he or she is in trouble and needs money immediately. They might be in jail and need bond or be stranded in a foreign country and need money to get out.

2) The caller asks you to wire money to a specific location or give it to a third party, usually someone posing as a lawyer or police officer.

3) The “grandchild” will often plead with you not to tell their parents they’re in trouble.

4) Once you send the money, the caller breaks off all contact, making it impossible to recover your funds.

Preying on the vulnerable

While just about anyone can fall for such scams, the elderly are the ones targeted most often. This is due to the fact that seniors are frequently lonely and eager to hear from family. And whether it’s because their hearing is failing or because they haven’t seen their family members in awhile, they’re more likely to not recognize voices.

Due to their advanced age, seniors are also less likely to think clearly in a crisis, making them more susceptible to fear and panic. Finally, the elderly are less familiar with technology and social media, so they don’t realize how easy it is to access enough of someone’s personal details to make the scenario seem realistic.

What to do

In most cases, the best course of action is to simply hang up and contact the authorities. However, if the caller really does sound like the family member they claim to be, here are some steps you can take to help verify the situation is legitimate:

1) Don’t panic. It’s far easier to be deceived if you’re nervous or scared.

2) Be wary of calls from unknown or blocked numbers. Ask to call them back on the person’s own phone, and never accept requests sent solely by email or text.

3) Verify the caller’s identity by asking them questions only the actual person would know the answer to, such as the name of their first pet.

4) Beware of urgent demands that money be sent immediately. Reputable sources don’t try to pressure you into making split-second financial decisions.

5) Call other family and friends to verify where the person is. A reputable source will respect your caution and give you the opportunity to verify the facts.

6) Requests for money to be wired are often scams, as it’s nearly impossible to get your money back in cases of fraud. Request a more secure transaction method, such as through a bank or PayPal. Legitimate sources are likely to offer multiple payment options.

Comprehensive protection

Please share this article with any seniors in your life. There are countless other scams out there that work in much the same way, so even if it’s not this particular con, by becoming aware how these deceptions work, they’ll be much less likely to fall for them.

Of course, scams and cons are just one threat to seniors’ financial security. Without comprehensive estate planning, there are numerous other ways your family’s wealth and assets can be squandered or lost which have nothing to do with fraud.

Consult with us as your Personal Family Lawyer® to put planning strategies in place to safeguard your family’s finances and other assets, both tangible and intangible. Contact us today to get started with a Family Wealth Planning Session.

This article is a service of [name], Personal Family Lawyer®. We don’t just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session, ™ during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.

Use Estate Planning to Ensure Your Family Isn’t Stuck Paying For Your Funeral

Wednesday, December 23rd, 2020

With the cost of a funeral averaging $7,000 and steadily increasing each year, every estate plan should include enough money to cover this final expense. Yet it isn’t enough to simply set aside money in your will.

Your family won’t be able to access money left in a will until your estate goes through probate, which can last months or even years. Since most funeral providers require full payment upfront, this means your family will likely have to cover your funeral costs out of pocket, unless you take proper action now.

If you want to avoid burdening your family with this hefty bill, you should use planning strategies that do not require probate. Here are a few options:

Insurance

You can purchase a new life insurance policy or add extra coverage to your existing policy to cover funeral expenses. The policy will pay out to the named beneficiary as soon as your death certificate is available. But you’ll likely have to undergo a medical exam and may be disqualified or face costly premiums if you’re older and/or have health issues.

There is also burial insurance specifically designed to cover funeral expenses. Also known “final expense,” “memorial,” and “preneed” insurance, such policies do not require a medical exam. However, you’ll often pay far more in premiums than what the policy actually pays out.

Because of the sky-high premiums and the fact such policies are sold mostly to the poor and uneducated, consumer advocate groups like the Consumer Federation of America consider burial insurance a bad idea and even predatory in some cases.

If you have any type of insurance to cover your funeral, make sure your family knows about it! These policies are often never cashed in because the family didn’t know they existed.

Prepaid funeral plans

Many funeral homes let you pay for your funeral services in advance, either in a single lump sum or through installments. Also known as pre-need plans, the funeral provider typically puts your money in a trust that pays out upon your death, or buys a burial insurance policy, with itself as the beneficiary.

While such prepaid plans may seem like a convenient way to cover your funeral expenses, these plans can have serious drawbacks. As mentioned earlier, if the funeral provider buys burial insurance, you’re likely to see massive premiums compared to what the plan actually pays out. And if they use a trust, the plan might not actually cover the full cost of the funeral, leaving your family on the hook for the difference. Plus, most states have inadequate laws protecting funds in pre-need plans, putting your money at risk if the funeral provider closes or is bought out by another company.

In fact, these packages are considered so risky, the Funeral Consumers Alliance (FCA), a nonprofit industry watchdog group, advises against purchasing such plans. The only instance where prepaid plans are a good idea, according to the FCA, is if you are facing a Medicaid spend down before going into a nursing home. This is because prepaid funeral plans funded through irrevocable trusts are not considered a countable asset for Medicaid eligibility purposes.

If you’re looking to buy a prepaid funeral plan in order to qualify for Medicaid, be sure to consult with us first, as not all pre-paid funeral plans are actually Medicaid compliant, even if the funeral home says they are. Moreover, if the irrevocable trust is not set up correctly, it may violate Medicaid’s look-back period, delaying your eligibility.

Payable-on-death accounts

Many banks offer payable-on-death (POD) accounts, sometimes called Totten Trusts, that you can set up to fund your funeral expenses. The account’s named beneficiary can only access the money upon your death, but you can deposit or withdraw money at any time.

A POD does not go through probate, so the beneficiary can access the money once your death certificate is issued. POD accounts are FDIC-insured, but such accounts are treated as countable assets by Medicaid, and the interest is subject to income tax.

Another option is to simply open a joint savings account with the person handling your funeral expenses and give them rights of survivorship. However, this gives the person access to your money while you’re alive too, and it puts the account at risk from their future creditors.

Indeed, we know one client who lost the money in a joint account she shared with her granddaughter over a single bad business decision. The granddaughter was sued over a lease default, and when she lost the case, her creditors were able to go after the joint account.

Living trusts

With us as your Personal Family Lawyer®, you don’t need to buy a pre-built trust from a funeral provider. We can create a customized living trust that allows you to control the funds until your death and name a successor trustee, who is legally bound to use the trust funds to pay for your funeral expenses exactly as the trust terms stipulate.

With a living trust, you can change the terms at any time and even dissolve the trust if you need the money for other purposes. Alternatively, if you need an irrevocable trust to help qualify for Medicaid, we can create that too and help you ensure the trust stays totally compliant with all of Medicaid’s requirements.

Don’t needlessly burden your family

To help decide which option is best suited for your particular situation, consult with us as your Personal Family Lawyer®. We can put an estate plan in place that includes adequate funding to ensure your funeral services are handled just as you wish—and your family isn’t forced to foot the bill.

This article is a service of [name], Personal Family Lawyer®. We don’t just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session, ™ during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.

4 Estate Planning Must-Haves for Unmarried Couples—Part 2

Wednesday, December 23rd, 2020

In the first part of this series, we discussed the estate planning tools all unmarried couples should have in place. Here, we’ll look at the final two must-have planning tools.

Most people tend to view estate planning as something only married couples need to worry about. However, estate planning can be even more critical for those in committed relationships who are unmarried.

Because your relationship with one another is frequently not legally recognized, if one of you becomes incapacitated or when one of you dies, not having any planning can have disastrous consequences. Your age, income level, and marital status makes no difference—every adult needs to have some fundamental planning strategies in place if you want to keep the people you love out of court and out of conflict.

Last week, we discussed wills, trusts, and durable power of attorney. Here, we’ll look at two more must-have estate planning tools, both of which are designed to protect your choices about the type of medical treatment you’d want if tragedy should strike.

3. Medical power of attorney

In addition to naming someone to manage your finances in the event of your incapacity, you also need to name someone who can make health-care decisions for you. If you want your partner to have any say in how your health care is handled during your incapacity, you should grant your partner medical power of attorney.

This gives your partner the ability to make health-care decisions for you if you’re incapacitated and unable to do so yourself. This is particularly important if you’re unmarried, seeing that your family could leave your partner totally out of the medical decision-making process, and even deny your him or her the right to visit you in the hospital.

Don’t forget to provide your partner with HIPAA authorization within the medical power of attorney, so he or she will have access to your medical records to make educated decisions about your care.

4. Living will

While medical power of attorney names who can make health-care decisions in the event of your incapacity, a living will explains how your care should be handled, particularly at the end of life. If you want your partner to have control over how your end-of-life care is managed, you should name them as your agent in a living will.

A living will explains how you’d like important medical decisions made, including if and when you want life support removed, whether you would want hydration and nutrition, and even what kind of food you want and who can visit you.

Without a valid living will, doctors will most likely rely entirely on the decisions of your family or the named medical power of attorney holder when determining what course of treatment to pursue. Without a living will, those choices may not be the choices you—or your partner—would want.

We can help

If you’re involved in a committed relationship—married or not—or you just want to make sure that the people you choose are making your most important life-and-death decisions, consult with us as your Personal Family Lawyer® to put these essential estate planning tools in place.

With our help, we can support you in identifying the best planning strategies for your unique needs and situation. Contact us today to get started with a Family Wealth Planning Session.

This article is a service of [name], Personal Family Lawyer®. We don’t just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session, ™ during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.

4 Estate Planning Must-Haves for Unmarried Couples—Part 1

Wednesday, December 23rd, 2020

Estate planning is often considered something you only need to worry about once you get married. But the reality is every adult, regardless of age, income level, or marital status, needs to have some fundamental planning strategies in place if you want to keep the people you love out of court and out of conflict.

In fact, estate planning can be even more critical for unmarried couples. Regardless if you’ve been together for decades and act just like a married couple, you likely aren’t viewed as one in the eyes of the law. And in the event one of you becomes incapacitated or when one of you dies, not having any planning in place can have disastrous consequences.

If you’re in a committed relationship and have yet to get—or even have no plans to get—married, the following estate planning documents are an absolute must:

1. Wills and trusts

If you’re unmarried and die without planning, the assets you leave behind will be distributed according to your state’s intestate laws to your family members: parents, siblings, and possibly even other, more distant relatives if you have no living parents or siblings. The state’s laws would provide NO protection for your unmarried partner. Given this, if you want your partner to receive any of your assets upon your death, you need to—at the very least—create a will.

A will details how you want your assets distributed after you die, and you can name your unmarried partner, or even a friend, to inherit some or all of your assets. However, certain assets like life insurance, pensions, and 401(k)s, are not transferred through a will. Instead, those assets will go to the person named in the beneficiary designation, so be sure to name your partner as beneficiary if you’d like him or her to inherit those assets.

However, there could be an even better way.

Although wills and beneficiary designations offer one way for your unmarried partner to inherit your assets, they’re not always the best option. First and foremost, they do not operate in the event of your incapacity, which could occur before your death. In that case, your partner may not have access to needed assets to pay bills, or he or she could potentially even be kicked out of your home by a family member appointed as your guardian during your incapacity.

Moreover, a will requires probate, a court process that can take quite some time to navigate. And finally, assets passed by beneficiary designation go outright to your partner, with no protection from creditors or lawsuits. To protect those assets for your partner, you’ll need a different planning strategy.

A far better option would be to place the assets you want your partner to inherit in a living trust. First off, trusts can be used to transfer assets in the event of your incapacity, not just upon your death. Trusts also do not have to go through probate, saving your partner precious time and money.

What’s more, leaving your assets in a continued trust that your partner could control would ensure the assets are protected from creditors, future relationships, and/or unexpected lawsuits.

Consult with us for help deciding which option—a will or trust—is best suited for passing on your assets.

2. Durable power of attorney

When it comes to estate planning, most people focus only on what happens when they die. However, it’s just as important—if not even more so—to plan for your potential incapacity due to an accident or illness.

If you become incapacitated and haven’t legally named someone to handle your finances while you’re unable to do so, the court will pick someone for you. And this person could be a family member, who doesn’t care for or want to support your partner, or it could be a professional guardian who will charge hefty fees, possibly draining your estate.

Since it’s unlikely that your unmarried partner will be the court’s first choice, if you want your partner (or even a friend) to manage your finances in the event you become incapacitated, you would grant your partner (or friend) a durable power of attorney.

Durable power of attorney is an estate planning tool that will give your partner immediate authority to manage your financial matters in the event of your incapacity. He or she will have a broad range of powers to handle things like paying your bills and taxes, running your business, collecting government benefits, selling your home, as well as managing your banking and investment accounts.

Granting a durable power of attorney to your partner is especially important if you live together, because without it, the person who is named by the court could legally force your partner out with little to no notice, leaving your partner homeless.

Next week, we’ll continue with part two in this series on must-have estate planning strategies for unmarried couples.

As your Personal Family Lawyer®, we can guide you to make informed, educated, and empowered choices to protect yourself and the ones you love most. Contact us today to get started with a Family Wealth Planning Session.

This article is a service of [name], Personal Family Lawyer®. We don’t just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session, ™ during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.

Keep the Government and Lawyers Away From Your Children’s Inheritance

Wednesday, December 23rd, 2020

If you take a look at your current estate plan, I’ll bet it leaves your assets to your children outright and unprotected by the time they are 35.

How do I know this? Because most lawyers aren’t giving much thought to your planning, they are simply recommending the default and that is that your assets are distributed outright to your heirs when they are “old enough.”

If your plan is built on this default, you may be overlooking an incredibly valuable gift you can give your children and the generations that will follow.

Leave your kids a nest egg protected from lawsuits, divorce and estate taxes.

Yes, you can really do that. Everything you’ve worked so hard to build can be left to your children in such a way that it stays protected throughout their lifetime so that if they ever get divorced or sued your legacy will not be lost to an ex-spouse or creditor.

The best part is that if your child has her own taxable estate when she dies your planning now will save your family 45 cents on every dollar handed down from one generation to the next.

Save your family 45 cents on every dollar at each generation

This adds up fast! For every million dollars you leave outright to your children, your grandchildren could receive only $550,000 with $450,000 going to the government … unnecessarily.

So, if you want to know that everything you’ve worked so hard to create will stay in your family for generations to come and not be lost to outsiders, leaving your assets to your children protected instead of outright is the way to go.

But, how will my kids get to use what I leave to them?

Here’s the best part about leaving your assets to your children in a Lifetime Asset Protection Trust. Not only is what you leave protected, but your children control what you leave them when you decide they are ready.

After your death, the assets you leave behind will pass to your children (and your grandchildren, great-grandchildren and so on for successive generations) in a trust that is controlled by your child as the trustee of the trust. You get to decide when your child is mature enough to act as trustee.

As the trustee of the trust, your child decides how what you’ve left is invested and what to do with the trust assets. And, your child will even be able to determine the amount of control v. the amount asset protection he or she wants based on his or her specific circumstances.

Is this still important if I don’t have much money?

If you are only leaving your children a small amount of money, this is still incredibly valuable protection. Some might say, it’s even more important because your family has less to lose to taxes, lawsuits and divorce at each generation. And, the impact of such losses is much greater.

A mere $1,000 protected can become millions for the people you love.

My Colleague’s grandmother put $1,000 into a trust just like this for my colleague’s benefit. She named her the investment trustee and my colleague decided to invest that $1,000 to start a business she intend to sell in the future for at least $20,000,000. Because she don’t own that business (it’s owned by the trust her grandmother started for her), that $20,000,000 can never be taken if she gets divorced or if she is sued and will never be subject to estate tax when she dies, no matter how big her assets and how small the estate tax exemption. And, the best part is that it’s protected for her children (and even great-grandchildren), while giving them the possibility of growing it even greater at each generation.

6 Steps to Select and Name the Right Guardians for Your Children—Part 2

Wednesday, December 23rd, 2020

Last week, we shared the first part of our series on selecting and naming the right guardians for your children. If you haven’t read it yet, you can do so here. Here in part two, we discuss the final three steps in the process.

4. Narrow candidate list, and rank your choices

When you’ve come up with all of the potential candidates for guardian, narrow down the list to your top five people. There’s no guarantee that your ideal candidate(s) will be willing to serve as guardian, so having more than one or two is a practical necessity.

To aide in this process, you should consider things, such as who really loves your children and who do your kids really get along with? Will this person be physically, mentally, and emotionally able to raise your kids to adulthood? The most important thing is to choose SOMEONE, even if you aren’t 100% sure about them, since you can always select a new guardian later.

Then rank your choices from top choice down to last. Again, backups are critical in case your first choice cannot serve.

5. Sit down with top candidates and discuss what’s involved

When it comes to asking someone to be your child’s guardian, you need to provide crystal-clear guidance about what’s involved. The discussion should cover all of your expectations about how you want your kids raised. Speak openly about finances, discipline, education, spirituality, and any needs that are unique to your children.

Once the discussion is complete, give them a few days to carefully consider the choice, even if they seem immediately gung-ho about doing it. Depending on the age of your kids, this could be a more than decade-long commitment. If they don’t carefully think it over, the responsibility can easily turn into resentment.

6. Legally document your plan

It’s essential to legally document your choice as soon as possible. Verbal commitments mean nothing in the eyes of the law. This is especially true when you name a friend over a family member.

For a quick and easy way to legally document your plan, visit our free website shown below. The entire process takes only 15-20 minutes, so you can immediately get this urgent matter taken care of.

After you’ve used our website to name your legal guardians, you can then work with us as your Personal Family Lawyer® to create a more comprehensive plan that includes all of the necessary legal documents to ensure the well-being of your children and the assets you’re leaving behind, no matter what happens.

With us as your Personal Family Lawyer®, you’ll have a trusted advisor who can help you navigate all of the legal, insurance, financial, and tax issues involved with estate planning. Indeed, we can put a plan in place that not only protects and provides for your children, but your entire family.

6 Steps to Select and Name the Right Guardians for Your Children—Part 1

Wednesday, December 23rd, 2020

One of your most important responsibilities as a parent is to select and legally document guardians for your children. This doesn’t mean just naming godparents or trusting the grandparents will step in if necessary. It means consciously deciding who would raise your children if you cannot. And then it means legally documenting your choices and making sure the people you’ve chosen know what to do if they’re ever c

However, most people have no idea how to even start this process, much less create a legally binding plan. Because of this, many parents simply never get around to doing it. And those who do often make one of several common mistakes—even if they’ve worked with a lawyer.

Why? Because most lawyers haven’t been trained properly to help parents with this vital issue.

As a result, unless you’ve worked with us or another trained Personal Family Lawyer®, it’s likely your children are extremely vulnerable to being taken out of your home and placed in the care of strangers. This might be temporary, while the authorities figure out what to do, or they could end up being raised to adulthood by someone you’d never choose.

Even if you don’t have any minor children at home, please consider sharing this article with any friends or family who do—it’s that important. While it’s rare for something to happen to both parents of a minor child, it does occur, and the consequences are simply too severe to not take a few simple steps to select and legally name guardians the right way.

To help with this process, we’ve outlined some basic steps to select and name a legal guardian. Regardless of whether you own any other assets or wealth, it’s vital to complete this process immediately, so you know that who you care about most—your kids—will be cared for the way you want, no matter what.

