(858) 432-3923 tara@cheeverlaw.com
Your 2018 Taxes – Get Started Now

Your 2018 Taxes – Get Started Now

While we are not yet at the end of the year, even though it is fast approaching, now is a great time to take a moment and start your year-end tax planning for 2018. It particularly necessary this tax year because of the changes to the tax law that became effective in 2018. As a result of the significant changes in the law, your taxes may look different this year, so you should allow for some extra time in the preparation. Getting started early is even more essential if you are a business owner, have moved to another state, or plan to make charitable contributions before the year ends.

Things to Consider

Now is the best opportunity to make use of tax strategies to take advantage of tax-deferred growth opportunities, charitable-giving opportunities, as well as tax-advantaged investments among others. During this tax planning process, you will also want to make sure you maximize deductions and credits ahead of the busy tax season. As you consider your year-end options, make sure to sit down with your attorney and financial advisors to review your investments to ensure they still align with your goals, the economic landscape, and the current tax law. This conversation can help you identify where adjustments may be necessary for the future.

What You Need

Know that the “traditional” year-end planning still applies to your 2018 taxes. Make sure you are harvesting losses to offset your gains, are contributing the appropriate amount to your Individual Retirement Account (IRA) and/or Health Savings (HSA) accounts, and have taken the necessary required minimum distribution from your IRA (if this applies to you). Other things to consider is fully funding employer-sponsored retirement plan contributions such as 401(k, 403(b) or 457 plans before the end of the year. The same is true for college savings plans, such as 529 plans. You may even want to consider converting a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA.

Beyond these important points, also make sure to start gathering the necessary documentation you may need for any deductions that you are claiming. These may include copies of statements or receipts regarding your property taxes, medical expenses, dental expenses, child care expenses, education expenses, moving expenses, and heating/cooling expenses. For business owners, the new 199A deduction for business income will have additional paperwork requirements. It’s best to work with your bookkeeper and accountant at gathering those records now, rather than waiting until the hectic tax season.

Seek Professional Advice

With changes to the U.S. tax code now in effect, it is especially important to make the right decisions when it comes to your year-end financial moves. A skilled tax attorney or financial advisor can help explain your options under the law and provide you with guidance so that you can make the best decisions for you, your family, and your future. If you have any questions, feel free to contact me at (858) 432-3923.  I look forward to being of service to you.

 

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Before Agreeing to Serve as Trustee, Carefully Consider the Duties and Obligations Involved—Part 2

Before Agreeing to Serve as Trustee, Carefully Consider the Duties and Obligations Involved—Part 2

Last week, I shared the first part of this series explaining the powers and duties that come with serving as trustee. Here in part two, I discuss the rest of a trustee’s core responsibilities. 

Being asked to serve as trustee can be a huge honor—but it’s also a major responsibility. Indeed, the job entails a wide array of complex duties, and trustees are both ethically and legally required to effectively execute those functions or face significant liability.

To this end, you should thoroughly understand exactly what your role as trustee requires before agreeing to accept the position. Last week, I highlighted three of a trustee’s primary functions, and here I continue with that list, starting with one of the most labor-intensive of all duties—managing and accounting for a trust’s assets.

Manage and account for trust assets

Before a trustee can sell, invest, or make distributions to beneficiaries, he or she must take control of, inventory, and value all trust assets. Ideally, this happens as soon as possible after the death of the grantor in the privacy of a lawyer’s office. As long as assets are titled in the name of the trust, there’s no need for court involvement—unless a beneficiary or creditor forces it with a claim against the trust.

In the best case, the person who created the trust and was the original trustee—usually the grantor—will have maintained an up-to-date inventory of all trust assets. And if the estate is extensive, gathering those assets can be a major undertaking, so contact me as your Personal Family Lawyer® to help review the trust and determine the best course of action.

The value of some assets, like financial accounts, securities, and insurance, will be easy to determine. But with other property—real estate, vehicles, businesses, artwork, furniture, and jewelry—a trustee may need to hire a professional appraiser to determine those values. With the assets secured and valued, the trustee must then identify and pay the grantor’s creditors and other debts.

