It’s clear why you might want to avoid court involvement in your estate for financial reasons, knowing that probate can quickly get costly and time consuming for those involved. But there is an emotional component to it as well. Your assets are just that: yours. And the idea of them being discussed and deliberated on in a public forum might not be such an appealing one.
If you feel that the matters of your estate should be kept private and that your assets should be distributed to your loved ones rather than eroded by court fees, you’re not alone. And luckily, all it takes to get there is a proactive attitude toward planning your estate. Let’s dive in:
Court Interference 101
Two of the most common situations in which the court becomes involved in your estate are guardianship and probate:
Guardianship and Conservatorship
When someone experiences mental incapacity, documents in their estate plan can direct a trusted person to carry out that individual’s wishes for the situation. But what if no such documents have been drafted? Then their business becomes the government’s business, too. A court proceeding called guardianship or conservatorship (also known as “living probate”) will be held to appoint guardians and conservators to manage the affairs of the incapacitated person.
When an estate goes through probate, the court oversees the gathering of the probate assets, payment of any outstanding debts, determining whether a will is valid, and who the deceased’s heirs are. The proceedings ultimately determine who should receive the assets that are left after payment of debts, taxes, and costs.
Free your estate from interference
In order to avoid guardianship, conservatorship, and probate, you can work with us to keep your affairs out of court entirely.
1. Powers of attorney
Agents or attorneys-in-fact are the individuals or entities you appoint to make decisions for you, be they medical or financial. You designate agents or attorneys-in-fact in a document known as a power of attorney. Durable powers of attorney are documents that continue in validity after the incapacity of the maker of the document (i.e. “durable” against incapacity). Since a durable power of attorney continues in validity, a durable power of attorney can help bypass the need for court-appointed guardianship or conservatorship.
Trusts are agreements that hold some or all of your assets, and trustees can be either individuals or corporate entities. Unlike wills, trusts do not go through probate. There are several types of trusts, and we can help you decide exactly which kind is best suited to your estate. By setting up and completely funding a revocable living trust, you can accomplish two important things. First, you can rest assured that your assets will be distributed to your chosen beneficiaries and won’t go through probate upon your death. Second, you also retain the ability to change or cancel the arrangement during your lifetime enabling you to adjust your plan as your financial or family circumstances change.
Make sure your estate plan is air-tight
Deciding on appropriate powers of attorney and drafting revocable living trusts are just two of the many steps we can take together to keep your affairs free from court involvement. With a solid estate plan put into place with the help of a trusted attorney, you can take comfort knowing that everything you’ve worked so hard to build and maintain will be passed along to only the people who matter most. Give us a call today to learn more about interference-proofing your estate plan. Lambert Elder Care Law, 229-292-8989.
Estate planning offers many ways to leave your wealth to your children, but it’s just as important to know what not to do. Here are some things that are all-too-common, but textbook examples of what not to do or try….
If you feel you have a good rapport with your family or don’t have many assets, you might be tempted simply to tell your children or loved ones how to handle your estate when you’re gone. However, even if your family members wanted to follow your directions, it may not be entirely up to them. Without a written document, any assets you own individually must go through probate, and “oral wills” have no weight in court. It would most likely be up to a judge and the intestate laws written by the legislature, not you or your desired heirs, to decide who gets what. This is one strategy to not even try.
In lieu of setting up a trust, some people name their children as joint tenants on their properties. The appeal is that children should be able to assume full ownership when parents pass on, while keeping the property out of probate. However, this does not mean that the property is safe; it doesn’t insulate the property from taxes or creditors, including your children’s creditors, if they run into financial difficulty. Their debt could even result in a forced sale of your property.
There’s another issue. Choosing this approach exposes you to otherwise avoidable capital gains taxes. Here’s why. When you sell certain assets, the government taxes you. But you can deduct your cost basis—a measure of how much you’ve invested in it—from the selling price. For example, if you and your spouse bought vacant land for $200,000 and later sell it for $315,000, you’d only need to pay capital gains taxes on $115,000 (the increase in value).
