Trustee

Should I Use an Online Will Service?

More than 50% of Americans don’t have a will, according to a 2017 survey by Caring.com. Spelling out how your assets should be divided, is an essential start to estate planning that can be easily overlooked.

A U.S. News & World Report’s article asks “Should You Make a Free Will Online?” According to the article, before writing your will or using an online service, you need to know the legal requirements in your area. In many instances, this is best left to a legal professional in your state.

There are plenty of online tools that will help you create a will. However, before clicking on a website’s promise, you need to evaluate the available options. There are three main ways to write a will:

  1. Do it yourself;
  2. Use a do-it-yourself program; or
  3. Get help from a qualified estate planning attorney.

If you draft a will on your own, you’ll need to be absolutely certain you understand all of the applicable probate, tax and property laws in your state.

If you use an online service, you’ll have access to software that walks you through the process. In this case, you’ll need to be sure that the software company has all the applicable laws covered, as required for your state. You also want a program that lets you make updates later, if your situation changes.

However, if you engage the assistance of an experienced estate planning attorney, you’ll have the opportunity to have an expert help you think through the details. The result will be a well-drafted will. Yes, it will cost a bit more, but for many situations—like those with blended families, families with minor children, complex investments, or property in several states—it’s worth it.

Remember that the probate laws can vary widely from state to state. For example, the basic form requirements may allow a handwritten will in some states, but in other states the will must be typewritten. Some states require only two witnesses, and others require that the will be witnessed, notarized and typed.

If you have a larger estate or heirs with medical conditions, it may be wise to work with an attorney who can counsel you on the best solutions for your situation. For example, if you have a child with special needs receiving government benefits, you should have an attorney create a trust so their inheritance doesn’t negatively impact their benefits.

You should also use an attorney if you want to reduce your exposure to probate fees. Some people transfer their assets into a revocable living trust, so they are not subject to probate fees. An online service can’t give you this type of attention or personalized service.

If you have a complex situation, you may end up paying less by using an attorney. An experienced estate planning attorney has helped numerous families. He or she can offer insight into setting up guardians for minor children or appointing an individual to be in charge of the distribution of the estate. There are frequently estate and gift tax considerations about which the average person doesn’t know or monitor.

Reference: U.S. News & World Report (January 9, 2019) “Should You Make a Free Will Online?”

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”

What is a Blind Trust?

A blind trust is designed to eliminate any real or perceived conflicts of interest.

A blind trust can be revocable. That means the grantor or creator of the trust can change it later. It also can be irrevocable, meaning it can’t be modified or terminated.

Investopedia says in the article “How to Establish a Blind Trust” that while the concept of putting assets into a trust and then giving up all knowledge and control of those assets might sound a bit draconian, in certain situations, it can make perfect sense.

Blind trusts are most commonly used in the political community, but this vehicle can also be quite valuable in other situations.

To avoid any conflicts of interest, a blind trust may be used by retiring or retired business owners and executives who keep large amounts of company stock and may be interested in politics, charitable work, or board membership that requires them to act objectively.

A blind trust also may be a good idea when a person suddenly comes into a large, unexpected sum of money and wants to keep the matter private (e.g., lottery winners).

Creating a blind trust requires an attorney to draft a document that the creator signs to give full power of attorney over the trust assets to an independent, third-party trustee. An experienced trust attorney is the best professional to handle this, because there are state and federal laws governing the creation of blind trusts.

When the trust is drafted, you can provide input like what the investment objective of the trust will be. However, after that, you stop communicating with the trustee and have no further information on how the trust’s assets are being handled.

You also must select the right trustee. It should be someone who’s honest and investment savvy, and if you’re trying to separate yourself from your investments, it should be a person with whom you’re not close.

Reference: Investopedia (May 25, 2018) “How to Establish a Blind Trust”

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”

How Do I Set Up a Trust?