Be careful about ensuring regularly scheduled payments, such as mortgages, property taxes, and insurance, are promptly paid, or trustees risk personal liability for late payments and/or other penalties. Trustees are also required to prepare and file the grantor’s income and estate tax returns. This includes the final income tax return for the year of the decedent’s death and any prior years’ returns on extension, along with filing an annual return during each subsequent year the trust remains open.

For high-value estates, trustees may have to file a federal estate tax return or possibly a state estate tax return. However, Trump’s new tax law of 2017 (Tax Cuts and Jobs Act) doubled the estate tax exemption to $11.2 million, so very few estates will be impacted. But keep in mind, this new exemption is only valid through 2025, when it will return to $5.6 million.

During this entire process, it’s vital that trustees keep strict accounting of every transaction (bills paid and income received) made using the trust’s assets, no matter how small. In fact, if a trustee fails to fully pay the trust’s debts, taxes, and expenses before distributing assets to beneficiaries, he or she can be held personally liable if there are insufficient assets to pay for outstanding estate expenses.

Given this, it’s crucial to work with a Personal Family Lawyer® and a qualified accountant to properly account for and pay all trust-related expenses and debts as well as ensure all tax returns are filed on behalf of the trust.

Personally administer the trust

While trustees are nearly always permitted to hire outside advisers like lawyers, accountants, and even professional trust administration services, trustees must personally communicate with those advisors and be the one to make all final decisions on trust matters. After all, the grantor chose you as trustee because they value your judgment.

So even though trustees can delegate much of the underlying legwork, they’re still required to serve as the lead decision maker. What’s more, trustees are ultimately responsible if any mistakes are made. In the end, a trustee’s full range of powers, duties, and discretion will depend on the terms of the trust, so always refer to the trust for specific instructions when delegating tasks and/or making tough decisions. And if you need help understanding what the trust says, don’t hesitate to reach out to me for support.

Clear communication with beneficiaries

To keep them informed and updated as to the status of the trust, trustees are required to provide beneficiaries with regular information and reports related to trust matters. Typically, trustees provide such information on an annual basis, but again, the level of communication depends on the trust’s terms.

In general, trustees should provide annual status reports with complete and accurate accounting of the trust’s assets. Moreover, trustees must permit beneficiaries to personally inspect trust property, accounts, and any related documents if requested. Additionally, trustees must provide an annual tax return statement (Schedule K-1) to each beneficiary who’s taxed on income earned by the trust.

Entitled to reasonable fees for services rendered

Given such extensive duties and responsibilities, trustees are entitled to receive reasonable fees for their services. Oftentimes, family members and close friends named as trustee choose not to accept any payment beyond what’s required to cover trust expenses, but this all depends on the trustee’s particular situation and relationship with the grantor and/or beneficiaries.

What’s more, determining what’s “reasonable,” can itself be challenging. Entities like accounting firms, lawyers, banks, and trust administration companies typically charge a percentage of the funds under their management or a set fee for their time. In the end, what’s reasonable is based on the amount of work involved, the level of funds in the trust, the trust’s other expenses, and whether or not the trustee was chosen for their professional experience. Consult with me if you need guidance about what would be considered reasonable in your specific circumstance.

Since the trustee’s duties are comprehensive, complex, and foreign to most people, if you’ve been asked to serve as trustee, it’s critical you have a professional advisor who can give you a clear and accurate assessment of what’s required of you before you accept the position. And if you do choose to serve as trustee, it’s even more important that you have someone who can guide you step-by-step throughout the entire process.

In either case, you can rely on me as your Personal Family Lawyer® to offer the most accurate advice, guidance, and assistance with all trustee duties and functions. I can ensure that you’ll effectively fulfill all of the grantor’s final wishes—and do so in the most efficient and risk-free manner possible. Contact me today at (858) 432-3923 to learn more.

