New Baby? Time to Create Your Estate Plan

New Baby? Time to Create Your Estate Plan

Estate planning is often one item that gets pushed back on nearly everyone’s to-do list. The reasons you might be delaying vary: lack of time, not thinking you have enough assets, not knowing how to start, or fear of contemplating death. Whatever the reason for not putting an estate plan together, it is important to understand that if you just had a baby or have minor children – now is the time to meet with me to implement an estate plan.

In general terms, an estate plan is a set of legal documents that outline your wishes on how your assets should be distributed and who is responsible for your dependents, in the event of your death or legal incapacity. An estate plan should be developed with a qualified estate planning attorney to ensure that it will work as intended and fully protect your family. Here’s how an estate plan can you protect the newest addition to your family.

Protect Your Children

Perhaps to top reason to put together an estate plan is to dictate who will care for your children in the event you and your spouse die early or become legally incapacitated and therefore unable to care for your kids. Your estate plan can designate someone you trust and who shares your values as a guardian of your minor children.  This is the person who will essentially be a surrogate parent and raise the children through adulthood. When selecting a guardian, it is important to choose people who will be willing participants in your estate plan, who share your values and parenting philosophy, and who you trust to raise your children.

Distribute Your Things

While some assets have purely financial value, others have deep emotional attachments. Not only will a properly funded trust-based estate will eliminate probate, it will promote family harmony and save time and money. As you may already know, probate is the court-supervised process of wrapping up a deceased person’s affairs. This consists of multiple steps, including presenting a deceased’s last will and testament (if they had one – otherwise the probate court uses the government’s default plan known as intestacy), gathering assets, paying off debts, and distributing what’s left over to the deceased’s heirs.  Essentially, a probate proceeding is a lawsuit against the estate for the benefit of the creditors.  Using a trust to provide specific instructions on distribution of assets can help ward off fights among surviving relatives and will keep your affairs private.  Additionally, special features in your trust, sometimes called lifetime trusts, also allow you provide long-term financial stability and support for your children. These lifetime trusts can prevent a financially immature young child from using up their inheritance.

Provide for Your Loved Ones

Beyond your children, creating an estate plan will inform your loved ones what final health care decisions should be made on your behalf in the event you become incapacitated and are unable to make decisions. Serving as healthcare proxy is an enormous responsibility for the person you name, but you can help lessen the burden by communicating your wishes about medical decisions. One significant advantage of properly planning is that your intentions can be clearly stated so that your surviving family members do not have to guess what your desires are.

Complete your Estate Planning

If you have experienced a recent life-event – such as a new baby, a work promotion, purchasing a home, moving to a new state, or any other milestone – you should discuss your situation with me, your Family Business Lawyer. If you already have a will or trust in place, it may make sense to update it to ensure it provides for your family and loved ones and ensure that your Trust is properly and fully funded, which is the legal term for transferring assets into you Trust.  To learn how estate planning can protect you, your newborn, and the rest of your family, contact me today.

This article is a service of Tara Cheever, Personal Family Lawyer®. I don’t just draft documents; I ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love.  That’s why I offer a Family Wealth Planning Session,™ during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling my office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.

 

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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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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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Naming a Guardian for your Minor Child(ren)

Naming a Guardian for your Minor Child(ren)

Parents with minor children need to name someone to raise them (a guardian) in the event both parents should die before the child becomes an adult. While the likelihood of that actually happening is slim, the consequences of not naming a guardian are great.

If no guardian is named in the parent’s will, a judge—a stranger who does not know the parents, the child, or their relatives—will decide who will raise the child without knowing whom the parent would have preferred. Anyone can ask to be considered, and the judge will select the person he/she deems most appropriate. On the other hand, if the parent names a guardian (typically via the parent’s Will), the judge will usually go along with the parent’s choice.

Choosing a Guardian

The guardian does not have to be a relative, so parents should consider and evaluate all candidates:

*    Parenting style, values and religious beliefs should be similar to their own.

*    Location could be important. If the guardian lives far away, the child would have to move from a familiar school, friends and neighborhood.

*   How comfortable with the candidates is the child now?

*   Consider the child’s age and that of the guardian-candidates. Grandparents may have the time, but they may not have the energy to keep up with a toddler or teenager. An older guardian may become ill and/or even die before the child is grown. A younger guardian, especially an adult sibling, may be concentrating on finishing college or starting a career. If the child is older and more mature, he/she should have some input into this decision.

*   How prepared emotionally are the candidates to take on this added responsibility? Someone who is single may resent having to care for someone else’s children. Someone with a houseful of their own children may not want more around, or they may welcome the addition.

*   Ask the top candidates if they would be willing to serve, and name at least one alternate in case the first choice becomes unable to serve.

Raising the child should not be a financial burden for the guardian, and a candidate’s lack of finances should not be the deciding factor. The parent will need to provide enough money (from assets and/or life insurance) to provide for the child. Some parents also earmark funds to help the guardian buy a larger car or add onto their existing home, if needed.