Trust funds are often associated with the very rich, who want to pass on their wealth to future heirs. However, there are many good reasons to set up a trust, even if you aren’t super rich. You should also understand that creating a trust isn’t easy.

U.S. News & World Report’s recent article, “Setting Up a Trust Fund,” explains that a trust fund refers to a fund made up of assets, like stocks, cash, real estate, mutual bonds, collectibles, or even a business, that are distributed after a death. The person setting up a trust fund is called the grantor or settlor, and the person, people or organization(s) receiving the assets are known as the beneficiaries. The person the grantor names to ensure that his or her wishes are carried out is the trustee.

While this may sound a lot like drawing up a will, they’re two very different legal vehicles.

Trust funds have several benefits. With a trust fund, you can establish rules on how beneficiaries spend the money and assets allocated through provisions. For example, a trust can be created to guarantee that your money will only be used for a specific purpose, like for college or starting a business. And a trust can reduce estate and gift taxes and keep assets safe.

A trust fund can also be set up for minor children to distribute assets to over time, such as when they reach ages 25, 35 and 40. A special needs trust can be used for children with special needs to protect their eligibility for government benefits.

At the outset, you need to determine the purpose of the trust because there are many types of trusts. To choose the best option, talk to an experienced estate planning attorney, who will understand the steps you’ll need to take, like registering the trust with the IRS, transferring assets to the trust fund and ensuring that all paperwork is correct. Trust law varies according to state, so that’s another reason to engage a local legal expert.

Next, you’ll need to name a trustee. Choose someone who’s reliable and level-headed. You can also go with a bank or trust company to be your trust fund’s trustee, but they may charge around 1% of the trust’s assets a year to manage the funds. If you go with a family member or friend, also choose a successor in case something happens to your first choice.

It’s not uncommon for people to have a trust written and then forget to add their assets to the fund. If that happens, the estate may still have to go through probate.

Another common issue is giving the trustee too many rules. General guidelines for use of trust assets is usually a better approach than setting out too many detailed rules.

Reference: U.S. News & World Report (November 8, 2018) “Setting Up a Trust Fund”

What Will Happen to Paul Allen’s Vast Fortune?

The co-founder of Microsoft serves as an excellent example of advance planning, maintaining privacy and creating a legacy.

Though a trust established years ago and several companies, Paul Allen began building his legacy of philanthropy long before his death. His last will and testament was a simple six-page document, according to an article from The Seattle Times, “Paul Allen’s will sheds little light on what will happen to estate.”

Paul_allen_bhudlnThe will was filed with King County on October 24—the same day his sister Jody announced she was named the executor and trustee of his estate.

Allen died on October 15 at age 65, from complications of non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

He was a Microsoft co-founder, who operated a long list of business and philanthropic initiatives that helped shape the Puget Sound region. His business concerns included owning the Seattle Seahawks, donating significantly to the arts community and scientific research, and running the multifaceted Vulcan Inc., which reshaped the real-estate landscape of South Lake Union.

Allen’s will places his assets into a 25-year-old living trust, where their disposition is not expected to be made public. It is important to remember that wills are public records, but trusts are not.

Forbes estimated his wealth at roughly $20 billion.

The will also sets out a list of successors, if Jody Allen declines or is unable to serve as executor.

Jody can appoint someone, or it would next fall to Nancy Peretsman, the managing director of investment firm Allen & Co., which is not connected to Allen. After him, the duty would fall to lawyers Allen Israel and Nicholas Saggese.

Jody Allen said in October that she “will do all that I can to ensure that Paul’s vision is realized, not just for years, but for generations.”

Many tributes to Allen have taken place since his passing. In early November, buildings in Seattle and throughout the state were lit up in blue, his favorite color and the color of the Seattle Seahawks, the football team he owned.

Reference: The Seattle Times (November 8, 2018) “Paul Allen’s will sheds little light on what will happen to estate”

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”

How Do Trust Funds Work?

Trusts serve a variety of functions in estate planning, and they aren’t just for wealthy people.