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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I Don’t Have Kids, So Why Do I Need Estate Planning? Part 2

I Don’t Have Kids, So Why Do I Need Estate Planning? Part 2

Last week, I shared the first part of my series on the importance of estate planning for those without children. If you haven’t read it yet, you can do so here. Here in part two, I discuss the other risks involved for those who forego estate planning.

Someone will have power over your health care

Estate planning isn’t just about passing on your assets when you die. In fact, some of the most critical parts of planning have nothing to do with your money at all, but are aimed at protecting you while you’re still very much alive.

Advance planning allows you to name the person you want to make healthcare decisions for you if you’re incapacitated and unable to make decisions yourself.

For example, if you’re temporarily unconscious following a car accident and unable to give doctors permission to perform a potentially risky medical treatment, it’s not always clear who’ll be asked to make that decision for you.

If you have a romantic partner but aren’t married and haven’t granted them medical power of attorney, the court will likely have a family member, not your partner, make that decision. Depending on your family, that person may make decisions contrary to what you or your partner would want.

Indeed, if you don’t want your estranged brother to inherit your property, you probably don’t want him to have the power to make life-and-death decisions about your medical care, either. But that’s exactly what could happen if you don’t proactively plan.

Even worse, your family members who have priority to make decisions for you could keep your dearest friends away from your bedside in the event of your hospitalization or incapacity. Or family members who don’t share your values about the types of food you eat, or the types of medical care you receive, could be the one’s making decisions about how you’ll be cared for.

Even if, or maybe especially if, you don’t have kids, you need to do estate planning in order to name health care decisions-makers for yourself and provide instructions on how you want decisions made.

Someone will get power over your finances

As with health-care decisions, if you become incapacitated and haven’t legally named someone to handle your finances while you’re unable to do so, the court will pick someone for you. The way to avoid this is by naming someone you trust to hold power of attorney for you in the event of your incapacity.

A Durable Power of Attorney is an estate planning tool that gives the person you choose authority to manage your financial matters if you’re incapacitated. This agent will have a broad range of powers to handle things like paying your bills and taxes, running your business, collecting your Social Security benefits, selling your home, as well as managing your banking and investment accounts.

Because these powers are so broad, it’s critical that you only give this power to someone you absolutely trust, and ideally, with the guidance of a lawyer who can watch out for your best interests.

The fact that a Durable Power of Attorney is granted as soon as you’re incapacitated means your Agent can begin handling your finances immediately, without waiting for a judge’s decision, simply by presenting a legal document and appropriate proof of your incapacity to a financial account holder. Since courts are notoriously slow, this quick access can be immensely beneficial to ensure your bills get paid on time and you have the funds available when you need them.

Without signed powers of attroney, your family and friends will have to go to court to get access to your finances, which not only takes time, but it could lead to mismanagement and even the loss of your assets should the court grant this authority to the wrong person.

Furthermore, the person you name doesn’t have to be a lawyer or financial professional—it can be anybody you choose, including both family and friends. The most important aspect of your choice is selecting someone who’s imminently trustworthy, since they will have nearly complete control over your estate. Besides, with me as your Personal Family Lawyer®, your agent will have access to us as your trusted counsel should they need guidance or help.

Given all of these potential risks, it would be foolhardy for those without children to ignore or put off these basic estate-planning strategies. Identifying the right planning tools is easy to do, and begins with a Family Wealth Planning Session, where I can consider everything you own and everyone you love, and guide you to make informed, educated, empowered choices for yourself and your loved ones.

It will likely take just a few hours of your time to be certain that both your assets, healthcare, and relationships will be managed in the most effective and affordable manner possible in the event of your death or incapacity.

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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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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Roth IRA Conversions After Tax Reform…Still a good idea?

Roth IRA Conversions After Tax Reform…Still a good idea?

What are the implications for your family if you don’t spend all the money?

Twenty years ago, the Roth IRA first became available to investors as a financial tool for their estate planning needs. These accounts have maintained their popularity because unlike their traditional IRA counterpart, a Roth IRA provides account owners tax-free income during retirement.  In fact, many people chose to convert their traditional IRA or 401(k) plan into a Roth IRA to benefit from this long-term tax advantage. (Of course, there is a current tax bill that has to be considered when you make a conversion.) The recently enacted tax reform, however, has removed one helpful opportunity: the ability to recharacterize — or undo — a Roth IRA conversion.