1. Define your ideal candidate

The first step in selecting a guardian is to come up with a list outlining the qualities and attributes you and your partner value most when it comes to the long-term care of your children. The list can mirror your own parenting philosophy and style, as well as list the qualities that would make up your absolute “dream” guardian.

In addition to qualities like parental values, discipline style, religious/spiritual background, kindness, and honesty, you also need to consider more practical matters. Is the person young enough and physically capable of raising your kids to adulthood? Do they have a family of their own, and if so, would adding your kids to the mix be too much?

Geography should also come into play—do they live nearby, and if not, would it be a major hardship to relocate your children? Is their home in a location you would feel comfortable having your kids grow up in?

One thing you may think you should consider is financial stability, and that’s a frequent misconception. However, the people you name as legal guardians for your children are the people making decisions for their healthcare and their education, but they don’t need to be the ones managing your children’s financial needs.

Ideally, you’ll leave behind ample financial resources for your children and the people raising them. You can do this by establishing a trust for those resources and naming a financial guardian, or trustee, to oversee them. Please contact us for help with that, as there are many options to consider.

2. Make a list of candidates

Based on those parenting qualities, start compiling a list of people in your life who match your ideals. Be sure to consider not only family, but also close friends.

Though you may feel obligated to choose a family member, this decision is about what’s best for your children’s future, not trying to protect someone’s feelings. And if you’re having trouble coming up with enough suitable candidates, try coming up with people who you would definitely NOT want as guardians, and work backwards from there.

Or consider the person a judge would likely select if you didn’t make your own choice and whether there are any other people you’d prefer to raise your children.

3. Select first responders (temporary guardians)

In addition to legally naming long-term guardians, you also need to choose someone in your local area to be a “first responder,” or temporary guardian. This is someone who lives near you and who’s willing to immediately go to your children during a time of crisis and take care of them until the long-term guardian is notified and appointed by the court pursuant to your long-term guardianship nomination.

If your children are in the care of someone like a babysitter without legal authority to have custody of them, the police will have no choice but to call Child Protective Services and take your children into the care of the authorities. From there, you children could be placed in the care of strangers until your named long-term guardian shows up, or until the court decides on an appropriate guardian.

This is an area where plans that only name a legal guardian through a Will typically fail. Beyond naming just a long-term guardian, you need a short-term, temporary guardian who’s named as the first responder and knows exactly what to do if something happens to you.

Once you’ve chosen your long-term guardian, it’s imperative that all temporary caretakers know exactly how to contact them. This precaution is not just about your death—it also covers your incapacity and any other situation when you’re unable to return home for a lengthy period of time.

Next week, we’ll continue with part two in this series on selecting and naming the right guardians for your kids.

Think Your Homeowners Insurance Offers Protection From Natural Disasters? Think Again

Wednesday, December 23rd, 2020

From wildfires in California and hurricanes in Texas to floods in West Virginia, hardly any area of the U.S. is immune from the threat of natural disasters. And according to a report released by the government regarding climate change and its impact on Black Friday, it’s only going to get worse. Despite this threat, many homeowners still lack the insurance needed to protect their property and possessions from such catastrophes.

In fact, roughly two-thirds of all homeowners are underinsured for natural disasters, according to United Policyholders (UP), a nonprofit organization for insurance consumers. One contributing factor to this lack of coverage is the mistaken belief that homeowners insurance offers protection from such calamities. In reality, natural disasters are typically not covered by standard homeowners policies.

In order to obtain protection, you often need to purchase separate policies that cover specific types of natural disasters. Here, we’ve highlighted the types of insurance coverage available and how the policies work.

Wildfires

While homeowners insurance typically doesn’t pay for damage caused by natural disasters, most policies do protect against fire damage, including wildfires like the recent ones in California. The only instances of fire damage homeowners policies won’t cover are fires caused by arson or when fire destroys a home that’s been vacant for at least 30 days when the fire occurred.

That said, not all homeowners policies are created equal, so you should check your policy to make certain that it includes enough coverage to do three things: replace your home’s structure, replace your belongings, and cover your living expenses while your home is being repaired, known as “loss of use” coverage.

In certain areas that are extremely high-risk for wildfires, it can be be difficult to find a company to insure your home. In such cases, you should look into state-sponsored fire insurance like California’s FAIR Plan.

Earthquakes

Unlike fires, earthquakes are typically not covered by homeowners policies. To protect your home against quakes, you’ll need a freestanding earthquake insurance policy. And contrary to popular belief, Californians aren’t the only ones who should be worried.

Most parts of the U.S. are at some risk for earthquakes. Indeed, the U.S. Geological Survey found that between the 20 years from 1975 to 1995 earthquakes occured in every state except Florida, Iowa, North Dakota, and Wisconsin. To gauge the risk in your area, consult with the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) earthquake hazard map.

While earthquake insurance is available practically everywhere, policies in high-risk areas typically come with high deductibles, ranging from 10% to 15% of the home’s value. What’s more, though earthquake insurance covers damage directly caused by the quake, some related damages such as flooding are likely not covered. Carefully review your policy to see what’s included—and what’s not.

Floods

Though homeowners insurance generally covers flood damage caused by faulty infrastructure like leaky pipes, nearly all policies exclude flood damage caused by natural events like heavy rain, overflowing rivers, and hurricanes. You’ll need stand-alone flood insurance to protect your property and possessions from these events.

The threat from flooding is so widespread, Congress created the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) in 1968, which allows homeowners in flood-prone areas to purchase flood insurance backed by the U.S. government. In some coastal regions, especially where hurricanes are prevalent, you might even be required to buy flood insurance. To determine the risk for your property, consult FEMA’s Flood Map service center.

Even if you live in a location where flood insurance isn’t required, you may want to consider buying it anyway. Indeed, 90% of all natural disasters include some form of flooding, and more than 20% of flood-damage claims come from properties outside high-risk flood zones.

Hurricanes and Tornadoes

Most homeowners policies do offer coverage for wind-related damage. However, it depends on the type of storm that caused the damage. For example, wind damage from tornadoes and even some tropical storms is typically covered, but wind damage from hurricanes generally requires a separate windstorm policy, or in some cases, a hurricane rider.

Because damage from hurricanes is often measured in the billions, these windstorm policies usually have higher deductibles that are often based on a percentage of your home’s value, instead of a fixed dollar amount. Some policies also come with a cap on coverage, so be sure to review exactly what type and amount of coverage your policy offers.

Of course, high winds aren’t the only threat posed by hurricanes. Such tropical systems can also cause severe flooding, which is frequently the storm’s most damaging element. But as mentioned before, whether it’s caused by a hurricane or a tornado, flooding is not generally covered by homeowners insurance. For flood protection, you’ll need to purchase a separate flood insurance policy through the NFIP.

Get the disaster coverage you need today

To make certain you have the necessary insurance coverage to protect your home and belongings from natural disasters, consult with us as your Personal Family Lawyer®. We’ll help evaluate the specific risks for your area, assess the value of your assets, and support you to determine the optimal levels of insurance you should have in place.

Don’t Forget to Include Your Digital Assets In Your Estate Plan—Part 2

Wednesday, December 23rd, 2020

In the first part of this series, we discussed the importance of including your digital assets in your estate plan. Here, we’ll talk about the best ways to get started with this process.

Today, estate planning encompasses not just tangible property like finances and real estate, but also digital assets like cryptocurrency, blogs, and social media. With so much of our lives now lived online, it’s vital you put the proper estate planning provisions in place to ensure your digital assets are effectively protected and passed on in the event of your incapacity or death.

However, because many types of online assets have only been in existence for a handful of years, there are very few laws governing how they should be dealt with through estate planning. And due to their virtual and often anonymous nature, just locating and accessing some of these assets can be extremely difficult for those you leave behind.

Given these unique challenges, last week we discussed some of the most common types of digital assets and the legal landscape surrounding them. Here, we offer some practical tips to ensure all of your digital property is effectively incorporated into your estate plan.

Best practices for including digital assets in your estate plan

If you’re like most people, you probably own numerous digital assets, some of which likely have significant monetary and/or sentimental value. Other types of online property may have no value for anyone other than yourself or be something you’d prefer your family and friends not access or inherit.

To ensure all of your digital assets are accounted for, managed, and passed on in exactly the way you want, you should take the following steps:

1. Create an inventory: Start by creating a list of all your digital assets, including the related login information and passwords. Password management apps such as LastPass can help simplify this effort. From there, store the list in a secure location, and provide detailed instructions to your fiduciary about how to access it and get into the accounts. Just like money you’ve hidden in a safe, if no one knows where it is or how to unlock it, these assets will likely be lost forever.2. Back up assets stored in the cloud: If any of your digital assets are stored in the cloud, back them up to a computer and/or other physical storage device on a regular basis, so fiduciaries and family members can access them with fewer obstacles. That said, don’t forget to also include the location and login info of these cloud-based assets in case you don’t have a chance—or forget—to back them all up.3. Add your digital assets to your estate plan: Include specific instructions in your will, trust, and/or other estate planning documents about the heir(s) you want to inherit each asset, along with how you’d like the accounts managed in the future, if that’s an option. Some assets might be of no value to your family or be something you don’t want them to access, so you should specify that those accounts and files be closed and/or deleted by your fiduciary.Do NOT provide the specific account info, logins, or passwords in your estate planning documents, which can be easily read by others. This is especially true for wills, which become public record upon your death. Keep this information stored in a secure place, and let your fiduciary know how to find and use it. Consider a service such as Directive Communication Systems to support you here.

It’s also a good idea to include terms in your estate plan allowing your fiduciary to hire an IT consultant if necessary. This will help him or her manage and troubleshoot any technical challenges that come up, particularly with highly complex and/or encrypted assets.

4. Limit access: In your plan, you should also include instructions for your fiduciary about what level of access you want him or her to have. For example, do you want your executor to be able to read all of your emails and social media posts before deleting them or passing them on to your heirs? If there are any assets you want to limit access to, we can help you include the necessary terms in your plan to ensure your privacy is honored.5. Include relevant hardware: Don’t forget that your estate plan should also include provisions for any physical devices—smartphones, computers, tablets, flash drives—on which the digital assets are stored. Having quick access to this equipment will make it much easier for your fiduciary to access, manage, and transfer the online assets. Since the data can be wiped clean, you can even leave these devices to someone other than the person who inherits the digital property stored on it.6. Check service providers’ access-authorization tools: Carefully review the terms and conditions for your online accounts. Some service providers like Google, Facebook, and Instagram have tools in place that allow you to easily designate access to others in the event of your death. If such a function is offered, use it to document who you want to have access to these accounts. Just make certain the people you named to inherit your digital assets using the providers’ access-authorization tools match those you’ve named in your estate plan. If not, the provider will probably give priority access to the person named with its tool, not your estate plan.

Truly comprehensive estate planning

With technology rapidly evolving, it’s critical that your estate planning strategies evolve at the same time to adapt to this changing environment. With us as your Personal Family Lawyer®, we can help you update your plan to include not only your physical wealth and property, but all of your digital assets, too.

We know how valuable online property can be, and unlike many lawyers, we have the experience and skills to ensure these assets are preserved and passed on seamlessly. Moreover, we can do this while respecting and protecting your privacy rights. Contact us today to get started.

This article is a service of [name], Personal Family Lawyer®. We don’t just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session, ™ during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.

Don’t Forget to Include Your Digital Assets In Your Estate Plan—Part 1

Wednesday, December 23rd, 2020

If you’ve created an estate plan, it likely includes traditional wealth and assets like finances, real estate, personal property, and family heirlooms. But unless your plan also includes your digital assets, there’s a good chance this online property will be lost forever following your death or incapacity.

What’s more, even if these assets are included in your plan, unless your executor and/or trustee knows the accounts exist and how to access them, you risk burdening your family and friends with the often lengthy and expensive process of locating and accessing them. And depending on the terms of service governing your online accounts, your heirs may not be able to inherit some types of digital assets at all.

With our lives increasingly being lived online, our digital assets can be quite extensive and extremely valuable. Given this, it’s more important than ever that your estate plan includes detailed provisions to protect and pass on such property in the event of your incapacity or death.

Types of digital assets

Digital assets generally fall into two categories: those with financial value and those with sentimental value.

Those with financial value typically include cryptocurrency like Bitcoin, online payment accounts like PayPal, domain names, websites and blogs generating revenue, as well as other works like photos, videos, music, and writing that generate royalties. Such assets have real financial worth for your heirs, not only in the immediate aftermath of your death or incapacity, but potentially for years to come.

Digital assets with sentimental value include email accounts, photos, video, music, publications, social media accounts, apps, and websites or blogs with no revenue potential. While this type of property typically won’t be of any monetary value, it can offer incredible sentimental value and comfort for your family when you’re no longer around.

Owned vs licensed

Though you might not know it, you don’t actually own many of your digital assets at all. For example, you do own certain assets like cryptocurrency and PayPal accounts, so you can transfer ownership of these in a will or trust. But when you purchase some digital property, such as Kindle e-books and iTunes music files, all you really own is a license to use it. And in many cases, that license is for your personal use only and is non-transferable.

Whether or not you can transfer such licensed property depends almost entirely on the account’s Terms of Service Agreements (TOSA) to which you agreed (or more likely, simply clicked a box without reading) upon opening the account. While many TOSA restrict access to accounts only to the original user, some allow access by heirs or executors in certain situations, while others say nothing about transferability.

Carefully review the TOSA of your online accounts to see whether you own the asset itself or just a license to use it. If the TOSA states the asset is licensed, not owned, and offers no method for transferring your license, you’ll likely have no way to pass the asset to anyone else, even if it’s included in your estate plan.

To make matters more complicated, though you heirs may be able to access your digital assets if you’ve provided them with your account login and passwords, doing so may actually violate the TOSA and/or privacy laws. In order to legally access such accounts, your heirs will have to prove they have the right to access it, a process which up until recently was a major legal grey area.

Fortunately, a growing number of states are adopting a law that helps clarify how your digital assets can be accessed in the event if your death or incapacity.

The Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets ActThe Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act, which has been adopted in 37 states so far, lays out guidelines under which fiduciaries, such as executors and trustees, can access these digital accounts. The Act allows you to grant a fiduciary access to your digital accounts upon your death or incapacity, either by opting them in with an online tool furnished by the service provider or through your estate plan.

The Act offers three-tiers for prioritizing access. The first tier gives priority to the online provider’s access-authorization tool for handling accounts of a decedent. For example, Google’s “inactive account manager” tool lets you choose who can access and manage your account after you pass away. Facebook has a similar tool that allows you to designate someone as a “legacy contact” to manage your personal profile.

If an online tool is not available or if the decedent did not use it, the law’s second tier gives priority to directions given by the decedent in a will, trust, power of attorney, or other means. If no such instructions are provided, then the third tier stipulates the provider’s TOSA will govern access.

As long as you use the provider’s online tool—if one is available—and/or include instructions in your estate plan, your digital assets should be accessible per your wishes in states that have adopted the law. However, all 50 states are expected to adopt the Act soon, so even if the law isn’t on the books in your state, you should take it into serious consideration when planning.

Look to us for guidance

In the second part of this series, we’ll offer practical steps for preserving and passing on your digital assets in your estate plan. Meanwhile, contact us as you Personal Family Lawyer® if you have any questions about your online property or how to include it in your estate plan.

Next week, we’ll continue with part two in this series, discussing the best ways to protect and preserve your digital assets through estate planning.

This article is a service of [name], Personal Family Lawyer®. We don’t just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session, ™ during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.

How to Fix Errors in Your Credit Report

Wednesday, December 23rd, 2020

While some of those TV commercials for free credit-score report companies are pretty funny, having errors on your credit report is no laughing matter. Indeed, your credit score is one of the main factors determining your access to loans, credit cards, housing, and sometimes even jobs.

From late payments that were actually made on time and paid debts that are still listed in collections to fake accounts opened in your name by identity thieves, there are all kinds of errors that can end up in your report. What’s more, even if the mistakes were made by the banks, lenders, and/or credit bureaus, they have no obligation to fix them—unless you report them.

Given this, it’s vital to monitor your credit score regularly and take immediate action to have any errors corrected. Here, we’ll discuss a few of the most common mistakes found in credit reports and how to fix them.

Finding and fixing errors

The first step to ensure your credit report stays error-free is to obtain a copy of your report from each of the three major credit-reporting agencies: Experian, TransUnion and Equifax. You can get free access to your reports and even helpful credit monitoring services from companies like CreditKarma.com.

Check each of the reports closely for errors. Some of the most common mistakes include:

  • Misspellings and other errors in your name, address, and/or Social Security number
  • Accounts that are mistakenly reported more than once
  • Loan inquiries you didn’t authorize
  • Payments inadvertently applied to the wrong account or noted as unpaid, when they were in fact paid
  • Old debts that have been paid off or should’ve been removed from your report after seven years
  • Fake accounts and debts created by identity thieves

Filing a dispute

If anything is inaccurate on your report, file a dispute with the credit bureaus as soon as possible. In fact, notifying these agencies is a prerequisite if you eventually decide to take legal action. Note that if a mistake appears on more than one report, you’ll need to file a dispute with each credit bureau involved.

To ensure your dispute has the best chances of success, follow these steps:

  • Use the appropriate forms: Each credit bureau has different processes for filing a dispute—whether via regular mail or online—so check the particular bureau’s website for instructions and forms. You can find sample letters showing how to dispute credit reports on the FTC and Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) websites.
  • Be absolutely clear: Clearly identify each disputed item in your report, state the facts explaining why the information is incorrect, and request a deletion or correction. If you’ve found multiple errors, include an itemized list of each one.
  • Provide evidence: It’s not enough to just say there’s a mistake; you should substantiate your claim with proof. Collect all documents related to the account, including account statements, letters, emails, and legal correspondence. Include copies (never originals) of this paperwork, and highlight or circle the relevant information.
  • Contact credit providers: In addition to the credit bureaus, the CFPB recommends you also contact the credit providers that supplied the incorrect information to the bureaus. Check with the particular company to learn how to file a dispute, and then send it the same documentation to them that you sent to the bureaus.
  • Review the results of the investigation: Credit bureaus typically get back to you within a month, but their response can take up to 45 days. The response will tell you if the disputed item was deleted, fixed, or remains the same. Disputes basically boil down to whether or not the creditor agrees with your claim or not, and what they say typically goes.
  • If you’re not happy with the result of the dispute or how the dispute was handled, you can file a complaint with the CFPB, which regulates the credit bureaus. They’ll forward your complaint to the credit provider and update you on the response they receive.

If the credit provider insists the information is accurate, you can provide the bureaus with a statement summarizing your dispute and request they include it in your file, in future reports, and to anyone who received a copy of the old report in the recent past.

Legal action

Finally, if the investigation isn’t resolved to your satisfaction and the inaccurate information in your credit report is causing you harm, contact us to determine if taking legal action would be worthwhile. We can review the information, and if necessary, help you develop and litigate your case.

With us as your Personal Family Lawyer®, we can help get your credit in top shape by guiding you to put the proper legal, insurance, financial, and tax systems in place to secure your family’s financial future. Contact us today to get started.

This article is a service of [name], Personal Family Lawyer®. We don’t just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session, ™ during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.

10 Common Errors When Naming Life Insurance Beneficiaries That Will Hurt the People You Love

Wednesday, December 23rd, 2020

If you make a mistake in naming beneficiaries for your life insurance policy, the people you love will end up being hurt. Insure.com recently provided a list of the 10 life insurance beneficiary mistakes to avoid. We elaborate on how they’ll affect you and how to fix them.

