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Is Your Estate Plan Unfinished? Don’t Wait to Complete This Important Process

Is Your Estate Plan Unfinished? Don’t Wait to Complete This Important Process

For most people, thinking about one’s own mortality is unpleasant and low on the list of priorities. While you may objectively recognize the need to plan for your future – and the future of your loved ones after you’re gone – it can be hard to summon the motivation to actually create a will or trust. If you’ve made an effort to begin the process but haven’t finalized the details, consider this article the sign you need to finish up. When it comes to an estate plan, though, an unfinished one is about as useful as not having one at all.

Estate Plan Procrastination

There are many reasons why people avoid finishing up their estate planning. For one, the process can be a reminder that you are not, in fact, immortal. The very real consideration of how your retirement fund, your assets, and your wealth will be distributed amongst your beneficiaries can trigger many difficult emotions. Even initiating a meeting with an estate planning attorney can feel like a chore. Instead of acting in their own best interests, many choose to bury their heads in the sand to avoid these feelings.

Of course, even if you are feeling relatively level-headed about the estate planning process, the choices you are tasked with making can feel overwhelming. Depending on your family dynamics, beneficiaries may end up feeling frustrated, sad, or even angry about their inheritance. It’s impossible to please everyone, but when serious money is on the line, the pressure to make fair decisions can be intense. It is better for you to make the decision instead of leaving it up to the courts.

An unfinished estate plan isn’t always the result of emotional upheaval or internal debate about inheritance. Like other money management chores, estate planning is often put off in favor of more pressing concerns. Busy lives, holidays, vacations, and major life events like marriage or pregnancy can cause people to put off their estate planning. While certainly understandable, this kind of procrastination can have serious consequences and will add another large and emotionally charged project to your family’s to-do list when you pass away.

The Unfinished Estate Plan

Regardless of your reasons for procrastinating on estate planning, the results are the same: Your unfinished will or trust – if it exists at all – is likely unenforceable. While there may be documentation of your wishes, without a signature, your estate will be forced through probate. Expensive and time-consuming, probate is a public legal proceeding that puts your private affairs on display. While probate doesn’t always have to be a stressful experience for beneficiaries, there is a risk that your unfinished estate plan won’t be adhered to by a judge.

Regardless of the reason, if you have an unfinished estate plan, give me a call at (858) 432-3923 so I can assist you in ensuring you have a complete and comprehensive estate plan that will actually work in the event of your incapacity and at your death. If you’ve been putting off finishing or starting your plans for your estate, grab your calendar, and give me a call to schedule an appointment to complete the process and check one more thing off your to-do list.

When is Probate necessary?

When is Probate necessary?

Whether or not you have an estate plan in place, you have likely heard the term “probate.” Probate is the legal process by which a deceased individual’s assets are distributed under court supervision. Said in another way, Probate is a lawsuit against your estate for the benefit of your creditors and beneficiaries. This process is necessary to distribute assets that are solely in the name of the deceased person. Probate is governed by state law.

Avoiding Probate

One of the appealing aspects of putting together an estate plan is to avoid probate. One way to avoid the probate process is to ensure that no assets will be titled in the decedent’s name, or providing for an automatic transfer of title, at death. Ways to accomplish this include joint tenancy with rights of survivorship, transfer-on-death (TOD) or payable-on-death (POD) beneficiaries, or use of a Trust.

Joint ownership is easy to create and transfer property; however, this solution provides its own set of concerns. TOD and POD accounts can be efficient because, upon the account owner’s death, they immediately transfer the account, outside of probate, to the named recipient.  While they are easy (and typically free) to set up, there are some drawbacks to this form of “probate avoidance” planning. It is important to note that in this case, the account is transferred to the beneficiary outright without any creditor protection. The best and most efficient way to avoid probate is the use of a trust. By placing assets into a Trust, you, as Trustee, own them, have full control of them (until incapacity) and benefit from them. Accordingly, the assets do not go through probate because only property owned by the decedent goes through this process.

Note: If your estate planning consists of just a Will, this document will go through the probate process. While having a Will allows you to determine who will get your assets – as opposed to letting the court decide for you, a public, expensive and long court process will be initiated in order for your estate to pass to your beneficiaries under a Will.

Benefits & Downsides of Probate

While there are numerous estate planning tools that can be used to avoid probate, it is not always a bad thing. A probate court can ensure that your intentions and wishes listed in your Will are carried out after your passing. Additionally, the probate process guarantees all presented debts are discharged as well as any outstanding taxes on the estate. This, in turn, results in finality to the affairs of the deceased – and surviving family members. Of note, if the deceased had outstanding debt, the probate process gives creditors a window of time to file a claim against the estate, which could result in some debt forgiveness if there is a concern about the estate being insolvent.

