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Big “Life Changes” Often Mean Big “Estate Plan Changes”

Big “Life Changes” Often Mean Big “Estate Plan Changes”

Many people who put together an estate plan do so when they start a family – assuming they put an estate plan together at all during their lifetime. While putting an estate plan together is a good thing to do, many people make few updates once the plan has been created, despite other key life events happening over the years. This is a major mistake that can place your hard-earned money and assets into a costly probate or into the wrong hands.

Estate planning must be reviewed and updated regularly to ensure that your plan still accomplishes your goals and objectives and will work the way you want it to at incapacity and at death.

To make sure you do not run into these issues and your wishes are followed in the event of your incapacity at at your death, below are nine life decisions or events that should get you thinking about updating — or creating — your estate plan right away.

Important Life Decisions

There are several important life decisions that you should factor into your estate plan. They include:

  1. Getting married: Estate planning after tying the knot does not have to be complicated. Simply updating your beneficiary information, purchasing a life insurance policy, and updating emergency contact information are all things that should happen right away. You should also consider preparing a will and a living will. As your marriage progresses, it may make sense to consider a revocable trust as well. Having discussions with your spouse about how you want your estate to be managed depending on different scenarios is also important.
  2. Getting divorced: While couples do not plan for divorce, many spouses go through this process. For many, the emotional toll and legal complexities of divorce can be overwhelming. Oftentimes estate planning is overshadowed by the divorce, resulting in unintended consequences. Making sure you make changes to your estate plan as soon as your divorce proceedings have been finalized will make sure your ex will not end up with the house, life insurance proceeds or other assets of yours.
  3. Buying life insurance: These policies are present in virtually all estate plans and serve as a useful source of liquidity, education-expense coverage, and financial support for your family or loved ones. Make sure to list all beneficiaries under the policy and make sure to update them as time passes.
  4. Buying a new home: When you purchase or refinance a home or other real estate, you should always make sure the asset is titled appropriately. If you use a trust, sometimes a lender will take a property out of a trust during a refinance. The key is to make sure your title furthers your goals.
  5. Having a child: While adding another member to your family is an exciting time in your life, it is not an excuse to forget to update your estate plan. A new child necessitates major revisions to your estate plan. This not only affects who will inherit your estate upon your death but will also require you deciding who will be the guardian of your children if you should die before they become adults. As your child grows and matures — and more children are added — your estate plan will likely continue to change.
  6. Starting a business: If you start a business or ownership interest changes in a current business, you need to understand what impact these changes have on your estate plan. Even more, there may be tax implications that could affect your heirs without proper planning ahead of time.
  7. Death of a loved one: The passing away of someone listed in your will is often overlooked in estate planning. These individuals may be named guardians to your children, have an inheritance allocated to them, be designated as emergency contacts, or may be named as executors of your estate. Leaving the role vacant can have terrible unintended consequences and necessitates transitioning new people to fill the void left behind by your loved one’s death right away.
  8. Moving to another state or country: When you change your residency from one state to another, you must review your estate plan to make sure it conforms with local laws. The same is true if you move to another country. Likewise, if you have property in more than one state or country, special attention must be paid to how those assets will be distributed according to your estate plan and applicable law.
  9. Change in work benefits: Whether this happened through a promotion, demotion, or your employer just changed the benefits they offer, this could impact the type amount of assets you have available. Look at your estate plan to see if your goals are still achievable or if you can do more with what you have.

Estate Planning Advice

Planning based on your life stages is important because your circumstances over the years will change. The only thing certain in life is change. Your estate plan must be reviewed and updated regularly to reflect your life’s changes. If you have any questions about estate planning — or have had to make a recent big decision in your life — contact me at (858) 432-3923 to learn more about your options.

