(858) 432-3923 tara@cheeverlaw.com
Do I really need an Estate Plan?

Do I really need an Estate Plan?

It is often a misconception that only the ultra-wealthy have an estate, which requires planning.  In fact, virtually anyone who owns anything has an “estate” in the eyes of the law. Although the term may conjure images of expansive country properties, expensive cars, or other symbols of high wealth, for the purposes of estate planning law, the term “estate” covers a whole lot more.

What constitutes as an estate

Ordinary possessions like homes, jewelry collections, bank accounts, cars, furniture — basically anything you can own — are also under the purview of your estate, meaning estate planning is something that profoundly impacts virtually everyone.

So even if you wouldn’t ordinarily consider yourself the owner of an estate, it’s quite likely that you are. The answer to the question “I don’t have an estate. Do I really need an estate plan?” is, “Yes, virtually everyone who owns property could benefit from estate planning.” Plus estate planning covers more than just property, too: It’s also about ensuring someone you trust can make critical medical and financial decisions for you if you’re unable to do so due to incapacity.

4 key advantages of estate planning

Estate planning may seem overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be – you are not alone. I know what it takes to create a comprehensive estate plan tailored to your exact needs and can make the process easier for you. Here are the core tenets of what’s involved in estate planning and how you stand to benefit from the process:

  1. It allows you to remain in complete control of your property while you’re still alive and well.
  2. It helps you provide for yourself and your loved ones if you become incapacitated or disabled – without expensive and distracting court hearings.
  3. It minimizes the impact of professional fees, court costs, and taxes.
  4. It provides a framework so you can give what you have to whom you want, the way you want, when you want.

Are you ready to sit down with a qualified estate planning attorney to see how you can ensure a better future for yourself and your family? There’s no time to waste — the sooner you take stock of your estate and get critical documents like wills and trusts completed, the better. Give me a call today to find out how I can keep your health and wealth in the right hands for good.

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How Your Trust Can Help a Loved One Who Struggles with Addiction

How Your Trust Can Help a Loved One Who Struggles with Addiction

Substance addiction is by no means rare, impacting as many as one in seven Americans. Since it is so prevalent, navigating a loved one’s addiction is actually a relatively common topic in everyday life.  Therefore, you should also consider it when working on your estate planning. Whether the addiction is alcoholism, drug abuse, or irresponsible spending, such as shopping or gambling, we all want our loved ones to be safe and experience a successful recovery. A properly created estate plan can help.

The idea that money from a trust could end up fueling those addictive behaviors can be a particularly troubling one. Luckily, it’s possible to frame your estate planning efforts in such a way that you’ll ensure your wealth has only a positive impact on your loved one during their difficult moments.

Funding for treatment

One of the ways your trust can have a positive influence on your loved one’s life is by helping fund their addiction treatment. If a loved one is already struggling with addiction issues, you can explicitly designate your trust funds for use in his or her voluntary recovery efforts. In extreme cases where an intervention of some sort is required to keep the family member safe, you can provide your trustee with guidance to help other family members with the beneficiary’s best interest by encouraging involuntary treatment until the problem is stabilized and the loved one begins recovery.

Incentive trusts

Incentive features can be included in your estate planning to help improve the behavior of the person in question. For example, the loved one who has an addiction can be required to maintain steady employment or voluntarily seek treatment in order to obtain additional benefits of the trust (such as money for a vacation or new car). Although this might seem controlling, this type of incentive structure can also help with treatment and recovery by giving a loved one something to work towards. This approach is probably best paired with funding for treatment (discussed above), so there are resources to help with treatment and then benefits that can help to motivate a beneficiary.

Lifetime discretionary trusts

Giving your heirs their inheritance as a lump sum could end up enabling addiction or make successful treatment more difficult. Luckily, there’s a better way. Lifetime discretionary trusts provide structure for an heir’s inheritance. If someone in your life is (or might eventually) struggle with addiction, you can rest easy when you know the inheritance you leave can’t be accessed early or make harmful addiction problem worse.