That being said, there are downsides to the probate process. One such downside is the cost.  Due to the filing and inventory fees imposed by the probate courts, this is an additional expense eating away at the estate. Also, the probate process can be very time consuming. The probate must be open for a minimum period of time to permit creditors to file claims against the estate. For most uncomplicated probate estates, it will take a minimum of one year to administer. Additionally, the lack of privacy can be a concern for most families.  The contents of your Will, and any other documents that have to be filed with the court, will be a matter of public record.  Any disgruntled family member wondering how your estate was divided up, will have the ability to get access to the documents through the probate process. Lastly, the probate process takes control away from the deceased and the family because if you do not have a Will the probate process puts the disbursement of a deceased’s assets in the hands of the court and at the mercy of local intestacy law.

Get Advice

If you have questions about the probate process and intestacy laws in California, feel free to give me a call at (858) 432-3923 or click here to schedule an appointment. No matter if you have a little or a lot, a comprehensive and customized estate plan will help you avoid probate and make sure your loved ones are taken care of when you are gone.

Four Easy to Avoid Mistakes People Make at Tax Time

Four Easy to Avoid Mistakes People Make at Tax Time

It’s that time of year again: tax season. No one enjoys doing their taxes, and that is likely why many of us leave this tedious task to the last…possible…moment. As Tax Day approaches, millions of Americans are likely scrambling to track down all of their important documents to meet the April 15 deadline. But as with anything in life, the more you rush, the more likely you are to make mistakes. When it comes to your taxes, these mistakes can result in monetary penalties, delays in getting a refund, and even an increased chance of being audited. Below are four easily avoidable mistakes people make at tax time.

  1. Not filing when you could get a refund: No matter what your income level, filing your taxes is important. This is particularly true if you are a low-income earner, as you may be entitled to a refund from the government through the earned income credit.
  2. Not taking advantage of professional advice: Our tax law is complicated. That’s why speaking with a tax professional can help ensure you are maximizing your tax refund or minimizing your tax bill. Whether it is itemizing expenses or taking advantage of tax credits, do not leave your taxes to chance. If you do not have a CPA, please contact me and I’ll be happy to make an introduction to a professional and qualified CPA.
  3. Not taking the time to organize paperwork: Getting all of your important documents together is not only important because it ensures you are properly filing your taxes, but it particularly comes in handy in the event you get audited by the IRS. Instead of doing this at the last minute, take the time to save documents throughout the year so you are ready when April 15 arrives.
  4. Not handling other “legal” matters: Since you are getting your financial house in order for tax season, it is a great opportunity to assess your other legal needs – like Estate Planning (also known as Legal Life Planning). Wills, Trusts, life insurance, healthcare proxies, and powers of attorney are just some of the valuable tools available to you. Planning for your incapacity and your family’s future when you are gone is just as critical, and leaving the results to chance can cause more stress on already grieving loved ones.

Getting ready for tax season is important, but so is Estate Planning. Do not leave this important task for later, as life is unpredictable. If you have questions about how to get started on your estate plan or need assistance updating an existing plan, contact Cheever Law, APC at 858-432-3923. I look forward to being of service to you.

4 Estate Planning Must-Haves for Unmarried Couples—Part 1

4 Estate Planning Must-Haves for Unmarried Couples—Part 1

It is thought that Estate planning is only needed once you get married; however, the reality is every adult, regardless of age, income level, or marital status, needs to have some fundamental planning strategies in place if you want to keep the people you love out of court and out of conflict.

In fact, estate planning can be even more critical for unmarried couples. Regardless if you’ve been together for decades and act just like a married couple, you are not viewed as married in the eyes of the law. And in the event one of you becomes incapacitated or when one of you dies, not having any planning in place can have disastrous consequences.

If you’re in a committed relationship and have yet to get—or even have no plans to get—married, the following estate planning documents are an absolute must:

1. Wills and Trusts
If you’re unmarried and die without planning, the assets you leave behind will be distributed according to your state’s intestate laws to your family members: parents, siblings, and possibly even other, more distant relatives if you have no living parents or siblings. California law does not provide protection for your unmarried partner. As a result, if you want your partner to receive any of your assets upon your death, you need to—at the very least—create a Will (although that will not avoid court proceedings).

A Will details how you want your assets distributed after you die, and you can name your unmarried partner, or even a friend, to inherit some or all of your assets. However, certain assets like life insurance, pensions, and 401(k)s, are not transferred through a Will. Instead, those assets will go to the person named in the beneficiary designation, so be sure to name your partner as beneficiary if you’d like him or her to inherit those assets.

However, there could be an even better way.

Although Wills and beneficiary designations offer one way for your unmarried partner to inherit your assets, they’re not always the best option. First and foremost, they do not operate in the event of your incapacity, which could occur before your death. In that case, your partner may not have access to needed assets to pay bills, or he or she could potentially even be kicked out of your home by a family member appointed as your guardian during your incapacity.

Moreover, a Will requires probate, a court process that can take quite some time to navigate and comes with great costs. And finally, assets passed by beneficiary designation go outright to your partner, with no protection from creditors or lawsuits. To protect those assets for your partner, you’ll need a different planning strategy.