However, your heirs can get a break on these taxes. For instance, let’s say you die, and the fair market value of the land at that time was $300,000. Since you used a trust rather than joint tenancy, your spouse’s cost basis is now $300,000 (the basis for the heirs gets “stepped-up” to its value at your deatah). So, if she then sells the property for $315,000, she only has to pay capital gains on $15,000, which is the gain that happened after your death! However, with joint tenancy, she does not receive the full step-up in basis, meaning she’ll pay more capital gains taxes.
Giving Away the Inheritance Early
Some parents choose to give children their inheritance early–either outright or incrementally over time. But this strategy comes with several pitfalls. First, if you want to avoid hefty gift taxes, you are limited to giving each child $14,000 per year. You can give more, but you start to use up your gift tax exemption and must file a gift tax return. Second, a smaller yearly amount might seem more like current expense money than the beginnings of your legacy, so they might spend it rather than invest. Third, if situations change that would have caused you to re-evaluate your allocations, it’s too late. You don’t want to be dependent on them giving the cash back if you need it for your own needs.
Shortcuts and ideas like these may look appealing on the surface, but they can actually do more harm than good. Consult with an estate planner to find better strategies to prepare for your and your families’ future. Give us a call to see how we can help.
Lambert Elder Care Law, 229-292-8989
The Impact of Caregiving on Women
Women routinely serve as caregivers for spouses, parents, in-laws and friends. In fact, an estimated 66% of all caregivers are female. The value of the informal care women provide has been estimated as high as $188 billion annually. While some men serve as caregivers, women spend approximately 50% more time caregiving than men.
When it comes to caring for a loved one with dementia, a recent study showed the out-of-pocket cost for the patient with dementia were the highest of any other disease, in large part due to the need for caregivers – the cost of which is not covered by Medicare. In responding to the results of the study, Dr. Kenneth Covinsky, a geriatrician at the University of California in San Francisco stated, ‘It’s stunning that people who start out with the least end up with even less. It’s scary. And they haven’t even counted some of the costs, like the daughter who gave up time from work and is losing part of her retirement and her children’s college fund.”
The financial impact on women caregivers is quite substantial. It reduces work hours by around 41%, and can result in a financial loss of over $324,000 based on lost wages and social security benefits. And worse, a 2004 study conducted by Rice University found that women who are family caregivers are 2.5 times more likely to live in poverty, and 5 times more likely to receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI).
The mental and physical effects of caregiving have also been well-documented. Increased stress, anxiety and depression are common effects of caregiving. When caring for a spouse, women are nearly 6 times as likely to suffer depressive or anxious symptoms as non-caregiver spouses. Providing care to someone with dementia increases the levels of distress and depression higher than caring for someone without dementia.
Physical effects include higher blood pressure, increased risk of developing hypertension, less time spent on preventative care and a higher risk of developing coronary heart disease.
It is clear that women are at great risk when providing care to a loved one. Their financial stability is at risk, and they are at greater risk of developing mental and physical ailments. Are they at risk for negative long-term effects as well, including a higher death rate? Stay tuned – a new study titled, “The Long-Term Effects of Caregiving on Women’s Health and Mortality” will be published in the Journal of Marriage and Family in October, 2016, and ElderCounsel will post a follow-up article to help answer that question. (Credit: Valerie Peterson, J.D.)
LAMBERT ELDER CARE LAW
Life insurance and annuity companies have the big buildings for a reason: They know when you’re going to die. Or do they?
Knowing when you are going to die doesn’t mean that actuaries are evil, but it does mean that they fully understand life expectancy. When you buy an annuity and structure it for a lifetime payment, you are in essence betting with the carrier that you are going to live longer than they project you to live. Regardless of how long you last, the carrier is on the hook to pay. (more…)
There is no such uncertainty as a sure thing.
Even with an estate plan, things can always happen that may cause confusion for the estate–or threaten the plan altogether. Below are three examples of worst-case scenarios and ways to demonstrate how a carefully crafted plan can address issues, from the predictable to the total surprise.
Scenario One: Family Members Battle One Another
Despite your best intentions, what happens if the people you care about most get into a knockdown, drag-out fight over your estate? Disputes over who should get what assets, how to interpret an unclear instruction from you, or how loved ones should manage your business can open old wounds.
