(858) 432-3923 tara@cheeverlaw.com
Why Not Just Go on NoloⓇ and Create Your Own Estate Planning Documents Cheaply?

Why Not Just Go on NoloⓇ and Create Your Own Estate Planning Documents Cheaply?

There are many software programs, as well as websites, that sell do-it-yourself estate planning documents. These websites and form tools seem to offer a convenient and cost-effective alternative to consulting with an estate planning attorney. But do they really meet your needs and protect your family? Is online, do-it-yourself estate planning worth the perceived upfront savings?

Penny Wise and Pound Foolish

In almost every scenario do-it-yourself estate planning is risky and can become a costly substitute for comprehensive in-person planning with a professional legal advisor. Typically, these online programs and services have significant limitations when it comes to gathering information needed to properly craft an estate plan. This can result in crucial defects that, sadly, won’t become apparent until the situation becomes a legal and financial nightmare for your loved ones.

Creating your own estate plan without professional advice can also have unintended consequences. Bad or thoughtless documents can be invalid and/or useless when they are needed. For example, you can create a plan that has no instructions for when a beneficiary passes away or when a specific asset left to a loved one no longer exists. You may create a trust on your own but fail to fund it, resulting in your assets being tied up in probate courts, potentially for years. Worse yet, what you leave behind may then pass to those you did not intend.

Your family situation and assets are unique. Plus, each state has its own laws governing what happens when someone becomes incapacitated or dies. These nuances may not be adequately addressed in an off-the-shelf document. In addition, non-traditional families, or those with a complicated family arrangement, require more thorough estate planning. The options available in a do-it-yourself system may not provide the solutions that are necessary. A computer program or website cannot replicate the intricate knowledge a qualified local estate planning attorney will have and use to apply to your particular circumstances.

If you’re a person of wealth, then concerns about income and estate taxes enter the picture too. An online estate planning website or program that prepares basic Wills without taking into account the size of the estate can result in hundreds of thousands of dollars in increased (and usually completely avoidable) tax liability and future probate fees. A qualified estate planning attorney will know how to structure your legal affairs to properly address these issues.

One important aspect of estate planning is protecting adult children from the negative financial consequences of divorce, bankruptcy, lawsuits, or illness. An online planning tool will not take these additional steps into account when putting together what is usually a basic estate plan. Similarly, parents who have children or adult loved ones with special needs must take extra caution when planning. There are complicated rules regarding government benefits that these loved ones may receive that must be considered, so that valuable benefits are not lost due to an inheritance.

Consult an Estate Planning Attorney

No matter how good a do-it-yourself estate planning document may seem, it is no substitute for personalized advice. Estate planning is more than just document production. In many cases, the right legal solution to your situation may not be addressed by these do-it-yourself products – affecting not just you, but generations to come. To make sure you are fully protecting your family, contact me, a Personal Family Lawyer®, today.

As a Personal Family Lawyer®, I offer expert advice on Wills, Trusts, and numerous other estate planning vehicles. Using proprietary systems, such as my Family Wealth Inventory and Assessment™ and Family Wealth Planning Session™, I’ll carefully analyze your assets—both tangible and intangible—to help you come up with an estate planning solution that offers maximum protection for your family’s particular situation and budget. Contact me today to get started.

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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The Key Differences Between Wills and Trusts

The Key Differences Between Wills and Trusts

When discussing estate planning, a Will is what most people think of first. Indeed, Wills have been the most popular method for passing on assets to heirs for hundreds of years. But Wills aren’t your only option. And if you rely on a Will alone (without a Trust) to pass on what matters, you’re guaranteeing your family has to go to court when you die.

In contrast, other estate planning vehicles, such as a Trust-based plan, which used to be available only to the uber wealthy, are now being used by those of all income levels and asset values to keep their loved ones out of the court process.

But determining whether a Will alone or a Trust-based plan (Trust and Pour-Over Will) is best for you depends entirely on your personal circumstances. And the fact that estate planning has changed so much makes choosing the right tool for the job even more complex.