A far better option would be to place the assets you want your partner to inherit in a Living Trust. First off, Trusts can be used to transfer assets in the event of your incapacity, not just upon your death. Trusts also do not have to go through probate, saving your partner precious time and money.

What’s more, leaving your assets in a continued Trust that your partner could control would ensure the assets are protected from creditors, future relationships, and/or unexpected lawsuits.

Consult with me for help deciding which option—a Will or Trust—is best suited for passing on your assets.

2. Durable power of attorney

When it comes to estate planning, most people focus only on what happens when they die. However, it’s just as important—if not even more so—to plan for your potential incapacity due to an accident or illness.

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. And this person could be a family member, who doesn’t care for or want to support your partner, or it could be a professional guardian who will charge hefty fees, possibly draining your estate.

Since it’s unlikely that your unmarried partner will be the court’s first choice, if you want your partner (or even a friend)  to manage your finances in the event you become incapacitated, you would grant your partner (or friend) a Durable Power of Attorney.

A Durable Power of Attorney is an estate planning tool that will give your partner immediate authority to manage your financial matters in the event of your incapacity. He or she will have a broad range of powers to handle things like paying your bills and taxes, running your business, collecting government benefits, selling your home, as well as managing your banking and investment accounts.

Granting a Durable Power of Attorney to your partner is especially important if you live together, because without it, the person who is named by the court could legally force your partner out with little to no notice, leaving your partner homeless.

Next time, I’ll continue with part two in this series on must-have estate planning strategies for unmarried couples.

As an Estate Planning Attorney, I can guide you to make informed, educated, and empowered choices to protect yourself and the ones you love most. Contact me today to get started with a Family Wealth Planning Session.

Wills vs. Trusts: A Quick & Simple Reference Guide

Wills vs. Trusts: A Quick & Simple Reference Guide

Confused about the differences between Wills and Trusts?  If so, you’re not alone. While it’s always wise to contact professionals focused on this area, like Cheever Law, APC, it’s also important to understand the basics. Here’s a quick and simple reference guide:

What Revocable Living Trusts Can Do – That Wills Can’t

  • Avoid a conservatorship and guardianship. A Revocable Living Trust allows you to authorize your spouse, partner, child, or other trusted person to manage your assets should you become incapacitated and unable to manage your own affairs. Wills only become effective when you die, so they are useless in avoiding conservatorship and guardianship proceedings during your life.
  • Bypass probate. Property in a Revocable Living Trust does not pass through probate. Property that passes using a Will guarantees probate. The probate process, designed to wrap up a person’s affairs after satisfying outstanding debts, is public and can be costly and time consuming – sometimes taking years to resolve.
  • Maintain privacy after death. Wills are public documents; Trusts are not. Anyone, including nosey neighbors, predators, and unscrupulous “charities” can discover the details of your estate if you have a Will. Trusts allow you to maintain your family’s privacy after death. 
  • Protect you from court challenges. Although court challenges to wills and trusts occur, attacking a Trust is generally much harder than attacking a Will because Trust provisions are not made public.

What Wills Can Do – That Revocable Living Trusts Can’t                    

  • Name guardians for children. Only a Will – not a Living Trust or any other type of document – can be used to name guardians to care for minor children.
  • Specify an executor or personal representative. Wills allow you to name an executor or personal representative – someone who will take responsibility to wrap up your estate after you die. This typically involves working with the probate court, protecting assets, paying your debts, and distributing what remains to beneficiaries. But, if there are no assets in your probate estate (because you have a fully funded Revocable Living Trust), this feature is not necessarily useful.

What Both Wills & Trusts Can Do:

  • Allow revisions to your document. Both Wills and Trusts can be revised whenever your intentions or circumstances change so long as you have the legal capacity to execute them. 

WARNING: There is such as a thing as irrevocable trusts, which can only be changed under certain circumstances, using very specific methods.           

  • Name beneficiaries. Both Wills and Trusts are vehicles which allow you to name beneficiaries for your assets. 
  • Wills simply describe assets and proclaim who gets what. Only assets in your individual name will be controlled by a Will.
  • While Trusts act similarly, you must go one step further and “transfer” the property into the Trust – commonly referred to as “funding.” Only assets in the name of your Trust will be controlled by your Trust.
  • Provide asset protection. Trusts, and less commonly, Wills, can be crafted to include protective sub-trusts which allow your beneficiaries access but keep the assets from being seized by their creditors such as divorcing spouses, car accident litigants, bankruptcy trustees, and business failure.

While some of the differences between Wills and Trusts are subtle; others are not. Together, we’ll take a look at your goals as well as your financial and family situation and design an estate plan tailored to your needs. Call me at (858) 432-3923 today and let’s get started.

4 Ways Estate Planning Can Improve Relationships with Loved Ones

4 Ways Estate Planning Can Improve Relationships with Loved Ones

With the holiday season just ending, you probably spent lots of time with your family and friends. During those moments, you were likely reminded of just how important these relationships can be. And as we grow older, you begin to realize how precious little time we have to spend with one another.