Lawsuits between family members can drain your estate and tarnish your legacy. Family infighting can lead to less obviously dramatic problems as well. For instance, let’s say you name your daughter as the executor, and she holds a deep grudge against your youngest son. Your daughter cannot do something as drastic as rewriting your will to leave him out. However, she could drag her feet with the probate court, interpret the will “poorly” (unfairly privileging herself and your other son over your youngest), or engage in other shenanigans. In all of these cases, your youngest son would have to hire a lawyer and potentially get involved in a protracted legal battle. This is a bad outcome for everyone.
To prevent such scenarios, consider using an impartial (e.g. third party) trustee or executor. Moreover, speak with a qualified estate planning attorney to prepare for likely future conflicts among family members.
Scenario Two: Both Spouses Die Simultaneously
Many estate plans transfer assets to a surviving spouse, but what happens if both spouses die at or near the same time? This situation may be even more complicated if both spouses have separately owned assets or if the size of the estate is significant. In that case, asset distribution may depend on who predeceased whom, the amount of estate tax paid, and other factors. There are, however, ways to address this in an estate plan making it easier for your family to understand your intent, including, as recently discussed in Motley Fool:
- A simultaneous death clause that automatically names one spouse as the first to die;
- A survivorship deferral provision, delaying transfer of assets to a surviving spouse, thus preventing double probate and estate taxes; and
- A so-called “Titanic” clause that names a final beneficiary in the event all primary beneficiaries die at once.
Scenario Three: Passing Away Overseas
Expatriates may need particular care in estate planning. If a death occurs outside the U.S., foreign laws may conflict with provisions of an American-made estate plan. Thus a plan may need to be reviewed both for the US and other nations’ laws. If you intend to live abroad for an extended period, as discussed in this New York Times article, it may be smart to draw up a second will consistent with those nations’ laws, too. However, the starting point is completing your estate planning (will, trust, and other documents) here in the United States first.
If you have concerns as to whether your current estate plan is safeguarded against these three worst-case scenarios or anything else you might be worried about, we are here to help. Contact our office for an appointment. Lambert Elder Care Law, 229-292-8989.
Most financially savvy individuals begin planning their estate when they’re in peak mental shape. The idea that this might change at some point in the distant future is an unpleasant one, and they would rather go about their estate planning as if they’ll be as sharp as a tack late into their golden years. Unfortunately, this common approach of ignoring a potential problem and hoping it simply won’t happen can leave a giant hole in your estate plan. Read on to find out that this common hole can be more easily filled than you might think.
Expect the best, but plan for the worst
The reality is that an individual’s chances of experiencing some form of cognitive impairment rise with age. While it’s never certain whether cognitive impairment will occur, smart estate planning means factoring it in as a very real possibility.
As the huge baby boomer generation transitions from the workforce and begins to make their way into retirement, cases of Alzheimer’s are expected to spike from the current 5.1 million to 13.2 million as soon as 2050. Alzheimer’s is just one of several cognitive impairment conditions along with dementia and the much more common mild cognitive impairment, or MCI, which is often a precursor to those more serious ailments.
As U.S. life expectancies increase, the chances of living with cognitive impairment increase as well — with at least 9.5 percent of Americans over 70 experiencing it in one form or another.
No matter your age or family history, cognitive impairment can affect anyone although it’s widely accepted to affect mostly older adults. As you implement or revise your estate plan, it is well worth the effort to plan for this potential. Luckily, estate planning attorneys have developed good solutions to handle this circumstance and can help guide you on the best way to protect yourself and your family.
An easily-avoidable estate planning mistake
Consider Ashley’s story. A successful real estate agent with a stellar career in her hometown of Kalamazoo, MI, Ashley begins planning her estate in her mid-thirties.
She partners with an estate planning attorney, and together they draft a revocable living trust with Ashley’s preferred beneficiaries and charities in mind, figure out guardianship for her two sons in case she and her husband pass suddenly, and settle on an appropriate beneficiary for her life insurance policy. Now that she knows where her assets will go after her death, Ashley rests easy assuming there’s nothing more that needs doing in her estate plan.
Save your family from obstacles and conundrums
But forty years down the road, Ashley’s children realize her MCI is developing into Alzheimer’s. Although she’s occasionally visited with her attorney to make adjustments to her plan, she never added any provisions for how she wanted her children and other guardians to handle a situation like this. Here’s where things get complicated.