1. Naming minor children. If proceeds of your life insurance are directed to your minor child (instead of to a trust for his/her benefit), a Judge will decide who controls the proceeds and when your child receives them. And your child could get access to all of that money at 18! That’s bad news. And unnecessary. A Personal Family Lawyer® can counsel you on the best way to leave life insurance proceeds to minor children.

2. Naming a person with special needs. By naming a child with special needs child or other person eligible for government benefits as a beneficiary, you could unwittingly disqualify them from receiving those benefits. Instead, you could name a special needs trust. We can help you with that.

3. Not considering community property and/or spousal rights. You don’t have to name your spouse as a beneficiary, but if you live in a community property state, your spouse will need to sign a waiver before you can name someone else as beneficiary. And, if you name a married adult child as the beneficiary of your policy (without a trust), you could be putting your child’s inheritance at risk inadvertently.

4. Ignoring tax consequences. While life insurance proceeds are usually income tax-free, they are subject to the estate tax. Talk to us about these issues so we can identify any traps for the unwary.

5. Trying to use your Will. A properly executed beneficiary designation form always trumps your Will, so don’t make the mistake of thinking you can change beneficiaries by naming someone else to receive insurance proceeds through your Will.

6. Failing to update. Many ex-spouses are enriched by a life insurance benefit because their ex forgot to update the policy’s beneficiary form. Review your beneficiary designations every time you have a significant life change, or at least every three years.

7. Not being specific. You should name your beneficiaries in as specific a manner as possible, which means using their legal names, not just a designation such as “my spouse” or “my children.”

8. Not informing family or losing track of policies. If you have a life insurance policy, tell your family about it. Otherwise, it may be overlooked and the benefit never claimed. We track our clients’ assets using a Family Wealth Inventory that is updated regularly so no assets are lost after your passing.

9. Not considering individual circumstances. If you leave a large sum of money to an adult child with a substance abuse problem or someone not equipped to handle money, this can lead to more problems. Consider establishing a trust that can protect your beneficiaries’ inheritance. We can even protect these assets from bankruptcy, creditors and divorce, for multiple generations.

10. Naming only one beneficiary. If you name only one beneficiary and that beneficiary dies at the same time, or before you, the proceeds of your insurance could go end up directed by State law or a Judge. To prevent this from happening, name secondary and tertiary beneficiaries.

If you would like to learn more about protecting the inheritance you’ll leave behind, call our office today to schedule a time for us to sit down and talk. We normally charge $750 for a Family Wealth Planning Session, but because this planning is so important, I’ve made space for the next two people who mention this article to have a complete planning session at no charge. Call today and mention this article.

5 Steps to Fix Your Battered Retirement Plan

Wednesday, December 23rd, 2020

It’s no secret that a majority of Americans are ill-prepared for retirement. A recent Forbes.com post detailed the 5 steps you can take now to being repairing the hole in your retirement plan:

1. Pay yourself first. Set up an account that is not easy for you to access and start filling it with a significant percentage of your pay (10% or above). You can accomplish this by participating in your company’s 401(k) plan and making sure you contribute at least the minimum amount to get the employer match (free money!).

2. Load up on tax breaks. Another benefit of participating in a 401(k) is that it lowers your taxes without you having to do all the paperwork. A 401(k) is also portable if you change jobs.

3. Estimate your retirement needs. Don’t believe that you will be able to sustain your current lifestyle on Social Security alone; it won’t happen. Experts say you need to have enough saved to match at least 70% of your pre-retirement income. Not sure how you will get there? A Personal Family Lawyer can help advise you on strategies, depending on your current age, income and estimated retirement age.

4. Plan conservatively. Don’t think you can count on a bull market to fund your retirement. Estimate a reasonable return on your investments when planning your retirement, and balance risk and reward as you near your retirement date.

5. Take charge. You need to take charge of your retirement plan by checking regularly to see if you’re on track to retire with the amount of income you need to support the lifestyle you want. Know exactly how your plan is – or is not—working and adjust accordingly by considering how you can create an income stream for yourself that you can count on throughout the rest of your life, instead of relying on savings or your retirement account at all.

If you would like to learn more about retirement planning, call our office today to schedule a time for us to sit down and talk. We normally charge $750 for a Family Wealth Planning Session, but because this planning is so important, I’ve made space for the next two people who mention this article to have a complete planning session at no charge. Call today and mention this article.

How to Ensure Your Life Insurance Benefits Go to Your Heirs

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2020

Recently, 11 major life insurance companies agreed to pay $763 million to the heirs of deceased policyholders after it was discovered the companies continued billing customers for their policies even after they were dead.

This agreement is the second in the last two years to be reached with insurance companies, which had previously agreed to provide restitution and do a much better job of locating beneficiaries after being sued by the attorneys general of several states for not paying out benefits to the heirs of deceased policyholders.

This pattern seems to indicate that we all need to do a better job to ensure that the life insurance benefits we pay out come back to our heirs in the way we intend. Here are 5 tips for making sure your heirs benefit from your life insurance benefits:

Be truthful in your application. If you have not been completely forthcoming about a major medical issue or your health habits (smoking, drinking, etc.) in your application for a life insurance policy, that policy could be declared null and void and your heirs would be out of luck.

Don’t let it lapse. If your family is counting on life insurance benefits to pay the bills if something should happen to you, and you have not been paying the bills for the policy, your family is left unprotected.

Have a beneficiary bench. Having a beneficiary on your policy who dies before you do is a recipe for disaster – and it happens much more than you think. Designate a secondary as well as a final beneficiary for your life insurance benefits, and update them as the need arises. We recommend naming your trust as the beneficiary of your life insurance benefits, rather than naming an individual or even series of individuals.

Play it safe. If you die because you engaged in risky behavior (not covered by the policy) – or you take your own life – your heirs will likely receive back only what you paid in premiums, and not the full value of your policy.

Talk about it. The primary reason that a vast majority of potential beneficiaries never see a dime in life insurance benefits is because policies were lost or misplaced and family members were never told of their existence in the first place. So if you have a life insurance policy, let your family know. And ask them if they have one, too. We prepare a Family Wealth Inventory (and keep it updated annually) for all of our clients. Give us a call if you’d like us to help you with this too and ensure your family never loses track of any of your assets after you are gone.

If you would like to have a talk about protecting your family through estate planning, call our office today to schedule a time for us to sit down and talk. We normally charge $750 for a Family Wealth Planning Session, but because this planning is so important, I’ve made space for the next two people who mention this article to have a complete planning session at no charge. Call today and mention this article.

7 Good Reasons You Need An Estate Plan — Even If You Only Have $500 in the Bank

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2020

Contrary to popular belief, estate planning is not just about money or taxes. Far from it. Today, it’s more about protecting your assets for yourself and your loved ones, achieving your financial goals and safeguarding your health care. Money and taxes aside, here are 7 good reasons you need an estate plan:

1. Your Health care. Defining how your medical needs will be addressed in case you cannot make health care decisions for yourself is a primary objective of having an estate plan. You also need to consider how you will meet the costs of long-term care. You need to name someone to make decisions for you and tell them how you want them made. This must be legally documented or the person you want caring for you, cannot.

2. Probate. Probate is an unnecessary, public and often expensive Court process that takes control out of your family’s hands and puts that control in the hands of a Judge who doesn’t know you or what’s important to you. A main focus of estate planning is keeping your family out of Court. Period.

3. Family feuds. Family fights over how assets are divided and distributed are common when there is no estate plan and/or trusted advisor to guide family members. Sadly enough, these fights happen even when amounts of money are small OR even when there is no money at stake. Some of the biggest fights we’ve seen happen in storage units over sentimental items with no monetary value at all. If you don’t want your family to fight, you plan your estate.

4. Beneficiary forms. You likely have several assets that cannot be passed along in a will alone. These include IRAs, life insurance, retirement plans and annuities, all of which are governed by beneficiary forms that specify who is to receive the assets upon the death of an account holder. Completing these forms properly is estate planning

5. Kids and parents. If you are currently responsible for the care of minor children, elderly parents or a person who has special needs you need a plan for the continuation of that care after you are gone.

6. Managing assets. Is your spouse or other family member capable of managing all your assets? If not, you will need to name someone who is capable of doing this now so your assets will be managed wisely for the benefit of your family in the future.

7. Business succession. If you own a business, you will need a succession plan to govern what happens to your ownership shares if something should happen to you.

If you would like to have a talk about guiding your loved ones through estate planning, call our office today to schedule a time for us to sit down and talk. We normally charge $750 for a Family Wealth Planning Session, but because this planning is so important, I’ve made space for the next two people who mention this article to have a complete planning session at no charge. Call today and mention this article.

7 Reasons to Consider a Trust for Your Family

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2020

Do you consider trusts to be instruments of the wealthy? While it is true that many Americans of means have trusts to protect and pass their wealth, there are a number of reasons why trusts can also be useful for middle-class families. Here are 7 of them:

1. Control distribution of assets. You wouldn’t hand over your car keys to a child who has had no proper preparation for driving, and chances are you would not want to hand over all your assets to a teenager either. But if both parents die at the same time, the children would inherit all the assets upon their 18th birthdays. A trust allows you to specify how and when you want your children to inherit.

2. Protect assets from creditors. Placing an inheritance in a trust ensures that those assets are protected from your heir’s — or their spouse’s – creditors. Consider a Lifetime Asset Protection or Wealth Creation Trust.

3. Protect inheritance from spendthrift heirs. Not everyone is good with money. If your heirs fall into that category, you can use a trust to ensure the assets are not frittered away due to spendthrift behavior.

4. Protect inheritance for children of prior marriage. You can use a trust to both provide for your current spouse and any children from a previous marriage.

5. Provide for a special needs heir. Leaving assets outright to an heir with special needs could disqualify them from receiving important government benefits. Leaving those assets in trust bypasses this potential risk.

6. Avoid probate. Assets can pass to heirs without going through probate by using a trust, saving beneficiaries the time and expense of the probate process. Probate is an expensive, public and unnecessary court process you can keep your family from having to deal with.

7. Protect privacy. Once a will is entered into probate, it becomes public; a trust is a private document that will protect your family’s privacy.

If you would like more information about protecting your loved ones, call our office today to schedule a time for us to sit down and talk. We normally charge $750 for a Family Wealth Planning Session, but because this planning is so important, I’ve made space for the next two people who mention this article to have a complete planning session at no charge. Call today and mention this article.

6 Tax Questions to Ask Before Year-End

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2020

Everyone’s “to-do” lists seem to grow longer at this time of year, but yours is incomplete until you ask your Personal Family Lawyer® to support you to get these six tax questions answered before the end of the year:

Should I defer or accelerate income? If it looks like you’ll be in a higher tax bracket in 2014, ask if you should pull more income into this year. Conversely, if you will be in a lower tax bracket next year, ask if you should defer income until January. In addition, find out if you should accelerate deductions by paying any income or property taxes not due until 2014 this year.

Should I take any gains or losses this year? If you are currently in a low tax bracket and have made gains on your investments this year, you may want to consider selling some investments to realize lower tax rates on those gains.

Should I do a Roth conversion? If you have a traditional IRA, you may want to convert all or some of the assets to a Roth IRA, especially if your retirement is years away. While you will pay taxes on those assets now, your earnings will grow tax-free in a Roth IRA.

Should I make any changes to my FSA or HSA for 2014? If you have a flexible spending account or health savings account through your employer and anticipate bigger medical expenses in the new year, you may want to increase those funds to allow yourself to use pretax money for out-of-pocket medical costs.

Should I be making charitable contributions? If you made more money this year, you may want to think about reducing your taxable income with charitable contributions. Gifting appreciated securities will allow you to avoid the capital gains tax while still deducting the full amount of the donation.

Should I be making gifts to family? In 2013, you can give up to $14,000 (or $28,000 if you are married and your spouse participates) to as many individuals as you want. This allows you to assist family members while removing taxable assets from your estate. It’s important that if you are going to be giving gifts, you call us because we can set it up so those gifts are protected from bankruptcy, divorce or other creditors forever.

If you would like more information about tax-saving strategies, call our office today to schedule a time for us to sit down and talk. We normally charge $750 for a Family Wealth Planning Session, but because this planning is so important, I’ve made space for the next two people who mention this article to have a complete planning session at no charge. Call today and mention this article.

4 Steps You Should Take to Protect Your Money

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2020

Asset protection is not something most people think too deeply about. Most of us are busy trying to accumulate assets to give considered thought to consider the importance of protecting what we have. A recent article on The Motley Fool investment website notes that there are a number of things that can harm an investor more than a great return on an investment can help, and recommends that we take these four steps to protect our assets:

Get the right insurance coverage. Life insurance, disability insurance, auto insurance, homeowners insurance, health insurance and long-term care insurance are all ways you can protect your financial security by shifting most of the risk of an accident or unplanned event to someone else – your insurance company.

Delay Social Security benefits. One of the major benefits of Social Security is that it is one of the few sources of revenue that can withstand inflation and downturns in the stock market. Delaying benefits for at least until you are at full retirement age — and up to age 70 if possible – will maximize your payout and that of a surviving spouse.

Have an estate plan. Creating an estate plan helps you provide for your family after you are gone in the most tax-advantaged way. Use tools like trusts to minimize taxes and avoid probate so your assets will pass automatically to your heirs without getting tied up in court. Another important aspect of estate planning is assigning powers of attorney and drawing up an advance medical directive so your wishes are respected when it comes to your own health care.

If you are a business owner, choose the right structure. If you own a business, choosing the right business structure for personal liability protection and taxation can dramatically affect your financial circumstances.

If you would like some guidance on protecting your wealth, call our office today to schedule a time for us to sit down and talk. We normally charge $750 for a Family Wealth Planning Session, but because this planning is so important, I’ve made space for the next two people who mention this article to have a complete planning session at no charge. Call today and mention this article.

How to Protect Life Insurance Proceeds from Taxation

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2020

If you have been responsible enough to purchase a life insurance policy as added protection for your loved ones, then you will want to carry that responsible action a little further by protecting that important payout from taxation.

If you are married and have named your spouse as the beneficiary of your life insurance policy, those proceeds will pass free of both income taxes and estate taxes. However, if your children are named as beneficiaries, the proceeds are free of income tax, but they do become part of your taxable estate. Estate taxes have ranged from 35% up to 55% in recent years, so that’s a big bite.

An Irrevocable Life Insurance Trust (ILIT) is a great asset protection tool that protects your life insurance from estate taxes, and when drafted properly, can also be used to protect proceeds from creditors, bankruptcy and divorce.

The best way to use an ILIT is to have the Trustee of the life insurance trust purchase the life insurance directly and pay all premiums. If you already own the life insurance, your ILIT Trustee can either buy the policy for you, or you can transfer it in, by following certain rules we can help you with.

So why is this a good idea? The proceeds from the life insurance are not part of your estate if the ILIT owns the life insurance. Therefore, they are not subject to estate tax upon your death.

If you have not yet purchased life insurance, you should create your ILIT first. Have your ILIT purchase the life insurance. This will circumvent the transfer of life insurance from you to another party, thus avoiding any difficulties if you do unexpectedly pass away since the proceeds of your life insurance policy would revert to your estate if you died within three years of the transfer.

The ILIT is a phenomenal tool for protecting your life insurance from taxation, leaving behind more for your loved ones.

To put the proper legal and financial protections in place for your family, contact our office to schedule a time for us to sit down and talk. We normally charge $750 for a Family Planning Session, but because this planning is so important, I’ve made space for the next two people who mention this article to have a complete planning session at no charge. Call today and mention this article.

Ask These 5 Questions Before Gifting Assets

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2020

Gifting assets can be a useful estate planning tool if you need to reduce your estate tax bill or for long-term care planning purposes. However, you need to be sure that your gift does not cause any unforeseen problems for you or the person receiving your gift.

Here are five questions you should ask yourself before gifting:

Why is the gift being made? Are you making a gift out of love or is there some estate planning goal you are trying to reach? If it’s the latter, you need to be sure that the transfer of assets will be beneficial to you and your recipient. For example, if you are counting on Medicaid to pay for some of your long-term care, a gift could trigger up to five years of ineligibility unless handled correctly. Contact us or your own personal lawyer to evaluate your options.

Are you keeping enough for your needs? If you are making a large gift, you will need to do some long-term financial planning to ensure your gift does not compromise your future needs.

Are you expecting repayment? If your gift comes with an expectation on your part that you will be repaid, be sure your recipient understands that the gift is coming with these strings attached. Execute a promissory note so all parties are clear on the terms of your gift.

Are you expecting something else in return? If you are gifting property with the expectation that you will be allowed to live there, or gifting assets for someone else to hold for you, you should consider using a trust for these purposes instead. If you don’t, the recipient is legally in control of the gift and if they don’t do what you want with it — or worse, your assets become entangled in a divorce or bankruptcy — this could cause huge problems for you.

Will the recipient benefit from your gift? If your recipient has special needs, a gift could disqualify them from receiving important benefits. If he or she has financial or other problems like alcohol or drug dependency issues, the gift could be detrimental.

One of the best ways for you to gift assets is through a Wealth Creation Trust, which allows you to decide the best time for children or grandchildren to receive your gift and gives them the necessary time and experience to learn how to protect and grow the assets in the trust for future generations.

One of the main goals of our law practice is to help families like yours plan for the safe, successful transfer of wealth to the next generation. Call our office today to schedule a time for us to sit down and talk about a Family Wealth Planning Session, where we can identify the best strategies for you and your family to ensure your legacy of love and financial security.

Why Inheriting in Trust is a Must

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2020

You bring your children into the world with love. You raise them with love. If you’re going all the way as a parent, you also create an estate plan to safely pass on your legacy of love as well as your assets. But does your plan simply leave your assets outright, so they pass directly to your children all at once? Or are they protected via a trust?

A trust is a must if you’re looking for true protection when passing on assets. Just as you protect your children from harm while you raise them, you can also protect them from any threat that could come from irresponsible behavior or external risk. The safest choice is to place the inheritance in a trust.

Trusts can be designed to protect assets from things like bankruptcy, creditors, lawsuits and even divorce. No one is immune from making a few mistakes during their lifetime, but that shouldn’t have to cost them their inheritance. If your child has a marriage that dissolves, for example, their future inheritance can be safely tucked into a trust, separating those assets from marital property and rendering them untouchable by an ex-spouse.

You can also set up a trust to distribute an inheritance according to your own wishes and for specific purposes, such as education, starting a business, maintaining a family vacation home, or whatever will benefit your children the most.

Gifting a large sum of cash to a 21-year-old is not usually considered best practice. Many parents leaving assets in trust choose to stagger distributions at certain age milestones, which helps children learn to manage their assets over time with the help of a trustee. Then, at a later age, the child can become the trustee with full control when they have the knowledge to make better financial decisions.

If your child is still a minor or has special needs, a trust is even more critical. Under the law, minors cannot inherit outright, so a trust is necessary to safeguard the assets for their benefit until they reach the age of maturity. The trust preserves assets for their benefit, names a trustee to oversee distributions, and does not disqualify them from receiving special government benefits like an outright inheritance would.

Inheriting in trust provides substantial benefits that an outright inheritance does not. We can help you plan for the safe, successful transfer of wealth to the next generation. Call our office today to schedule your Family Wealth Planning Session, where we can identify the best strategies for you and your family to ensure your legacy of love and financial security.