You can think of these recharacterizations as a second-look at whether the conversion made financial sense. For example, Kevin decides to convert a $100,000 traditional IRA to a Roth IRA. When Kevin does this, he has to pay income tax on the $100,000 now. This isn’t as bad of a deal as it sounds, because now the money is in a Roth IRA, where eventually all of the withdrawals will be tax free. When Kevin retires, he’ll have “tax-free” income from the Roth IRA instead of having to pay income tax on each withdrawal if it were still in the traditional IRA. In the past, if the market were to decline to say $90,000, Kevin could recharacterize — or undo — the conversion. This is important because he had to pay income tax on the full $100,000 of the conversion, but assets have declined in value only $90,000. So, Kevin would be paying income tax on a “phantom” $10,000 IRA conversion. Now, this second-look that a recharacterization offered is closed, so a Roth IRA conversion is just a little riskier than is used to be.

Implications For Loved Ones

Many people who create IRAs, and the ones who inherit them, are unfamiliar with the rules that apply to them. There are several basic scenarios that will result in different consequences for your loved ones in the event you pass away and leave behind an IRA.

First, if you die before spending all the money in your IRA you can leave the retirement account to your surviving children, grandchildren, or other beneficiary you have designated in your estate plan.

Second, the type of IRA — in other words, whether it is a traditional IRA versus a Roth IRA — is important as it vastly affects the amount of benefit your loved ones will receive. For example, when you leave behind a traditional IRA your family will pay income taxes on the money they withdraw when it is taken out of the account. On the other hand, if you leave behind a Roth IRA the money will be income tax-free for your family. Although both types of accounts are subject to the estate tax (or death tax), the death tax is likely a non-issue for most people now, as the federal estate exemption is presently over $11 million per person.

Third, you can create an IRA trust as part of your comprehensive estate plan. An IRA trust is special trust that is purposefully designed to receive IRA distributions for the benefit of your loved ones after you die. This powerful tool maximizes the benefit to your family upon your passing and can be used for both traditional or Roth IRAs. So, whether you decide to convert or not, you still need to consider an IRA trust.

Finally, although tax reformed altered the flexibility of IRA conversions by removing the ability to undo them with a recharacterization, a conversion may still be a good financial planning option for some. As you work with your financial and tax advisors on your conversions, consider your beneficiary designations and whether an IRA trust might be right for you.

Contact an Estate Planning Professional

There are several factors that should be considered when choosing financial and estate planning tools. Always work with a knowledgeable financial and tax professional. Then, work with me, as your knowledgeable Personal Family Lawyer, so we can achieve your goals and maximize the benefit to your loved ones.

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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Why a Spendthrift Trust Can Be a Great Solution for Your Heirs

Why a Spendthrift Trust Can Be a Great Solution for Your Heirs

There are many tools that can be used when putting together your estate plan. One such tool is a trust.

A trust is a fiduciary arrangement, established by a grantor or trustor, which gives a third party (known as a trustee) the authority to manage assets on behalf of one or more persons (known as a beneficiaries). Since every situation is different, there are different types of trusts to ensure the best outcome for each beneficiary. One type of trust, known as a spendthrift trust, is commonly used to protect a beneficiary’s interest from creditors, a soon-to-be ex-spouse, or his or her own poor management of money. Generally, these trusts are created for the benefit of individuals who are not good with money, might easily fall into debt, may be easily defrauded or deceived, or have an addiction that may result in squandering of funds.

Spendthrift Trust Basics

Put simply, a spendthrift trust is for the benefit of someone who needs additional assistance managing or protecting his or her money.

