(858) 432-3923 tara@cheeverlaw.com
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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Joint Tenancy Pitfalls: The ‘Simple’ Fix that Can Leave Your Family Broke

Joint Tenancy Pitfalls: The ‘Simple’ Fix that Can Leave Your Family Broke

There are many ways to own your assets. When you die, it is only natural that you want your family to share in the bounty of your hard work. As a way to simplify the transfer process and avoid probate, you may be tempted to add a child or other relative to the deed or bank account utilizing the ownership type of joint tenancy with right of survivorship (JTwROS). However, while this type of ownership delivers a lot of potential benefits, it may also be masking some dangerous pitfalls.

Under JTwROS, when one owner dies, the other owner(s) inherit the deceased owner’s share of the property proportionately.Take note that the words “with right of survivorship” do not need to be explicitly spelled out because the survivorship right is automatic with joint tenancy, unlike other forms of ownership types, such as tenants in common.  With JTwROS, its benefits are specific: ownership is transferred automatically without entering probate.  Because the property is transferred outside of probate, it is possible to keep this inheritance out of the clutches of creditors of your estate.   On the surface, this seems like a smart way to streamline the inheritance process, sidestep creditor baggage, and bureaucratic charges. But the risks may outweigh the benefits.

You May Pay the Price

One of the main problems with JTwROS is that when you enter into this kind of agreement, you open yourself up to additional liability. When you agree to a JTwROS, you put your assets on the hook for the other owners’ creditors, ex-spouses and flights of fancy.

Another problem with JTwROS, as it relates to real estate, is that there are now multiple owners of the property. You must now get the approval of the other owners if you would like to mortgage, refinance, transfer, or sell the property. It does not matter if you are the only one who is occupying the property or paying the expenses, by adding additional people as owners, you are giving away control.

With respect to any bank accounts, once you add an additional owner, that individual, as an owner, has the right to go to the bank and withdraw whatever money is in the account. The bank is merely going to make sure that the individual is listed on the account and will freely turn over your money to him or her. If a joint owner’s creditor serves the bank with a garnishment order, they can also seize the money in the account, even if the joint owner was only added to help avoid probate.

In my years of practice, I have seen in countless situations where an adult child is added to a parent’s bank account as a joint tenant in order to “make things easier” at death.  In too many of those situations, it is discovered later that the adult child was secretly withdrawing money and frequently making purchases for his/her own benefit, even though that person was only added to the account to assist parent and avoid probate.  When the parent finally realizes the value of proper estate planning and then discovers the financial abuse, it almost always creates family conflict and difficulty because the adult child does not want to lose control of those assets and becomes a roadblock for the parent to complete their estate planning properly.

Disinheriting Loved Ones

While JTwROS can have some impacts on you, it can also disrupt your estate plans because instead of property getting handed down, it’s handed over. For example, if someone with children remarries and a new spouse is added to the deed as a joint tenant, that new spouse will inherit the property, not the kids or grandkids. Because there’s a new spouse involved, the new spouse’s family will then be the ones to inherit upon his or her death, leaving the whole ‘branch’ of the original family may be disinherited—and not always intentionally!

Questions? Give Me a Call

Although there are some advantages to a JTwROS, don’t let simplicity or speed be your only measures. Give me a call so we can discussing all of your options and tailor a solution that will best fit your needs.

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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6 Steps to Select and Name the Right Guardians for Your Children—Part 1

6 Steps to Select and Name the Right Guardians for Your Children—Part 1

One of your most important responsibilities as a parent is to select and legally document guardians for your children. This doesn’t mean just naming godparents or trusting the grandparents will step in if necessary. It means consciously deciding who would raise your children if you cannot. And then it means legally documenting your choices and making sure the people you’ve chosen know what to do if they’re ever called upon.

However, most people have no idea how to even start this process, much less create a legally binding plan. Because of this, many parents simply never get around to doing it. And those who do often make one of several common mistakes—even if they’ve worked with an Attorney. Why? Because most lawyers haven’t been trained properly to help parents with this vital issue.

As a result, unless you’ve worked with me or another trained Personal Family Lawyer®, it’s likely your children are extremely vulnerable to being taken out of your home and placed in the care of strangers. This might be temporary, while the authorities figure out what to do, or they could end up being raised to adulthood by someone you’d never choose.

Even if you don’t have any minor children at home, please consider sharing this article with any friends or family who do—it’s that important. While it’s rare for something to happen to both parents of a minor child, it does occur, and the consequences are simply too severe to not take a few simple steps to select and legally name guardians the right way.

To help with this process, I’ve outlined some basic steps to select and name a legal guardian. Regardless of whether you own any other assets or wealth, it’s vital to complete this process immediately, so you know that who you care about most—your kids—will be cared for the way you want, no matter what.

1.  Define your ideal candidate

The first step in selecting a guardian is to come up with a list outlining the qualities and attributes you and your partner value most when it comes to the long-term care of your children. The list can mirror your own parenting philosophy and style, as well as list the qualities that would make up your absolute “dream” guardian.