Financial Self-Protection Tips for the Newly Single

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2020

Whether you have a lost a spouse or partner through divorce or death, being thrust into singlehood can be an emotionally and financially jarring experience. To get yourself back on firm footing, at least financially, follow these five steps:

Finalize financial plans. In the case of a divorce, you must ensure that the terms of any settlement are actually executed, including the retitling of financial accounts, the transfer of divided assets to your new accounts, transferring titles on vehicles, etc. Be sure to notify your financial planner or CPA about your new status, including any changes to deductions (only one parent can claim children as dependents each year).

Update your estate planning documents. If you no longer have a spouse, you will need to update your estate plan, including your will, trusts, living will, advance medical directive and powers of attorney. You’ll also need to update your beneficiary forms for retirement and investment accounts as well as insurance policies — and remember that beneficiary forms trump a will.

Scour your credit report. You want to be sure that any of your former spouse’s financial liabilities do not appear on your credit report. You also want to check for any surprises, including credit accounts you might not have been aware of but are still responsible for in the eyes of the law.

Don’t act too quickly. Emotion can cloud anyone’s judgment, so you want to give yourself time to grieve the loss of your spouse — to either death or divorce — before making any big financial decisions.

Gather a support team. As you sail forward into your new life, gather a good support team to help you navigate. This should include a financial adviser and a Personal Family Lawyer who share your values and can help you accomplish all your goals.

For more information on protecting yourself and your family, call our office to schedule a time for us to sit down and talk about a Family Wealth Planning Session, where we can identify the best ways for you to ensure the security of your loved ones.

Leave an Inheritance for Future Generations with a Trusteed

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2020

According to the Investment Company Institute, the use of IRAs for retirement saving has increased in the past decade, with $6.5 trillion invested in traditional and Roth IRAs.

But how much of those assets will pass beyond the primary beneficiaries to the next generation? Currently, not much. Studies show that individuals who inherit IRAs spend those assets within two years. If you have invested in an IRA and want those assets to last for future generations of your family, then you should consider a trusteed IRA.

The trusteed IRA is a traditional IRA with some estate planning advantages of a trust, and are designed to provide a long-term distribution plan for withdrawals to benefit more than one generation of beneficiaries. Trusteed IRAs are less expensive than setting up a trust, but generally a bit more expensive to administer than a traditional IRA.

Trusteed IRAs are a wonderful tool for those who want to control how their IRA assets are distributed after they are gone. With traditional inherited IRAs, the beneficiary has full say over what happens to the IRA assets he or she inherits. And since most elect to deplete an inherited IRA, future generations will likely never benefit.

A trusteed IRA allows the original owner to dictate how withdrawals can be made. For example, by allowing only the minimum required distribution that the IRS requires heirs to take every year, you can stretch out your IRA over multiple generations since investments grow tax-deferred (traditional IRA) or tax-free (Roth IRA).

A trusteed IRA may also be attractive for blended families, when you want to ensure your IRA assets pass to your children and their progeny instead of going to your second spouse’s new spouse or family.

Another benefit of a trusteed IRA is that if you become incapacitated, the trustee can assume control of the investments and distribution of assets on your behalf without the necessity of having a guardian appointed.

If you would like to learn more about the benefits of a trusteed IRA, call our office today to schedule a time for us to sit down and talk about a Family Wealth Planning Session, where we can identify the best strategies for you and your family to ensure your legacy of love and financial security.

Asset Protection: When a Will Won’t Work

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2020

One of the most prevalent misconceptions when it comes to estate planning is that if you have a will, it will take care of everything that needs to happen after you die in terms of your assets. But before you leave everything to just a will, consider these circumstances where a will simply doesn’t work:

Avoiding Court. To take effect, a will must go through the probate process (called a conservatorship during your lifetime), which can be lengthy and deny your heirs (or family while you are living, but incapacitated) a quick resolution to the distribution of your estate (or the ability to pay your bills while you are living). This is particularly true if you own property in another state.

Protecting privacy. Once a will is open to probate, it is open to everyone — meaning that anyone can get access to it and learn everything you owned and where it is going. Wills can also contain personal information that is attractive to identity thieves.

Protecting you in case of incapacity. Since a will only goes into effect upon death, it provides zero protection for you if you should become incapacitated and no longer able to handle your own financial affairs or make decisions about your health care. If that were the case, your family would have to go through the stress and expense of petitioning the court to appoint a guardian or conservator to handle your affairs. This is costly and can even drain your entire estate. This can be avoided by having advance medical directives and a financial power of attorney drawn as part of your estate plan.

Protect your assets. Passing assets to heirs via a will does not provide any protection for those assets. Once they are distributed, they may become vulnerable to a divorce action, creditors or bad financial decisions by your beneficiaries. Placing your assets in a trust gives you more control over how and when they are distributed, and protects them from creditors and judgments.

One of the main goals of our law practice is to help families like yours plan for the protection of yourself and your family through thoughtful estate planning. Call our office today to schedule a time for us to sit down and talk through a Family Wealth Planning Session, where we can identify the best strategies for you and your family.

Is Your Living Trust Really Going to Work For the People You Love?

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2020

Traditionally, one of the primary reasons for establishing a living trust has been to avoid probate. But there are a few more benefits of a living trust that can help you do much more than that, if it’s set up right:

Asset protection for heirs. One of the most significant benefits of a living trust is to protect inherited assets for heirs. For example, minor children are not allowed by law to inherit property. Instead, a guardian is appointed by the state to hold the property for them until they reach the age of 18. However, most parents would agree that even 18 is too young to manage a significant inheritance. Executing a living trust allows you to control how and when an inheritance is distributed and to name a trusted person to serve as trustee. In addition, a living trust can be especially useful in protecting assets from spendthrift heirs, creditors or an heir’s potential divorce, if it’s set up right.

Most living trusts we see distribute assets outright to kids at 25, 30 and 35 instead of keeping assets in trust for the life of the beneficiary — while giving the beneficiary control of the assets — via a lifetime asset protection trust. This type of planning is still fairly unknown to most attorneys, but we’ve got specific training to ensure that what you leave to your kids will not be at risk from their future divorce, lawsuit, bankruptcy or other creditor matter.

Ensure none of your assets are lost. The vast majority of the time that a living trust is created, one of the most important and valuable aspects of creating the trust are lost — and that’s making sure that when you become incapacitated or die that your loved ones stay out of Court and the assets you’ve worked so hard for make it to the people you love aren’t lost along the way.

If your assets are not titled in the name of your trust, that won’t happen. Your loved ones will have to go to Court to take ownership and control of your assets. And, they may not even be able to find your assets to do that. There are currently billions of dollars in assets sitting in the State Departments of Unclaimed Property because people die and their loved ones didn’t know what they had left behind.

One of the things we do in our office is prepare a Family Wealth Inventory for your family to ensure your assets are easily located by your family and as long as you keep that up to date or join our membership program so we can do it for you, you’ll never have to worry that what you are working so hard to create will be lost when you are gone.

Plus, when you have a relationship with our office, we’ll make sure your loved ones know just what to do if anything happens to you.

Incentivize your children to grow your wealth, not squander it. As we mentioned, most trust plans are crafted to distribute assets outright to kids when they turn certain ages, whether they are ready for it or not. And chances are that if you die when your kids are still young, they will not be ready to fully inherit your wealth at an early age.

We recommend you use your living trust to properly prepare your children to receive their inheritance. That means allowing them to be a co-trustee for some period of time before receiving full control of their trust assets. It means introducing them to us, if we are your lawyer, so we can begin to guide them during your lifetime and not wait until after you are gone.

You may want to consider making small lifetime gifts into an irrevocable trust for their benefit so you can start to teach them how to grow the assets while you are living and enter into a partnership for creating more family wealth that can last for generations.

One of the main goals of our law practice is to help families like yours plan for the safe, successful transfer of wealth to the next generation. Call our office today to schedule a time for us to sit down and talk about a Family Wealth Planning Session, where we can identify the best strategies for you and your family to ensure your legacy of love and financial security.

Reasons to Establish a Trust (and Being Rich Isn’t One of Them)

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2020

When you hear the words, “trust fund,” do you conjure up images of stately mansions and party yachts? A trust fund – or trust – is actually a great estate planning tool for many people with a wide range of incomes who want to accomplish a specific purpose with their money.

Simply put, a trust is just a vehicle used to transfer assets. According to a recent article at The Motley Fool, Trust Funds: They’re Not Just for the Rich, and You Might Need One, trusts are especially useful for parents of minor children as well as those who wish to spare their beneficiaries the hassle of going to Court in the event of their incapacity or death.

And why would you want to keep your family out of court (known as avoiding probate)?

Perhaps you’d like to keep private the details of the assets you are leaving your heirs. Leaving assets via a will that must go through probate to go into effect makes your estate a matter of public record. A trust is a private document and distributes assets upon your death without the need for probate, which can tie up assets for a long period of time in court.

The court process can take longer than is necessary and keep your family from getting access to your assets as quickly as they want or need them.

If you have minor children, you need to create a trust in order to leave your assets to them since minors cannot inherit directly. You will want to name a trustee to manage those assets for your children. Even if your children are adults, a trust can help protect assets you leave for them from creditors, legal judgments, divorce or even their poor money management habits.

You can even establish a trust for yourself in case you become incapacitated and cannot manage your own finances at some future time. The trust assets are managed by a successor trustee, which avoida the need for a court-appointed conservator if you become incapacitated.

Trusts are also wonderful tools for those who are members of a blended family. If you are remarried and have children from a previous marriage, you can provide for your current spouse while ensuring your assets pass to your children from another marriage using a by-pass trust. With this kind of trust, the assets will pass to your children free of estate tax upon the death of your surviving spouse.

As you can see, there are many reasons to create a trust, and being rich isn’t necessarily one of them. You can learn more about how a trust might benefit you and your family by calling us to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session, where we can identify the best strategies for you and your family.

The Basic Estate Planning Task EVERY Adult Needs to Review Today

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2020

With the federal estate tax exemption at $5.43 million for 2015, many people think estate planning is unnecessary. But there’s one thing ALL adults over the age of 18 need to look at, regardless of estate taxes: beneficiary designations.

You would be amazed at how many people neglect this simple step, and their heirs and estate wind up paying for it – sometimes dearly. Ex-spouses inherit large sums every day, and high court rulings have upheld beneficiary designation forms, even if they were woefully out of date or even if the ex waived interest in a divorce decree.

Beneficiary designation forms trump a Will, too. Whoever is designated as the beneficiary on the account or plan form gets the money automatically, no matter what your Will says.

Here are some smart estate planning moves you should double check right now:

  • Submit a transfer on death (TOD) or payable on death (POD) form for all your bank and brokerage accounts, ensuring that your bank accounts and brokerage accounts would go where you want.
  • Review existing or create new beneficiary forms for your retirement accounts (IRAs, 401(k)s, Roth IRAs, etc.), pension plans, life insurance policies and annuities.
  • Review existing or create new beneficiary forms for any 529 college accounts you have established.

If you have established a Living Trust, ensure your Trust is the beneficiary of each of these accounts (be sure to talk with the lawyer who set up your Trust or call us for a review when it comes to retirement accounts, as we may decide to make your spouse the primary beneficiary of the retirement account or set up a special retirement account Trust).

If you have not established a Living Trust, make sure that you do not have minor children as beneficiaries on any of these accounts. If you do, call us to get that rectified.

If you don’t already have an estate plan – or have one that needs to be reviewed and updated – make 2015 the year you get this done. Call us to schedule your Family Wealth Planning Session, where we can identify the best strategies for you to provide for and protect the financial security of your loved ones.

How to Fund Your Trust to Avoid Probate

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2020

A common estate planning mistake many people make – including celebrities like Michael Jackson – is not ensuring the trust you have created holds all your assets. Unfortunately, most lawyers simply do not make sure this is properly handled for their clients, so if you’ve worked with any law office other than ours, you need to double check this critical issue. If you do not transfer your assets into your trust, it is an empty shell and does nothing to accomplish the objectives you had in mind when you established it.

Here are the proper procedures for funding your trust:

Real estate – a new deed in the name of the trust must be drawn and recorded at the county clerk’s office.

Stocks, bonds, mutual funds – to transfer the ownership of these assets into your trust, you need to contact your broker, investment counselor or transfer agent for the proper paperwork and complete those documents as instructed.

Savings bonds – you will need to obtain a reissue form from the Federal Reserve Bank and re-title the bonds in the name of the trust.

Brokerage accounts – contact your broker for the proper forms that will enable the broker to close the existing accounts and transfer the assets into a new trust account.

Stock certificates – you will need to send a completed “stock power” form as well as a W-9 form with your tax ID number with the original stock certificates to the company’s transfer agent.

Bank accounts, CDs

– new accounts will need to be established in the name of the trust. If your bank cannot transfer CDs until the maturity date, then mark them “in trust for” a beneficiary until the CDs mature and you can transfer them to the trust.

As your partner in planning for the financial security of yourself and your family, we would never let your trust go unfunded. Our concern for you doesn’t stop with the signing of any legal documents — we will always follow up with you to ensure everything has been done properly so you are fully protected.

You can learn more about how a trust might benefit you and your family by calling us to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session, where we can identify the best strategies for you and your family.

Mark Zuckerberg Did Not Pledge 99% of His Facebook Stock to Charity — Here’s What He Did Instead

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2020

When I heard that Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Dr. Priscilla Chan, were donating 99 percent of their Facebook shares — currently worth more than $45 billion — to charity, I immediately assumed they had been the beneficiaries of smart family wealth planning advice and would be funding a private foundation that could be used to save money on taxes and educate their daughter about giving.

But that’s not what they did at all. (And it’s quite surprising that respected publications like the New York Times and Forbes would get it so wrong with both publications touting Zuckerberg and Chan for their hefty “donation to charity.”)

There’s no charity happening here. And there’s nothing that says Mark and Priscilla are donating 99% of their Facebook stock to charity, ever.

To a mission, yes. But to a charity? No.

In an open letter to their daughter, Mark and Priscilla said they would give away 99% of their FB stock over their lifetime to advance the mission of the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative LLC.

Specifically:

As you begin the next generation of the Chan Zuckerberg family, we also begin the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative to join people across the world to advance human potential and promote equality for all children in the next generation. Our initial areas of focus will be personalized learning, curing disease, connecting people and building strong communities.

We will give 99% of our Facebook shares — currently about $45 billion — during our lives to advance this mission.

An SEC filing on the same day said that Zuckerberg would sell or gift no more than $1B of FB stock each year for the next three years.

On December 1, 2015, our Founder, Chairman and CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, announced that, during his lifetime, he will gift or otherwise direct substantially all of his shares of Facebook stock, or the net after-tax proceeds from sales of such shares, to further the mission of advancing human potential and promoting equality by means of philanthropic, public advocacy, and other activities for the public good. For this purpose, Mr. Zuckerberg has established a new entity, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, LLC, and he will control the voting and disposition of any shares held by such entity. He has informed us that he plans to sell or gift no more than $1 billion of Facebook stock each year for the next three years and that he intends to retain his majority voting position in our stock for the foreseeable future.

Somehow, the media read these two events as Zuckerberg giving 99% of his FB stock to charity, but that’s not what’s happening at all.

From what I can tell reading between the lines, Mark and Priscilla really do have the best intentions, even if not the best family wealth planning advice.

They want to put their Facebook fortune to work solving the two world problems they deem most important — advancing human potential and promoting equality.

And they don’t want to wait until the end of their lives to do it.

They intend to get started now, when their baby is just born, at only 30 and 31 themselves.

They MIGHT sell or gift up to $3 billion of Facebook stock over the next three years to do it. They haven’t legally obligated themselves to do that though; the SEC filing will simply make it possible.

While many have claimed they did it for tax purposes, the reality is that the structure Zuckerberg and Chan used won’t provide any tax benefits at all, unless and until the LLC donates Facebook shares to charity later on.

So, what could Mark and Priscilla have done instead?

According to nationally-known estate and asset protection attorney, Steve Oshins:

“They should create different types of asset protection trusts. What if there was a class action against them for violating a billion people’s privacy rights, for example?”

In a case like that, Zuckerberg and Chan could lose everything, including the assets of the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, which do not appear to have been structured with any asset protection in mind.

Or, what if Mark and Priscilla die young, unexpectedly and everything goes outright to their child? Once she turns 18, the initiative and all the money in it plus all of their other assets would be hers, without restriction, and would not be protected from lawsuits, divorce or a future bankruptcy. Everything they’ve worked so hard to create could be lost.

Ideally, Zuckerberg and Chan would have a Family Wealth Counselor or Personal Family Lawyer to guide them in understanding how best to structure their resources for maximum impact and incentivize as well as to educate future generations to keep growing the assets, rather than squandering them as many children of the ultra wealthy do.

Every culture has the saying akin to “shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations”, or “clogs to clogs in three generations”, and so on .. ” and there’s a good reason why.

Oshins said “Many of these young billionaires don’t have top estate planning and creditor protection attorneys. That is why we often see them lacking these types of vehicles.”

While the young wealth creators of Silicon Valley clearly desire to make an impact on global issues, they may not be thinking long term enough.

Using business lawyers to structure matters of family wealth is a common error and may mean their resources are not used as wisely as possible to achieve their mission beyond their lifetimes.

While Mark and Priscilla can use the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative as a vehicle for educating their daughter about how best to use the resources that will be at her disposal, will they get the guidance they need to do that?

Will they structure their assets in trusts that can educate not just their daughter, but future generations as well, to not only preserve the family wealth, but to also invest it in the future Mark and Priscilla wish to create?

Or will their wealth ultimately go the way of the Vanderbilt family fortune, gone within 200 years, lost to poor investments, weak philanthropy, and hard partying?

Two hundred years may seem like too long of a game to consider, but in the context of our lives on this planet, it’s the blink of an eye.

Would Cornelius and Billy Vanderbilt, the first two generations who created the Vanderbilt fortune, have done something different had they known how much would be wasted by their progeny?

We now live in a time when we must be considering the truly long game. While Zuckerberg and Chan talk in their letter to their daughter about making long term investments over 25, 50 or 100 years, I invite them to look even farther out to 200, 500 or even 1,000 years.

We cannot afford to have $45 billion in today’s resources squandered whether in this generation or in two or three generations down the line. Today, we can think much farther out and our future is begging us to do so.

This article is a service of [name], Personal Family Lawyer®. We are a family-focused law firm with a mission of guiding your family to grow its family wealth from one generation to the next. Call our office to schedule a time for us to sit down and talk about a Family Wealth Planning Session,™ where we can identify the best ways for you to ensure your legacy of love and financial security for your family.

Retirement Planning Reality Check

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2020

The National Institute on Retirement Security states that the funds American workers have set aside for retirement are inadequate to the tune of trillions of dollars. Why? Well as the old adage goes, Failing to plan is as good as planning to fail.

One of the first pitfalls in retirement planning is giving up before you ever start. Many people look at projections of what will be needed to retire and conclude it is simply out of reach, so why even try? In conjunction with this defeatist attitude about saving, they may also think Social Security will provide them with a safety net. But the cold hard reality is, Social Security provides nothing more than a meager income at best. It does, however, provide at least a part of what those projections tell you is going to be required.

