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Why Do I Need Estate Planning If I’m Not Rich?

Most people spend more time planning a vacation than they do thinking about who will inherit their assets after they pass away. Although estate planning isn’t the most enjoyable activity, without it, you don’t get to direct who gets the things you’ve worked so hard for after you pass away.

Estate Planning isn't only for the rich
An Estate Plan will protect your assets and your loved ones

Investopedia asks you to consider these four reasons why you should have an estate plan to avoid potentially devastating results for your heirs in its article “4 Reasons Estate Planning Is So Important.”

Wealth Won’t Go to Unintended Beneficiaries. Estate planning may have been once considered something only rich people needed, but that’s changed. Everyone now needs to plan for when something happens to a family’s breadwinner(s). The primary part of estate planning is naming heirs for your assets and a guardian for your minor children. Without an estate plan, the courts will decide who will receive your property and raise your kids.

Protection for Families With Young Children. If you are the parent of small children, you need to have a will to ensure that your children are taken care of. You can designate their guardians, if both parents die before the children turn 18. Without a will with a guardianship clause, a judge will decide this important issue, and the results may not be what you would have wanted.

Avoid Taxes. Estate planning is also about protecting your loved ones from the IRS. Estate planning is transferring assets to your family, with an attempt to create the smallest tax burden for them as possible. A little estate planning can reduce much or even all of their federal and state estate taxes or state inheritance taxes. There are also ways to reduce the income tax that beneficiaries might have to pay. However, without an estate plan, the amount your heirs will owe the government could be substantial.

No Family Fighting (or Very Little). One sibling may believe he or she deserves more than another. This type of fighting happens all the time, and it can turn ugly and end up in court, pitting family members against each other. However, an estate plan enables you to choose who controls your finances and assets, if you’re unable to manage your own assets or after you die. It also will go a long way towards settling any family conflict and ensuring that your assets are handled in the way you wanted.

To protect your assets and your loved ones when you no longer can do it, you’ll need an estate plan. Without one, your family could see large tax burdens, and the courts could say 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”

Why Did the Hawaii Attorney General Oppose a Change to the Trust of a Hawaiian Princess?

Attorney General Russell Suzuki claimed in a court filing that 92-year-old Native Hawaiian princess Abigail Kawananakoa’s amendment to her trust is too complex and invalid based on a prior court ruling, according to The Honolulu Star-Advertiser.

The Clay Center Dispatch reports in the recent article, “Attorney general opposes Hawaiian princess’ trust amendment,” that Judge Robert Browning ruled last fall that Kawananakoa doesn’t have the mental capacity to manage her $215 million trust, after she suffered a stroke in 2017. The judge appointed First Hawaiian Bank to serve as trustee and removed Jim Wright, her longtime attorney who stepped in as trustee following her stroke.

Kawananakoa has indicated that she is feeling okay. She fired attorney Wright and then married Veronica Gail Worth—her girlfriend of 20 years.

Kawananakoa is considered a princess, because she is a descendant of the family that ruled the islands before the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom in 1893.

The princess inherited her wealth as the great-granddaughter of James Campbell, an Irish businessman who made his fortune as a sugar plantation owner and one of the state’s largest landowners.

The Hawaiian princess says she also wants to create a foundation to benefit Hawaiians and exclude board members appointed by Wright. She previously created a foundation to benefit Native Hawaiian causes.

“I will not contribute any further assets to that foundation because I do not want those individuals having anything to do with my trust, my estate and any charitable gifts I make during my lifetime or at my passing,” she said in the amended trust.

Her current foundation has requested a judge to appoint a guardian for Kawananakoa.

In his filing, Attorney General Suzuki wrote that the proposed changes will substantially alter the estate plan Kawananakoa executed before her mental capacity came into question.

In this case, the state represents the public interest in the protection of the trust’s charitable assets, Suzuki said.

A court hearing on the trust amendment is scheduled for next month.

Reference: The Clay Center Dispatch (January 3, 2019) “Attorney general opposes Hawaiian princess’ trust amendment”

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”

Here’s Why You Need an Estate Plan

It’s always the right time to do your estate planning, but it’s most critical when you have beneficiaries who are minors or have special needs, says the Capital Press in the recent article, “Ag Finance: Why you need to do estate planning.”

While it’s likely that most adult children can work things out, even if it’s costly and time-consuming in probate, minor young children must have protections in place. Wills are frequently written, so the estate goes to the child when he reaches age 18. However, few teens can manage big property at that age. A trust can help, by directing that the property will be held for him by a trustee or executor until a set age, like 25 or 30.

Probate is the default process to administer an estate after someone’s death, when a will or other documents are presented in court and an executor is appointed to manage it. It also gives creditors a chance to present claims for money owed to them. Distribution of assets will occur only after all proper notices have been issued, and all outstanding bills have been paid.