Trusts can be simple, or they can be complex, depending on what type of trust is being considered and how they are structured. Trusts should be set up by an estate planning attorney who is familiar with asset ownership and how trusts impact inheritances and taxes.

TrustU.S. News & World Report’s recent article, “Setting Up a Trust Fund,” explains that a trust fund refers to a fund made up of assets, like stocks, cash, real estate, mutual bonds, collectibles, or even a business, that are distributed after a death. The person setting up a trust fund is called the grantor, and the person, people or organization(s) receiving the assets are known as the beneficiaries. The person the grantor names to ensure that his or her wishes are carried out is the trustee.

While this may sound a lot like drawing up a will, they're two different legal vehicles.

Trust funds have several benefits. A trust can reduce estate and gift taxes and keep assets safe. With a trust fund, you can establish rules on how beneficiaries spend the money and assets allocated through provisions. For example, a trust can be created to guarantee that your money will only be used for a specific purpose, like for college or starting a business.

A trust fund can also be set up for minor children to distribute assets to over time, such as when they reach ages 25, 35 and 45. A special needs trust can be used for children with special needs to protect their eligibility for government benefits.

At the outset, you need to determine the purpose of the trust because there are many types of trusts. To choose the best option, talk to an experienced estate planning attorney, who will understand the steps you'll need to take, like registering the trust with the IRS, transferring assets to the trust fund and ensuring that all paperwork is correct. Trust law varies according to state, so that’s another reason to engage a local legal expert.

Next, you'll need to name a trustee. Choose someone who’s reliable and level-headed. You can also go with a bank or trust company to be your trust fund's trustee, but they may charge around 1% of the trust's assets a year to manage the funds. If you go with a family member or friend, also choose a successor in case something happens to your primary trustee.

It’s not uncommon for people to have a trust written and then forget to add their assets to the fund. If that happens, the estate may still have to go through probate.

It’s better to create some general guidelines and have confidence in the trustee to carry out your wishes. Placing too many restrictions on a trustee will inhibit their ability to be effective on your behalf.

Reference: U.S. News & World Report (November 8, 2018)“Setting Up a Trust Fund”

The Executor is Making a Mess of the Estate: What Now?

Estate litigation is never pleasant, but heirs have rights, and, in some situations, they have to fight back, when an executor is not acting in the best interest of the beneficiaries.

When siblings are able to work together to settle their parent’s estate, it may take a little time and there may be some negotiating.  However, the details are worked out. Sometimes the family bonds become even stronger. There are also ugly stories where families are fractured.

MP900400332This occurs when the executor acts with some (or a great deal of) self-interest, especially when it’s one of the siblings. That daughter may feel entitled to more than an equal share, because of the care she’s given the parent or because she resents her siblings’ successes, or any of a number of reasons.

What if the eldest sister gets her siblings to sign away their rights to everything? Perhaps some do, but when one sibling says no, this evil executor gets the will probated anyways. Subsequently, the lone hold-out finds out there was a testamentary trust created because she didn't sign away her rights, and—you guessed it—the eldest sister is the trustee. That’s dirty pool!

When the hold-out beneficiary requested an accounting of the trust, the evil executor/trustee refused. When an executor or trustee tries to keep the deceased parent’s estate and trust a secret, it’s not appropriate or acceptable, and she’s breaching her fiduciary duty.

nj.com’s recent article, “Your rights when family fights over a will,” explains that executors and trustees serve in a fiduciary capacity.  It means they have a legal obligation to act for another (the beneficiaries) in a fair, honest, and transparent manner. While executors and trustees have the legal authority to manage the affairs of an estate or trust, she’s accountable to the beneficiaries and must inform them of what she’s doing.

When a person dies, the executor must notify, in writing, all beneficiaries named in the will (and all heirs at law, like those entitled to inherit by intestacy) that a will has been probated. This must be done within a specific number of days of the will being probated. The executor must also provide a copy of the will upon request. After receiving the notice of probate, individuals may contest the will within a specific timeframe.