The spendthrift trust gives an independent trustee complete control and authority to make decisions on how the funds in the trust may be spent and what payments to or for the benefit of the beneficiary are necessary according to the trust document. Under a spendthrift trust, the beneficiary is prohibited from spending the money before he or she actually receives distributions. These restrictions prevent the beneficiary from squandering their entire interest or having it garnished by the beneficiary’s creditors. The trustee controls the assets in the trust, including managing and investing the funds, once the trust is made irrevocable. Most trusts become irrevocable after the grantor has passed, but some are irrevocable from the start.

Creating a Spendthrift Trust

A spendthrift trust is created essentially in the exact same manner as any other trust. However, the vital difference of a spendthrift trust is that the trust instrument must contain the right language to invoke the law’s protection. A knowledgeable estate planning attorney like myself can provide guidance on how to best structure this provision, so it meets your family’s needs.

Like any trust, the benefits of a spendthrift trust can help avoid the delay and expense of probate as well as provide tax benefits and peace of mind. Of note, there are several states that limit a grantor from naming his or herself as a beneficiary under a spendthrift trust for the purposes of avoiding creditors.

Estate Planning Help

Creating a spendthrift trust is invaluable because it can give you peace of mind that your loved ones will be taken care of after your passing. If you are considering creating a spendthrift trust, or have any other estate planning questions, contact me today to explore your options.

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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How Does My Annuity Fit Into My Estate Plan?

How Does My Annuity Fit Into My Estate Plan?

Selecting the right type of annuity for yourself is no small feat. Of course, you’ve put in the research and planned with your financial advisors. But, you might still be wondering what happens to those annuity payments upon your death.

In addition to their benefits as a financial tool for your goals, annuities can have a positive impact on your beneficiaries after you’re gone — but only if you take smart estate planning steps to make sure your wealth ends up in the right hands.

Types of annuities

Your annuity type affects how things pan out after your death. In some cases, annuities end with the death of the annuitant. In other cases, the annuity payments continue to be distributed to a named beneficiary. If you haven’t already named your beneficiaries, it’s crucial that you don’t wait any longer. Make sure to work with me when naming your beneficiaries because you’ll want them to be coordinated with your will or trust.

  • Immediate vs deferred: You may have chosen an immediate annuity, which begins paying out as soon as your initial investment is made. This is a common choice for those nearing retirement or those looking to secure long-term income after a windfall like an inheritance or the sale of a business. However, many people opt for a deferred annuity and don’t begin receiving payments for some time. Deferred simply means that it begins paying out at some point after the initial investment.
  • Fixed-period or lifetime: A fixed-period annuity only lasts for a predetermined amount of time (such as 20 years). A lifetime annuity pays out during the annuitant’s life, and these are commonly purchased for the lives of both spouses.
  • Fixed-sum or variable: Within both immediate and deferred annuities, you’ve likely selected either a fixed-sum payment schedule or fluctuating payments depending on the performance of your investments in the market.

Why you need to name your beneficiaries explicitly

It’s easy to think that including your loved ones in your will or trust is enough to cover your annuities as well. But if you want your children, spouse, or other individuals to receive your annuities when you’re gone, you need to fill out paperwork from your financial advisor that names those people as beneficiaries. Otherwise, your annuity sums could end up going to people you don’t want to leave your legacy to.

Annuity death benefits

There are a few different ways you can build death benefits into your annuity plan so that your wealth is passed on to your beneficiaries once you’re gone.

  • Standard death benefit: The value of the annuity at the time of your death is passed to your beneficiary.
  • Return of premium death benefit: Either the current value or the amount of the initial premium (whichever is greater) is distributed to your beneficiary.
  • Stepped-up death benefit: The highest anniversary value is distributed to your beneficiary.

In each of these cases, your beneficiary can decide if they’d like to receive this payment as a lump sum or over a period of time. With so many options, it’s a good idea to discuss an annuity with me, an estate planning attorney, before you sign up for one. Your financial advisor works with you to make sure the annuity fits your financial goals and I can work with you to make sure it works with your estate planning goals. If you already have an annuity, it’s important to make sure it’s taken into account with the rest of your estate plan.