Given life’s fleeting nature, using time with your family and friends to talk about estate planning is vital for ensuring you and your loved ones will be provided and cared for no matter what happens. Though death and incapacity can be uncomfortable subjects to discuss, with a comprehensive plan in place, you’ll almost certainly experience a huge sense of relief and peace, knowing this critical task has been discussed and documented.

And though you might not realize it, estate planning also has the potential to enhance your relationship with loved ones in some major ways. Planning requires you to closely consider your relationships with family and friends—past, present, and future—like never before. Indeed, the process can be the ultimate forum for heartfelt communication and prioritizing what matters most in life.

Indeed, communicating clearly about what you want to happen in the event of your incapacity or death (and asking your loved ones what they want to happen) can foster a deeper bond and sense of intimacy than just about anything else you can do.

Here are just a few of the valuable ways estate planning can improve the relationships you cherish most:

1) It shows you sincerely care
Taking the time and effort to carefully plan for what will happen to you in the event of your incapacity or when you die is a genuine demonstration of your love. It would be far easier to do nothing and simply let you family and friends figure it out for themselves. After all, you won’t be around to deal with any of the fallout.

Planning in advance, though, shows that you truly care about the welfare of your loved ones, even when you’re no longer around to benefit from their love and companionship. Such selfless concern and forethought equates to nothing less than a final expression of your unconditional love.

2) It inspires honest communication about difficult issues
Sitting down and having an honest discussion about life’s most taboo subjects—incapacity and death—is almost certain to bring you and your loved ones closer. By forcing you to face immortality together, planning has a way of highlighting what’s really important in life—and what’s not.

In fact, my clients consistently share that after going through our estate planning process they feel more connected to the people they love the most. And they also feel more clear about the lives they want to live during the short time we have here on earth. 

Planning offers the opportunity to talk openly about matters you may not have even considered. When it comes to choices about distributing assets and naming executors and trustees, you’ll have a chance to engage in honest discussions about why you made the choices you did.

While this can be uncomfortable, clearly communicating your feelings and intentions is crucial for maintaining healthy relationships. In the end, it might just be the first step in actively addressing and healing any problems that may be lurking under the surface of your relationships.

3) It builds a deep sense of trust and respect
Whether it’s the individuals you name as your children’s legal guardians or those you nominate to handle your own end-of-life care, estate planning shows your loved ones just how much you trust and admire them. What greater honor can you bestow upon another than putting your own life and those of your children in their hands?

Though it’s often challenging to verbally express how much you love your family and friends, estate planning demonstrates your affection in a truly tangible way. And once these people see exactly how much you value them, it can foster a deepening of your relationship with one another.

4) It creates a lasting legacy
While estate planning is primarily viewed as a way to pass on your financial wealth and property, it can offer your loved ones much more than just financial security. When done right, it lets you hand down the most precious assets of all—your life stories, lessons, and values.

In fact, the wisdom and experience you’ve gained during your lifetime are among the most treasured gifts you can give. Left to chance, these gifts are likely to be lost forever. In light of this, I’ve built in a process, known as Family Wealth Legacy Passages, for preserving and passing on these intangible assets.

With this service, which is included in every estate plan I create, I guide you to create a customized recording in which you share your most insightful memories and experiences with those you’re leaving behind. Family Wealth Legacy Passages can not only ensure you’re able to say everything that needs to be said, but that your legacy carries on long after you—and your money—are gone.

The heart of the matter
With me as your Estate Planning Attorney I can help guide and support you in having these intimate discussions with your loved ones. I offer a wide-array of customized planning options designed to enrich your family and friends with far more than just material wealth.

With my help, estate planning planning doesn’t have to be a dreary affair. When done right, it can put your life and relationships into a much clearer focus and ultimately be a tremendously uplifting experience for everyone involved. Contact me at (858) 432-3923 to learn more.


Three Tips for Talking About Your Estate Plan During the Holidays

Three Tips for Talking About Your Estate Plan During the Holidays

Christmas is right around the corner, bringing the joyous season of gathering with family and loved ones into full-swing. It is the time to slow down, get caught up with loved ones, and enjoy the family and experience quality time around the dinner table. It is also a great idea to take this opportunity to review your estate plan and talk about the topic with your loved ones.

Do Not Be Indifferent

While the entire topic of estate planning can be a touchy subject, covering your eyes about the issue is not good for you or your family. According to a Caring.com survey from 2017, as many as six in 10 Americans do not have an estate planning document put together –  like a Will or a Trust. This is particularly alarming when it is estimated that $30 trillion in wealth is set to transfer between baby boomers and their heirs in the next few years. Accordingly, it is vital that families discuss estate planning well in advance of an emergency or life tragedy – while the eldest members of the family are still physically and mentally healthy. Leaving the topic to chance can result in disastrous or costly outcomes.

Time it Right

Not surprisingly, estate planning is a topic that does not come up in everyday conversation. And randomly informing your loved ones who will get your things when you die or if you become incapacitated will likely damper the holiday spirit.