When the will is reviewed, beneficiaries can see that a testamentary trust was created. Once appointed, an executor must settle and distribute the estate as quickly and efficiently as possible. Both executors and trustees have a duty to collect and preserve assets, deal impartially with beneficiaries and act at all times with the best interests of the estate and trust in mindto be certain that the estate and trust are distributed, according to the decedent's wishes.

A fiduciary also has a duty to account to the beneficiaries.  Therefore, in the event a beneficiary has questions about how an estate or trust is being handled, he can request an accounting and copies of supporting documents. Likewise, a trustee is required to keep beneficiaries reasonably informed about the administration of the trust and information necessary for the beneficiaries to protect their interests. The trustee must promptly respond to the beneficiary's request for info on the administration of a trust. If a fiduciary willfully neglects or refuses to render an accounting or breaches her fiduciary duties, you can ask the court to remove her as the executor or trustee.

In this particular scenario, the older sister is legally bound to provide an accounting of the estate. If that shows that anything was done wrongfully, she may be personally liable for misconduct. She may even be liable to pay the legal fees incurred by other family members.

This can get messy, and it can be a tough time for everyone in the family. If it sounds all too familiar, you’ll want to speak with an attorney with experience in estate litigation.

Reference: nj.com (September 28, 2018) “Your rights when family fights over a will”

What Happens in Your World After You Die?

We’re not talking about what happens to your soul, or if you are headed to a peaceful place, or even what happens to your physical remains. Have you thought about what happens to the world you leave, your family and friends and your possessions, after you die?

Let’s say you don’t believe in anything in particular. Or you’re deeply spiritual and believe that death will be a wonderous journey. Either way, you should devote time and energy to what happens right here on earth after you die, says Forbes in the article, “What Will Really Happen After You Depart?”

31179858004_e5c33b693c_oNo, not just because it’s the right thing to do and not just because you’re curious. It’s because you want your family to remember you for the awesome legacy you plan on leaving, not because of the horrible hot mess you left behind that they spent three years trying to figure it out, while trying to live their lives.

Estate organization is not the exact same thing as estate planning. An experienced estate attorney or elder law attorney can help you draft your will, your advance directive, your power(s) of attorney and a trust, if you need it. Your attorney most likely also has a copy of those documents.

 However, the attorney has no power over what you do with your original estate planning documents, once you leave their office.

One idea is to develop a guidebook or “game plan” for your family and loved ones, while you’re alive. It’s known that there’s a strong correlation between how we face death and prepare our families—and their ability to survive, adjust and start the recovery process. Organizing your estate has been called a “gift of love” that goes far beyond when you can be around to take care of your family.

Answer these questions to start the estate organizing process:

  • Does a family member know where to find your advance directive, if you end up in the hospital?
  • Where are your legal documents and who in your family knows where to find them?
  • Who has access to your bank accounts and knows your login data?
  • Are you now caring for someone? Who’d assume that responsibility, if you’re unable to do so?
  • Have you made final arrangements for your death, funeral and burial or cremation?
  • Who knows about the plans and where the paperwork is located?
  • Where are your insurance documents, and who knows where to find them?
  • Who’ll take care of your pets, when you are no longer able?

Let’s also keep in mind that getting all these plans and documents in place is just the first step. They don’t do anyone any good, if you don’t talk with your family and loved ones about them. You have to make sure that they understand your wishes to avoid misunderstandings or family feuds, after you’re not around to correct them. The more you can discuss these matters in a calm, caring fashion, the better their grief process will be. Think of this as your opportunity to show how much you care about them. You want them to remember you with love, grieve in a healthy manner and be able to incorporate your loss, as their lives continue. Memories are a powerful force, and how you prepare for your passing, will also be a memory for them.

Reference: Forbes (September 13, 2018) “What Will Really Happen After You Depart?”

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