Annuity taxation

It’s rarely uplifting to consider how much of your annuity value will be lost to taxation before being handed over to your beneficiary, but taxes are a fact of life (and estate planning). Your annuity will either be taxed as part of your estate (as an estate tax if you have a large enough estate) or as a disbursement to your beneficiary upon your death (as an income tax). However, in most cases, your spouse can continue to receive annuity benefits or inherit your annuity with little to no tax burdens.

How your estate planning attorney can help

As with many estate planning and financial issues, choices you make about your annuity can make a big difference for your loved ones. You want to make sure you’re setting your beneficiaries up with the right kind of death benefits with as little loss to taxation as possible. Give me a call today so we can review your current annuities and explore ways to get more out of them for you and your family in the long run.

This article is a service of Tara Cheever, Family Business 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.

Sign up for the Cheever Law Newsletter

Planning for the Future (Without a Crystal Ball)

Planning for the Future (Without a Crystal Ball)

Creating a will, trust, or any type of estate plan has always involved dealing with an uncertain future. Consider that just 20 years ago in 1997, the estate tax had an astonishing 55% rate with only a $600,000 exemption. Back then, tax-driven estate planning was a mathematical necessity for a large segment of the population.

Fast forward to 2017. Not only do we now have a generous $5.49 million exemption and a lower 40% rate, we also have renewed emphasis and action from the President and Congress on repealing the estate tax, as evidenced by the September 27, 2017 Unified Framework for Fixing Our Broken Tax Code. So what does this mean for you, as you’re planning for the future?

Estate Tax Repeal Means No Need to Plan…Right?

Nothing could be further from the truth! Although there was a lot of tax-driven planning in the past, in recent years estate planning has largely focused on preserving family unity, protecting assets, ensuring privacy, and effectively passing along financial and emotional legacies.

And, for those with high net worth, it’s also worth mentioning that estate tax repeal isn’t a foregone conclusion at this point either. The Unified Framework still must be crafted into legislation that must pass both houses of Congress and then be signed by the President. Given the political division the country faces (and the likely stiff opposition to the President’s tax proposal from Congressional Democrats), this will be no small feat.

While we wait for Congress to act on the Unified Framework, it’s also worth noting that the estate tax was already effectively repealed for more than 99% of American estates when the exemption was raised to $5 million (and indexed for inflation) in 2010. The vast majority of estates fall below this threshold and need no special planning to avoid the estate tax. But don’t think you’re out of the woods because you have less than $5 million.

Today, the focus of estate planning has shifted away from death taxes to other concerns that affect most families. Estate planners, like me, can now work with you to protect you and your family against costly, public probate, guardianship, or conservatorship court proceedings and also further your legacy goals.

You might be worried about some of these things happening to your family:

  • A financially irresponsible child or grandchild wasting their inheritance simply because they lack the financial maturity to handle wealth.
  • A divorcing spouse of one of your heirs taking advantage of family wealth.
  • Family discord lurking under the surface that tears your family apart, especially after the death of the patriarch or matriarch.
  • A lawsuit, judgment, or bankruptcy that causes your family to lose their inheritance.
  • Alzheimer’s or another cognitive impairment affecting you or someone else in your family.

Luckily, I have well-developed, flexible legal strategies (such as lifetime trusts, standby special needs trusts, and robust incapacity planning, to name a few) for overcoming these issues. Although estate planning can’t necessarily repair a damaged family relationship, proper planning can help make sure it does not get any worse. But these strategies only work when we have a chance to work with you to implement or refresh your will, trust, and estate plan.

So, there’s no crystal ball. Where should I go from here?

According to WealthCounsel’s 2016 Estate Planning Literacy Survey, about 74% of Americans find estate planning to be a confusing topic. So, you’re not alone if you’re unsure about your next steps. I’m here to help.

If you don’t yet have a will or trust, now is the time to explore getting one. If you have an “old” will or trust, now is the time to talk with me about whether you need an update. Modern families need modern estate planning solutions, and I am ready to help you create a flexible estate plan that works now, and will work in the future, even if the current tax laws change (even though no one has the proverbial crystal ball).

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.

Sign up for the Cheever Law Newsletter