Do You Already Have One?

A lot of employers provide retirement plans, which, together with Social Security, will get you closer to that projected number. Employer-funded programs these days are mostly what are known as defined contribution plans, which means the only certainty is the amount of money that will be contributed by the employer. Employees, normally, also contribute to the plan. Often these are in 401(k) plans, with which most people are familiar.

Your first objective with these plans should be to contribute enough of your earnings to build up a nest egg that meets your projected goal. The next objective is simply to invest wisely. These plans are administered by investment brokers that offer various investment strategies with varying degrees of risk. When you are a number of years away from retiring, you can take more risk and build the nest egg. As you approach retirement, however, money should be moved to more conservative investments that will hold value.

Other employers may offer defined benefit retirement plans. These plans specify a benefit that will be paid when a certain age and/or years of service plateau is reached. These plans are nice in that they relieve you of worrying about specific investments. They do not, however, typically pay a benefit that meets the projected retirement number.

Should You Do More?

Whether you are in a defined contribution plan, a defined benefit plan, or have no employer plan, the key is to start saving. Do not put it off until you are out of debt. Chances are you will never start. Take advantage of whatever tax-deferred saving instruments are available, such as Individual Retirement Accounts. But don’t be lulled into thinking that those IRA’s are a panacea, because you still have to pay tax on the withdrawals.

Finally, do not underestimate how much you might actually need. These days, many parents are still supporting adult children. In addition, as life spans have increased, many retirees find themselves having to care for one or more parents whose own retirement income has become very dated. Health care costs are also volatile. Medicare will not cover all your health expenses, and you never know what your health care issues may be. Consider long-term care insurance to cover some of these gaps.

This article is a service of [name], Personal Family Lawyer®. One of the main objectives of our law practice is to help families prepare a financial legacy for their family. We do this through a Family Wealth Planning Session,™ where we can identify the best ways for you to ensure your legacy of love and financial security for your family. Call our office to schedule a time for us to sit down and talk about retirement strategies and how you can get started planning for your future.

Are You Leaving Your Retirement Account at Risk Due to Poor Planning?

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2020

You’ve spent your entire life building up your retirement account. It may even be the biggest asset you’ll leave behind for the people you love.

If that’s the case, you may want to consider creating a special trust designed specifically to receive your retirement account assets in the event of your death.

If you leave your retirement account to the people you love outright, simply by naming them as beneficiaries on your retirement account rather than through a special trust, here are the risks:

1. Some studies indicate 80% of retirement account beneficiaries immediately liquidate the account and frivolously spend the assets (and on top of using the assets in ways you may not agree with, they also lose significant tax benefits for these assets you worked so hard to create);

2. If your beneficiary is married and does not properly handle the retirement assets you leave behind, and then gets divorced, your hard-earned assets could end up in the hands of the future ex-spouse of your beneficiary;

3. If you are in a second marriage situation with children from a prior marriage, you may be setting your spouse and children up for conflict after you are gone, due to the way you have planned (or not planned) for the passage of your retirement account.

4. If your beneficiary is ever in a situation where he or she has creditors or may have to file bankruptcy, and you’ve left your retirement account to him or her without a special trust, your retirement account would go to satisfy those creditors first.

Here’s the good news, it’s not hard to protect your retirement account for your beneficiaries with the right planning. We use a variety of special trusts to ensure the retirement assets you’ve worked so hard to build up throughout your life are passed on to the people you love so they are totally protected from a future divorce, creditors, bankruptcy and so that they do not create conflict for your loved ones.

If you have a significant retirement account whose designated beneficiary is your spouse or children, or even your regular revocable living trust, call us to have your planning reviewed immediately.

This article is a service of [name], Personal Family Lawyer,® who develops trusting relationships with families for life. If you’re ready to begin planning what you’d like to happen in case of unfortunate emergency, or even your death, schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session™ today. We can help you make plans for how you want to provide for your loved ones when you can’t be there. Normally, a Family Wealth Planning Session™ is $750, but when you mention this article and are one of the first three families to book an appointment this month, we’ll waive that fee.

What You Can Learn from the Clintons’ Tax Returns

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2020

In anticipation of the election and in response to public demand, Hillary and Bill Clinton have released their 2015 federal tax return. Tax returns have been a hot topic this year, as candidate Donald Trump continues to refuse to release his tax returns.

What can you learn from reviewing the Clinton’s tax returns about how to save money on your own taxes?

First and foremost, plan ahead and plan well, and this is the time of year to do it, especially if you are self-employed.

Much of the focus on the Clintons’ latest federal return has been on issues relating to self-employment. For example, the Clintons claimed over $10 million in self-employment income from activities such as speaking engagements, consulting, and book royalties, and yet they paid far more on their taxes than they would have, with better planning.

A few of the things they overlooked (or chose not to utilize due to potential public scrutiny or political backlash), that you can benefit from:

1. Incorporate your business and have it taxed as an S-corporation, then pay yourself a small, but reasonable salary and take the rest of your income via profit distributions, saving big on self employment taxes.

Most self-employed business owners are missing this major tax saving opportunity, including the Clintons (which cost them over $348,000).

2. Maximize your retirement plan contributions each year, either to an IRA or self-employed 401k.

Not using a plan like this, likely cost the Clinton’s more than $40,000. But, it’s not too late for you to set up a retirement plan that will allow you to defer taxes on income you are saving for retirement, if you begin planning now. Once the end of the year has come and passed, it will be too late for this year.

3. Consider changing your state of residence.

If you are self-employed or retired, you may have flexibility about where you establish yourself as a resident.

ans.

It appears the Clintons could have benefited substantially by planning their state of residence, which is currently listed as NY, with a nearly 9% state income tax rate.

State tax rates vary considerably, from 0% in some states, such as Florida and Texas, to 13.3% in California. It is important for high net worth taxpayers to actively plan their state of residency. Perhaps after the Clinton’s are done with politics, they’ll consider spending more than half their time in one of those states, which could save them more than $1,000,000 per year. This is not the first time the Clintons have been criticized for paying more tax than was due and having it cost the charities they support, as a result.

In 1998, the New York Times ran an article that showed how the Clintons could have structured book royalties from “It Takes a Village” slightly differently (sending the royalties directly to charity, rather than to Hillary Clinton first, limiting the total deduction to just half her income, would have netted the charities an additional $32,000 that went to the government instead). Don’t make the same mistakes as the Clintons and let your tax bill get the better of you. This is the time of year to be considering how best to save on the taxes you’ll pay next April.

Call today for a Family Wealth Planning Session and as part of it we can spot opportunities you may want to consider, and take advantage of to keep more of your hard-earned money in your pocket.

As a Personal Family Lawyer®, we take the time to get to know you and the things that are most important to you. Through this ongoing relationship, we are able to help advise you about the best ways to preserve and protect your assets for life.

This article is a service of [name], Personal Family Lawyer®, who develops trusting relationships with families for life. That’s why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session,™ during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make empowered and informed choices for the people you love.

The Real Cost of Caring

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2020

Dealing with the financial stressors of caring for an aging loved one can affect your ability to provide them with the care and compassion they need. It can also put the security of your financial future at risk.

To mitigate these concerns, consider these useful tips to help you make informed decisions about how to protect your future retirement plans while caring for your senior loved one.

Don’t Leave Your Job

Many adult children end up putting their professional lives on hold to become a primary caregiver for their elderly parents. Financial experts advise against this because of the sudden loss of income and valuable benefits. Consider caregiving options that support your ability to maintain your earning potential.

Create a Budget

Review the actual costs of being a primary caregiver before making any drastic changes like leaving your job. Also, consider whether your loved one’s assets can be utilized to cover some of the costs involved in providing care inside or outside the home.

Look for Benefits Elsewhere

Free or low-cost benefits that can help cover some of the costs of caregiving, such as home health aides, are often available to seniors. Similarly, review the limitations of public benefit options such as Medicare and Medicaid.

Consider Relocating Your Parent

It is common for seniors to prioritize remaining in their own home while they age. Although understandable, this can be a very expensive, and often unrealistic option. If opening your home to your loved on is an option, it can be far less expensive.

Seek Professional Help

Geriatric care managers can help you establish a caregiving plan that meets your needs and assist you in identifying resources to save time and money.

Protect Your Parent From ScamsFinancial elder abuse is on the rise, so make sure your loved one’s finances are protected. Telephone, postal mail, and internet fraud is common and can be easily avoided when a close relative or friend is keeping tabs on the accounts of a senior loved one. Consider talking with your parents about stepping down as Trustee of their trusts and letting you step in now to monitor their finances, and if they do not have a Trust holding title to their accounts, meet with us now to look at whether it makes sense to set that up for them (and for you).

Discuss the Future

Now is an opportune time to review your loved one’s wishes for his or her estate and consider your own financial goals and how helping to care for a loved one might affect them.

Caring for a loved one can take a toll, both financially and emotionally. If you are ready to create a financial plan for caregiving, start by sitting down with a Personal Family Lawyer®. A Personal Family Lawyer® can help you plan for changes in life at every stage. Our Family Wealth Planning Session guides you to protect and preserve what matters most. Before the session, we’ll send you a Family Wealth Inventory and Assessment to complete that will get you thinking about what you own, what’s most important to you, and what you can do to ensure your family is taken care of.

This article is a service of [name], Personal Family Lawyer®. We don’t just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session,™ during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.

Bitcoin, Ethereum, and the Blockchain — What Happens When You Die?

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2020

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably heard about Bitcoin. But, you may not know what it is or how it affects your estate planning. Or, maybe you’ve got yourself some Bitcoin, but haven’t given thought to what would happen to your digital currency in the event of your death or incapacity.

So today’s article will dive in with some initial thoughts, and then we’ll get deeper in future articles.

There are now over 800 digital currencies available, though Bitcoin is the most well known.

And each one operates a bit differently, and with a different purpose.

What they all have in common is that they are digital currencies, in the form of “tokens” that you can now buy (or invest in) and in some cases use to exchange for goods and services.

For example, more and more providers of goods and services are accepting Bitcoin as a payment method, just as they would cash or credit.

And, even a few accepting the lesser known currency called Ripple (XRP).

But, as of this writing, there are no providers we’ve heard of accepting, for example, the lesser known cryptocurrency of ProCoin (PROC), a coin based on shopping rewards. But, the coin is tradeable on the open coin market, currently at $.12, though it’s been traded as high as $.38.

If you want to learn more about how these digital currencies work, please do let me know and I’ll write more about it in the future.

For today, I want to cover what you need to make sure you’ve got in place from a “what happens when you become incapacitated or die” perspective if you are holding digital currency.

Because if you have not planned for the transfer of your digital currency at the time of your incapacity or death, it could literally be lost to the ethers. And, if you invested in Bitcoin back in the day before it got popular, that could potentially be millions of dollars lost to your loved ones.

There are two things for you to consider if you are holding digital currency:

1. That your loved one’s (or whoever you would want to have your currency) know about it; and

2. That they know how to access it and cash it in or hold onto it.

If you are holding your currency in an exchange, such as coinbase, with 2-factor authentication, it could be very difficult for your loved one’s to access your currency. We are in process of setting up a digital account administration system for our clients and you can look forward to that in the coming months. Having that in place would allow the executor of your estate to handle all digital accounts, not just crypto accounts.

Until then, best practice is to transfer your cryptocurrency into a “paper wallet”, which is kind of ironic given that it’s a digital currency. And it basically involves storing codes offline that allow you to access your currency. Here’s the thing, if you lose those codes, or your loved ones can’t find them, it’s the same as all of your currency being gone.

You can read more about the different storage options for cryptocurrency here.

Bottom line: if you have cryptocurrency and you want your loved ones to have it after you are gone, you should probably call us so we can make sure it’s not lost upon your incapacity or death.

As a new technology, cryptocurrency can be a bit confusing, and not many lawyers are even thinking about this issue yet. But we are, so give us a call and let’s have a Family Wealth Planning Session during which we can help you to protect and preserve what matters most. Before the session, we’ll send you a Family Wealth Inventory and Assessment to complete that will get you thinking about what you own, what’s most important to you, and what you can do to ensure your family is taken care of.

This article is a service of [name], Personal Family Lawyer®. We don’t just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session,™ during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.

Planning to Protect Your Assets

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2020

Asset protection planning is an important step to take in safeguarding your hard-earned assets from being lost, inadvertently, because you overlooked something important.

The most foundational level of asset protection is to plan for what will happen to your assets in the event of your incapacity or death because you are 100% guaranteed to have one or both of those happen to you.

If you become incapacitated or die without proper planning in place, your assets will get stuck in the court system, and could be delayed in getting to your loved ones’ or even lost. If you have not reviewed your planning for death or incapacity in the past couple of years (or ever at all), you will want to call us for a Family Wealth Planning Session as soon as possible.

And, what about planning to protect assets from things that could happen during life, such as potential litigation, taking on too many debts, accidents or other mishaps?

First and foremost, buy insurance! Insurance can do two things an asset protection plan can’t: pay to defend you in the event a lawsuit is brought against you and pay to settle any lawsuits. Bottom line: insurance says I love you. And, if you need it, you’ll be glad you have it.

As part of your Family Wealth Planning Session, we will look at the types and amounts of insurance you have, and determine what else may be needed, or if you are even over-insured.

If you have a business, make sure you’ve fully separated personal and business assets. And that you are using your business entity properly, to ensure that any business activities are kept within your business entity, and that you have us review any personal guarantees before you sign something that could create personal liability for you.

If you need more thorough asset protection, due to an upcoming marriage, or engaging in other risky behavior, please contact us sooner rather than later.

Asset protection cannot happen after something happens. It must be set up ahead of time to be effective, and so it must happen now, if you want to get set up right.

Protecting your assets takes know-how. If you’re ready to develop a smart asset protection plan, consider sitting down with a Personal Family Lawyer®. As your Personal Family Lawyer®, we can help you with your asset protection planning needs. Our Family Wealth Planning Session guides you to protect and preserve what matters most. Before the session, we’ll send you a Family Wealth Inventory and Assessment to complete that will get you thinking about what you own, what’s most important to you, and what you can do to ensure your family is taken care of.

This article is a service of [name], Personal Family Lawyer®. We don’t just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session,™ during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.

What to Do With Surplus Cash: Pay Down Debt, Spend or Invest?

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2020

When you come into a cash surplus from a company bonus, a tax refund, an inheritance or something similar, you might find yourself having to decide what to do with the money you receive.

Did you know that most people who win the lottery lose their winnings within 5 years? In fact, 70% end up bankrupt.

Why would that be?

Well, it’s because they don’t know how to answer the question asked here regarding what to do with surplus cash. As a result, they make their investment and spending and gifting choices on their own with no guidance at all, and are surprised to discover how quickly millions can disappear.

So, let’s start there. Depending on the amount of your cash surplus, consider consulting with one or more trusted advisors on what to do with the extra money. We often act as objective counsel for our clients, so feel free to call to discuss options.

If it’s not a large sum, but you still want to make sure you are doing the right thing with the extra cash, consider these factors:

1. If you have debt that is higher interest than what you could earn with a fairly straight-forward investment, paying off your debt could be the highest leverage use of your funds. Be sure to be tracking each of your debts on a credit tracking worksheet so you can see at a glance whether to allocate extra cash to pay down debt OR if you should keep that money in play because the cost of your interest is low relative to what you can be earning with other investments.

2. If you have a business that has additional capacity, and you know how to drive more sales with additional investments, you may want to put the money back into your business and ramp up revenue. Be careful though that you are not driving more sales without the capacity to deliver OR that you are not putting money into marketing when you don’t know how to convert your leads into buyers. If that’s the case, you may want to invest in developing sales systems in your business, which always pay off once you get it right. If you do have a business, you may want to inquire with us about a LIFT Your Life and Business Planning Session, if we have not looked at your business together yet.

3. If you don’t have debt, and you don’t have a business, you may want to consider investing in a business that you can run on the side (if you have extra time) as an additional source of revenue, diversifying your income and reliance on a job controlled by someone else. Side hustles are a great way to use your downtime to create more income for your family.

4. If you’re out of debt, don’t have a business, and don’t need a side hustle, consider maxing out your retirement account. And looking into turning your retirement account into a self-directed account, so you can use the funds in your retirement account to invest in things like real estate, or cryptocurrency, and use your extra cash + some of your time to start to get interested in the best ways to activate your retirement account rather than just having it invested in an ETF that you are totally disconnected from.

Finally, if you’ve got all that handled, consider a trip with your family of origin or your chosen family that will build and strengthen family bonds. Before you go, be sure to come in and meet with us for a Family Wealth Planning Session to ensure all of your ducks are in a row, in case anything happens while away.

If you are ready to plan for your future wealth, start by sitting down with us. As your Personal Family Lawyer®, we can walk you step by step through creating a legal plan that will help you make great decisions during life by looking at what happens in the event of your death.

This article is a service of [name], Personal Family Lawyer®. We don’t just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session,™ during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.

Choosing the Right Life Insurance Policy

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2020

While purchasing life insurance may seem pretty straightforward, it’s actually quite complex, especially with so many different types available.

In order to offer some clarity on the different types of policies out there, we’ve broken down the most popular kinds of life insurance here and discussed the pros and cons that come with each one.

Term life insurance

Term life insurance is the simplest—and typically least expensive—type of coverage. Term policies are purchased for a set period of time (the term), and if you die during that time, your beneficiary is paid the death benefit.

Terms can vary widely—10, 15, 25, 30 years or longer—and if it’s a Level Term policy, the premium and death benefit remain the same throughout the duration. If you survive the term and want to retain coverage, you must re-qualify for a policy at your new age and health status.

In addition to Level Term, other variations include “Annual Renewable Term,” in which the death benefit is unchanged throughout the term, but the insurance is renewed annually, often with an increase in premiums. With a “Decreasing Term” policy, the death benefits decrease each year until they reach zero, but the premium remains the same.

Decreasing Term life insurance is often used to cover a mortgage, student loan, or other long-term debt, so the policy expires at the time the mortgage/debt is paid off.

Whole life insurance

Whole life, or permanent, insurance pays a death benefit whenever you die, no matter how long you live. With a whole life policy, both the death benefit and premium stay the same for your entire life span.

However, depending on when you purchase coverage, the premium can vary widely depending on how much the policy’s death benefit is worth. So, for example, purchasing whole life in your senior years can be extremely expensive and possibly not even available at all.

What’s more, your whole life policy premiums will be much higher than your term life insurance premiums because the insurance company knows the policy will pay out when you die, no matter how long you live.

Indeed, the premium for whole life policies can be among the most costly of all types of life insurance coverage, including similar types of “permanent” policies discussed below. This is simply the price paid for the guaranteed death benefit and a level premium.

Universal life insurance

Universal life is a variation on whole life—it covers you for your entire lifespan, but also contains a “cash-value” component. Rather than putting 100% of your premium toward your death benefit, part of your premium is put into a separate cash-value account that earns interest and is tax-deferred.

The insurance company invests the cash-value funds in various investment vehicles of its choice, and provided the market performs well, you can access those extra funds for things like paying the policy’s premiums, paying off debt, or supplementing your later-in-life fixed income. Some insurance companies will even let you take tax-free loans against the policy’s cash value.

That said, the cash-value account is set at an interest rate that can adjust to reflect the market’s current rates, so if the interest rate of the cash value account decreases to the minimum rate, your premium would need to increase to offset the account’s reduced value.