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The Ins and Outs of Collecting Life Insurance Policy Proceeds

The Ins and Outs of Collecting Life Insurance Policy Proceeds

Unlike many estate assets, if you’re looking to collect the proceeds of a life insurance policy, the process is fairly simple provided you’re named as the beneficiary. That said, following a loved one’s death, the whole world can feel like it’s falling apart, and it’s helpful to know exactly what steps need to be taken to access the insurance funds as quickly and easily as possible during this trying time.

Additionally, if you have been dependent on the person who died for regular financial support and/or are responsible for paying funeral expenses, the need to access insurance proceeds can sometimes be downright urgent.

Here, I’ve outlined the typical procedure for claiming and collecting life insurance proceeds, along with discussing how beneficiaries can deal with common hiccups in the process. However, because all life insurance policies are different and some involve more complexities than others, it’s always a good idea to consult with a qualified Estate Planning attorney, such as myself, if you need extra help or guidance.

Filing a Claim
To start the life insurance claims process, you first need to identify who the beneficiary of the life insurance policy is—are you the beneficiary, or is a trust set up to handle the claim for you?

I often recommend that life insurance proceeds be paid to a trust, not outright to a beneficiary. This way, the life insurance proceeds can be used by the beneficiary, but the funds are protected from lawsuits and/or creditors that the beneficiary may be involved with—even a future divorce.

In the event that a trust is the beneficiary, contact me so that I can create a certificate of trust that you (or the trustee, if the trustee is someone other than you) can send to the life insurance company, along with a death certificate when one is available.

In any case, you (or the trustee) will notify the insurance company of the policyholder’s death, either by contacting a local agent or by following the instructions on the company’s website. If the policy was provided through an employer, you may need to contact their workplace first, and someone there will put you in touch with the appropriate representative.

Many insurance companies allow you to report the death over the phone or by sending in a simple form and not require the actual death certificate at this stage. Depending on the cause of death, it can sometimes take weeks for the death certificate to be available, so this simplified reporting speeds up the process.

From there, the insurance company typically sends the beneficiary (or the trustee of the trust named as beneficiary) more in-depth forms to fill out, along with further instructions about how to proceed. Some of the information you’re likely to be asked to provide during the claims process include the deceased’s date of birth, date and place of death, their Social Security number, marital status, address, as well as other personal data.

Your state’s vital records office creates the death certificate, and it will either send the certificate directly to you or route it through your funeral/mortuary provider. Once you’ve received a certified copy of the death certificate, you’ll send it to the insurance company, along with the other completed forms requested.

Multiple beneficiaries
If more than one adult beneficiary was named, each person should provide his or her own signed and notarized claim form. If any of the primary beneficiaries died before the policyholder, an alternate/contingent beneficiary can claim the proceeds, but he or she will need to send in the death certificates of both the policyholder and the primary beneficiary.

Minors
While policyholders are free to name anyone as a beneficiary, when minor children are named, it creates serious complications, as most insurance companies will not allow a minor child to receive life insurance benefits directly until they reach the age of majority. And the age of majority varies between states—with some it’s 18, and others it’s 21.

If a child is named as a beneficiary and has yet to reach the age of majority, the claim proceeds will be paid to the child’s legal guardian, who will be responsible for managing those funds until the child comes of age. Given this, in the event a minor is named you’ll need to go to court to be appointed as legal guardian, even if you’re the child’s parent. This is why I recommend never naming a minor child as a life insurance beneficiary, even as a backup to the primary beneficiary.

Rather than naming a minor child as a life insurance beneficiary, it’s often better to set up a trust to receive the proceeds. By doing that, the proceeds would be paid into the trust, and whomever is named as trustee will follow the steps above to collect the insurance benefits, put them in the trust, and manage the funds for the child’s benefit.  Whatever you decide, you should consult with me, a qualified Estate Planning Attorney to determine the best options for passing along your life insurance benefits and other assets to minor children.