The best way for you to determine the truly right solution for your family is to meet with me as your Personal Family Lawyer® for a Family Wealth Planning Session™. During that process, I’ll take you through an analysis of your personal assets, what’s most important to you, and what will happen for your loved ones when you become incapacitated or die. From there, you can make the right choice for the people you love.

In the meantime, here are some key distinctions between Wills and Trusts you should be aware of.

When they take effect
A Will only goes into effect when you die, while a Trust takes effect as soon as it’s signed and your assets are transferred into the name of the Trust. To this end, a Will directs who will receive your property at your death, and a Trust specifies how your property will be distributed before your death, at your death, or at a specified time after death.  The Trust is what keeps your family out of court in the event of your incapacity or death.

Because a Will only goes into effect when you die, it offers no protection if you become incapacitated and are no longer able to make decisions about your financial and healthcare needs. If you do become incapacitated, your family will have to petition the court to appoint a conservator or guardian to handle your affairs, which can be costly, time consuming, and stressful.

With a Trust-based plan, which includes a Pour-over Will, Durable Power of Attorney and health care documentation, you can include provisions that appoint someone of your choosing—not the court’s—to handle your medical and financial decisions if you’re unable to. This keeps your family out of court, which can be particularly vital during emergencies, when decisions need to be made quickly.

The property they cover

A Will covers any property solely owned in your name. A Will does not cover property co-owned by you with others listed as Joint Tenants, nor does your will cover assets that pass directly to a beneficiary by contract, such as life insurance.

Trusts, on the other hand, cover property that has been transferred, or “funded,” to the Trust or where the Trust is the named beneficiary of an account or policy. That said, if an asset hasn’t been properly funded to the Trust, it won’t be covered, so it’s critical to work with me as your Personal Family Lawyer® to ensure the trust is properly funded.

Unfortunately, many lawyers and law firms set up Trusts, but don’t emphasize the important of ensuring your assets are properly re-titled or beneficiary designated, and the Trust doesn’t work when your family needs it. I have systems in place to ensure that transferring assets to your Trust and making sure they are properly owned at the time of your incapacity or death happens with ease and convenience.

How they’re administered

In order for assets through a Will to be transferred to a beneficiary, the will must pass through the court process called Probate. The court oversees the Will’s administration in Probate, ensuring your property is distributed according to your wishes, with automatic supervision to handle any disputes.

Since Probate is a public proceeding, your Will becomes part of the public record upon your death, allowing everyone to see the contents of your estate, who your beneficiaries are, and what they’ll receive.

Unlike Wills, Trusts don’t require your family to go through Probate, which can save both time and money. And since the Trust doesn’t pass through court, all of its contents remain private.

How much they cost

Wills and Trusts do differ in cost—not only when they’re created, but also when they’re used. The average Will-based plan can run between $500-$2000, depending on the options selected. An average Trust-based plan can be set up for $3,500-$6,000, again depending on the options chosen. So at least on the front end, Wills are far less expensive than Trusts.  However, Wills must go through Probate, where attorney fees and court costs can be quite hefty, especially if the Will is contested. Given this, the total cost of executing the Will through probate can run $15,000 or more plus all of the other disadvantages of going through a Court proceeding.

Even though a Trust may cost more upfront to create than a Will, the total costs once Probate is factored in can actually make a Trust the less expensive option in the long run.  And if you think you can cut costs by having your “trust” done through an online program like LegalZoom or through a Trust-mill company, please think again.  While you will end up with a document with the word “Trust” on the first page, the document is likely filled with errors and problems that will leave your loved ones in Court proceedings that you thought you were avoiding.  Since the problem will be discovered at your incapacity or at your death, it will be too late to correct.  As the old adage goes “you get what you pay for.”  While we all like getting a bargain, your estate plan is not the place to cut corners.

During our Family Wealth Planning Session™, I’ll compare the costs of Will-based planning and Trust-based planning with you, so you know exactly what you want and why, as well as the total costs and benefits over the long-term.