There are ways, however, to discuss estate planning during this season with grace and tact. Instead, choose or make a time when you and your loved ones can be together and talk within a comfortable, calm, and private environment. Make sure that everyone is relaxed and distractions are at a minimum so the conversation stays on track.

In an ideal situation, the parents – or the elders – will bring up the subject. Sometimes, however, they refuse to discuss estate planning. In such a case, children have to broach the subject. Asking where important papers and records are kept is a great start.

Boundaries Are Important

Once you find the time, place, and opportunity for the conversation about estate planning to happen make sure to set down some ground rules. Keep the discussion as transparent as possible, perhaps by having each family member address their thoughts, questions, or wishes and discuss together. Some items that may be on the list to discuss may include:

  • Notifying them that you have a Will or Living Trust that spells out how assets will be divided when you die or become incapacitated;
  • Letting them know who will act as the executor of your Will or trustee of your Trust;
  • Discussing who will serve as your agent under your financial power-of-attorney and patient advocate under your healthcare power-of-attorney; and
  • Explaining to your family how to handle any medical or long-term care situations, if necessary.

Bottom Line

While discussing estate planning needs can be straightforward and simple, the conversation can quickly become complicated when personalities clash or emotions get in the way. The main goal is to let your family and loved ones know you have a plan, without needing to go into detail about the plan’s contents. I can help parents and children come together and create an appropriate plan that will meet your family’s short- and long-term estate planning needs.  

Don’t Forget to Include Your Digital Assets In Your Estate Plan—Part 1

Don’t Forget to Include Your Digital Assets In Your Estate Plan—Part 1

If you’ve created an estate plan, it likely includes traditional wealth and assets like finances, real estate, personal property, and family heirlooms. But unless your plan also includes your digital assets, there’s a good chance this online property will be lost forever following your death or incapacity.

What’s more, even if these assets are included in your plan, unless your executor and/or trustee knows the accounts exist and how to access them, you risk burdening your family and friends with the often lengthy and expensive process of locating and accessing them. And depending on the terms of service governing your online accounts, your heirs may not be able to inherit some types of digital assets at all.

With our lives increasingly being lived online, our digital assets can be quite extensive and extremely valuable. Given this, it’s more important than ever that your estate plan includes detailed provisions to protect and pass on such property in the event of your incapacity or death.

Types of digital assets
Digital assets generally fall into two categories: those with financial value and those with sentimental value.

Those with financial value typically include cryptocurrency like Bitcoin, online payment accounts like PayPal, domain names, websites and blogs generating revenue, as well as other works like photos, videos, music, and writing that generate royalties. Such assets have real financial worth for your heirs, not only in the immediate aftermath of your death or incapacity, but potentially for years to come.

Digital assets with sentimental value include email accounts, photos, video, music, publications, social media accounts, apps, and websites or blogs with no revenue potential. While this type of property typically won’t be of any monetary value, it can offer incredible sentimental value and comfort for your family when you’re no longer around.

Owned vs licensed

Though you might not know it, you don’t actually own many of your digital assets at all. For example, you do own certain assets like cryptocurrency and PayPal accounts, so you can transfer ownership of these in a Will or Trust. But when you purchase some digital property, such as Kindle e-books and iTunes music files, all you really own is a license to use it. And in many cases, that license is for your personal use only and is non-transferable.

Whether or not you can transfer such licensed property depends almost entirely on the account’s Terms of Service Agreements (TOSA) to which you agreed (or more likely, simply clicked a box without reading) upon opening the account. While many TOSA restrict access to accounts only to the original user, some allow access by heirs or executors in certain situations, while others say nothing about transferability.

Carefully review the TOSA of your online accounts to see whether you own the asset itself or just a license to use it. If the TOSA states the asset is licensed, not owned, and offers no method for transferring your license, you’ll likely have no way to pass the asset to anyone else, even if it’s included in your estate plan.

To make matters more complicated, though you heirs may be able to access your digital assets if you’ve provided them with your account login and passwords, doing so may actually violate the TOSA and/or privacy laws. In order to legally access such accounts, your heirs will have to prove they have the right to access it, a process which up until recently was a major legal grey area.

Fortunately, a growing number of states are adopting a law that helps clarify how your digital assets can be accessed in the event if your death or incapacity.

The Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act

The Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act, which has been adopted in 37 states so far, lays out guidelines under which fiduciaries, such as executors and trustees, can access these digital accounts.  California adopted the Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Access Act on September 24, 2016. The Act allows you to grant a fiduciary access to your digital accounts upon your death or incapacity, either by opting them in with an online tool furnished by the service provider or through your estate plan.

The Act offers three-tiers for prioritizing access. The first tier gives priority to the online provider’s access-authorization tool for handling accounts of a decedent. For example, Google’s “inactive account manager” tool lets you choose who can access and manage your account after you pass away. Facebook has a similar tool that allows you to designate someone as a “legacy contact” to manage your personal profile.