In addition to qualities like parental values, discipline style, religious/spiritual background, kindness, and honesty, you also need to consider more practical matters. Is the person young enough and physically capable of raising your kids to adulthood? Do they have a family of their own, and if so, would adding your kids to the mix be too much?

Geography should also come into play—do they live nearby, and if not, would it be a major hardship to relocate your children? Is their home in a location you would feel comfortable having your kids grow up in?

One thing you may think you should consider is financial stability, and that’s a frequent misconception. However, the people you name as legal guardians for your children are the people making decisions for their healthcare and their education, but they don’t need to be the ones managing your children’s financial needs.

Ideally, you’ll leave behind ample financial resources for your children and the people raising them. You can do this by establishing a trust for those resources and naming a financial guardian, or trustee, to oversee them. Please contact me for help with that, as there are many options to consider.

2. Make a list of candidates

Based on those parenting qualities, start compiling a list of people in your life who match your ideals. Be sure to consider not only family, but also close friends.

Though you may feel obligated to choose a family member, this decision is about what’s best for your children’s future, not trying to protect someone’s feelings. And if you’re having trouble coming up with enough suitable candidates, try coming up with people who you would definitely NOT want as guardians, and work backwards from there.

Or consider the person a judge would likely select if you didn’t make your own choice and whether there are any other people you’d prefer to raise your children.

3. Select first responders (temporary guardians)

In addition to legally naming long-term guardians, you also need to choose someone in your local area to be a “first responder,” or temporary guardian. This is someone who lives near you and who’s willing to immediately go to your children during a time of crisis and take care of them until the long-term guardian is notified and appointed by the court pursuant to your long-term guardianship nomination.

If your children are in the care of someone like a babysitter without legal authority to have custody of them, the police will have no choice but to call Child Protective Services and take your children into the care of the authorities. From there, you children could be placed in the care of strangers until your named long-term guardian shows up, or until the court decides on an appropriate guardian.

This is an area where plans that only name a legal guardian through a Will typically fail. Beyond naming just a long-term guardian, you need a short-term, temporary guardian who’s named as the first responder and knows exactly what to do if something happens to you.

Once you’ve chosen your long-term guardian, it’s imperative that all temporary caretakers know exactly how to contact them. This precaution is not just about your death—it also covers your incapacity and any other situation when you’re unable to return home for a lengthy period of time.

Next week, we’ll continue with Part Two in this series on selecting and naming the right guardians for your kids.

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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Protecting Your Children’s Inheritance When You are Divorced

Protecting Your Children’s Inheritance When You are Divorced

Consider this story. Beth’s divorce from her husband was recently finalized. Her most valuable assets are her retirement plan at work and her life insurance policy. She updated the beneficiary designations on both to be her two minor children. She did not want her ex-husband to receive the money.

Beth passes away one year after her divorce. Her children are still minors, so the retirement plan and insurance company require an adult to be appointed to receive the inheritance Beth left behind. Who does the court presumptively look to serve as the caretaker of this money? Beth’s ex-husband who is now the only living parent of the children. (In some states, this caretaker of the money is called a guardian, whereas in others it is the conservator. The title does not matter as much as the role, which is to manage the funds on behalf of a minor, since the minor is not legally able to handle significant assets or money.)

Sadly, stories like Beth’s are all too familiar for the loved ones of divorced people who do not make effective use of the estate planning tools. Naming a beneficiary for retirement benefits or life insurance, or having a Will can be a good start. However, the complexities of relationships, post-divorce, often render these basic tools inadequate. Luckily, there is a way to protect and control your children’s inheritance fully.

Enter the Trust

A trust allows you to coordinate and control your estate in a way that no other tool can. For those who are not yet familiar, a Trust is a legal arrangement for managing your property while you are alive and quickly passing it at your death. There are a few key players in the trust. First, there is the person who created the trust, often called the Trustor, Grantor, or Settlor (this is you). Second, there’s the Trustee who manages the assets owned by the trust (usually you during your life and then anyone you select when you are no longer able to manage the assets). Finally, the Beneficiaries are the people who receive the benefit of the trust (usually you during your life, and then typically children or anyone else you choose).

How a Trust Protects Your Children’s Inheritance after a Divorce

A Trust protects your children’s inheritance in a few distinct ways:

  1. Since you select the Trustee, you can choose someone other than your ex-spouse to manage the assets. In fact, you can even state that the ex-spouse can never be a Trustee, if you wish. If Beth had a Trust, she could have named her brother to be Trustee after her death. Her brother (rather than her ex-husband) would then be in charge of the children’s inheritance.
  2. Since you select the Beneficiaries, you can determine how the trust assets can be used for them. You may have long-term goals for your beneficiaries, such as college, purchasing of a first home, or starting a business. When you share your intent, your Trustee can invest the assets appropriately and ensure your legacy is used the way you want, rather than the assets being potentially wasted or used in a thoughtless If Beth had a Trust, she could have instructed how she wanted the inheritance used, rather than leaving it to the whims of a court and her ex-husband.
  3. A fully funded Trust avoids probate, so your children do not have to deal with the cost, publicity, and delay that is all-too-common in probate cases. Although “plain” beneficiary designations, like the one that Beth used, also avoid probate, they may still open the door for a guardianship or conservatorship court case, especially when your children are minors. A fully funded Trust avoids these guardianship and conservatorship cases. This means more money for your intended beneficiaries and less for the lawyers and courts.

