Personal Representative

When Should I Review My Estate Plan?

As life changes, you need to periodically review your estate-planning documents and discuss your situation with your estate planning attorney.

WMUR’s recent article, “Money Matters: Reviewing your estate plan,” says a common question is “When should I review my documents?”

Estate Plan Review
You should review your estate plan each time a major life event occurs or every 5 years, whichever comes first.

Every few years is the quick answer, but a change in your life may also necessitate a review. Major life events can be related to a marriage, divorce, or death in the family; a substantial change in estate size; a move to another state and/or acquisition of property in another state; the death of an executor, trustee or guardian; the birth or adoption of children or grandchildren; retirement; and a significant change in health, to name just a handful.

When you conduct your review, consider these questions:

  • Does anyone in your family have special needs?
  • Do you have any children from a previous marriage?
  • Is your choice of executor, guardian, or trustee still okay?
  • Do you have a valid living will, durable power of attorney for health care, or a do-not-resuscitate to manage your health care, if you’re not able to do so?
  • Do you need to plan for Medicaid?
  • Are your beneficiary designations up to date on your retirement plans, annuities, payable-on-death bank accounts and life insurance?
  • Do you have charitable intentions and if so, are they mentioned in your documents?
  • Do you own sufficient life insurance?

In addition, review your digital presence and take the necessary efforts to protect your online information, after your death or if you’re no longer able to act.

It may take a little time, effort, and money to review your documents, but doing so helps ensure your intentions are properly executed. Your planning will help to protect your family during a difficult time.

Reference: WMUR (January 24, 2019) “Money Matters: Reviewing your estate plan”

Why Do I Need A Will?

You might ask yourself, “Why do I need a will?” After all, writing a will isn’t exactly one of life’s most pleasant tasks. Maybe that is why only 36% of American adults with children under 18 have estate plans in place.

Why do I Need a Will?
Asking yourself “Why do I need a will” is the first step to protecting your assets and your family.

The Boston Globe’s recent article, “The end may not be near, but you still need a will,” says that estate planning is essential, because dying without a will means that certain property is subject to intestate succession laws. That’s where the state distributes your assets to your heirs according to state laws, instead of your wishes.

Assets for which you’ve assigned a beneficiary, like your 401(k) or life insurance, won’t meet the same end, because these are outside of probate. However, non-beneficiary accounts, like checking accounts or property, could. Even if you’re not wealthy, it’s important to plan ahead. Consider these thoughts:

  • A will. If you have assets that you want to leave to another person, you need a will. It’s your instructions on what should happen upon your death. You’ll also name an executor or a personal representative who’s responsible for tending to your assets, when you pass away. And a will is the only way you can name a guardian to raise your children is you’re unable to.
  • Beneficiary designations. Some assets don’t pass through a will, like life insurance and retirement plans. For these, you must name a beneficiary.
  • Health care proxies and powers of attorney. An estate planning attorney will help you with healthcare directives, HIPAA forms and durable power of attorney. The power of attorney lets someone else handle your legal and financial matters. The healthcare directive lets a trusted person make decisions about your medical care, when you’re unable to speak for yourself.
  • Guardian for minor children. Select a person who shares your values and parenting style, regardless of their financial background.
  • A living will. A living will is a type of advanced healthcare directive. It states your wishes concerning not wanting life-prolonging medical intervention and allowing you to pass away naturally.

Finally, discuss your plans with your family and make certain that your will and other documents are safely stored and easily accessible. You should also be sure that you’ve given your power of attorney and health care agent copies. Your physicians should also have a copy of your health care proxy and living will, and your attorney should keep a copy on file.

Read more about getting your will and other estate planning documents taken care of and becoming a client of Mastry Law here.

Reference: Boston Globe (February 25, 2019) “The end may not be near, but you still need a will”

How Do I Leave My Home to My Family?

Figuring out what will happen to your assets after you pass away, is an unpleasant but necessary task. This ensures that your assets are distributed to the people you want. The publication, the day, recently published a story, “Planning to leave your home to your heirs,” that reminds us that it’s best to begin your estate planning, as soon as possible.