Probate can be expensive. However, wise estate planning can help most families avoid this and ensure the transition of wealth and property in a smooth manner. Talk to an experienced estate planning attorney about establishing a trust. Individuals can name themselves as the beneficiaries during their lifetime, and instruct to whom it will pass after their death. A living trust can be amended or revoked at any time, if circumstances change.

With a trust, it makes it easier to avoid probate because nothing’s in an individual’s name, and the property can transition to the beneficiaries without having to go to court. Living trusts also help in the event of incapacity or a disease, like Alzheimer’s, to avoid conservatorship (guardianship of an adult who loses capacity). It can also help to decrease capital gains taxes, since the property transfers before their death.

If you have minor children, an attorney can help you with how to pass on your assets and protect your kids.

For more information about how to best protect your minor children, download a copy of Mastry Law’s FREE report, A Parent’s Guide to Protecting Your Children Through Estate Planning.

Reference: Capital Press (December 20, 2018) “Ag Finance: Why you need to do estate planning”

Can I Disinherit a Family Member?

This is never a decision to be made lightly, but we do live in a world where families aren’t always as perfect as their holiday cards. Some blended families never really blend, opioid addictions create huge challenges for families and some individuals are family in name only. In that case, says Next Avenue in the article “How to Disinherit a Family Member,” you may choose to disinherit someone.

The first step is to work with an experienced estate planning attorney, who practices in your state. This is a complicated process, and if you don’t do it right, it’s entirely possible the person you want to disinherit can appeal your action in court after you’ve died—and win.

A living trust may work better than passing all your assets through a will, when you want to disinherit someone. A will is easier to challenge. He or she may say you were being influenced by someone else when you had your will written, and, therefore, the disinheritance does not reflect your real wishes.  They could also claim that you signed the will without understanding what you were signing, and that you were not mentally competent and could not make legal decisions at that time. This is a charge of fraud.

After you die, your will becomes a public document, and anyone can find out who you decided to disinherit. They may be angry or embarrassed and feel the need to set the record straight, challenging your will to prove their worth.

A living trust, when prepared correctly, remains a totally private document. In some states—check with your estate planning attorney—it can only be challenged by the beneficiaries of the trust.

There can always be charges of fraud, as a result of your being mentally incompetent to sign the trust. However, most people who create living trusts do so several years before their death. Wills are often written or revised shortly before death. Therefore, the person who created the trust has likely opened accounts in the name of the trust, used the accounts, paid bills, etc. That activity makes it hard to prove incompetence.

What if you want to leave someone only a partial inheritance? Your best bet is to ensure that your estate includes a strong “No Contest” provision, technically termed “In Terrorem.” It’s a little harsh, but the general idea is that whoever challenges the will, gets nothing. Courts don’t always like it, but heirs may think twice about challenging your will.

Remember that many of your assets are in accounts with beneficiary designations: IRAs, SEPs, investment accounts, life insurance policies, etc. Review the names on your accounts to make sure the person you want to disinherit does not appear on those accounts. You can also use Payable on Death (POD) or Transfer on Death (TOD) on accounts to keep that “disinherited” person from knowing about assets moved to other heirs outside of your will.

Blended families face unique challenges. Friction between stepparents and stepchildren can explode, when one parent dies and the second spouse is left without the other parent as a buffer. Tensions that were kept under the surface, may bubble up quickly. Make sure that all the children know what your plans are for your estate, to avoid breaking up the blended family.

Disinheriting someone, for whatever reason, can create hard feelings that remain for generations. If you feel you have no choice, speak with your estate planning attorney to be sure it’s done correctly and lessen the chances of any challenges.

Reference: Next Avenue (Dec. 11, 2018) “How to Disinherit a Family Member”

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”

When Do I Need a Financial Power of Attorney?

A financial power of attorney is a document that provides a trusted individual with the authority to act on your behalf. The person who creates a power of attorney is called the “principal, and the person who receives this authority is called their “agent” or “attorney-in-fact.”

The Brainerd Dispatch recently interviewed Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson in its article, “Guest Opinion: Your legal rights – Financial powers of attorney.” The Attorney General explains that this person doesn’t have to be an attorney, but it should be someone the person trusts. This person should be responsible, honest and diligent.

A power of attorney is required to be in writing, signed before a notary, dated and clear on what powers are being granted by the principal (i.e., the person having the document prepared). If you want to make the power of attorney durable, meaning you want it to last even if you become incapacitated, then the document must have a statement like: “This power of attorney shall not be affected by incapacity or incompetence of the principal.”