Insurance claim payment
Provided you fill out the forms properly and include a certified copy of the death certificate, insurance companies typically pay out life insurance claims quickly. In fact, some claims are paid within one-to-two weeks of the start of the process, and rarely do claims take more than 60 days to be paid. Most insurance companies will offer you the option to collect the proceeds via a mailed check or transfer the funds electronically directly to your account.

Sometimes an insurance company will request you to send in a completed W-9 form (Request for Taxpayer Identification Number and Certification) from the IRS in order to process a claim. Most of the time, a W-9 is requested only if there is some question or issue with the records, such as having an address provided in a claim form that doesn’t match the one on file.

A W-9 is simply a way for the insurance company to verify information to prevent fraudulent activity. To this end, don’t be alarmed if you’re asked for a W-9. It’s a common verification practice, and it doesn’t automatically mean the company suspects you of fraud or plans to deny your claim.

While collecting life insurance proceeds is a fairly simple process, it’s always a good idea to consult with me as a qualified Estate Planning Attorney if you have any questions or need help to ensure the process goes as smoothly as possible during the often-chaotic period following a loved one’s death.


This article is a service of Tara Cheever,  Estate Planning and Business Planning Attorney. 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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3 Things You Must Do During and After Divorce

3 Things You Must Do During and After Divorce

The divorce process can be long and expensive. However, the work does not end once the divorce decree is signed. In order to ensure that your assets and estate planning wishes are carried out in light of this major life change, there are three things you must do as soon as possible.

Change Beneficiary Designation On Life Insurance

A life insurance policy is a contract between you and the insurance company. You designate the beneficiary (the individual(s) or entity who will receive the proceeds upon your death) and the insurance company will pay them when you die. Because the beneficiary designation is a legally binding contract, the insurance company has to pay the individual listed as your beneficiary. If your ex-spouse is listed as the beneficiary, they will pay the funds out to him or her. It does not matter to the insurance company if the two of you are now divorced. Once the divorce is final, ensure that you update your beneficiary designations.

Update Beneficiary Designation On Retirement Plans

 Although state law may automatically revoke a designation on a retirement plan if the ex-spouse is listed, federal law states that the last named beneficiary is the one who is entitled to the funds. Depending upon what type of retirement account you have, it might be the state law that controls, or the federal law. To be on the safe side and avoid a potentially long and costly battle for your family, it is best to change the beneficiary as soon as possible after your divorce is final.

Create or Revise Your Estate Plan

If you and your former spouse had a joint trust, you will need to have your own individual trust created to hold the assets that you will own in your name only. California Law allows you to create a new estate plan while divorce proceedings are on-going; however, there are specific laws with respect to changing title on any community property assets. Therefore, it is crucial that you your Trust attorney and your Divorce attorney work together to discuss the character of all assets and when assets will be moved into your new Trust. In this new plan, you will need to think about who to name as the Trustee and Beneficiaries. If you have minor children, you may also need to consider who is going to be the individual to manage those assets on behalf of your children. In many cases, you probably don’t want your ex-spouse in these roles.

If you do not have any estate planning documents in place, now is the perfect time to get everything in order. After going through the divorce, you probably have a good idea as to what assets you own and the value of them. This will be very helpful as we discuss the right estate plan for you.

Your estate plan is more than just a Trust. It is a customized plan that ensures that you, your family and your assets are taken care when “something happens.” Something will happen and we do not have the fortune of knowing when, where and how. If you have an estate plan, this is the time to review them as many changes occurred post-divorce. Chances are you no longer want your ex-spouse to have the authority to sign documents on your behalf or make medical decisions for you. To avoid confusion by third parties as to who should be acting on your behalf, make sure to call me, your Personal Family Lawyer so we can update these essential documents.

I can help you cross the finish line

Divorce can be a long process. Before taking those next steps into your new life, call me, so I can make sure that you cross the finish line with documents that are able to carry you and your wishes forward.