As your Personal Family Lawyer®, I offer expert advice on Wills, Trusts, and numerous other estate planning vehicles. Using proprietary systems, such as my Family Wealth Inventory and Assessment™ and Family Wealth Planning Session™, I’ll carefully analyze your assets—both tangible and intangible—to help you come up with an estate planning solution that offers maximum protection for your family’s particular situation and budget. Contact me today to get started.

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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Five Surprisingly Common Planning Mistakes Many Baby Boomers are Making

Five Surprisingly Common Planning Mistakes Many Baby Boomers are Making

Baby boomers – the first generation tasked with the responsibility of planning for and funding their golden years. This generation, which includes those born between 1946 and 1964, have entered and continue to enter into retirement. As they make this financial transition into retirement, many are learning that they have made some of the most typical retirement mistakes.

But, even if you’ve made a financial mistake or two, there’s still time to avoid these five surprisingly common planning mistakes baby boomers are making in droves.

Mistake #1: Believing Estate Planning is Only for the Wealthy: While baby boomers are not the only ones guilty of this mistake, the common misconception is that only the ultra-rich need to have an estate plan prepared. By some reports, about half of Americans between the ages of 55 and 64 do not even have a Will. Because estate planning encompasses not only protection of your assets (regardless of how much you’ve accumulated), but also your incapacity planning and healthcare choices, the lack of planning can leave you in a dire situation should any medical issues arise.

Mistake #2: Checklist Mentality: For many, estate planning is just the preparation of legal documents. Once the documents are signed, the client crosses off the item from his or her to-do list and moves on. But, your circumstances may (and usually will) change. And the likelihood of this happening increases the longer time goes by. To ensure your estate planning objectives are carried out and that you plan will actually work by minimizing family conflict and avoid court intervention, you should update your estate plan every time a major (or minor) life change happens, such as retirement.

Mistake #3: Not Completing Your Estate Planning Homework: Just because the estate planning documents have been signed does not necessarily mean that the planning is complete. It is important that any assets that need to be retitled are done so as soon as possible, before you forget. If the ownership or designations on financial accounts and property do not align with your estate planning strategy, there can be major problems in the future. Improper titling of financial accounts or property can result in an unexpected or undesirable distribution. This can happen because you may make one plan through your will or trust, but the ultimate determination of who inherits will rely on the ownership or beneficiary designation of those assets upon your death.

Mistake #4: Leaving Out Little (And Not So Little) Things: It is important to consider all forms of property, not just the high-value assets when putting together an estate plan. Some of the most commonly overlooked assets include digital assets and family pets. If not expressly addressed in your estate plan, your family may end up fighting over valuable assets, abandoning those they deem worthless, or not even realizing certain assets existed.

Mistake #5: Not Preparing for Life Events & Emergencies: No one has a crystal ball. However, with proper estate planning, you may be able to weather the storm brought on by some of life’s unexpected events or emergencies. With long term care costs increasing year after year, planning for the future possibility of a nursing home can save you money and reduce worry if the time comes.

Estate Planning Help

Although many baby boomers have made these mistakes, you do not have to be one of them.   As a Personal Family Lawyer®, I can give you the peace of mind knowing you have a plan in place that will work for you and your family in the event of incapacity and at death. I can teach you some estate planning options and you can be sure that you and your family are protected from these common mistakes.

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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Estate Planning Best Practices Gleaned From Famous Celebrity Deaths

Estate Planning Best Practices Gleaned From Famous Celebrity Deaths

Discussing death can be awkward, and many people would prefer just to ignore estate planning all together. However, ignoring—or even putting off—such planning can be a huge mistake, as these celebrity stories will highlight.

The next time one of your relatives tells you they don’t want to talk about estate planning, share these famous celebrities’ stories to get the conversation started. Such cautionary tales offer first-hand evidence of just how critical it is to engage in estate planning, even if it’s uncomfortable.

The Marley Family Battle
You would think that with millions of dollars in assets—including royalties offering revenue for the indefinite future—at stake, more famous musicians would at least have a will in place. But sadly, you’d be wrong. Legendary stars like Bob Marley, Prince, and Jimi Hendrix failed to write down their wishes on paper at all.