While universal life premiums are typically more costly than term policies, universal life also allows you to adjust the death benefit within certain guidelines. This added flexibility allows you to choose how much of one’s premium funds will go toward the death benefit and how much goes into the cash value, offering you the ability to adjust the death benefit as your financial circumstances change.

Variable universal life insurance

Variable universal life insurance is quite similar to normal universal life except that variable policies allow you to choose how your cash-value funds are invested, rather than the insurance company. This offers you more control over the cash-value investment and potentially higher returns.

However, if the invested cash-value funds perform poorly or the market tanks, your policy could be at risk. Given a major drop in the cash-value account investments, you may have to pay increased premiums just to keep the policy in force. Moreover, the fees and expenses associated with the cash value investments for variable policies may be much higher than you would pay if you simply invested the funds on your own.

Because understanding life insurance can be confusing, it’s best to get the advice of a trusted advisor before you meet with an insurance agent, who might try to talk you into more coverage than you need in order to earn a larger commission. By sitting down with us as your Personal Family Lawyer®, we can work with you and your insurance advisors to offer truly unbiased advice about which policy type is best for your family and life circumstances.

Contact us today, and we’ll walk you step-by-step through the different life insurance options and help you with your other legal, financial, and tax decisions to ensure your family is planned for and protected no matter what happens.

This article is a service of [name], Personal Family Lawyer®. We don’t just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session, ™ during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.

Ensure the Security of Your Senior Parents’ Identity and Financial Assets

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2020

Today, we live in an uber-connected world, where nearly every type of financial transaction—shopping, banking, investment management—can be made online using a computer or mobile device.

In light of this, it’s critically important to have the appropriate safeguards in place to reduce the risk of fraud and identity theft, especially for your senior parents. Because your parents are probably not as savvy about digital technology and may be losing some of their powers of discernment as they age, it’s quite likely up to you to help them protect themselves—and ultimately your inheritance.

Along with traditional estate planning strategies to ensure you’re parents’ planning is handled in the event of their incapacity or death, you should take the following four precautions to ensure the safety of their identity and finances while they’re still alive and well.

1) Secure their computer: Your first step should be to make sure all computers they use are protected by robust security software bundled with anti-virus, anti-spam, and spyware detection features. Always go with the latest version of software, and make sure it’s configured to provide automatic updates, including security patches.

2) Use strong passwords and PINs: Create strong passwords and PINs that contain numbers, letters, and symbols, and change them regularly (once every six months). Don’t use the same password for multiple accounts—each account should have its own unique password. Never share passwords, don’t store them on a computer, and keep them in a secure location.

Since diligently keeping up with passwords can be a hassle, invest in a password manager, such as LastPass, which generates and stores strong, complicated passwords and can be used to share passwords with you and other family members.

Consider activating 2 Factor Authorization (2FA) on your parents’ accounts by using your cell phone number as the authenticating phone number or even Google Authenticator, and then teach your parents how to use it.

3) Regularly monitor their credit score and reports: Because thieves can use your loved ones’ personal information to set up new credit cards and other accounts, with bills that won’t get mailed to their home, be sure to regularly check their credit score and report for any suspicious activity. We like to use CreditKarma.com or TotalCreditCheck.com.

4) Use their own computer and avoid public wireless: Because public computers can be rigged to capture passwords and other personal data, seniors should always use their own computer or device to make financial transactions.

Even using one’s own computer can be risky if it’s done on a public wi-fi network, as found in airports, hotels, and restaurants. Many public wireless hotspots reduce their security settings, so people can more easily access and use these networks, which makes it easier to intercept personal information.

While taking these precautions is vital, it’s only the first step to ensure your elderly parents’ financial resources are protected. Consult with us as your Personal Family Lawyer® to develop comprehensive estate planning strategies to safeguard not only their finances, but all of their tangible and intangible assets—as well as your own.

This article is a service of [name], Personal Family Lawyer®. We don’t just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session, ™ during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.

I Don’t Have Kids, So Why Do I Need Estate Planning? Part 2

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2020

Last week, we shared the first part of our series on the importance of estate planning for those without children. If you haven’t read it yet, you can do so here. Here in part two, we discuss the other risks involved for those who forego estate planning.

Someone will have power over your health care

Estate planning isn’t just about passing on your assets when you die. In fact, some of the most critical parts of planning have nothing to do with your money at all, but are aimed at protecting you while you’re still very much alive.

Advance planning allows you to name the person you want to make healthcare decisions for you if you’re incapacitated and unable to make decisions yourself.

For example, if you’re temporarily unconscious following a car accident and unable to give doctors permission to perform a potentially risky medical treatment, it’s not always clear who’ll be asked to make that decision for you.

If you have a romantic partner but aren’t married and haven’t granted them medical power of attorney, the court will likely have a family member, not your partner, make that decision. Depending on your family, that person may make decisions contrary to what you or your partner would want.

Indeed, if you don’t want your estranged brother to inherit your property, you probably don’t want him to have the power to make life-and-death decisions about your medical care, either. But that’s exactly what could happen if you don’t proactively plan.

Even worse, your family members who have priority to make decisions for you could keep your dearest friends away from your bedside in the event of your hospitalization or incapacity. Or family members who don’t share your values about the types of food you eat, or the types of medical care you receive, could be the one’s making decisions about how you’ll be cared for.

Even if, or maybe especially if, you don’t have kids, you need to do estate planning in order to name health care decisions-makers for yourself and provide instructions on how you want decisions made.

Someone will get power over your finances

As with health-care decisions, if you become incapacitated and haven’t legally named someone to handle your finances while you’re unable to do so, the court will pick someone for you. The way to avoid this is by naming someone you trust to hold power of attorney for you in the event of your incapacity.

Durable power of attorney is an estate planning tool that gives the person you choose immediate authority to manage your financial matters if you’re incapacitated. This agent will have a broad range of powers to handle things like paying your bills and taxes, running your business, collecting your Social Security benefits, selling your home, as well as managing your banking and investment accounts.

Because these powers are so broad, it’s critical that you only give this power to someone you absolutely trust, and ideally, with the guidance of a lawyer who can watch out for your best interests.

The fact that durable power of attorney is granted as soon as you’re incapacitated means your agent can begin handling your finances immediately, without waiting for a judge’s decision, simply by presenting a legal document and appropriate proof of your incapacity to a financial account holder. Since courts are notoriously slow, this quick access can be immensely beneficial to ensure your bills get paid on time and you have the funds available when you need them.

Without signed durable power of attorney, your family and friends will have to go to court to get access to your finances, which not only takes time, but it could lead to mismanagement and even the loss of your assets should the court grant this authority to the wrong person.

Furthermore, the person you name doesn’t have to be a lawyer or financial professional—it can be anybody you choose, including both family and friends. The most important aspect of your choice is selecting someone who’s imminently trustworthy, since they will have nearly complete control over your estate. Besides, with us as your Personal Family Lawyer®, your agent will have access to us as your trusted counsel should they need guidance or help.

Given all of these potential risks, it would be foolhardy for those without children to ignore or put off these basic estate-planning strategies. Identifying the right planning tools is easy to do, and begins with a Family Wealth Planning Session, where we can consider everything you own and everyone you love, and guide you to make informed, educated, empowered choices for yourself and your loved ones.

It will likely take just a few hours of your time to be certain that both your assets, healthcare, and relationships will be managed in the most effective and affordable manner possible in the event of your death or incapacity.

This article is a service of [name], Personal Family Lawyer®. We don’t just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session, ™ during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.

I Don’t Have Kids, So Why Do I Need Estate Planning? Part 1

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2020

It’s a common misconception to think that if you don’t have children, you don’t need to worry about estate planning. But the fact is, it can be even MORE important to do estate planning if you have no children.

Some of the common thoughts behind this mistaken belief may take one of these forms:

“If I die, everything will pass to my spouse anyway, so why bother?”

“I’m single with little wealth, so who cares who gets my few meager assets?”

“Estate planning is an expensive hassle and it doesn’t even benefit me because I’ll be dead, so I’m better off letting a judge handle things.”

This kind of thinking ignores several basic facts about both estate planning and life in general. Regardless of your marital status, if you don’t have children, you face potential estate-planning complications which those with children do not. And this is true whether you’re wealthy or have very limited assets.

Without proper estate planning, you’re not only jeopardizing your personal property, but you’re putting your life at risk, too. And that’s not even mentioning the potential conflict and expense you’re leaving for your surviving family and friends to deal with.

So if you’re childless, consider these three inconvenient truths before you decide to forego estate planning.

Someone will get your stuff

Whether you’re rich, poor, or somewhere in between, in the event of your death everything you own will be passed on to someone. Without a will or trust, your assets will go through probate, where a judge and state law will decide who gets everything you own. In the event no family steps forward, your assets will become property of your state government.

Why give the state everything you worked your life to build? And even if you have little financial wealth, you undoubtedly own a few sentimental items, including pets, that you’d like to pass to a close friend or favorite charity.

However, it’s rare for someone to die without any family members stepping forward. It’s far more likely that some relative you haven’t spoken with in years will come out of the woodwork to stake a claim. Without a will or trust, state laws establish which family member has the priority inheritance. If you’re unmarried with no children, this hierarchy typically puts parents first, then siblings, then more distant relatives like nieces, nephews, uncles, aunts, and cousins.

Depending on your family, this could have a potentially dangerous—even deadly—outcome. For instance, what if your closest living relative is your estranged brother with serious addiction issues? Or what if your assets are passed on to a niece who’s still a child and likely to squander the inheritance?

And if your estate does contain significant wealth and assets, this could lead to a costly and contentious court battle, with all of your relatives hiring expensive lawyers to fight over your estate—which is exactly what’s happening with Prince’s family right now.

Finally, even if you have a spouse and your assets are passed to him or her, there’s no guarantee they’ll live much longer than you. In the event of their death without a will or a trust, everything goes to his or her family, regardless of the fact that you can’t stand your in-laws.

You really don’t want your spouse’s sister, brother, parents (or the new spouse he or she marries after you die) inheriting what you’ve worked so hard for, do you?

Next week, we’ll continue with part two in this series on the value of estate planning for those without children: how you could be leaving YOURself at risk.

This article is a service of [name], Personal Family Lawyer®. We don’t just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session, ™ during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.

Safeguard Your Cryptocurrency Assets With Estate Planning

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2020

One of the biggest appeals of cryptocurrency, like Bitcoin, is that it is decentralized, unregulated, and anonymous. There are no financial institutions controlling it, and unless you tell someone you own digital currency, it remains a secret.

When it comes to estate planning, however, that kind of secrecy can be disastrous. In fact, without the appropriate planning protections in place, all of your crypto wealth will disappear the moment you die or become incapacitated, leaving your family with absolutely no way to recover it.

Indeed, we’re facing a potential crisis whereby millions—perhaps billions—of dollars’ worth of family wealth could potentially vanish into thin air unless you take action to protect your digital assets with estate planning. Fortunately, putting the appropriate safeguards in place is a fairly simple process for a Personal Family Lawyer® experienced with cryptocurrency.

The first step in securing your crypto assets is to let your heirs know you own it. This can be done by including your digital currency in your net-worth statement listing all of your assets and liabilities. Along with the amount of cryptocurrency you own, you should also include detailed instructions about where it’s located and how to find the instructions to access it. But you want those instructions to be kept in an absolutely secure location because anyone who has them can take your cryptocurrency.

Even if your heirs know you own cryptocurrency, they won’t be able to access it unless they know the encrypted passcodes needed to unlock your account. Indeed, there are numerous stories of crypto owners losing their own passcodes and then being so desperate to recover or remember them that they dug through trash cans and even hired hypnotists.

The best way to secure your passcodes is by storing them in a digital wallet. The safest option is a “cold” wallet, or one that is not connected to the internet and thus cannot be hacked. Cold wallets include USB drives as well as “paper” wallets, which are simply the passcodes printed on paper—and ideally stored in a fireproof safe.

But as with the existence of your crypto assets, the only way these wallets are of any use to your heirs is for them to know where they are and how to access them in the event of your incapacity or death. So make sure these instructions are included in your estate plan and your Personal Family Lawyer® knows about the assets and where to locate the instructions on how to access them.

Just as it would be foolish to store your money in a secret safe and not tell anybody where it is or give them the combination to open it, it’s just as foolhardy not to take the appropriate steps to protect your cryptocurrency through proper estate planning.

Since digital currency is such a recent phenomenon, not all estate planning attorneys are familiar with it, but with us as your Personal Family Lawyer®, you can rest assured we have the knowledge and experience to help you safeguard your digital wealth just as effectively as all of your other assets.

This article is a service of [name], Personal Family Lawyer®. We don’t just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session, ™ during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.

Don’t Transfer Ownership of Your House to Your Kids Before You Read This

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2020

With the cost of long-term care (LTC) skyrocketing, you may be concerned about your (or your elderly parents’) ability to pay for lengthy stays in assisted living and/or a nursing home. Such care can be massively expensive, with the potential to overwhelm even the well-off.

Because neither traditional health insurance nor Medicare will pay for LTC, some people are looking to Medicaid to help cover this cost. To become eligible for Medicaid, however, you must first exhaust nearly every penny of your savings.

Given this, you may have heard that if you transfer your house to your adult children, you can avoid selling the home if you need to qualify for Medicaid. You may think transferring ownership of the house will help your eligibility for benefits and that this strategy is easier and less expensive than handling your home (and other assets) through estate planning.

However, this tactic is a big mistake on several levels. It can not only delay—or even disqualify—your Medicaid eligibility, it can also lead to numerous other problems.

Medicaid Changes

In February 2006, Congress passed the Deficit Reduction Act (DRA), which included a number of provisions aimed at reducing Medicaid abuse. One of these was a five-year “look-back” period for eligibility.

This means that before you can qualify for Medicaid, your finances will be reviewed for any “uncompensated transfers” of your assets within the five years preceding your application. If such transfers are discovered, it can result in a penalty period that will delay your eligibility.

For every $6,422 worth of uncompensated transfers made within this five-year window, your Medicaid benefits will be withheld for one month. Any transfers made beyond that five-year period will not be penalized.

So, if you transfer your house to your children and then need LTC within five years, it may significantly delay your qualification for Medicaid benefits—and possibly prevent you from ever qualifying. Rather than taking such a risk, consult with us to discuss safer and more efficient options to help cover the rising cost of LTC such as long-term care insurance.

A potentially huge tax burden

Another drawback to transferring ownership of your home is the potential tax liability for your child. If you’re elderly, you’ve probably owned your house for a long time, and its value has dramatically increased, leading you to believe that by transferring your home to your child, he or she can make a windfall by selling it.

Unfortunately, if you do that, she or he will have to pay capital gains tax on the difference between your home’s value when you purchased it and your home’s selling price at the time it’s sold by your child. Depending on the home’s value, these taxes can be astronomical.

In contrast, by transferring your home at the time of your death, your child will receive what’s known as a “step-up in basis.” It’s one of the only benefits of death, and it allows your child to pay capital gains taxes when he or she sells your home, based only on the difference between the value of the home at the time of inheritance and its sales price, rather than paying taxes based on the home’s value at the time you bought it.

We can help you choose the most advantageous estate-planning strategy to minimize your beneficiaries’ tax liability and ensure they get the most out of their inheritance.

Debt, Divorce, Disability, and Death

There are numerous other reasons why transferring ownership of your house to your child is a bad idea. If your child has significant debts, his or her creditors can make claims against the property to recoup what they’re owed, potentially forcing your child to sell the home to pay those debts.

Divorce is another problematic issue. If your child goes through a divorce while the house is in his or her name, the home may be considered marital property. Depending on the outcome of the divorce, this may force your child to sell the home or pay his or her ex a share of its value.

The disability or death of your child can also lead to trouble. If your child becomes disabled and seeks Medicaid or other government benefits, having the home in his or her name could compromise eligibility, just like it would your own. And if your child dies before you and has ownership of the house, the property could be considered part of your child’s estate and be passed on to your child’s heirs, creating a problem for you.

No substitute for proper estate planningGiven these potential problems, transferring ownership of your home to your children as a means of “poor-man’s estate planning” is almost never a good idea. Instead, with us as your Personal Family Lawyer®, we can help you find better ways to qualify for Medicaid and other benefits to offset the hefty price tag of long-term care and also keep your family out of court and out of conflict in the event of your incapacity or when you die.

We offer an array of estate planning strategies to protect all of your assets, while also enabling you to better afford whatever long-term healthcare services you might require. Contact us today to learn more.

This article is a service of [name], Personal Family Lawyer®. We don’t just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session, ™ during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.

Questions and Answers About Personal Liability Umbrella Insurance

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2020

It’s no secret that we live in a litigious society. And though our right to a fair trial is one of the hallmarks of American democracy, it has also led to a lawsuit-crazy culture.

In this atmosphere, you’re at near-constant risk for costly lawsuits, many times even when you’ve done nothing wrong. This is especially true if you have substantial wealth, but even those with relatively few assets can find themselves in court.

If you’re sued, your traditional homeowner’s and/or auto insurance will likely offer you some liability coverage, but those policies only protect you up to certain limits before they max out. Given this, you should consider adding an extra layer of protection by investing in personal liability umbrella insurance.

What is umbrella insurance?

Umbrella insurance offers a secondary level of protection against lawsuits above and beyond what’s covered by your homeowners, auto, watercraft, and/or other personal insurance policies. For instance, if someone is injured in your home, they might sue you for their medical bills and lost wages.

Your homeowners insurance will cover you up to a certain dollar amount, but you’re personally liable for anything beyond that limit. This is where umbrella insurance kicks in.

Once your underlying insurance maxes out, the umbrella policy will help pay for the resulting damages and legal expenses if you lose the case. If you win, it can help cover your lawyer’s fees.

Who should purchase it?

Umbrella insurance is particularly important for those with a high net worth. But seeing that everyone has the potential to be sued, it’s a good idea even for those without substantial assets.

Indeed, if you’re sued and lose, the judgment against you may exceed the value of your current assets. In such a case, the court can allow the plaintiff to go after your future earnings, potentially garnishing your wages for years. To this end, umbrella insurance not only protects your current assets, but your future ones as well.

How much coverage do I need?

Most people will be adequately covered with a $1 million umbrella policy. If you earn more than $100,00 a year or have more than $1 million in assets, you may want to invest in additional coverage.

A good rule of thumb is to buy an umbrella policy with coverage limits that are at least equal to your net worth.

How much does umbrella insurance cost?

Umbrella insurance is fairly inexpensive. You can buy a $1 million umbrella liability policy for between $150 and $300 per year. An additional million in coverage will run you about $100, and roughly $50 for every million beyond that.

Umbrella policies are inexpensive because they only go into effect after your underlying homeowners or auto policy is exhausted. In light of this, most insurers require you to have at least $250,000 in liability on your auto policy and $300,000 on your homeowners before they’ll sell you a $1 million umbrella policy.

How can I purchase umbrella insurance?

You can buy an umbrella policy from the same insurance company you use for your other policies. In fact, some companies require you to purchase all of your policies from them in order to obtain umbrella coverage.

If your current insurance agent offers umbrella coverage, you may qualify for a discount for bundling all of your policies. Of course, you can also purchase a stand-alone umbrella policy, so shop around for the best rates.