If an online tool is not available or if the decedent did not use it, the law’s second tier gives priority to directions given by the decedent in a will, trust, power of attorney, or other means. If no such instructions are provided, then the third tier stipulates the provider’s TOSA will govern access.

As long as you use the provider’s online tool—if one is available—and/or include instructions in your estate plan, your digital assets should be accessible per your wishes in states that have adopted the law. However, all 50 states are expected to adopt the Act soon, so even if the law isn’t on the books in your state, you should take it into serious consideration when planning.

Look to us for guidance
In the second part of this series, we’ll offer practical steps for preserving and passing on your digital assets in your estate plan. Meanwhile, contact me at (858) 432-3923 if you have any questions about your online property or how to include it in your estate plan.

Next week, we’ll continue with part two in this series, discussing the best ways to protect and preserve your digital assets through estate planning.

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When Something is NOT Better Than Nothing—Part 2

When Something is NOT Better Than Nothing—Part 2

Last week, I shared the first part of this series discussing the hidden dangers of do-it-yourself estate planning. In part two, I cover one of the greatest risks posed by DIY documents.

You might think you can save time and money by using do-it-yourself estate planning documents you find online. You’re probably anxious to check estate planning off your life’s to-do list, and these forms offer a seemingly quick and inexpensive way to handle this important task.

You may even realize such generic plans aren’t as high quality as those drafted with an attorney’s help, but with your hectic schedule, a DIY will is just way more convenient. Besides, having “something” in place is better than having nothing, right?

Unfortunately, this is one case in which SOMETHING is not better than nothing.

Indeed, the false sense of security offered by DIY wills can lead you to believe you have things covered and no longer have to worry about estate planning. The reality, however, is that such generic forms could end up costing the loved ones you leave behind more money and heartache than if you’d never gotten around to doing anything at all.

In this way, DIY wills and other legal documents are among the most dangerous choices you can make for the people you love. In part one, I discussed the many ways DIY plans can fail to keep your family out of court and out of conflict, and here I’ll explain how these generic documents can leave the people you love most of all—your children—at risk.

The people you love most
It’s probably distressing to think that by using a DIY will you could force your loved ones into court or conflict in the event of your incapacity or death. And if you’re like most parents, it’s probably downright unimaginable to contemplate your children’s care falling into the wrong hands.

Yet that’s exactly what could happen if you rely on free or low-cost fill-in-the-blank wills found online, or even if you hire a lawyer who isn’t equipped or trained to plan for the needs of parents with minor children.

Naming and legally documenting guardians entails a number of complexities that most people aren’t aware of. Even lawyers with decades of experience frequently make at least one of six common errors when naming long-term legal guardians.

If Wills drafted with the help of a professional are likely to leave your children at risk, the chances that you’ll get things right on your own are pretty much zero.

What could go wrong?
If your DIY will names legal guardians for your kids in the event of your death, that’s great. But does it include back-ups? And if you named a couple to serve, how is that handled? Do you still want one of them if the other is unavailable due to illness, injury, death, or divorce?

And what happens if you become incapacitated and are unable to care for your children? You might assume the guardians named in the DIY will would automatically get custody, but your will isn’t even operative in the event of your incapacity.

Or perhaps the guardians you named in the will live far from your home, so it would take them a few days to get there. If you haven’t made legally-binding arrangements for the immediate care of your children, it’s highly likely that they will be placed with child protective services until those guardians arrive.

Even if you name family who live nearby as guardians, your kids are still at risk because it’s possible they might not be immediately available if and when needed.

And who even knows where your will is or how to access it?

There are simply far too many potential errors you can make when you go it alone.

The Kids Protection Plan®

To ensure your children are never raised by someone you don’t trust or taken into the custody of strangers (even temporarily), consider creating a comprehensive Kids Protection Plan®, which only a select few Estate Planning Attorneys are trained and licensed to counsel you through and prepare.

Get the right “something”
Protecting your family and assets in the event of your death or incapacity is such a monumentally important task you should never consider winging it with a DIY plan. No matter how busy you are or how little wealth you own, the potentially disastrous consequences inherent in such plans are simply too great—often they’re not even worth the paper they’re printed on.

Plus, proper estate planning doesn’t have to be super expensive, stressful, or time consuming. Working with me as your Estate Planning Attorney, planning will not only be as stress-free as possible, but I offer options for all budgets and asset values.

What’s more, many of my clients actually find the process highly rewarding. My proprietary systems provide the type of peace of mind that comes from knowing that you’ve not only checked estate planning off your to-do list, but you’ve done it using the most forethought, experience, and knowledge available.

Act now
If you’ve yet to do any planning, contact me to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session. This evaluation will allow us to determine if a simple will or some other strategy, such as a living trust, is your best option.

If you’ve already created a plan—whether it’s a DIY job or one created with another lawyer’s help—contact me at (858) 432-3923 to schedule an Estate Plan Review and Check-Up. I’ll ensure your plan is not only properly drafted and updated, but that it has all of the protections in place to prevent your children from ever being placed in the care of strangers or anyone you’d never want raising them.