Death can unexpectedly impact young or middle-aged families, and your family may not be sufficiently prepared, if you don’t have a will. Estate planning can make certain that your wishes are clearly stated and executed.

Real estate is frequently given to an adult child, grandchild, or is divided among several heirs. Once you know who will receive the property, discuss your plans with these people to keep them apprised of your plans and avoid any unpleasant surprises.

If you include your home in the will, you can stipulate precisely who should benefit from it. You can also say if you want the home to stay in the family or be sold.

Dividing the interest in a property evenly among beneficiaries might seem fair, but it can also create some unexpected complications. If one beneficiary wants to move into the home and another wants to sell it and split the proceeds, things could get dicey. Discuss this issue with your beneficiaries to resolve this potential conflict in advance. One beneficiary could buy out the other beneficiaries’ shares in the property to take sole possession of it. However, you may need a life insurance policy to be sure that the cash is there for a buyout.

A will is also used to delegate responsibilities to certain heirs. You select an executor to oversee the disposition of your estate after your death.

An outstanding mortgage balance can cause some trouble, when passing on a property. Any debts you have at the time of your death, need to be paid before your estate can be settled. If you were still making mortgage payments, be sure your beneficiaries have a plan to avoid a default. Beneficiaries, a surviving spouse, the executor of estate, or any other party can continue to make payments to your bank to avoid a foreclosure process. There are several ways that your beneficiaries can resolve a mortgage, after they take possession of the home. In addition to just selling the property, they can refinance the loan or pay off the mortgage with any assets they have or receive from your estate. That way, they would own the home free and clear.

Review your will regularly to keep it up to date. Make a change if a beneficiary dies, if your own circumstances change, or if your relationship with an heir goes bad.

You can also transfer your home to a living trust. This lets you use and benefit from the asset while living and then transfer it to beneficiaries upon death. This will avoid the probate process and save heirs time and money. The trust document identifies beneficiaries and determines how the estate will be distributed after death. It can also name a trustee to oversee this process and avoid conflict among beneficiaries.

One downside of a living trust is that any outstanding debts must be taken care of before the home and any other assets in the trust can be transferred to beneficiaries.

If a beneficiary is comfortable with assuming some responsibility for owning your home, you can also update the deed to include them. This can be especially helpful, if your spouse isn’t currently on the deed. This will make transfer of the home easier. If the deed says: “transfer on death,” you own the home outright until your death, then it passes to any beneficiaries you name in the deed. When the deed includes the words “joint tenant with right of survivorship,” ownership of the home automatically transfers to any other co-owners on the deed, when you pass away.

Reference: the day (February 15, 2019) “Planning to leave your home to your heirs”

Do-It-Yourself Will Leads to Disaster

This is a cautionary tale of what can happen when people create a do-it-yourself will without the help of an estate planning attorney. As Ms. Cockrum told News 2 in the article “The power of a will and trouble without one,” she’s going from court procedure to court procedure, and feels overwhelmed. The entire issue would have been prevented with a properly prepared will.

Work with an estate planning attorney to avoid the many pit-falls of the do-it-yourself will

Without a valid will, a judge must determine how to divide assets in an estate. In this case, the biggest issue concerns the family home. The mortgage for the home is in her late husband’s name, even though they bought the house and maintained it together.

Here’s the problem: his children from a previous marriage are legally entitled to half of his assets.

Without a will, battles among family members are common. One purpose of the will is to name an executor (also known as the personal representative) who takes charge of distributing assets, including selling a home, paying off any debts and making sure that final wishes are carried out, as the decedent wanted. Without an executor, the first battle is over who will be in charge. That can take months and delay any resolution to the estate.

If there are minor children and no will, the opportunity to determine who will take care of the children is left to the court. Someone who does not know the family will make a decision to appoint the person who becomes their guardian. It may be someone you would not have wanted to raise your kids.

The will also outlines who gets what possessions from the estate. Family heirlooms and artifacts, like china, jewelry, collections and all kinds of items hold emotional and financial value. Fighting over who gets what, happens often when there’s no will. That takes time to resolve.