You should talk to a lawyer when creating a power of attorney to be certain the power of attorney is drafted in a way that aligns with your wishes and with state law.

When creating a power of attorney, you must decide on the degree of authority you want your agent to have over your affairs. A general power of attorney gives your agent the ability to act on your behalf in all affairs.  However, a limited power of attorney grants your agent this authority only in certain circumstances.

A power of attorney is a wise move for every adult American, because each of us may become unable to manage our own financial affairs or make other decisions. Here are some examples of powers you can give to your agent:

  • To use your money to pay your everyday living expenses;
  • To manage benefits from Social Security, Medicare, and other government programs;
  • To conduct transactions with your bank and retirement accounts; and
  • To file and pay your income taxes.

A principal can revoke a power of attorney. A mentally competent person can remove a power of attorney at any point with a signed document. If a power of attorney isn’t removed, it ends with the principal’s death.

Note that some banks and investment firms have their own power of attorney forms. Preparing these organization-specific forms may make it easier for your agent to work with certain organizations with which you do business.

Reference: Brainerd Dispatch (November 20, 2018) “Guest Opinion: Your legal rights – Financial powers of attorney”

I Was Left Out of a Will—What Can I Do?

It’s a stinging feeling. To be left out of a will feels like a rebuke from beyond the grave. You’ll need to set aside your emotions and consider your options, which may be limited.

Contested wills are not an easy battle. There are time limits to taking action. An estate planning attorney will be able to advise you on the requirements of your state. Investopedia’s article, “What To Do When You're Left Out Of A Will,” explains that you’ll need to be able to prove outright fraud, diminished mental capacity or coercion to have a will's terms dismissed.

GavelBefore making a federal case out of it, cool down for a few days and think things through. If you aren’t a family member and were never named in a previous will, you can’t contest the will. If the deceased talked to you about an inheritance before, write down as much as you can remember and estimate the dollar value (whether in money or possessions). If it was never discussed but was implied, you’ll need to give a high and a low estimate on what you could have reasonably received based on your knowledge of the estate. If this amount doesn’t cover your legal fees, forget it. You may even walk away, if it’s twice as much as the retainer because some estate battles cost more in legal fees than the inheritance. Again, consider this carefully.

The person who creates the will has the final word on who is and who is not in the will. If you have reason to believe that the will has changed, maybe because the person was under duress or suffering from diminished mental capacity, you can try to find out the details. You can ask the executor for the current will, any previous versions and a list of assets.

A sharp executor will compare copies of the will and note any significant changes. Therefore, it’s possible that a notice from the executor will be your first signal that you were removed from the will. If you aren’t told before the will goes to probate, you’ll be able to get a copy from the probate court. In addition, you’ll be told how long you have to contest the will. Each state has different rules and time limits, so ask a local estate planning attorney to help you get the copy and file the contest.

To contest the will, you need a valid reason. You need to reasonably prove that the testator lacked the mental capacity to understand what he was doing when the current will was signed, was pressured into changing it or that the will fails to meet state requirements and isn’t legal.

Your attorney will honestly tell you if you have a winnable case on these grounds. If you don't have grounds, there’s still a chance you can make a claim on the estate. For instance, if you did unpaid work for the testator, you may be able to claim costs. Again, look at the value of the claim versus the costs of moving forward.

With sufficient grounds, your attorney will file a contest against the will with the objective of invalidating the current will and enforcing a previous will that lists you as a beneficiary. If you’ve been left out of several revisions of the will, your chances of winning the dispute will be less because multiple wills must be invalidated. The burden of proof is on you, so be ready for a tough fight.

Instead of a court battle that will deplete your finances and those of the estate in legal costs, your attorney may be able to get the estate to agree to mediation. Mediation may be a better and faster resolution than a lengthy court battle.

Keep in mind that an estate contest comes with a great deal of emotional stress and could have a big impact on your relationship with family members or friends of the deceased. It is not easy to be left out of a will, but a realistic look at the financial and emotional cost of a battle that you may or may not win should be considered before throwing yourself into an estate contest.

Reference: Investopedia(May 31, 2018) “What To Do When You're Left Out Of A Will”

Spiderman Creator Stan Lee’s Estate Needs Untangling

It’s going to take more than a super hero to unravel the mess that Stan Lee left behind.

The passing of Stan Lee, famed Marvel Comics publisher and chairman, was sad for his legions of fans. For his 68-year-old daughter J.C., there’s grief and a challenging estate to be settled. His last years were hard, with ill health, the passing of his wife of nearly 70 years and accusations of sexual harassment from nurses and home aides.

Stan-leeIn addition, Lee reportedly said that $1.4 million dollars was missing from his bank accounts and that a large chunk of the money had been used to purchase a condo.