Not having an estate plan can be a nightmare for your surviving family. Indeed, Marley’s heirs are still battling one another in court three decades later. If you do nothing else before you die, at least be courteous enough to your loved one’s to document your wishes and keep them out of court and out of conflict.

Paul Walker Died Fast and Furious at Just 40
While Fast and Furious actor Paul Walker was just 40 when he died in a tragic car accident, he had enough forethought to implement some basic estate planning. His will left his $25 million estate to his teenage daughter in a trust and appointed his mother as her legal guardian until 18.

But isn’t 18 far too young for a child to receive an inheritance of any size? Walker would have been far better advised to leave his assets in an ongoing trust, with financial education built in to give his daughter her best shot at a life well lived, even without him in the picture.

Most inheritors, like lottery winners, are not properly educated about what to do after receiving an inheritance, so they often lose their inheritance within just a few years, even when it’s millions.

Indeed, none of us has any clue when we’ll die, only that it will happen, so no matter how young you are or how much money you have—and especially if you have any children—don’t put off estate planning for another day. You truly never know when it’ll be needed.

Heath Ledger Didn’t Update His Estate Planning
Even though actor Heath Ledger created a will shortly after becoming famous, he failed to update it for more than five years. The will left his entire fortune to his parents and sister, so when he died unexpectedly in 2008, his young daughter received nothing, as she hadn’t been added to the will. Fortunately, his parents made sure their granddaughter was provided for, but that might not always be the case.

Creating an estate planning strategy is just the start—be sure to regularly update your documents, especially following births, deaths, divorces, new marriages, acquiring new assets, or retiring. Many estate plans fail because most lawyers don’t have built-in systems for updating your estate plans, but we do—mostly because we don’t want this to happen to your family.

Paul Newman Cut Out His Daughters Too
Though it’s a good idea to regularly update your estate plan, be sure your heirs know exactly what your intentions are when making such updates, or your family might experience significant shock by not knowing why you did what you did.

The final update to Paul Newman’s will, which was made just a few months before his death in 2008, left his daughters with no ownership or control of Newman’s Own Foundation, his legendary charity associated with the Newman’s Own food brand. Prior versions of Newman’s will— and indeed his own personal assurances to his family—indicated they’d have membership on the foundation’s board following his death.

Instead, the final version of his will left control of the foundation to his business partner Robert Forrester. Some allege that during his final months, when Newman was mentally unstable, he was secretly persuaded to change his estate plan to leave control of the Newman’s Own brand and foundation to Forrester. Newman’s daughters are currently fighting Forrester in court over the rights they believe they’re entitled to receive.

While changes to your estate plan may seem perfectly clear to you, make sure your family is on the same page by clearly communicating your intentions. In fact, if you are making significant changes to your plan, and your children are adults, we often recommend a full family meeting to go over everything with all impacted parties, and we often facilitate such meetings for our clients.

Muhammad Ali Made His Wishes Clear
Boxing great Muhammad Ali wanted multi-day festivities to be held in his honor, including a large festival, an Islamic funeral, and a dazzling public memorial at the KFC headquarters in Louisville, KY. Given such elaborate plans, he worked with his lawyers for years, ensuring his wishes would be properly carried out.

While you probably won’t need a multi-day festivity to celebrate your life, you may have wishes regarding how your life should be memorialized when you pass or how your care should be handled if you’re incapacitated. If you eat a special diet or want certain friends by your side while incapacitated, you have to make these wishes clearly known in writing or they very well might not happen. At the same time, you should spell out exactly how you want your remains cared for and what kind of memorial service, if any, you prefer.

As your Personal Family Lawyer®, we can help ensure your final wishes are carried out exactly how you want. But more importantly, we’ll help protect your family and keep them out of conflict and out of court in the event of your death or incapacitation. With a Personal Family Lawyer® on your side, you’ll have access to the exact same estate planning strategies and protections that A-List celebrities use, so don’t wait another day—contact us now to get started!

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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After Tax Reform, Is Estate Planning Still Necessary?