If you are divorced, it is essential to make sure your plan works precisely the way you want. Every situation is unique, but I am here to help design a plan that achieves your goals and works for your family.

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

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

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3 Things You Must Do During and After Divorce

3 Things You Must Do During and After Divorce

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

Change Beneficiary Designation On Life Insurance

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

Update Beneficiary Designation On Retirement Plans

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

Create or Revise Your Estate Plan

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

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

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

I can help you cross the finish line

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

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

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

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

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

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

Penny Wise and Pound Foolish

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

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

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

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

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

Consult an Estate Planning Attorney

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

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

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

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The Key Differences Between Wills and Trusts

The Key Differences Between Wills and Trusts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The property they cover

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

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

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

How they’re administered

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

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

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

How much they cost

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

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

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

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

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

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How and When to Talk to Your Children About Money

How and When to Talk to Your Children About Money

Whether you consider yourself wealthy or not, you need to think about how (and when) you’ll talk with your children about money, whether they’re little kids, tweens, teens, or already adults.

The Wall Street Journal article “The Best Way for Wealthy Parents to Talk to Children About Family Money” offers guidelines for how and when “the money talk” should take place. Based on interviews with multiple financial experts, the article suggests these discussions should happen in three stages during the child’s lifetime.

Here, I’m showing you how each of these three stages apply to your family wealth as a whole, regardless of how much—or how little—money you have at the moment:

Tweens and teens

The tween years (ages 10-12) are a good time to start talking with your children about your family wealth. At this age, the discussion should be aimed at letting your children know that family wealth is not just the amount of money that your family has, but involves all of the family resources.

Time, energy, attention, and money (TEAM) are the resources that make up your family wealth. With this in mind, use one day over a coming weekend to create a Family Wealth Inventory with your tween or teen children. Inventory all of the family’s TEAM resources, along with other intangibles, such as values, insights, as well as stories and experiences you want considered as part of the Family Wealth bank.

This is an ideal time to tell them the family story, talking about how you and their other relatives worked your way to the family wealth you have now, how decisions have been made from one generation to the next regarding family wealth, and how you hope decisions will be made in the future.

Around ages 10 to 12, you can also start talking to your children about the fact that one day you won’t be here, your intentions surrounding what you plan to pass on to them (beyond just money) and how you plan to pass it on, as well as what they choose to do with the inheritance they’re receiving.

Again, the inheritance they’re receiving is not just the money you’re leaving—it also involves your family genetics, epigenetics, values, ancestry, connections, knowledge, and much more.

In their 20s
If you haven’t yet begun talking to your children about your family wealth, you should start now. And if you’ve already begun the conversations, make sure to continue talking to them during this important stage of their life.

Once they’ve moved out of the home, they need to begin thinking about their own family wealth, including setting up their own legal documents, so if something happens to them, you won’t get stuck in court or conflict. They also need to know whether you plan to offer them financial assistance during their lifetime, along with what the parameters of this assistance are and why you’ve set things up this way.

Additionally, this is an ideal time to start discussing your own plans for retirement and whether or not you’ll need any financial support from them later on in their life.

If you haven’t already shared your estate plan with your children—including where to find it, why you’ve made the decisions you’ve made, and introduced them to your family lawyer—this is the time to do that as well.

In their 30s and 40s
By their 30s, your children should be ready to be fully involved in your family wealth. This would be the perfect time to have a family meeting facilitated by me, if you haven’t done so already.

You can kick-start the talk by reading from a letter you’ve written that outlines the hopes you have for your family wealth, both now and in the future. Since you’ll likely be nearing or in retirement at this stage, it’s important that you eventually discuss the actual value of the family’s wealth and detail your wishes about passing it on. At this age, you never know how much time you have left to prepare your children to effectively manage the money you’ve spent your entire life accumulating.

By now, you definitely want your children to know if they should plan to provide financial support for you. At the same time, you may want to start looking at how you can pass on what you do have during your lifetime, instead of waiting until death, so you can invest in creating more family wealth with your children together.

As your Personal Family Lawyer®, I can not only help facilitate these discussions, I can also provide estate planning strategies to help your children become creators of more family wealth, instead of people who you might be afraid will squander what you’ve created. Indeed, I can help you set up structures that incentivize them to invest and grow their inheritance, rather than waste it. Contact me today 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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