Of course, you want to balance this lifetime protection of the money with the ability of your loved one to actually obtain money out of the trust. That’s where the critical consideration of who to appoint as a trustee comes in. Your trustee will have discretion to give money directly to your beneficiary or pay on your loved one’s behalf (such as a payment directly to an inpatient treatment center or payment of an insurance premium). When dealing with addiction, your trustee will need to have a firm grasp of what appropriate usage of the trust’s funds looks like. Appointing a trustee is always an important task, but it’s made even more significant when that person will be responsible for keeping potentially harmful sums of money out of the addicted person’s hands.

Navigating a loved one’s addiction is more than enough stress already without having to worry about further enablement through assets contained in your trust. Let us take some of the burden off your shoulders by helping you build an estate plan that positively impacts your loved one and doesn’t contribute to the problem at hand. That way, you can go back to focusing your efforts on the solution.  Should you have any questions about estate planning or how I can help you, please feel free to contact me.

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Which life events require an immediate estate plan update?

Which life events require an immediate estate plan update?

Estate planning is the process of developing a strategy for the care and management of your estate if you become incapacitated or upon your death. One commonly known purpose of estate planning is to minimize taxes and costs, including taxes imposed on gifts, estates, generation skipping transfer and probate court costs. However, your plan must also name someone who will make medical and financial decisions for you if you cannot make decisions for yourself. You also need to consider how to leave your property and assets while considering your family’s circumstances and needs.

Since your family’s needs and circumstances are constantly changing, so too must your estate plan. Your plan must be updated when certain life changes occur. These include, but are not limited to: marriage, the birth or adoption of a new family member, divorce, the death of a loved one, a significant change in assets, and a move to a new state or country.

Marriage: it is not uncommon for estate planning to be the last item on the list when a couple is about to be married – whether for the first time or not. On the contrary, marriage is an essential time to update an estate plan. You probably have already thought about updating emergency contacts and adding your spouse to existing health and insurance policies. There is another important reason to update an estate plan upon marriage. In the event of death, your money and assets may not automatically go to your spouse, especially if you have children of a prior marriage, a prenuptial agreement, or if your assets are jointly owned with someone else (like a sibling, parent, or other family member). A comprehensive estate review can ensure you and your new spouse can rest easy.

Birth or adoption of children or grandchildren: when a new baby arrives it seems like everything changes – and so should your estate plan. For example, your trust may not “automatically” include your new child, depending on how it is written. So, it is always a good idea to check and add the new child as a beneficiary. As the children (or grandchildren) grow in age, your estate plan should adjust to ensure assets are distributed in a way that you deem proper. What seems like a good idea when your son or granddaughter is a four-year-old may no longer look like a good idea once their personality has developed and you know them as a 25-year-old college graduate, for example.

Divorce: some state and federal laws may remove a former spouse from an inheritance after the couple splits, however, this is not always the case, and it certainly should not be relied on as the foundation of your plan. After a divorce, you should immediately update beneficiary designations for all insurance policies and retirement accounts, any powers of attorney, and any existing health care Agent and HIPAA authorizations. It is also a good time to revamp your will and trust to make sure it does what you want (and likely leaves out your former spouse).

The death of a loved one: sometimes those who are named in your estate plan pass away. If an appointed guardian of your children dies, it is imperative to designate a new person. Likewise, if your chosen executor, health care proxy or designated power of attorney dies, new ones should be named right away.

Significant change in assets: whether it is a sudden salary increase, inheritance, or the purchase of a large asset these scenarios should prompt an adjustment an existing estate plan. The bigger the estate, the more likely there will be issues over the disposition of the assets after you are gone. For this reason, it is best to see what changes, if any, are needed after a significant increase (or decrease) in your assets.

A move to a new state or country: for most individuals, it is a good idea to obtain a new set of estate planning documents that clearly meet the new state’s legal requirements. Estate planning for Americans living abroad or those who have assets located in numerous countries is even more complicated and requires professional assistance. It is always a good idea to learn what you need to do to completely protect yourself and your family when you move to a new state or country. I am here to help you get fully settled in and build a plan to protect you and your family.

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Do You Really Need a Trust?

Do You Really Need a Trust?