After Tax Reform, Is Estate Planning Still Necessary?

The new tax legislation raises the federal estate tax exemption to $11.2 million for individuals and $22.4 million for couples. The increase means that an exceedingly small number of estates (only about 1,800, nationally) will have to worry about federal estate taxes in 2018, according to estimates from the nonpartisan congressional Joint Committee on Taxation.

So, you may be wondering, is estate planning even still necessary?

To put it simply: Yes!

Comprehensive estate planning does a lot more than guard against you owing federal estate taxes. Other than taxes, you and your family likely face a range of estate planning challenges, such as:

  • Distribution of your assets. Create your legacy with the help of tools like a trust and/or a last will and testament.
    • If you die without a will, state intestacy laws determine where your stuff goes. You lose control, and the people closest to you may feel hurt or may suffer financially.
    • If your estate plans do not include asset protection strategies, your lifetime of hard work and savings could be squandered needlessly.
    • Without an estate plan, your family may not be aware of all of the assets that you own.  Your hard earned money may end up with the California Department of Unclaimed Property, which is estimated to reach over $9 Billion in unclaimed property by mid-2018.
  • Cognitive impairment. Dementia, Alzheimer’s disease or other disorders could make handling your own affairs impossible or at least ill-advised. Executing a Durable Power of Attorney (DPOA), for instance, allows you to choose a person, referred to as an agent or attorney-in-fact, to step in and manage your financial affairs on your behalf. Without this important document, your fate will be left to the public whims of the court in a proceeding called a Conservatorship (aka Living Probate).  If a family member hasn’t stepped in to Petition for Conservatorship, the court could appoint someone else—for instance, a public conservator.
  • Medical emergencies. What if you become unable to communicate your preferences regarding medical care yourself? Naming someone as your health care power of attorney under a medical Power of Attorney allows him or her to act as your voice for medical decisions. In addition, a Living Will and Advance Health Care Directives allows you to specify the types of life-sustaining treatment you do or do not want to receive.
  • Specific family situations. Life is unpredictable. You need to consider (and proactively deal with) challenges like the following:
    • If you have minor children, you can name a guardian for them and provide for their care through your estate plan. Without a named guardian, the decision of who raises your children will be left to a Judge.  The Judge will not know your family dynamics and who would be best to raise your children in the manner in which you intended.  Even worse, your children may even end up with the Department of Child Protective Services while the courts sort your affairs out.
    • If you care for a dependent with a debilitating condition, provide for her and protect her government benefits using tools like the Special Needs Trust (SNT).
    • If you’re married with children from a previous relationship, you need clear, properly prepared documents to ensure that your current spouse and children inherit according to your wishes.
  • Probate is the court-supervised process of the distribution of a deceased person’s assets. A veritable avalanche of paperwork, expense and stress awaits your loved ones during probate. But it doesn’t have to happen to your family! Through proper planning, you can keep all of your assets outside of probate to be distributed according to your wishes in a private Trust administration.

Estate Planning Involves Much More Than Minimizing Estate Taxes

Even prior to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, relatively few Americans needed to worry about the estate tax. However, virtually everyone faces one or more of the issues outlined above. Shockingly, a 2016 Gallup poll found that 56% of Americans do not even have a simple will. A 2017 poll conducted by Caring.com found similarly alarming news—a majority of U.S. adults (especially Gen-Xers and Millennials) do not have their estate plans in order.

We can help you get prepared for the future.  Please contact me to begin your plan and get the peace of mind you need.

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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Organizing for Tax (and Estate Planning) Season

Organizing for Tax (and Estate Planning) Season

It’s the start of a new year, which means tax season—and this year’s April 17th IRS filing deadline—is just around the corner. Soon you’ll be receiving tax forms such as your W-2 or 1099s, and you’ll start thinking about the life events that could affect your taxes in various ways.

This flurry of tax prep activity is the perfect opportunity to get your estate plan in order, too, and kill two birds with the proverbial stone.

Why? Because as you run down your list of “tax prep” questions, you will find that your answers could also impact your estate plan.