Ashley did not work with her estate planning attorney to put disability provisions into her trust and never worked with an insurance professional to purchase adequate income insurance or long-term care insurance. The care she requires to live her best life possible with cognitive impairment doesn’t come cheap. Those mounting care costs will likely quickly erode Ashley’s estate. As a result, her estate plan may no longer work as intended, since it no longer lines up with her actual asset portfolio.
But since Ashley does not have the ability to rework her estate plan in her current mental state, her family is left with the burden of figuring out what to do while navigating a complex and bureaucratic legal system in the guardianship or conservatorship court. No one in the family really knows what Ashley’s wishes are regarding both serious medical decisions and financial changes. All Ashley’s family wants is to see her enjoying her remaining years in peace and security, but they are now tasked with using guesswork to make difficult choices on her behalf while a guardianship or conservatorship court watches every move.
Give us a call today at Lambert Elder Care Law, (229) 292-8989.
Factoring the potential for cognitive impairment into your estate plan doesn’t have to be a headache. In fact, a little effort now by legally designating who you want to be in charge and what you want them to do can have a wonderful impact on you and your family later on. We can work together to ensure your estate plan is ready for whatever life throws your way. Give us a call today to find out how painless and cost-effective this process can be.
We know it’s hard. Thinking about someone else raising your children stops us all in our tracks. It feels crushing and too horrific to consider. But you must. If you don’t, a stranger will determine who raises your children if something happens to you – your child’s guardian could be a relative you despise or even a stranger you’ve never met.
No one will ever be you or parent exactly like you, but there is someone who could muddle through and provide for your children’s general welfare, education, and medical needs. Parents with minor children need to name someone to raise them (a guardian) in the event both parents should die before the child becomes an adult. While the likelihood of that actually happening is slim, the consequences of not naming a guardian are more than intense.
If no guardian is named in your will, a judge – a stranger who does not know you, your child, or your relatives and friends – will decide who will raise your child. Anyone can ask to be considered, and the judge will select the person she deems most appropriate. Families tend to fight over children, especially if there’s money involved – and worse – no one may be willing to take your child; if that happens, the judge will place your child in foster care. On the other hand, if you name a guardian, the judge will likely support your choice.
How to Choose a Guardian
Your child’s guardian can be a relative or friend. Here are factors our clients have considered when selecting guardians (and backup guardians).
- How well the child and potential guardian know and enjoy each other
- Parenting style, moral values, educational level, health practices, religious/spiritual beliefs
- Location – if the guardian lives far away, your child would have to move from a familiar school, friends, and neighborhood
- The child’s age and the age and health of the guardian-candidates:
- Grandparents may have the time, and they may or may not have the energy to keep up with a toddler or teenager.
- An older guardian may become ill and/or even die before the child is grown, so there would be a double loss.
- A younger guardian, especially a sibling, may be concentrating on finishing college or starting a career.
- Emotional preparedness:
- Someone who is single or who doesn’t want children may resent having to care for your children.
- Someone with a houseful of their own children may or may not want more around.
WARNING: Serving as guardian and raising your child is a big deal; don’t spring such a responsibility on anyone. Ask your top candidates if they would be willing to serve, and name at least one alternate in case the first choice becomes unable to serve.
Who’s in Charge of the Money
Raising your child should not be a financial burden for the guardian, and a candidate’s lack of finances should not be the deciding factor. You will need to provide enough money (from assets and/or life insurance) to provide for your child. Some parents also earmark funds to help the guardian buy a larger car or add onto their existing home, so there’s plenty of room for extra children.
Factors to consider:
- Naming a separate person to handle this money can be a good idea. That person would be a guardian of the estate or a trustee, but not guardian of the children.
- However, having the same person raise the child and handle the money can make things simpler because the guardian would not have to ask someone else for money.
- But the best person to raise the child may not be the best person to handle the money and it may be tempting for them to use this money for their own purposes.
Compromise Will Likely be Necessary
Naming a guardian is a difficult decision for most parents. Keep in mind that this person will probably not raise your child because odds are that at least one parent will survive until the child is grown. By naming a guardian, however, you are being responsible and planning ahead for an unlikely, yet possible, situation. It’s important to realize that no one besides you will be the perfect parent for your child, so typically this means making compromises in some areas. Select the person you think will muddle through the best.