For help choosing the best personal liability umbrella insurance to shield your family’s current and future wealth, consult with us as your Personal Family Lawyer®. We’ll evaluate your assets to ensure you have the optimal levels of insurance in place to protect your wealth from today’s litigious climate. Contact us today for more information.

This article is a service of [name], Personal Family Lawyer®. We don’t just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session, ™ during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.

The Key Differences Between Wills and Trusts

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2020

When discussing estate planning, a will is what most people think of first. Indeed, wills have been the most popular method for passing on assets to heirs for hundreds of years. But wills aren’t your only option. And if you rely on a will alone to pass on what matters, you’re guaranteeing your family has to go to court when you die.

In contrast, other estate planning vehicles, such as trusts, which used to be available only to the uber wealthy, are now being used by those of all income levels and asset values to keep their loved ones out of the court process.

But determining whether a will or a trust is best for you depends entirely on your personal circumstances. And the fact that estate planning has changed so much makes choosing the right tool for the job even more complex.

The best way for you to determine the truly right solution for your family is to meet with us as your Personal Family Lawyer® for a Family Wealth Planning Session™. During that process, we’ll take you through an analysis of your personal assets, what’s most important to you, and what will happen for your loved ones when you become incapacitated or die. From there, you can make the right choice for the people you love.

In the meantime, here are some key distinctions between wills and trusts you should be aware of.

When they take effect

A will only goes into effect when you die, while a trust takes effect as soon as it’s signed and your assets are transferred into the name of the trust. To this end, a will directs who will receive your property at your death, and a trust specifies how your property will be distributed before your death, at your death, or at a specified time after death. This is what keeps your family out of court in the event of your incapacity or death.

Because a will only goes into effect when you die, it offers no protection if you become incapacitated and are no longer able to make decisions about your financial and healthcare needs. If you do become incapacitated, your family will have to petition the court to appoint a conservator or guardian to handle your affairs, which can be costly, time consuming, and stressful.

With a trust, however, you can include provisions that appoint someone of your choosing—not the court’s—to handle your medical and financial decisions if you’re unable to. This keeps your family out of court, which can be particularly vital during emergencies, when decisions need to be made quickly.

The property they cover

A will covers any property solely owned in your name. A will does not cover property co-owned by you with others listed as joint tenants, nor does your will cover assets that pass directly to a beneficiary by contract, such as life insurance.

Trusts, on the other hand, cover property that has been transferred, or “funded,” to the trust or where the trust is the named beneficiary of an account or policy. That said, if an asset hasn’t been properly funded to the trust, it won’t be covered, so it’s critical to work with us as your Personal Family Lawyer® to ensure the trust is properly funded.

Unfortunately, many lawyers and law firms set up trusts, but don’t then ensure your assets are properly re-titled or beneficiary designated, and the trust doesn’t work when your family needs it. We have systems in place to ensure that transferring assets to your trust and making sure they are properly owned at the time of your incapacity or death happens with ease and convenience.

How they’re administered

In order for assets in a will to be transferred to a beneficiary, the will must pass through the court process called probate. The court oversees the will’s administration in probate, ensuring your property is distributed according to your wishes, with automatic supervision to handle any disputes.

Because probate is a public proceeding, your will becomes part of the public record upon your death, allowing everyone to see the contents of your estate, who your beneficiaries are, and what they’ll receive.

Unlike wills, trusts don’t require your family to go through probate, which can save both time and money. And since the trust doesn’t pass through court, all of its contents remain private.

How much they cost

Wills and trusts do differ in cost—not only when they’re created, but also when they’re used. The average will-based plan can run between $500-$2000, depending on the options selected. An average trust-based plan can be set up for $3,000-$5,000, again depending on the options chosen. So at least on the front end, wills are far less expensive than trusts.

However, wills must go through probate, where attorney fees and court costs can be quite hefty, especially if the will is contested. Given this, the total cost of executing the will through probate can run as high as $8,000-$10,000 or more.

Even though a trust may cost more upfront to create than a will, the total costs once probate is factored in can actually make a trust the less expensive option in the long run.

During our Family Wealth Planning Session™, we’ll compare the costs of will-based planning and trust-based planning with you, so you know exactly what you want and why, as well as the total costs and benefits over the long-term.

As your Personal Family Lawyer®, we offer expert advice on wills, trusts, and numerous other estate planning vehicles. Using proprietary systems, such as our Family Wealth Inventory and Assessment™ and Family Wealth Planning Session™, we’ll carefully analyze your assets—both tangible and intangible—to help you come up with an estate planning solution that offers maximum protection for your family’s particular situation and budget. Contact us today to get started.

This article is a service of [name], Personal Family Lawyer®. We don’t just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session, ™ during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.

Donate Appreciated Assets to Charity Instead of Selling Outright For Tax and Income Benefits Using

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2020

If you have highly appreciated assets like stock and real estate you want to sell, it may make sense to use a charitable remainder trust (CRT) to avoid income and estate taxes—all while creating a lifetime income stream for yourself or your family AND supporting your favorite charity.

A CRT is a “split-interest” trust, meaning it provides financial benefits to both the charity and a non-charitable beneficiary. With CRTs, the non-charitable beneficiary—you, your child, spouse, or another heir—receives annual income from the trust, and whatever assets “remain” at the end of the donor’s lifetime (or a fixed period up to 20 years), pass to the named charity(ties).

How a CRT works

You work with us to set up a CRT by naming a trustee, an income beneficiary, and a charitable beneficiary. The trustee will sell, manage, and invest the trust’s assets to produce income that’s paid to you or another beneficiary.

The trustee can be yourself, a charity, another person, or a third-party entity. However, the trustee is not only responsible for seeing that your wishes are carried out properly, but also for managing the trust assets in accordance with complex state and federal laws, so be sure the trustee is well familiar with trust administration.

With the CRT set up, you transfer your appreciated assets into the trust, and the trustee sells it. Normally, this would generate capital gains taxes, but instead, you get a charitable deduction for the donation and face no capital gains when the assets are sold.

Once the appreciated assets are sold, the proceeds (which haven’t been taxed) are invested to produce income. As long as it remains in the trust, the income isn’t subject to taxes, so you’re earning even more on pre-tax dollars.

Income options

You have two options for how the trust income is paid out. You can receive an annual fixed payment using a “charitable remainder annuity trust (CRAT).” With this option, your income will not change, regardless of the trust’s investment performance.

Or you can be paid a fixed percentage of the trust’s assets using a “charitable remainder unitrust (CRUT),” whereby the payouts fluctuate depending on the trust’s investment performance and value.

Tax benefits

Right off the bat, as mentioned above, you can take an income tax deduction within the year the trust was created for the value of your donation—limited to 30% of adjusted gross income. You can carry over any excess into subsequent tax returns for up to five years.

And again, profits from appreciated assets sold by the trustee aren’t subject to capital gains taxes while they’re in the trust. Plus, when the trust assets finally pass to the charity, that donation won’t be subject to estate taxes.

You will pay income tax on income from the CRT at the time it’s distributed. Whether that tax is capital gains or ordinary income depends on where the income came from—distributions of principal are tax free.

If you have highly appreciated assets you’d like to sell while minimizing tax impact, maximizing income, and benefiting charity, consult with us as your Personal Family Lawyer®, so we can find the best planning options for you.

This article is a service of Cornerstone Estate Planning, Personal Family Lawyer®. We don’t just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session, ™ during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.

Before Agreeing to Serve as Trustee, Carefully Consider the Duties and Obligations Involved—Part 1

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2020

If a friend or family member has asked you to serve as trustee for their trust upon their death, you should feel honored—this means they consider you among the most honest, reliable, and responsible people they know.

However, being a trustee is not only a great honor, it’s also a major responsibility. The job can entail a wide array of complex duties, and you’re both ethically and legally required to effectively execute those functions or face significant liability. Given this, agreeing to serve as trustee is a decision that shouldn’t be made lightly, and you should thoroughly understand exactly what the role requires before giving your answer.

Of course, a trustee’s responsibility can vary enormously depending on the size of the estate, the type of trust involved, and the trust’s specific terms and instructions. But every trust comes with a few core requirements, and here we’ll highlight some of the key responsibilities.

That said, one of the first things to note about serving as trustee is that the job does NOT require you to be an expert in law, finance, taxes, or any other field related to trust administration. In fact, trustees are not just allowed to seek outside assistance from professionals in these fields, they’re highly encouraged to, and funding to pay for such services will be set aside for this in the trust.

To this end, don’t let the complicated nature of a trustee’s role scare you off. Indeed, there are numerous professionals and entities that specialize in trust administration, and people with no experience with these tasks successfully handle the role all of the time. And besides, depending on who nominated you, declining to serve may not be a realistic or practical option.

Adhere to the trust’s terms

Every trust is unique, and a trustee’s obligations and powers depend largely on what the trust creator, or grantor, allows for, so you should first carefully review the trust’s terms. The trust document outlines all the specific duties you’ll be required to fulfill as well as the appropriate timelines and discretion you’ll have for fulfilling these tasks.

Depending on the size of the estate and the types of assets held by the trust, your responsibilities as trustee can vary greatly. Some trusts are relatively straightforward, with few assets and beneficiaries, so the entire job can be completed within a few weeks or months. Others, especially those containing numerous assets and minor-aged beneficiaries, can take decades to completely fulfill. To ensure you understand exactly what a particular trust’s terms require of you as trustee, consult with us as your Personal Family Lawyer®.

Act in the best interests of the beneficiaries

Trustees have a fiduciary duty to act in the best interest of the named beneficiaries at all times, and they must not use the position for personal gain. Moreover, they cannot commingle their own funds and assets with those of the trust, nor may they profit from the position beyond the fees set aside to pay for the trusteeship.

If the trust involves multiple beneficiaries, the trustee must balance any competing interests between the various beneficiaries in an impartial and objective manner for the benefit of them all. In some cases, grantors try to prevent conflicts between beneficiaries by including very specific instructions about how and when assets should be distributed, and if so, you must follow these directions exactly as spelled out.

However, some trusts leave asset distribution decisions up to the trustee’s discretion. If so, when deciding how to make distributions, the trustee must carefully evaluate each beneficiary’s current needs, future needs, other sources of income, as well as the potential impact the distribution might have on the other beneficiaries. Such duties should be taken very seriously, as beneficiaries can take legal action against trustees if they can prove he or she violated their fiduciary duties and/or mismanaged the trust.

Invest trust assets prudently

Many trusts contain interest-bearing securities and other investment vehicles. If so, the trustee is responsible not only for protecting and managing these assets, they’re also obligated to make them productive—which typically means selling and/or investing assets to generate income.

In doing so, the trustee must exercise reasonable care, skill, and caution when investing trust assets, otherwise known as the “prudent investor” rule. The trustee should always consider the specific purposes, terms, distribution requirements, and other aspects of the trust when meeting this standard.

Trustees must invest prudently and diversify investments appropriately to ensure they’re in the best interests of all beneficiaries. Given this, trustees are forbidden from investing trust assets in overly speculative or high-risk stocks and/or other investment vehicles. Unless specifically spelled out in the trust terms, it will be up to the trustee’s discretion to determine the investment strategies that are best suited for the trust’s goals and beneficiaries. If so, you should hire a financial advisor familiar with trusts to help guide you.

Given the unpredictable nature of the economy, it’s important to point out that poor performance of trust investments alone isn’t enough to prove a trustee breached his or her duties to invest prudently. Provided the trustee can show the underlying investment strategies were sound and reasonable, the mere fact that the investments lost money doesn’t make them legally liable.

This article is a service of Cornerstone Estate Planning, Personal Family Lawyer®. We don’t just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session, ™ during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.

Before Agreeing to Serve as Trustee, Carefully Consider the Duties and Obligations Involved—Part 2

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2020

Being asked to serve as trustee can be a huge honor—but it’s also a major responsibility. Indeed, the job entails a wide array of complex duties, and trustees are both ethically and legally required to effectively execute those functions or face significant liability.

To this end, you should thoroughly understand exactly what your role as trustee requires before agreeing to accept the position. Last week, we highlighted three of a trustee’s primary functions, and here we continue with that list, starting with one of the most labor-intensive of all duties—managing and accounting for a trust’s assets.

Manage and account for trust assets
Before a trustee can sell, invest, or make distributions to beneficiaries, he or she must take control of, inventory, and value all trust assets. Ideally, this happens as soon as possible after the death of the grantor in the privacy of a lawyer’s office. As long as assets are titled in the name of the trust, there’s no need for court involvement—unless a beneficiary or creditor forces it with a claim against the trust.

In the best case, the person who created the trust and was the original trustee—usually the grantor—will have maintained an up-to-date inventory of all trust assets. And if the estate is extensive, gathering those assets can be a major undertaking, so contact us as your Personal Family Lawyer® to help review the trust and determine the best course of action.

The value of some assets, like financial accounts, securities, and insurance, will be easy to determine. But with other property—real estate, vehicles, businesses, artwork, furniture, and jewelry—a trustee may need to hire a professional appraiser to determine those values. With the assets secured and valued, the trustee must then identify and pay the grantor’s creditors and other debts.

Be careful about ensuring regularly scheduled payments, such as mortgages, property taxes, and insurance, are promptly paid, or trustees risk personal liability for late payments and/or other penalties. Trustees are also required to prepare and file the grantor’s income and estate tax returns. This includes the final income tax return for the year of the decedent’s death and any prior years’ returns on extension, along with filing an annual return during each subsequent year the trust remains open.

For high-value estates, trustees may have to file a federal estate tax return or possibly a state estate tax return. However, Trump’s new tax law of 2017 doubled the estate tax exemption to $11.2 million, so very few estates will be impacted. But keep in mind, this new exemption is only valid through 2025, when it will return to $5.6 million.

During this entire process, it’s vital that trustees keep strict accounting of every transaction (bills paid and income received) made using the trust’s assets, no matter how small. In fact, if a trustee fails to fully pay the trust’s debts, taxes, and expenses before distributing assets to beneficiaries, he or she can be held personally liable if there are insufficient assets to pay for outstanding estate expenses.

Given this, it’s crucial to work with a Personal Family Lawyer® and a qualified accountant to properly account for and pay all trust-related expenses and debts as well as ensure all tax returns are filed on behalf of the trust.

Personally administer the trust

While trustees are nearly always permitted to hire outside advisers like lawyers, accountants, and even professional trust administration services, trustees must personally communicate with those advisors and be the one to make all final decisions on trust matters. After all, the grantor chose you as trustee because they value your judgment.

So even though trustees can delegate much of the underlying legwork, they’re still required to serve as the lead decision maker. What’s more, trustees are ultimately responsible if any mistakes are made. In the end, a trustee’s full range of powers, duties, and discretion will depend on the terms of the trust, so always refer to the trust for specific instructions when delegating tasks and/or making tough decisions. And if you need help understanding what the trust says, don’t hesitate to reach out to us for support.

Clear communication with beneficiaries
To keep them informed and updated as to the status of the trust, trustees are required to provide beneficiaries with regular information and reports related to trust matters. Typically, trustees provide such information on an annual basis, but again, the level of communication depends on the trust’s terms.

In general, trustees should provide annual status reports with complete and accurate accounting of the trust’s assets. Moreover, trustees must permit beneficiaries to personally inspect trust property, accounts, and any related documents if requested. Additionally, trustees must provide an annual tax return statement (Schedule K-1) to each beneficiary who’s taxed on income earned by the trust.

Entitled to reasonable fees for services rendered
Given such extensive duties and responsibilities, trustees are entitled to receive reasonable fees for their services. Oftentimes, family members and close friends named as trustee choose not to accept any payment beyond what’s required to cover trust expenses, but this all depends on the trustee’s particular situation and relationship with the grantor and/or beneficiaries.

What’s more, determining what’s “reasonable,” can itself be challenging. Entities like accounting firms, lawyers, banks, and trust administration companies typically charge a percentage of the funds under their management or a set fee for their time. In the end, what’s reasonable is based on the amount of work involved, the level of funds in the trust, the trust’s other expenses, and whether or not the trustee was chosen for their professional experience. Consult with us if you need guidance about what would be considered reasonable in your specific circumstance.

Since the trustee’s duties are comprehensive, complex, and foreign to most people, if you’ve been asked to serve as trustee, it’s critical you have a professional advisor who can give you a clear and accurate assessment of what’s required of you before you accept the position. And if you do choose to serve as trustee, it’s even more important that you have someone who can guide you step-by-step throughout the entire process.

In either case, you can rely on us as your Personal Family Lawyer® to offer the most accurate advice, guidance, and assistance with all trustee duties and functions. We can ensure that you’ll effectively fulfill all of the grantor’s final wishes—and do so in the most efficient and risk-free manner possible. Contact us today to learn more.

This article is a service of Cornerstone Estate Planning, Personal Family Lawyer®. We don’t just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session, ™ during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.

The Ins and Outs of Collecting Life Insurance Policy Proceeds

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2020

Unlike many estate assets, if you’re looking to collect the proceeds of a life insurance policy, the process is fairly simple provided you’re named as the beneficiary. That said, following a loved one’s death, the whole world can feel like it’s falling apart, and it’s helpful to know exactly what steps need to be taken to access the insurance funds as quickly and easily as possible during this trying time.

And if you’ve been dependent on the deceased for regular financial support and/or are responsible for paying funeral expenses, the need to access insurance proceeds can sometimes be downright urgent.

Here, we’ve outlined the typical procedure for claiming and collecting life insurance proceeds, along with discussing how beneficiaries can deal with common hiccups in the process. However, because all life insurance policies are different and some involve more complexities than others, it’s always a good idea to consult with a Personal Family Lawyer® if you need extra help or guidance.

Filing a claim
To start the life insurance claims process, you first need to identify who the beneficiary of the life insurance policy is—are you the beneficiary, or is a trust set up to handle the claim for you?

We often recommend that life insurance proceeds be paid to a trust, not outright to a beneficiary. This way, the life insurance proceeds can be used by the beneficiary, but the funds are protected from lawsuits and/or creditors that the beneficiary may be involved with—even a future divorce.

In the event that a trust is the beneficiary, contact us so that we can create a certificate of trust that you (or the trustee, if the trustee is someone other than you) can send to the life insurance company, along with a death certificate when one is available.

In any case, you (or the trustee) will notify the insurance company of the policyholder’s death, either by contacting a local agent or by following the instructions on the company’s website. If the policy was provided through an employer, you may need to contact their workplace first, and someone there will put you in touch with the appropriate representative.

Many insurance companies allow you to report the death over the phone or by sending in a simple form and not require the actual death certificate at this stage. Depending on the cause of death, it can sometimes take weeks for the death certificate to be available, so this simplified reporting speeds up the process.

From there, the insurance company typically sends the beneficiary (or the trustee of the trust named as beneficiary) more in-depth forms to fill out, along with further instructions about how to proceed. Some of the information you’re likely to be asked to provide during the claims process include the deceased’s date of birth, date and place of death, their Social Security number, marital status, address, as well as other personal data.

Your state’s vital records office creates the death certificate, and it will either send the certificate directly to you or route it through your funeral/mortuary provider. Once you’ve received a certified copy of the death certificate, you’ll send it to the insurance company, along with the other completed forms requested.