Some things to think about:

  • Did you get married or divorced? Did any of your children or grandchildren?
  • Did you welcome a child or grandchild into your family by birth or adoption?
  • Have any of your children or grandchildren reached the age of majority?
  • Have you dealt with illness or hospitalization? Have you incurred medical expenses?
  • Did you buy or sell a new property or any other major assets, like a vacation home?
  • Did you move to another state?
  • Did you buy, sell, open, or close a business?
  • Have you made any charitable donations?
  • Do you have any new life insurance or pension plans?

After you’ve answered these questions, get to work on gathering the corresponding paperwork. That might include deeds, policies, and contracts as well as bills and receipts. Having all of this information on hand can help you prepare your tax forms and whip your estate plan into shape.

Here’s how your tax-related changes can affect your estate planning.

If you already have an estate plan, your number one goal is to make sure everything still represents your wishes, taking into account the past year’s events. Maybe because of a change in circumstances, you need new or updated estate planning documents. Perhaps it’s time for an LLC and an update to your living trust now that you have a small business, or maybe you need to update beneficiaries because of births or deaths. Or, if you’ve had a change of heart about who should inherit from you, you also need to update your plan.

If you don’t have an estate plan, having this information at your fingertips sets you up for a productive conversation with your estate planning attorney. After reviewing your legacy goals, I can draw up key documents, such as:

  • A Will. Among other things, this document can ensure that your wishes—and not the laws of the state—determine how to distribute your estate.  A Will by itself will not avoid probate so in most circumstances, a Trust is established with the Will.
  • A Revocable Living Trust. In addition to, or as an alternative to a Will, you can establish a living trust, which allows your estate to bypass the potentially long and costly probate process upon your death, gives you extra privacy, and helps to avoid the potentially costly guardianship or conservatorship court process (sometimes called “living probate”) if you become incapacitated.
  • Health care documentation, including a Living Will, Advance Health Care Directive and HIPAA release. These documents name an Agent to speak on your behalf for medical treatment in the event that you are unable to, authorizes release of your medical records, and expresses your desires regarding life-sustaining medical treatment, among other things, if you become incapable of communicating your wishes.
  • A Durable Power of Attorney This appoints someone to step in and take over your financial affairs if you are unable to do so, reducing the possibility of hard feelings among loved ones or the need for court intervention.

It’s a new year, and new possibilities are in the air. As long as you’re getting started on your taxes, take a few extra moments to get the ball rolling on your estate planning as well. By getting organized in this way, you’ll be well on your way to making 2018 an amazing year.

As Anne Burrell once observed, “Organizing ahead of time makes the work more enjoyable. Chefs cut up the onions and have the ingredients lined up ahead of time and have them ready to go. When everything is organized you can clean as you go and it makes everything so much easier and fun.”

Are you ready to develop a comprehensive estate plan designed to achieve your goals and protect your family? Call my office today to get started.

**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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Four Reasons Why Estate Planning Isn’t Just for the Top 1 Percent

Four Reasons Why Estate Planning Isn’t Just for the Top 1 Percent

There is a common misconception that estate plans are only for the ultra-rich – the top 1 percent, 10%, 20%, or some other arbitrary determination of “enough” money. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth. People at all income and wealth levels can benefit from a comprehensive estate plan. Sadly, many have not sat down to put their legal house in order.

According to a 2016 Gallup News Poll more than half of all Americans do not have a will, let alone a comprehensive estate plan. These same results were identified by WealthCounsel in its Estate Planning Awareness Survey. Gallup noted that 44 percent of people surveyed in 2016 had a Will place, compared to 51 percent in 2005 and 48 percent in 1990. Also, over the years, there appears to be a trend of fewer people even thinking about estate planning.