MarketWatch’srecent article, “Stan Lee’s tangled web of estate planning and how to avoid it in your own life,”reports that Lee had also hired and fired several business managers and attorneys in this time.

“I learned later on in life, you need advisors, if you’re making any money at all,” he told the Daily Beastin a 2018 interview. He also remarked that he’d done much of his own money management at the start of his career.

“But then, a little money started coming in, and I realized I needed help. And I needed people I could trust. And I had made some big mistakes. And my first bunch of people were people that I shouldn’t have trusted.”

It’s not known at this point, if Lee had a will or any trusts in place. If he did not, then he’s joining other late celebrities like performers Aretha Franklin and Prince who failed to draft these documents. As a result, their heirs and potential beneficiaries have had to go to court to straighten things out.

Keeping track of an estate plan can become harder as a person ages, because he or she could suffer cognitive decline, or a professional or family member may think he or she is suffering from this. Stan Lee was the subject of this type of inquiry: in February, he signed a document declaring that his daughter spent too much money, yelled at him, and befriended three men who wanted to take advantage of him, the Hollywood Reporterreported. However, a few days later, Lee took it back.

Seniors can become get less confident in what they’re doing, and they are more susceptible to the influence of others who may not have the best of intentions. However, you can easily create an estate plan with which you’re comfortable, with the help of an experienced estate panning attorney.

A big rat’s nest that will need to be addressed by Lee’s daughter will be dealing with the many business documents that may be floating around from his current and past business managers and attorneys. To avoid this, work with an estate planning attorney and ask some specific questions, such as:

  • How do we organize and simplify my assets?
  • Will we need a trust, and how will they be managed?
  • How will you coordinate with my executor and/or attorney-in-fact while I’m well, and after I’m sick or gone?
  • How do you determine cognitive decline in an individual? What would you do, if you believed my ability to answer questions and manage my funds was diminished? What would you do once you’ve made this decision?
  • How often will we review my beneficiary designations and estate planning documents?
  • How should we coordinate a team of financial and legal professionals to make sure all are working towards the same goals?
  • How much or how little information about my estate should be discussed with family members?

Reference: MarketWatch(November 17, 2018) “Stan Lee’s tangled web of estate planning and how to avoid it in your own life”

Are You or Will You Become a “Solo Ager”?

“Solo agers face unique challenges, as their needs begin to change.”

Did you know that a study from the Pew Research Center says about 20% of the 75 million baby boomers don’t have children—a figure that’s double what it was in the 1970s and one that’s expected to keep rising.

MP900427632We mention this because these people need someone to count on to always be there, if they need help making decisions and managing their affairs as they get older.

NH Magazine’s recent article entitled “The Difficulties That Come With Solo Aging” says that, for those without children or parents who’re estranged from them, it’s frequently a tough question to answer.

Our country’s 15 million “solo agers” or “elder orphans” now comprise a demographic that’s unprecedented in American history. This relatively new segment of society has a unique set of challenges.

As your physical, intellectual, and emotional capacities diminish, a person on his own must determine how he will be able to make sound decisions on financial and legal issues, relationships, housing and healthcare. There are also more cases being reported of elder fraud, and new scams are designed to take money from seniors. An elderly person could also wind up lonely and penniless.

However, there is help. Professional guardians can assist the elderly in reviewing their financial statements, creating budgets, paying bills, keeping keep them organized and sorting mail and email to see what’s a legitimate bill or a solicitation or potential scam.

A guardianship, which is also known as a conservatorship, is a legal process that’s used when a senior can no longer make or communicate safe or sound decisions about himself person and/or his property, he’s become susceptible to fraud or undue influence. The fact that establishing a guardianship can remove substantial rights from a person means that it should only be considered after other alternatives have proven ineffective or are unavailable.

In addition to a court-ordered guardianship, there are other options. There are also certified geriatric care managers, certified daily money managers, as well as attorneys who specialize in elder law.

Solo agers should arrange a future legal guardianship for themselves, a person who will assume control in a fiduciary capacity, if they’re unable to make decisions for themselves. This may be a relative or a friend, as well as a professional fiduciary or private guardian.

In addition, everyone should have a healthcare directive and an estate plan. However, solo agers have a more urgent need to have these important documents in place, while they’re still somewhat young and healthy—because they don’t have an adult child who will fly in from the other side of the country to provide that assistance and guidance.

Talk to several potential guardians or fiduciaries and go with the one whose skills most closely fit your needs and with whom you feel the most comfortable. Check their references and credentials thoroughly. You can also select different people for different tasks, which gives you a critical system of checks and balances. Be certain that you understand exactly what services each will provide and their fees and get it all in writing.

Reference: NH Magazine(October 2018) “The Difficulties That Come With Solo Aging”

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