Without an estate plan to help manage tax liabilities, there may be taxes that could have been minimized. The cost of attorney’s fees to settle an estate without a will is typically going to be much higher than working with an attorney in the first place to create a will and other important documents.

Another surprise that families run into when there’s no will is that people think the surviving spouse inherits everything. However, this is not always true. Without a will, the state law determines what happens to the estate’s assets. Depending on the state, your spouse may get 50% and your kids may get 50%, or the surviving spouse might get everything. In other states, the surviving spouse receives a third.

The simplest way to avoid the troubles associated with a do-it-yourself will is to make an appointment with an experienced estate planning attorney and have an estate plan created that will protect your surviving spouse and your family. The attorney will also help you prepare for incapacity, with a power of attorney and healthcare power of attorney. This is not a do-it-yourself task.

For information about working with Mastry Law to insure your will transfers your assets how you want, visit our website and request a consultation.

Reference: News 2 (Jan. 29, 2019) “The power of a will and trouble without one”

Get These Three Estate Planning Documents In 2019

These may not be the first things you are thinking about as we launch into a brand-new year, but the idea is not to wait until you’re not thinking clearly or when it’s too late and you don’t have what you need to protect yourself, your family and your property. The details, from the Fox Business news article, “3 financial documents everyone needs,” are straightforward. Put this on your to-do list today.

A Will. The essential function of a will is to ensure that your wishes are carried out, when you are no longer alive. It’s not just for rich people. Everyone should have a will. It can include everything from your financial assets to life insurance, family heirlooms, artwork and any real estate property.

A will can also be used to protect your business, provide for charities and ensure lifelong care for your pets.

If you have children, a will is especially important. Your will is used to name a guardian for your minor children. Otherwise, the state will decide who should raise your children.

Your will is also used to name your executor (referred to as the Personal Representative in Florida). That is the person who has the legal responsibility for making sure your financial obligations are honored and your assets are distributed according to your wishes. Without an executor, the state will appoint a person to handle those tasks.

An Advanced Medical Directive. What would happen if you became ill or injured and could not make medical decisions for yourself? An advanced medical directive and health care proxy are the documents you need to assign the people you want to make decisions on your behalf. The advanced medical directive, also called a living will, explains your wishes for care, including end-of-life care. The healthcare proxy appoints a person to make healthcare decisions for you. As long as you have legal capacity, these documents aren’t used, but once they are needed, you and your family will be glad they are in place.

A Durable Power of Attorney. This document is used to name someone who will make financial decisions if you are not able to do so. Be careful to name a person you trust implicitly to make good decisions on your behalf. That may be a family member, an adult child or an attorney.

Once you’ve had these documents prepared as part of your estate plan they documents should be reviewed and updated every now and then. Life changes, laws change and what was a great tax strategy at one point may not be effective, if there’s a change to the law. Your estate planning attorney will help create and update your estate plan.

Reference: Fox Business (Dec. 19, 2018) “3 financial documents everyone needs”

Why Do I Need an Estate Plan?

Investopedia’s recent article, “4 Reasons Estate Planning Is So Important,” says you should think about the following four reasons you should have an estate plan. According to the article, doing so can help avoid potentially devastating consequences for your family.

  1. An Estate Plan Keeps Your Assets from Going to Unintended Beneficiaries. A primary part of estate planning is choosing heirs for your assets. Without an estate plan, a judge will decide who gets your assets. This process can take years and can get heated. There’s no guarantee the judge will automatically rule that the surviving spouse gets everything.
  2. An Estate Plan Protects Your Young Children. If you are the parent of minor children, you need to name their guardians, in the event that both parents die before the children turn 18. Without including this in your will, the courts will make this decision.
  3. An Estate Plan Eliminates a Large Tax Burden for Your Heirs. Estate planning means protecting your loved ones—that also entails providing them with protection from the IRS. Your estate plan should transfer assets to your heirs and create the smallest tax burden as possible for them. Without a plan, the amount your heirs may owe the government could be substantial.
  4. An Estate Plan Reduces Family Headaches After You’ve Passed. There are plenty of horror stories about how the family starts fighting after the death of a loved one. You can avoid this. One way is to carefully choose who controls your finances and assets, if you become mentally incapacitated or after you die. This goes a long way towards eliminating family strife and making certain that your assets are handled in the way you want.