When it comes to estate planning, the sooner you start the better. Below are four reasons why everyone – no matter what income or wealth level – can benefit from a comprehensive estate plan:

  1. Forward Thinking Family Goals: Proper estate planning can accomplish many things. The first step is to ask what your goals are. They may include caring for a minor child, an elderly parent, a disabled relative, or distributing real and personal property to individuals who will appreciate and maintain these assets prudently. Understanding what your family wants and needs are for the future is a great starting point for any estate plan. If you can sit down and spend time planning your vacation, you can do the same for your estate. Your future self, and your loved ones, will thank you.
  2. Financial Confidence Now and After You Are Gone: One immediate benefit of having a finished estate plan in place is that you will likely feel in control of your finances, possibly for the first time ever. Many people experience a new sense of discipline in maintaining their finances which can help with saving for retirement, a big purchase, or other goal. In addition to the personal benefit of financial control, an estate plan allows you to dictate exactly how and when your heirs receive an inheritance. This is particularly important for minor heir or those who need additional guidance to manage their inheritance, like a disabled child.
  3. Identify Risks: An important aspect of a good estate plan is to mitigate against future and current risks. One example is becoming disabled and unable to support your family. Another is the possibility of dying early. Through an estate plan you can chose who will be in control of your personal assets, instead of the court appointing a legal guardian who will cost money and be a distraction for your family. While contemplating these types of risks is never fun, preparing ahead of time ensures your loved ones will be prepared if an unfortunate tragedy occurs.
  4. To Maintain Your Privacy: In the absence of an fully funded, Trust-based estate plan, a list one’s assets are available for public view upon death. This occurs when a probate court needs to step in. Probate is the legal process by which a court administers the deceased person’s estate. A solid estate plan should generally avoid the need for involvement by the probate court, so your family’s privacy can be maintained.

The Bottom Line: Seek Professional Advice

There are numerous benefits to working with a professional team when it comes to estate planning. Estate planning attorneys, financial advisor, insurance agents, and others have a broader and deeper knowledge of money management, financial implications, and the law. When you work with a qualified team to implement an estate plan you can rest easy knowing your family will be taken care of no matter what happens in the future.

This blog 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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Embrace the Emotional Side of Estate Planning

Embrace the Emotional Side of Estate Planning

When you hear the phrase “estate plan,” you might first think about paperwork. Or you may focus on some of the uncomfortable topics that estate planning entails: end-of-life decisions, incapacity, and your family’s legacy from generation to generation. Those subjects hit home for everyone.

But while that could feel like a reason to avoid estate planning, the emotional nature of these decisions is actually a reason to embrace the process with enthusiasm. Here are a few ways in which emotion in estate planning is a good thing:

  1. Estate planning creates stability in times of loss

If you end up in a state of incapacity later in life, it’s guaranteed to be a difficult time for your family. If your estate plan doesn’t include detailed instructions for a trusted decision maker and an actionable long-term care plan, it’s guaranteed to be even worse. You can save your loved ones from the confusion about what to do and the pressure to make rushed choices if this occurs, allowing them to save their energy for processing the situation.

  1. Comprehensive estate plans keep emotional matters private

Detailed, trust-based estate planning with lifetime beneficiary directed trusts keeps your private matters out of the public eye. When your estate plan is incomplete — such as a simple will — you’re running the risk of your estate going through court in a proceeding called Probate. This means that choices become visible to the public. Due to notice requirements, Probate can also invite controversy and conflict, which a private transfer would have avoided.

  1. Estate planning can bring a family together

Everyone has heard of a situation in which siblings argued over what their parents left them as beneficiaries. But the opposite is also quite true. When you get your family and other loved ones involved in your estate planning process, you gain a wonderful opportunity to show them how much you care. Creating your estate plan can strengthen the bonds of love in a family and serve as a reminder of those bonds for years to come.

  1. Your estate is about much more than money

 Estate planning is about a whole lot more than just wealth distribution and taxes. During an estate planning session, we can talk about significant family heirlooms, your hard-won hobby collection, and other matters totally unique to your life. We can even look into the memories and intellectual property you want to make sure your beneficiaries receive, such as photos, art, and even recorded videos or audio files of family stories you’d like to share with future generations.