Although many people equate “estate planning” with having a will, there are many advantages to having a trust rather than a will as the centerpiece of your estate plan. While there are other estate planning tools (such as joint tenancy, transfer on death, beneficiary designations, to name a few), only a trust provides comprehensive management of your property in the event you can’t make financial decisions for yourself (commonly called legal incapacity) or after your death.  Do you really need a trust?

One of the primary advantages of having a trust is that it provides the ability to bypass the publicity, time, and expense of probate. Probate is the legal process by which a court decides the rightful heirs and distribution of assets of a deceased through the administration of the estate. This process can easily cost thousands of dollars and take more than a year to resolve. Or course, not all assets are subject to probate. Some exemptions include jointly owned assets with rights of survivorship as well as assets with designated beneficiaries (such as life insurance, annuities, and retirement accounts) and payable upon death or transfer on death accounts. But joint tenancy and designating beneficiaries don’t provide the ability for someone you trust to manage your property if you’re unable to do so, so they are an incomplete solution. And having a will does not avoid probate.

Of note, if your probate estate is small enough – or it is going to a surviving spouse or domestic partner – you may qualify for a simplified probate process in your state, although this is highly dependent on the state where you live and own property. In general, if your assets are worth $150,000 or more, you will likely not qualify for simplified probate and should strongly consider creating a trust. Considering the cost of probate should also be a factor in your estate planning as creating a trust can save you both time and money in the long run. Moreover, if you own property in another state or country, the probate process will be even more complicated because your family may face multiple probate cases after your death, one in each state where you owned property – even if you have a will. Beyond the cost and time of probate, this court proceeding that includes your financial life and last wishes is public record. A trust, on the other hand, creates privacy for your personal matters as your heirs would not be made aware of the distribution of your assets knowledge of which may cause conflicts or even legal challenges.

Another common reason to create a trust is to provide ongoing financial support for a child or another loved one who may not ever be able to manage these assets on their own. Through a trust, you can designate someone to manage the assets and distribute them to your heirs under the terms you provide. Giving an inheritance to an heir directly and all at once may have unanticipated ancillary effects, such as disqualifying them from receiving some form of government benefits, enabling and funding an addiction, or encouraging irresponsible behavior that you don’t find desirable. A trust can also come with conditions that must be met for the person to receive the benefit of the gift. Furthermore, if you ever become incapacitated your successor trustee – the person you name in the document to take over after you pass away – can step in and manage the trust’s assets, helping you avoid a guardianship or conservatorship (sometimes called “living” probate). This protection can be essential in an emergency or in the event you succumb to a serious, chronic illness. Unlike a will, a trust can protect against court interference or control while you are alive and after your death.

Trusts are not simply just about avoiding probate. Creating a trust can give you privacy, provide ongoing financial support for loved ones, and protect you and your property if you are unable to manage your own assets. Simply put, the creation of a trust puts you in the driver’s seat when it comes to your assets and your wishes as opposed to leaving this critical life decision to others, such as a judge. To learn more about trusts – and estate planning in general, including which type of plan best fits your needs – contact me today.

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Estate Planning: 3 Reasons We Run the Other Way

Estate Planning: 3 Reasons We Run the Other Way

I completely understand that it feels hard to get around to completing your estate planning; it sounds about as fun as getting a root canal. With that said, I also understand that most people want to make sure that their loved ones are protected and will receive their hard-earned assets – regardless of whether they have $50,000 or several million.

Don’t let these common roadblocks stop you from protecting yourself and your family:

  1. Who Wants to Talk About Death? Discussions of death, dying, and illness – money and family – wills and trusts – make many folks uncomfortable. Of course, that’s normal, but don’t let a few minutes of feeling uncomfortable stop you from taking care of yourself and your loved ones.
  2. This Isn’t a Good Time. Everyone is busy. I understand that you may not have a lot of downtime, but there’s never going to be a better time. It does not take too much time to complete your planning. Call my office, get on the calendar, and get it done.
  3. It’s confusing. Estate planning is documented in legal documents, your finances are discussed, and the law is analyzed. It’s very common feel uncomfortable since this is new to you. If that’s what you are thinking, you are not I will translate complex legal concepts into everyday layman’s terms for you so you will not be confused or overwhelmed.