Naming someone else to handle this money can be a good idea. Having the same person raise the child and handle the money can make things simpler because the guardian would not have to ask someone else for money, but the best person to raise the child may not be the best person to handle the money; and it may be tempting for them to use this money for their own purposes.

Naming a guardian can be a difficult decision for many parents. Keep in mind that this person will probably not raise the child because odds are that at least one parent will survive until the child is grown. By naming a guardian, however, the parent is being responsible and planning ahead for an unlikely, yet possible, situation. And parents must realize that no one else will be the perfect parent for their child, so typically this means making compromises in some areas. Finally, parents should remember that they can change their mind; in fact, parents should review and change the guardian as their child grows and if the guardian’s situation changes.

Estate Planning Mistakes to Avoid

Estate Planning Mistakes to Avoid

From time to time, it’s good to review why having a complete, up-to-date estate plan is so important. In addition to confirming our own actions, it can provide us with valuable information to pass along to friends and family who need estate planning. Here we discuss two common mistakes:

  1. Not having a plan. Every state has laws for distributing the property of someone who dies without an estate plan—but not very many people would be pleased with the results. This process is called probate. By having a plan in place, your family will be able to avoid probate when you pass away. State laws vary, but generally they leave a percentage of the deceased’s assets to family members. Non-family members will not receive any assets so it is crucial for same-sex partners and non-married partners to have a plan in place if it is your intention to provide for a partner. It is common for the surviving spouse and children to each receive a share during a probate proceeding, which often means the surviving spouse will not have enough money to live on. In addition, probate fees and costs diminish the estate. If the children are minors, the court will control their inheritances until they reach legal age (usually 18), at which time they will receive the full amount. This may be contrary to what parents prefer, who may want to have some restrictions on their inheritance until they are more mature. By having a plan in place, you make the decisions and keep your affairs private by avoiding government intervention and government involvement.
  2. Not naming a guardian for minor children. A guardian for minor children can only be named through a Will. If the parents have not done this, and both die before the children reach legal age, the court will have to name someone to raise them without knowing whom the parents would have chosen. Equally tragic would be that the minor children might end up in protective custody while the court gets around to hearing the case to nominate a guardian. By seeing me, a San Diego Estate Planning lawyer, you can have the peace of mind knowing an estate plan is in place, which includes naming a guardian, for the short term and long term, for your minor children.

Continue to read Part 2 Of This Series

Common Estate Planning Myths . . . Debunked

Common Estate Planning Myths . . . Debunked

Estate planning.  You’ve heard the phrase, but do you know what it is?  You probably have it on your list of things you should do, but you may not think it’s a priority. . . perhaps because of some of the following common estate planning myths and misconceptions.

Myth #1 – Estate planning is only for the wealthy.  There are many levels of estate planning, beginning at its most basic and continuing upward with more advanced planning as you move through different financial stages.  Regardless of whether you have a multi-million dollar estate or something more modest, you need to take steps to ensure your assets are distributed to your heirs according to your wishes.  Everyone should have a basic estate plan, which consists of a Will, Trust, Advance Health Care Directive and Durable
Power of Attorney.

Myth #2 – Only the elderly need to consider planning.  You can’t know what your future holds, so it’s important to have an estate plan in place before your “golden years,” in the event you become incapacitated or die prematurely.  If you’re unable to see to your own affairs, due to a serious accident or other health condition, a Durable Power of Attorney provides a trusted advocate with the authority to carry out your stated wishes.  Similarly, having an Advance Health Care Directive allows you to specify your wishes with respect to healthcare and life-saving treatment.  These circumstances aren’t limited to the elderly—and neither is passing away—so it makes sense for everyone to have a plan in place to provide direction to their heirs.

Myth #3 – You only need a will.  While having a will is important, it’s just one of the four corners of a basic estate plan.  If you lack the other three, your estate will have to go through probate upon your death (no trust), and your heirs won’t know what you want them to do in the event that you’re incapacitated (no Durable Power of Attorney) or facing a decision regarding life-saving treatment (no Advance Health Care Directive).  Your will needs to be supplemented with these other important vehicles.

Myth #4 – Estate planning is a one-time event.  Putting an estate plan in place is an important first step, but it must be examined and possibly changed as time passes.  You may experience life changes that cause you to revisit earlier decisions, e.g., divorce, financial windfalls or a death in the family, and your plan may also need modification based on new legislation.  It’s a good idea to review your estate plan on a regular basis to ensure it reflects your current wishes and situation.

Myth #5 – It doesn’t matter who I name as a fiduciary/successor trustee.  Au contraire, the person who fills this role has vital responsibilities with respect to your estate, so the decision on who’s best suited for it shouldn’t be made lightly.  Many people make arbitrary choices (often a spouse or child), without stopping to think about whether that person has the time and expertise required to do the job.  Your fiduciary/successor trustee should be someone you trust who has experience dealing with estate issues. . .and it doesn’t have to be a family member.  In many cases, you may be better served having a professional fiduciary.