  1. An estate plan means you’re not going it alone

 You shouldn’t have to face trying times alone. Whether the estate in question is yours or a loved one’s, I, as an Estate Planning Attorney can provide you support. I can help educate your appointed agents about their duties so you can know that your family will be in good hands if anything happens to you. The idea of setting everything straight on your own can be a stressful one, but these emotional decisions are much easier to make with a trusted advisor by your side.

I want you to feel ownership and investment in getting your estate plan to reflect you. Estate planning is an opportunity to look at some of life’s big questions and ultimately make sure your family feels your care for them through the choices you make. Give me a call today to see how I can create custom-made solutions that accomplish that goal.

Not Just Death and Taxes: 4 Essential Legal Documents You Need for Incapacity Planning

Not Just Death and Taxes: 4 Essential Legal Documents You Need for Incapacity Planning

Comprehensive estate planning is more than your legacy after death, avoiding probate, and saving on taxes, it must contain incapacity planning.  A proper estate plan includes a plan in place to manage your affairs if you become incapacitated during your life and can no longer make decisions for yourself.

What happens without an incapacity plan?

Without comprehensive incapacity planning in place, your family will have to go to court to get a judge to appoint a guardian or conservator to take control of your assets and health care decisions. This guardian or conservator will make all personal and medical decisions on your behalf as part of a court-supervised guardianship or conservatorship. Until you regain capacity or die, you and your loved ones will be faced with an expensive and time-consuming guardianship or conservatorship proceeding. There are two dimensions to decision making that need to be considered: financial decisions and healthcare decisions.

  • Finances during incapacity

If you are incapacitated, you are legally unable to make financial, investment, or tax decisions for yourself. Of course, bills still need to be paid, tax returns still need to be filed, and investments still need to be managed.

  • Healthcare during incapacity

If you become legally incapacitated, you won’t be able to make healthcare decisions for yourself. Because of patient privacy laws, your loved ones may even be denied access to medical information during a crisis and end up in court fighting over what medical treatment you should, or should not, receive (like Terri Schiavo’s husband and parents did, for 15 years).

You must have these four essential legal documents in place before becoming incapacitated so that your family is empowered to make decisions for you:

  1. Financial power of attorney: This legal document gives your agent the authority to pay bills, make financial decisions, manage investments, file tax returns, mortgage and sell real estate, and address other financial matters that are described in the document.
    • Financial Powers of Attorney come in two forms: “durable” and “springing.” A durable power of attorney goes into effect as soon as it is signed, while a springing power of attorney only goes into effect after you have been declared mentally incapacitated. There are advantages and disadvantages to each type, and we can help you decide which is best for your situation.
  1. Revocable living trust: This legal document has three parties to it: the person who creates the trust (you might see this written as “trustor,” “grantor,” or “settlor” — they all mean the same thing); the person who legally owns and manages the assets transferred into the trust (the “trustee”); and the person who benefits from the assets transferred into the trust (the “beneficiary”). In the typical situation, you will be the trustor, the trustee, and the beneficiary of your own revocable living trust.
    • If you ever become incapacitated, your designated successor trustee will step in to manage the trust assets for your benefit. Since the trust controls how your property is used, you can specify how your assets are to be used if you become incapacitated (for example, you can authorize the trustee to continue to make gifts or pay tuition for your grandchildren).
  2. Advance Health Care Directive: This legal document, sometimes referred to as a healthcare power of attorney, gives your agent the authority to make healthcare decisions and end of life care if you become incapacitated.
  3. HIPAA authorization: This legal document gives your doctor authority to disclose medical information to an agent selected by you. This is important because health privacy laws may make it very difficult for your agents or family to learn about your condition without this release.

Is your incapacity planning up to date?

Once you get all of these legal documents for your incapacity plan in place, you cannot simply stick them in a drawer and forget about them. Instead, your incapacity plan must be reviewed and updated periodically and when certain life events occur such as moving to a new state or going through a divorce. If you keep your incapacity plan up to date and make the documents available to your loved ones and trusted helpers, it should work the way you expect it to if needed.

Should you have any questions or concerns about your incapacity plan, click here. I look forward to hearing from you!

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.