As a Personal Family Lawyer®, I offer expert advice on Wills, Trusts, and numerous other estate planning vehicles, especially if you are going through a divorce or recently divorced. 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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Choosing the Right Life Insurance Policy

Choosing the Right Life Insurance Policy

While purchasing life insurance may seem pretty straightforward, it’s actually quite complex, especially with so many different types available.

In order to offer some clarity on the different types of policies out there, we’ve broken down the most popular kinds of life insurance here and discussed the pros and cons that come with each one.

Term life insurance

Term life insurance is the simplest—and typically least expensive—type of coverage. Term policies are purchased for a set period of time (the term), and if you die during that time, your beneficiary is paid the death benefit.

Terms can vary widely—10, 15, 25, 30 years or longer—and if it’s a Level Term policy, the premium and death benefit remain the same throughout the duration. If you survive the term and want to retain coverage, you must re-qualify for a policy at your new age and health status.

In addition to Level Term, other variations include “Annual Renewable Term,” in which the death benefit is unchanged throughout the term, but the insurance is renewed annually, often with an increase in premiums. With a “Decreasing Term” policy, the death benefits decrease each year until they reach zero, but the premium remains the same.

Decreasing Term life insurance is often used to cover a mortgage, student loan, or other long-term debt, so the policy expires at the time the mortgage/debt is paid off.

Whole life insurance

Whole life, or permanent, insurance pays a death benefit whenever you die, no matter how long you live. With a whole life policy, both the death benefit and premium stay the same for your entire life span.

However, depending on when you purchase coverage, the premium can vary widely depending on how much the policy’s death benefit is worth. So, for example, purchasing whole life in your senior years can be extremely expensive and possibly not even available at all.

What’s more, your whole life policy premiums will be much higher than your term life insurance premiums because the insurance company knows the policy will pay out when you die, no matter how long you live.

Indeed, the premium for whole life policies can be among the most costly of all types of life insurance coverage, including similar types of “permanent” policies discussed below. This is simply the price paid for the guaranteed death benefit and a level premium.

Universal Life

Universal life is a variation on whole life—it covers you for your entire lifespan, but also contains a “cash-value” component. Rather than putting 100% of your premium toward your death benefit, part of your premium is put into a separate cash-value account that earns interest and is tax-deferred.

The insurance company invests the cash-value funds in various investment vehicles of its choice, and provided the market performs well, you can access those extra funds for things like paying the policy’s premiums, paying off debt, or supplementing your later-in-life fixed income. Some insurance companies will even let you take tax-free loans against the policy’s cash value.

That said, the cash-value account is set at an interest rate that can adjust to reflect the market’s current rates, so if the interest rate of the cash value account decreases to the minimum rate, your premium would need to increase to offset the account’s reduced value.

While universal life premiums are typically more costly than term policies, universal life also allows you to adjust the death benefit within certain guidelines. This added flexibility allows you to choose how much of one’s premium funds will go toward the death benefit and how much goes into the cash value, offering you the ability to adjust the death benefit as your financial circumstances change.

Variable universal life insurance

Variable universal life insurance is quite similar to normal universal life except that variable policies allow you to choose how your cash-value funds are invested, rather than the insurance company. This offers you more control over the cash-value investment and potentially higher returns.

However, if the invested cash-value funds perform poorly or the market tanks, your policy could be at risk. Given a major drop in the cash-value account investments, you may have to pay increased premiums just to keep the policy in force. Moreover, the fees and expenses associated with the cash value investments for variable policies may be much higher than you would pay if you simply invested the funds on your own.

Because understanding life insurance can be confusing, it’s best to get the advice of a trusted advisor before you meet with an insurance agent, who might try to talk you into more coverage than you need in order to earn a larger commission. By sitting down with me as your Personal Family Lawyer®, I can work with you and your insurance advisors to offer truly unbiased advice about which policy type is best for your family and life circumstances.

Contact me today, and I’ll walk you step-by-step through the different life insurance options and help you with your other legal, financial, and tax decisions to ensure your family is planned for and protected no matter what happens.

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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