If you want to protect your assets and your loved ones after you’re gone, you need an estate plan. Without one, your heirs could face large tax burdens and the courts could decide how your assets are divided or even who will care for your children.

Reference: Investopedia (May 25, 2018) “4 Reasons Estate Planning Is So Important”

Avoid These Three Big Estate Planning Mistakes

The Street lists the “3 Worst Estate Planning Mistakes and How to Avoid Them.” These are issues that frequently derail an estate plan:

Lack of Information. Unwinding the various pieces of your estate can be a monumental task. Some folks leave this all to chance. They fail to leave their personal representative and loved ones with a complete and updated list of where everything is located and how to get to it.

Think about all the assets you’ve accumulated in a lifetime: real property, brokerage accounts, bank accounts, mutual fund holdings, IRAs, pensions and others. They’re hopefully all protected by a host of user names and passwords and maybe even by the answers to questions, like your first pet’s name.

While things like insurance policies are likely online, some of your holdings are not available electronically. In addition, other possessions are totally digital, and you should guard against cyber-theft and hacking. Create a list of all your user names and passwords for investment accounts and other financial holdings.

Beneficiary Designations Issues. It’s not uncommon for people to forget that they’re required to name beneficiaries for their retirement accounts, annuity contracts and insurance policies. Messing this up is a guarantee that your assets will wind up in probate. It can be an expensive and time-consuming legal process, where your wishes may be disregarded.

Outdated Plans. Sometimes, decades pass after estate documents are signed and put away. In the meantime, divorces and other life events happen, radically impacting the original estate planning objectives. In addition, changes in tax laws might impact your initial intentions. It’s smart to periodically review what is in your will and your beneficiary designations.

Reference: The Street (November 29, 2018) “3 Worst Estate Planning Mistakes and How to Avoid Them”

Where Do I Start as an Executor if There’s a House in the Estate?

Handling an estate can be a monumental task. The Greater Baton Rouge Business Report explains the details in its article that asks “So you inherited a house … now what?

For instance, an executor’s immediate worry might be the safety of the house. One of the first questions an heir might ask, is whether there’s a security company involved that has a contract for monitoring. If so, contact the company to see where to call should there be a security breach and change the security passwords. Another suggestion is to change the locks on the house, because who knows who has been given keys to the home over the years. Siblings might want to place valuable items in safety deposit boxes or remove them from the house, as soon as they can.

The key to this entire process among heirs is communication. Keep everyone up-to-date. This alone will reduce the risk of misunderstanding, mistrust and frustration in the family.

Different interests among siblings often creates tensions after inheriting a house. A house may have sentimental value to the heirs, but the executor must stay objective about the situation. Reducing the house to cash by selling it and dividing the proceeds, typically makes the most financial sense.

It’s costly to maintain a house in an estate and insurance and court proceedings can also be expensive. Come to an up-front agreement on terms of the sale, when drafting an estate plan, because disagreements among siblings can sometimes lead to costly and lengthy court proceedings.

Heirs might decide to keep a house, especially if it’s a beach house or mountain retreat. You’ll then need someone to be the manager. One way to accomplish this is to establish a limited liability company (an LLC) with the other heirs. This gives the heirs a more stable, corporate management structure, while allowing for more flexibility. Place a year’s worth of cash to cover of expenses into the LLC and sign an agreement between heirs that states what happens with repairs, renting the property and other scenarios.

If you do sell, the sooner you sell it and the closer to the time of death, the less likely you’ll have to pay taxes on any appreciation since the time of death and have to worry about what the value was at the date of death. Inherited assets get a new tax basis, known as the date-of-death value. Use a qualified real estate appraiser to value the property, because the beneficiaries need to know the house’s most recent value to calculate capital gains tax later, should they choose to sell it.

Reference: Greater Baton Rouge Business Report (November 13, 2018) “So you inherited a house … now what? Here’s some advice

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