Let’s Continue this Conversation
We know it’s not easy, but don’t let that stop you. We’re happy to talk this through with you and legally document your wishes. Know that you can change your mind and select a different guardian anytime you’d like – and – the chances of needing the guardian named in your will is slim; but, you’re a parent and your job is to provide for and protect your children, so let’s do this – together. Call our office now for an appointment and we’ll get your children protected. LAMBERT ELDER CARE LAW, 229-292-8989.
When you hear the phrase “estate plan,” you might first think about paperwork. Or your mind might land on some of the uncomfortable topics that estate planning confronts head-on: end-of-life decisions, incapacity, and your family’s legacy from generation to generation. Those subjects hit home for everyone.
But while that could feel like a reason to avoid estate planning, the emotional nature of these decisions is actually a reason to embrace the process with enthusiasm. Here are a few ways in which emotion in estate planning is a good thing:
- Estate planning creates stability in times of loss
If you end up in a state of incapacity later in life, it’s guaranteed to be a difficult time for your family. If your estate plan doesn’t include detailed instructions for a trusted decision maker and an actionable long-term care plan, it’s guaranteed to be even worse. You can save your loved ones from the confusion about what to do and the pressure to make rushed choices if this occurs, allowing them to save their energy for processing the situation. (more…)
When you establish a trust, you name someone to be the trustee. A trustee does what you do right now with your financial affairs – collect income, pay bills and taxes, save and invest for the future, buy and sell assets, provide for your loved ones, keep accurate records, and generally keep things organized and in good order.
The Key Takeaways
- You can be trustee of your revocable living trust. If you are married, your spouse can be co-trustee.
- Most irrevocable trusts do not allow you to be trustee.
- Even though you may be allowed to be your own trustee, you may not be the best choice.
- You can also choose an adult child, trusted friend or a professional or corporate trustee.
- Naming someone else to be co-trustee with you helps them become familiar with your trust, allows them to learn firsthand how you want the trust to operate, and lets you evaluate the co-trustee’s abilities.
Who Can Be Your Trustee
If you have a revocable living trust, you can be your own trustee. If you are married, your spouse can be trustee with you. This way, if either of you become incapacitated or die, the other can continue to handle your financial affairs without interruption. Most married couples who own assets together, especially those who have been married for some time, are usually co-trustees.
You don’t have to be your own trustee. Some people choose an adult son or daughter, a trusted friend or another relative. Some like having the experience and investment skills of a professional or corporate trustee (e.g., a bank trust department or trust company). Naming someone else as trustee or co-trustee with you does not mean you lose control. The trustee you name must follow the instructions in your trust and report to you. You can even replace your trustee should you change your mind.
When to Consider a Professional or Corporate Trustee
You may be elderly, widowed, and/or in declining health and have no children or other trusted relatives living nearby. Or your candidates may not have the time or ability to manage your trust. You may simply not have the time, desire or experience to manage your investments by yourself. Also, certain irrevocable trusts will not allow you to be trustee due to restrictions in the tax laws. In these situations, a professional or corporate trustee may be exactly what you need: they have the experience, time and resources to manage your trust and help you meet your investment goals.
What You Need to Know
Professional or corporate trustees will charge a fee to manage your trust, but generally the fee is quite reasonable, especially when you consider their experience, the services provided, and the investment returns that a professional trustee can deliver.
Actions to Consider
- Honestly evaluate if you are the best choice to be your own trustee. Someone else may truly do a better job than you, especially in investing your assets.
- Name someone to be co-trustee with you now. This would eliminate the time a successor would need to become knowledgeable about your trust, your assets, and the needs and personalities of your beneficiaries. It would also let you evaluate if the co-trustee is the right choice to manage the trust in your absence.
- Evaluate your trustee candidates carefully and realistically.
- If you are considering a professional or corporate trustee, talk to several. Compare their services, investment returns, and fees.
We can help you select, educate, and advise your successor trustees so they will have support and know what to do next to carry out your wishes. Give us a call today. Lambert Elder Care Law 229-292-8989.