The truth is that estate planning isn’t really that bad. With my assistance, your estate planning will be completed smoothly. I will chat with you about your goals and concerns, analyze your family and financial situation, and work with you to come up with a solid plan. You provide the information, which I always keep confidential, and I’ll take care of everything else – taking the burden off of you. Email me at Tara@Cheeverlaw.com or call me at (858) 432-3923. I look forward to serving you!

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Money Isn’t Everything in Estate Planning

Money Isn’t Everything in Estate Planning

How to Pass Your Stories and Values to the Future Generations

Money may be the most talked about wealth contained within a person’s estate, but the riches of their experience and wisdom can mean even more to family members down the line. Reinforcement of family traditions can be built into your estate plan alongside your wishes regarding your money, property, and belongings. After all, what really makes a family a family is its values and traditions — not the way its finances read on paper.

It’s an excellent idea to hold a family meeting in which you discuss the sorts of things that matter to you most. In addition to the value of sharing your wisdom, you can also make it more likely that your heirs will handle their inheritance correctly if they understand the reasons behind your choices. This is just one of the many reasons to have a family discussion about your legacy and your estate plan.

How to tell your story through your estate plan

It’s a delight to get to hear your elders’ stories of their fondest memories and wildest adventures, as well as the struggles they overcame to get the family where it is today. This wisdom provides meaning for a financial legacy that otherwise might just be viewed as a windfall. As part of your estate and legacy planning, you can decide to record your own personal history. Here are a few ways:

  • Audio files: With the broad range of audio formats available today, you can record in the way that’s easiest for you – anything from a handheld cassette recorder to the Voice Memos app on your iPhone. There are some easy-to-use digitizing services that can compile your stories into audio files to make available to your family and descendants.
  • Video files: The same goes for home movies and other video recordings. Older film formats can be easily digitized and organized along with the videos from your phone. Today’s technology also makes it easier than ever to add narration (and context) to a video, making the story all the richer.
  • Photo albums: Many families have prized photo collections that catalog generations. It’s a tragedy when something like this is lost in a fire or extreme weather event, or even misplaced in a move. Creating a digital database is a favor to your family in more ways than one: Not only will they have access to these memories at any time, they can also feel secure knowing that these family treasures won’t be lost anytime soon and that multiple copies can be made for the different branches of the family.
  • Letters and other writings: If you enjoy writing, you can also include handwritten or typed letters or stories to your family members in your legacy plan to be received and read at the time of your choosing. You can also include past letters and postcards that might be tucked away in the attic. It’s not only a personal delight to relive the memories of the past by reviewing your old letters and postcards, but it’s also a great way for younger generations to get to know and sincerely appreciate your life journey and legacy.

Passing your values to the next generation

Some estate planning strategies blend your finances and personal values. For example, we might have a discussion on some of your core values in life. Whether you feel most passionate about the need for your beneficiaries to travel and gain worldly experience, continue a unique family tradition like sailing or astronomy, or support meaningful charitable or spiritual work, I can draft trusts that contain funds specifically set aside for these endeavors.

  • Educational trusts: If you value education, you might want to set up a trust to fund undergraduate and graduate degrees, med school, study abroad, or even community classes for your family’s future generations. Because of sharp increases in educational costs within the U.S., your grandchildren will likely stand to benefit immensely from an educational trust.
  • Incentive trusts: Similar to the way educational trusts set aside wealth for the purpose of funding a beneficiary’s schooling, incentive trusts can also help steer the course of your descendants’ lives be encouraging some paths while discouraging others. For example, an incentive trust could contain instructions for disbursements to be released when the beneficiary is working a part or full-time job. Or if family vacations were an important part of your upbringing, you could set aside funds specifically for your grandchildren to experience the same wonderful tradition you enjoyed.
  • Charitable trusts or foundations: Charitable trusts or foundations establish a family legacy of supporting a particular cause, but they also have the added financial benefit of reducing income and estate taxes. They are an excellent way to help a charitable organization that’s central to your core values and make your name associated with that philanthropic effort for generations to come.

To learn more about Trusts, click here.

Are you curious about exploring a few of these options in your estate and legacy plan? Give me a call today, and we can schedule an appointment to go over your many options for showcasing your memories and values in a long-lasting way that truly benefits your heirs.

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