No matter what you do, make certain you have a “something” that’s actually better than nothing. Contact me as your Estate Planning Attorney today, and I’ll provide you with that level of confidence—and so much more.

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When Something is NOT Better Than Nothing—Part 1

When Something is NOT Better Than Nothing—Part 1

Go online, and you’ll find tons of websites offering do-it-yourself estate planning documents. Such forms are typically quite inexpensive. Simple Wills, for example, are often priced under $50, and you can complete and print them out in a matter of minutes.

In our uber-busy lives and DIY culture, it’s no surprise that this kind of thing might seem like a good deal. You know estate planning is important, and even though you may not be getting the highest quality plan, such documents can make you feel better for having checked this item off your life’s lengthy to-do list.

But this is one case in which SOMETHING is not better than nothing, and here’s why:

A false sense of security
Creating a DIY Will online can lead you to believe that you no longer have to worry about estate planning. You got it done, right?

Except that you didn’t. In fact, you thought you “got it done” because you went online, printed a form, and had it notarized, but you didn’t bother to investigate what would actually happen with that document in place in the event of your incapacity or when you die.

In the end, what seemed like a bargain could end up costing your family more money and heartache than if you’d never gotten around to doing anything at all.

Creating a DIY Will can lead you to believe that you no longer have to worry about estate planning. In the back of your mind, you might even promise that one day you’ll revisit and update your plan with something better, but chances are, having done “something” will lead you to put this off until it’s too late.

By doing nothing, on the other hand, at least you won’t be lulled into a false sense of security, and estate planning will still be at the top of your life’s to-do list, as it should be until you handle it properly.

Not just about filling out forms
Unfortunately, because many people don’t understand that estate planning entails much more than just filling out legal documents, they end up making serious mistakes with DIY plans. Worst of all, these mistakes are only discovered when you become incapacitated or die, and it’s too late. The people left to deal with your mistakes are often the very ones you were trying to do right by.

The primary purpose of Wills and other estate planning tools is to keep your family out of court and out of conflict in the event of your death or incapacity. With the growing popularity of DIY Wills, tens of thousands of families (and millions more to come) have learned the hard way that trying to handle estate planning alone can not only fail to fulfill this purpose, it can make the court cases and conflicts far worse and more expensive.

The hidden dangers of DIY Wills
From the specific state you live in and the wording of the document to the required formalities for how it must be signed and witnessed, there are numerous potential dangers involved with DIY Wills and other estate planning documents. Estate planning is most definitely not a one-size-fits-all deal. Even if you think you have a simple situation, that’s almost never the case.

The following scenarios are just a few of the most common complications that can result from attempting to go it alone with a DIY Will:

  • Improper execution: For a Will to be valid, it must be executed following strict legal procedures. Such procedural requirements are designed to prevent foul play and vary by state. For example, many states require that you and every witness to your Will must sign it in the presence of one another. If your DIY Will doesn’t mention that or you don’t read the fine print and fail to follow this procedure, it can be worthless.
  • Court challenges: Before the assets covered in a Will can be transferred to your heirs, the Will must go through the court process called probate. During probate, creditors, heirs, and other interested parties have the opportunity to contest your Will or make claims against your estate. Though Wills created with an attorney’s guidance can also be contested, DIY Wills are not only far more likely to be challenged, but the chances of those challenges being successful are much greater than if you have an attorney-drafted Will.
  • Thinking a Will is enough: It is almost never the case that a Will alone is sufficient to handle all of your legal affairs. In the event of your incapacity, you would also need a health care directive and/or a living Will plus a durable financial power of attorney. In the event of your death, a Will does nothing to keep your loved one’s out of court. And if you have minor children, having a Will alone could leave your kids’ at risk of being taken out of your home and into the care of strangers, at least temporarily.

In many ways, DIY Will planning is the worst choice you can make for the people you love because you think you’ve got it covered, when you most certainly do not.

Next week, I’ll continue with Part Two in this series on the hidden dangers of DIY estate planning.

If you’ve yet to do any estate planning at all, have DIY documents you aren’t sure about, or have a plan created with another lawyer’s help that hasn’t been updated or reviewed in more than a few years, meet with me, a knowledgeable and experienced Estate Planning Attorney.  Take action to ensure that your family will be kept out of court and out of conflict if something should happen to you. Contact me at (858) 432-3923 today to learn more.

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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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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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Declare your Independence from Court Interference!

Declare your Independence from Court Interference!

While our great nation celebrated its independence yesterday on July 4th, you can rest assured that you too can declare independence for your family — from court interference. Life can be unpredictable. Whether it is a financial issue, the birth or adoption of a child, sickness or incapacity, it is important to be prepared with proper estate planning. In fact, failure to put together a comprehensive estate plan can leave you and your loved ones at the mercy of the court when it comes to distributing assets or caring for a minor or sick family member.

Estate Planning Basics

Simply put, estate planning ensures that your family knows what you have at incapacity and at death and that assets are managed properly during that time.  Estate planning is a great method not only to plan your family’s financial security, but to use tools to keep your family’s personal business outside of the courtroom.