I hope this information has debunked some of the myths and misconceptions that surround the estate planning profession.  If you don’t have a plan in place, what are you waiting for?  If you do, when’s the last time you reviewed it?

Top 10 Reasons for Estate Planning

Top 10 Reasons for Estate Planning

There are many reasons why estate planning is important for everyone, regardless of age. With the proper plan in place, you can:

1.   Protect your Loved Ones. 
Only with proper planning can you be assured that your loved ones will not be subjected to unexpected disasters due to your failure to plan.

2.  Avoid Probate. 
Without a trust, your estate will be supervised by the Probate Court and there are high legal fees associated with court control.  A Trust avoids the expensive, lengthy, emotionally draining and public probate process.

3.  Guardians for Minor Children.  
Who do you choose to raise your children if you pass prematurely? It is crucial that you name a legal guardian in your will so YOU make the decision about who will care for your children.

4.  Manage Affairs in the Event of Incapacity.
In the event that you are unable to make decisions for yourself, who will make those decisions on your behalf?  By creating a durable power of attorney and an advanced healthcare directive can you be sure that your financial and personal affairs will be handled according to your instruction.

5.  Business Planning.  
If you own a business, proper planning can ensure that the business survives and continues on in accordance with your plan.

6.  Minimize or Eliminate Estate Taxes. 
You can prevent your assets from being subject to estate tax, which will allow more of your estate to be enjoyed by your loved ones.

7.  Charitable Giving. 
You can make gifts to your favorite charity or other worthwhile causes, while potentially getting income and estate tax benefits.

8.  Provide for Spouse.  
Without a proper plan, your spouse or partner may not receive the property you intended to provide.  For example, unknowingly holding property in joint ownership with someone other than your designated recipient may have undesired results down the road.

9.  Establishing Trusts for Minor Children. 
A good plan can preserve your assets for your children’s use and prevent those inherited assets from being wasted or lost by careless habits and harmful addictions.

10.  Designate Beneficiaries. 
By creating an estate plan you have wide latitude to choose who will receive your estate, what they will receive and when they will receive it.  You may distribute among your children equally or you may choose to eliminate one or all of them.  You have complete control over your estate, rather than allowing the legal system to do it for you.

8 Estate Planning Things to Do before you Travel

8 Estate Planning Things to Do before you Travel

Before any trip, most of us create a “to-do list” of things we have put off and want to take care of before we leave. Here is a checklist of estate planning things to do before you take your next trip. Taking care of these will help you travel with peace of mind, knowing that if you don’t return due to serious illness or death, you have made things much easier for those you love.

1. Have your estate planning done. If you have been procrastinating about your estate planning, use your next trip as your deadline to finally get this done. Be sure to allow adequate time to get your estate plan completed in advance of your trip.

2. Review and update your existing estate plan. Revisions should be made any time there are changes in family (birth, death, marriage, divorce, remarriage), finances, tax laws, or if a trustee or executor can no longer serve. Again, be sure to allow enough time to have the changes made.

3. Review titles and beneficiary designations. If you have a living trust and did not finish changing titles and/or beneficiary designations, now is the time to do so. If a beneficiary has died or if you are divorced, change these immediately. If a beneficiary is incapacitated or a minor, set up a trust for this person and name the trust as beneficiary to prevent the court from taking control of the proceeds.

4. Review your plan for minor children. If you haven’t named a guardian who is able and willing to serve and something happens to you, the court will decide who will raise your kids without your input. If you have named a guardian, consider if this person is still the best choice. Name a back-up in case your first choice cannot serve. Select someone responsible to manage the inheritance.

5. Secure or review incapacity documents. Everyone over the age of 18 needs to have these: 1) Durable Power of Attorney for Heath Care, which gives another person legal authority to make health care decisions (including life and death decisions) for you if you are unable to make them for yourself; and 2) HIPPA Authorizations, which give written consent for doctors to discuss your medical situation with others, including family members.

6. Review your insurance. Check the amount of your life insurance coverage and see if it still meets your family’s needs. Consider getting long-term care insurance to help pay for the costs of long-term care (and preserve your assets for your family) in the event you and/or your spouse should need it due to illness or injury.

7. Organize your accounts and documents. It used to be that we could just point to a file cabinet and say everything was “in there.” But now so much is done online that there may not even be a paper trail. Make a list of ALL of your accounts, where they are located, and the user names and passwords, then review and update it before each trip. Print a hard copy in case your computer is stolen or crashes and let someone you trust know where to find it. Clean up your computer desktop and put your financial and other important files where they can be easily found. Make a back-up copy in case your computer is stolen or crashes, and let someone know where to find it. Be sure to include on your master list any passwords that might be needed to access your computer and files.

8. Talk to your children about your plan. You don’t have to show them financial statements, but you can discuss in general terms what you are planning and why, especially when any changes are made. The more they understand your plan, the more likely they are to accept it—and that will help to avoid discord after you are gone.