Multiple beneficiaries
If more than one adult beneficiary was named, each person should provide his or her own signed and notarized claim form. If any of the primary beneficiaries died before the policyholder, an alternate/contingent beneficiary can claim the proceeds, but he or she will need to send in the death certificates of both the policyholder and the primary beneficiary.

Minors
While policyholders are free to name anyone as a beneficiary, when minor children are named, it creates serious complications, as most insurance companies will not allow a minor child to receive life insurance benefits directly until they reach the age of majority. And the age of majority varies between states—with some it’s 18, and others it’s 21.

If a child is named as a beneficiary and has yet to reach the age of majority, the claim proceeds will be paid to the child’s legal guardian, who will be responsible for managing those funds until the child comes of age. Given this, in the event a minor is named you’ll need to go to court to be appointed as legal guardian, even if you’re the child’s parent. This is why we recommend never naming a minor child as a life insurance beneficiary, even as a backup to the primary beneficiary.

Rather than naming a minor child as a life insurance beneficiary, it’s often better to set up a trust to receive the proceeds. By doing that, the proceeds would be paid into the trust, and whomever is named as trustee will follow the steps above to collect the insurance benefits, put them in the trust, and manage the funds for the child’s benefit.

Whatever you decide, you should consult with us as your Personal Family Lawyer® to determine the best options for passing along your life insurance benefits and other assets to minor children.

Insurance claim payment
Provided you fill out the forms properly and include a certified copy of the death certificate, insurance companies typically pay out life insurance claims quickly. In fact, some claims are paid within one-to-two weeks of the start of the process, and rarely do claims take more than 60 days to be paid. Most insurance companies will offer you the option to collect the proceeds via a mailed check or transfer the funds electronically directly to your account.

Sometimes an insurance company will request you to send in a completed W-9 form (Request for Taxpayer Identification Number and Certification) from the IRS in order to process a claim. Most of the time, a W-9 is requested only if there is some question or issue with the records, such as having an address provided in a claim form that doesn’t match the one on file.

A W-9 is simply a way for the insurance company to verify information to prevent fraudulent activity. To this end, don’t be alarmed if you’re asked for a W-9. It’s a common verification practice, and it doesn’t automatically mean the company suspects you of fraud or plans to deny your claim.

While collecting life insurance proceeds is a fairly simple process, it’s always a good idea to consult with us as your Personal Family Lawyer® if you have any questions or need help to ensure the process goes as smoothly as possible during the often-chaotic period following a loved one’s death.

This article is a service of Cornerstone Estate Planning, Personal Family Lawyer®. We don’t just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session, ™ during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.

Do Your Homework to Ensure Your Kids Are Properly Cared For No Matter What Happens

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2020

It’s back-to-school time again, and when it comes to estate planning you may have homework to do. As a parent, your most critical—and often overlooked—task is to select and legally document guardians for your minor children. Guardians are people legally named to care for your children in the event of your death or incapacity.

If you haven’t done that yet, you should immediately do so using our easy-to-use (and absolutely free) website, where you can create legal documents naming the long-term guardians you’d want to care for your children if you could not: Kids Protection Plan

Don’t think just because you’ve named godparents or have grandparents living nearby that’s enough. You must name guardians in a legal document, or risk creating conflict and a long, expensive court process for your loved ones—and this can be so easily avoided.

Covering all your bases
However, naming permanent guardians is just one step in protecting your kids. It’s equally important to have someone (plus backups) with documented authority, who can stay with your children until the long-term guardians can be located and formally named by the court, which can take months.

The last thing you want is for police to show up at your home and find your children with a caregiver, who doesn’t have documented or legal authority to stay with them and doesn’t have any idea how to contact someone with such authority. In such a case, police would have no choice but to call Child Protective Services.

Closing the gap
This is a major hole in many parent’s estate plans, as we know you’d never want your kids in the care of strangers, even for a short time. To fix this, we’ve created a comprehensive system called the Kids Protection Plan®, which lets you name temporary guardians who have immediate documented authority to care for your children until the long-term guardians you ‘ve appointed can be notified and get to your children.

The Kids Protection Plan® also includes specific instructions that are given to everyone entrusted with your children’s care, explaining how to contact your short and long-term guardians. The plan also ensures everyone named by you has the legal documents they’d need on hand and knows exactly what to do if called upon. We even provide you with an ID card for your wallet and emergency instructions to post on your refrigerator, so the contacts and process are prominently available in case something happens to you.

A foolproof plan
With the Kids Protection Plan®, you’ll name one permanent guardian and one temporary guardian, along with two or more backups, in case the primary isn’t available or cannot serve. And we instruct caregivers to NEVER CALL POLICE IF YOU CANNOT BE REACHED UNTIL ONE OF THE NAMED GUARDIANS ARRIVES AND IS PRESENT WITH YOUR CHILDREN.

Finally, if there’s anyone you’d never want raising your children, we confidentially document that in the plan, preventing them from wasting the time, energy, and assets of the people you do want caring for your children.

With us as your Personal Family Lawyer®, you have access to the entire Kids Protection Plan® system to ensure the well-being of your children no matter what. As your kids head back to school, do your homework by contacting us today.

This article is a service of Cornerstone Estate Planning, Personal Family Lawyer®. We don’t just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session, ™ during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.

Avoid This Major Mistake When Adding an IRA to Your Estate Plan

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2020

Some people assume that because they’ve named a specific heir as the beneficiary of their IRA in their will or trust that there’s no need to list the same person again as beneficiary in their IRA paperwork. Because of this, they often leave the IRA beneficiary form blank or list “my estate” as the beneficiary.

But this is a major mistake—and one that can lead to serious complications and expense.

IRAs aren’t like other estate assets
First off, your IRA is treated differently than other assets, such as a car or house, in that the person you name on your IRA’s beneficiary form is the one who will inherit the account’s funds, even if a different person is named in your will or in a trust. Your IRA beneficiary designation controls who gets the funds, no matter what you may indicate elsewhere.

Given this, you must ensure your IRA’s beneficiary designation form is up to date and lists either the name of the person you want to inherit your IRA, or the name of the trustee of your trust, if you want it to go to a revocable living trust or special IRA trust you’ve prepared. For example, if you listed an ex-spouse as the beneficiary of your IRA and forget to change it to your current spouse, your ex will get the funds when you die, even if your current spouse is listed as the beneficiary in your will.

Probate problems
Moreover, not naming a beneficiary, or naming your “estate” in the IRA’s beneficiary designation form, means your IRA account will be subject to the court process called probate. Probate costs unnecessary time and money and guarantees your family will get stuck in court.

When you name your desired heir on the IRA beneficiary form, those funds will be available almost immediately to the named beneficiary following your death, and the money will be protected from creditors. But if your beneficiary has to go through probate to claim the funds, he or she might have to wait months, or even years, for probate to be finalized.

Plus, your heir may also be on the hook for attorney and executor fees, as well as potential liabilities from creditor claims, associated with probate, thereby reducing the IRA’s total value.

Reduced growth and tax savings
Another big problem caused by naming your estate in the IRA beneficiary designation or forgetting to name anyone at all is that your heir will lose out on an important opportunity for tax savings and growth of the funds. This is because the IRS calculates how the IRA’s funds will be dispersed and taxed based on the owner’s life expectancy. Since your estate is not a human, it’s ineligible for a valuable tax-savings option known as the “stretch provision” that would be available had you named the appropriate beneficiary.

Typically, when an individual is named as the IRA’s beneficiary, he or she can choose to take only the required minimum distributions over the course of his or her life expectancy. “Stretching” out the payments in this way allows for much more tax-deferred growth of the IRA’s invested funds and minimizes the amount of income tax due when withdrawals are made.

However, if the IRA’s beneficiary designation lists “my estate” or is left blank, the option to stretch out payments is no longer available. In such cases, if you die before April 1st of the year you reach 70 ½ years old (the required beginning date for distributions), your estate will have to pay out all of the IRA’s funds within five years of your death. If you die after age 70 1/2, the estate will have to make distributions over your remaining life expectancy.

This means the beneficiary who eventually gets your IRA funds from your estate will have to take the funds sooner—and pay the deferred taxes upon distribution. This limits their opportunity for additional tax-deferred growth of the account and requires him or her to pay a potentially hefty income tax bill.

A simple fix
Fortunately, preventing these complications is super easy—just be sure to name your chosen heir as beneficiary in your IRA paperwork (along with a couple alternate beneficiaries). And remember to update the named beneficiary if your life circumstances change, such as after a death or divorce.

With us as your Personal Family Lawyer®, we can help you select the ideal beneficiary for your IRA and other estate assets. What’s more, we have systems in place that will ensure your designated beneficiary form is always up-to-date with the correct heir listed should your life circumstances dictate a change. Call us today to get started.

This article is a service of Cornerstone Estate Planning, Personal Family Lawyer®. We don’t just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session, ™ during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.

Aretha Franklin Dies Without a Will and Leaves Her Family to Deal With Court and Conflict

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2020

Aretha Franklin, heralded as the “Queen of Soul,” died from pancreatic cancer at age 76 on August 16th at her home in Detroit. Like Prince, who died in 2016, Franklin was one of the greatest musicians of our time. Also like Prince, however, she died without a will or trust to pass on her multimillion-dollar estate.

Franklin’s lack of estate planning was a huge mistake that will undoubtedly lead to lengthy court battles and major expenses for her family. What’s especially unfortunate is that all of this trouble could have been easily prevented.

A common mistake
Such lack of estate planning is common. A 2017 poll by the senior-care referral service, Caring.com, revealed that more than 60 percent of U.S. adults currently do not have a will or trust in place. The most common excuse given for not creating these documents was simply “not getting around to it.”

Whether or not Franklin’s case involved similar procrastination is unclear, but what is clear is that her estimated $80-million estate will now have to go through the often lengthy court process known as probate, her assets will be made public, and there could be a big battle brewing for her family.

Probate problems
Because Franklin was unmarried and died without a will, Michigan law stipulates that her assets are to be equally divided among her four adult children, one of whom has special needs and will need financial support for the rest of his life. It’s likely that caregivers for her son will need to decide whether to accept the inheritance coming to him and lose all governmental support he may’ve been able to receive, or they may have to disclaim all of the inheritance from his mother’s estate.

It’s also possible that probate proceedings could last for years due to the size of her estate. And all court proceedings will be public, including any disputes that arise along the way.

Such contentious court disputes are common with famous musicians. In Prince’s case, his estate has been subject to numerous family disputes since he died two years ago, and that even led to the revocation of a multimillion-dollar music contract. The same thing could happen to Franklin’s estate, as high-profile performers often have complex assets, like music rights.

Because these court battles will be public, not only will the contents of Franklin’s estate be available for everyone to see, but her family’s potential squabbles will likely be the subject of news headlines. All of these things could’ve been prevented with a well-drafted and counseled estate plan.

Learn from Franklin’s mistakes
Although Franklin’s situation is unfortunate, you can learn from her mistakes by beginning the estate planning process now. It would’ve been ideal if Franklin had a will, but even with a will, her estate would still be subject to probate and open to the public. To keep everything private and out of court altogether, Franklin could’ve created a will and a trust. And, within a trust, she could have created a Special Needs Trust for her child who has special needs, thereby giving him full access to governmental support, plus supplemental support from her assets.

While trusts used to be available only to the mega wealthy, they’re now used by people of all incomes and asset values. Unlike wills, trusts keep your family out of the probate court, which can save both time, money, and a huge amount of heartache. Plus, a properly funded trust (meaning all of your assets are titled in the name of the trust) keeps everything totally private.

Trusts also offer several protections for your assets and family that wills alone don’t. With a trust, for example, it’s possible to shield the inheritance you’re leaving behind from the creditors of your heirs or even a future divorce.

Moreover, trusts also offer protection if you become incapacitated and are no longer able to make decisions about your financial and healthcare needs. Using a trust, you can appoint someone of your choosing (not the court’s) to handle your financials if you’re unable to. With only a will in place, your family would have to petition the court to appoint a conservator or guardian to handle your affairs, which can be costly, time-consuming, and stressful.

Finally, if you have a child with special needs like Franklin did, a Special Needs Trust can prevent your child from losing eligibility for important government benefits, like Medicaid and Social Security. A Special Needs Trust—also not subject to probate—allows you to contribute funds for your child’s care without disqualifying them for these benefits.

Don’t wait another day
Regardless of your financial status, planning for incapacity or your eventual death is something that you should immediately address, especially if you have children. You never know when tragedy may strike, and by being properly prepared, you can save both yourself and your family massive expense and trauma.

Don’t follow in Franklin’s footsteps; use her death as a learning experience. Proper estate planning can keep your family out of conflict, out of court, and out of the public eye. If you’re ready to create a comprehensive estate plan, meet with us as your Personal Family Lawyer®. If you already have a plan in place, we can review it to ensure it’s effective and up-to-date. Contact us today for more information—we promise to make it easy.

This article is a service of Cornerstone Estate Planning, Personal Family Lawyer®. We don’t just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session, ™ during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.

6 Key Steps For Conscious Co-Parenting: Part Two

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2020

Last week, we shared the first part of this series, discussing some of the key steps for conscious co-parenting. In part two, we continue with the final steps.

Today, many married couples who decide to end their marriages choose conscious divorce. However, once the divorce is finalized, you must continue using the same positive approach in your joint-parenting efforts.

Conscious co-parenting is a child-centered process, where both you and your ex agree to work as cooperative partners for the sake of your kids. This ultimately helps both you and your children adapt in a healthier way.

Such collaboration can be challenging, but last week we offered three ways you can successfully navigate the process. Here, we continue with three additional ways to make conscious co-parenting work for you:

4. Respect your co-parent’s time with the children
Conscious co-parenting is about demonstrating to your children that you still want the other parent in their lives.

To this end, don’t do anything that might stop your kids from having an enjoyable time when they’re with the co-parent. This means not scheduling children’s activities during the co-parent’s time, unless you’ve asked them first. It also means respecting their time together by not constantly calling or texting.

It’s normal to miss your children when they’re away, but it will be easier and healthier for everyone if you respect their time together.

5. Get outside support
When it comes to divorce, the experience is often painful and unsettling. The underlying emotions can be overwhelming if they aren’t processed properly, which can have negative effects on your parenting skills.

Given this, it’s crucial you have support systems in place to move through this phase of life. There’s no single solution, so try a few different supportive outlets to find the one(s) that most suit you.

Whether it’s therapy, support groups, trusted confidants, and/or meditative solitude, you should take this opportunity to practice self-care. For better or worse, our personal identities are often largely centered around our marriages, so it’s perfectly natural to go through a grieving process when they end. Just don’t let the grief become too burdensome.

6. Use conscious co-parenting to achieve personal growth
While it may sound paradoxical, divorce can offer a wonderful opportunity for personal growth. The steps discussed here can help you adjust to your new life in divorce’s immediate aftermath, but they can also allow you to better express yourself throughout your life overall.

Consciously choosing a cooperative co-parenting relationship is just the beginning. You can bring the same mindful focus to every other area of your life. Treating your co-parent in a compassionate, respectful, and patient manner can provide the foundation for how you deal with all of life’s relationships and circumstances.

By doing this, you can serve as a role model for your children, demonstrating how they can deal with adversity in their own lives. In fact, conscious co-parenting can provide them with an array of vital skills that will strengthen their ability to endure the trials and tribulations they’ll likely face in the future.

From custody agreements to alimony payments, there are numerous legal issues that can arise when co-parenting, so be sure you have the legal support you need by consulting with us as your Personal Family Lawyer®, and we can help you identify how to get the best support possible. And given the fact that your family structure has changed, you’ll definitely want to update your estate plan as well. Contact us today for assistance with any of these matters.

This article is a service of Cornerstone Estate Planning, Personal Family Lawyer®. We don’t just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session, ™ during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.

6 Key Steps For Conscious Co-Parenting—Part One

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2020

Committing to a conscious divorce means protecting your children from end-of-marriage related trauma. When the marriage ends in a cooperative manner, divorce can be transformed from a contentious event into one that can inspire healthy growth.

In fact, engaging in divorce with a positive focus can better prepare both you and your kids for your new lives. But getting the divorce finalized is only the first step. Where the rubber really meets the road is how you navigate your new relationship as a co-parent.

To this end, it’s vital you keep the same mindful, child-centered approach to co-parenting. Conscious co-parenting means both parents put aside any negativity they may have toward one another, so they can place their children’s needs first.

While this may sound simple, it can be challenging. To help you get started, we’ve outlined six steps that are crucial to a collaborative approach to co-parenting.

1. Establish a “professional” relationship with your co-parent
Your marriage with your ex may done, but your relationship as co-parents will last a lifetime. Think of your new co-parenting relationship as a business partnership, where your business is raising successful, well-adjusted children. This professional approach can not only help you become a more effective parent, but it also helps prevent unnecessary conflict over personal boundaries and past problems.

For example, if you schedule a time to pick up the kids, treat it like an appointment with a colleague; don’t blow it off or be late. Be as courteous to your co-parent as you would with any business colleague.

This can be difficult, especially in the beginning when emotions are still raw. Just keep in mind that most people you work with aren’t necessarily your friends, but you must still work together to get the job done. Your job as co-parent is no different.

2. Communicate clearly, cordially, and consciously with your co-parent
Effective communication is paramount to successful co-parenting. This can present a challenge if poor communication was a primary cause of the divorce. By setting a professional tone, however, you may find communication becomes easier, since it’s free from emotional baggage.

Stop blaming and finger pointing, and leave emotion out of your correspondence. Instead of accusing, think in terms of discussing. Co-parenting isn’t about one side winning and the other losing; it’s about teamwork, compromise, and conflict avoidance.

When communicating, make your kids and their healthy adjustment the focal point. Tailor everything you say in terms of shared responsibility, using terms like “we” and “us,” instead of “you” or “me.” Avoid anything judgemental: stick to the facts and how they affect your children’s well-being.

Never talk down about your ex in front of the kids, and don’t allow your children to be disrespectful toward your co-parent, either. You never want them to feel like they must choose a side.

Finally, don’t use your children as messengers. Speak directly to the co-parent yourself. With so many convenient ways to communicate these days, you should have no problem getting your message across directly. Indeed, there are special websites and apps, such as Coparently and Our Family Wizard, specifically designed to enhance co-parenting communication and allow you to easily share information and even upload joint calendars and schedules.

3. Create a comprehensive parenting plan
Every successful partnership requires planning, so sit down together and come up with a set of mutually agreed-upon guidelines and routines. This is essential for fostering security and predictability to help the children quickly and comfortably adapt to their new situation.

Even though they may despise it, kids thrive on structure, so be consistent. If the rules and schedule are different when they’re with mom than when they’re with dad, this can cause conflict and confusion. Children develop best when parents present a united front, so make sure they understand rules will always be enforced.

The more details the plan includes, the better. Try to anticipate potential problems ahead of time. How will holidays, birthdays, and vacations be shared? How will you resolve major disagreements between co-parents? How will new romantic relationships be handled? Be sure to revisit and update the plan regularly as the kids mature.

Developing such a comprehensive plan with an ex is challenging, so it’s often helpful to have a third-party present for advice and dispute mediation. As your Personal Family Lawyer®, we can either help you to develop and maintain conscious co-parenting arrangements or refer you to trusted colleagues in the community who can do so and make sure that your estate planning reflects your custody wishes.

This article is a service of Cornerstone Estate Planning, Personal Family Lawyer®. We don’t just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session, ™ during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.