Avoiding Probate

When someone passes away without a Will it is referred to as being intestate. A person who dies intestate will have his or her assets distributed according to local intestacy rules. Probate is the legal mechanism by which your assets are distributed upon your death. The process of probate takes a lot of time, costs money, and can be a hassle and burden for the family you left behind. One important estate planning tool that will help avoid a drawn out legal process includes a fully-funded trust with up-to-date beneficiary designations. By having a fully funded trust and/or up-to-date beneficiary designations when you die, there are no assets in your estate, and therefore no need for probate.

Death is not the only time a court may become involved in your and your family’s personal lives. The court may also intervene in the event you become incapacitated. The court may appoint a guardian or conservator to handle your personal and financial matters, essentially pushing out your loved ones and stripping their ability to help and make important decisions on your behalf. There are several estate planning tools that can help you determine who you want to be in charge should you become incapacitated. These include using a Durable Power of attorney, a fully-funded Living Trust, as well as a healthcare directive to appoint and give instructions to those you trust to make these difficult decisions for you when you need it most.

Protecting Your Loved Ones

Another important benefit of a solid estate plan is protecting those who are most precious to you — your minor children. It is important to understand that simply naming guardians in your Will for any minor children you may have is not enough in and of itself, which is why I offer a Kids Protection Plan™ to ensure your family knows what to do and that your children are not placed in the hands of strangers (i.e. Child Protective Services) or to someone who you may not want raising your children.  While a Will does ensure your children will be properly cared for in the long-term, often there are significant lapses of time from when the need arises to care for your children and when your wishes are actually carried out, which may result in your children being in the care of someone else. Making sure your estate plan accounts for this gap is vital in preventing the state from taking over and allowing someone you do not want to raise your children from having a chance to take control of their lives and inheritance.

Declare Your Family’s Independence

There are many moving parts to a concise estate plan that must be considered in order to properly protect yourself and your loved ones. I, your Personal Family Lawyer®, can explain your options under applicable law and craft a plan that best suits your family’s needs. There is no need to wait and leave your family’s future to chance. Contact me today at (858) 432-3923 so we can get you on the road to independence.

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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I Don’t Have Kids, So Why Do I Need Estate Planning? Part 1

I Don’t Have Kids, So Why Do I Need Estate Planning? Part 1

It’s a common misconception to think that if you don’t have children, you don’t need to worry about estate planning. But the fact is, it can be even MORE important to do estate planning if you have no children.

Some of the common thoughts behind this mistaken belief may take one of these forms:

“If I die, everything will pass to my spouse anyway, so why bother?”

“I’m single with little wealth, so who cares who gets my few meager assets?”

“Estate planning is an expensive hassle and it doesn’t even benefit me because I’ll be dead, so I’m better off letting a judge handle things.”

This kind of thinking ignores several basic facts about both estate planning and life in general. Regardless of your marital status, if you don’t have children, you face potential estate-planning complications which those with children do not. And this is true whether you’re wealthy or have very limited assets.

Without proper estate planning, you’re not only jeopardizing your personal property, but you’re putting your life at risk, too. And that’s not even mentioning the potential conflict and expense you’re leaving for your surviving family and friends to deal with.

So if you’re childless, consider these three inconvenient truths before you decide to forego estate planning.

Someone will get your stuff
Whether you’re rich, poor, or somewhere in between, in the event of your death everything you own will be passed on to someone. Without a will or trust, your assets will go through probate, where a judge and state law will decide who gets everything you own. In the event no family steps forward, your assets will become property of your state government.

Why give the state everything you worked your life to build? And even if you have little financial wealth, you undoubtedly own a few sentimental items, including pets, that you’d like to pass to a close friend or favorite charity.

However, it’s rare for someone to die without any family members stepping forward. It’s far more likely that some relative you haven’t spoken with in years will come out of the woodwork to stake a claim. Without a will or trust, state laws establish which family member has the priority inheritance. If you’re unmarried with no children, this hierarchy typically puts parents first, then siblings, then more distant relatives like nieces, nephews, uncles, aunts, and cousins.

Depending on your family, this could have a potentially dangerous outcome. For instance, what if your closest living relative is your estranged brother with serious addiction issues? Or what if your assets are passed on to a niece who’s still a child and likely to squander the inheritance?

And if your estate does contain significant wealth and assets, this could lead to a costly and contentious court battle, with all of your relatives hiring expensive lawyers to fight over your estate—which is exactly what’s happening with Prince’s family right now.

Finally, even if you have a spouse and your assets are passed to him or her, there’s no guarantee they’ll live much longer than you. In the event of their death without a will or a trust, everything goes to his or her family, regardless of the fact that you can’t stand your in-laws.

You really don’t want your spouse’s sister, brother, parents (or the new spouse he or she marries after you die) inheriting what you’ve worked so hard for, do you?

Next week, we’ll continue with part two in this series on the value of estate planning for those without children: how you could be leaving YOURself at risk.

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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