Most families lead far-flung and busy lives, meaning the only time they see one another face-to-face is around the dinner table during a handful of major holidays. The estate planning process is an opportunity to bring everyone together outside of those scheduled occasions—even if a child or grandchild has to attend via video chat.
Money may be the most talked about wealth contained within a person’s estate, but the riches of their experience and wisdom can mean even more to family members down the line. Reinforcement of family traditions can be built into your estate plan alongside your wishes regarding your money, property, and belongings. After all, what really makes a family a family is its values and traditions—not the way its finances read on paper.
Parents who develop an estate plan often do so to provide for their heirs financially. Many want to make sure hard-earned assets, family heirlooms, or closely held businesses stay within the family. Indeed, a common question is what cost-effective options are available to protect one’s children’s inheritance from a spouse in the event of untrustworthiness or divorce. Thankfully, there are many ways to structure your child’s inheritance to help ensure it will remain in the family for future generations. Here are a few available options.
Although Memorial Day has passed, it is important to honor those that have served our country. This time is also a good opportunity for members of the military and their loved ones to consider setting up an—or revising an existing—estate plan. Military families need to consider special estate-planning issues that others do not. This is particularly true when one or more family members are deployed overseas.
You come into the world a blank slate, and as you grow, you gain wisdom. You've planned your estate to leave physical assets to beneficiaries, so now think about leaving them something that’s just as important but less tangible: the hard-won wisdom you’ve accumulated over your life. Let your family and friends learn from your mistakes, and profit from your successes.
Living and Other Trusts:
You probably know that a fully-funded living trust avoids probate. If you have concerns about some of your beneficiaries' ability to handle a windfall, speak to an estate planning lawyer about some options you can include in your trust. For example, one option is an incentive trust, which pays out money when the beneficiary meets certain conditions, such as finishing college or staying clean and sober. An incentive trust combined with a personal statement or video explaining why you’ve put conditions on the beneficiary’s inheritance helps to pass along your wisdom to the next generation. You can let your heirs know that you love and care about them, and that’s why you took the actions you did with the trust. While an heir may resent the limitation at the time, he or she may look back and realize you did a wise thing, especially after they’ve lived and incorporated your wisdom into their life.
Video wills aren’t legally binding since the law requires that a will be a written document, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make a video regarding your will as an adjunct to the written will. For example, suppose you left art, jewelry or other valuables to specific family members or friends. You might want to explain why you chose to leave that particular item to that person and perhaps share the article’s meaning to you on the video. (Hint: If you think one child might resent the giving of an item to a sibling, this can be a good way to explain your intentions.) Some attorneys use video to help prove you were competent if it includes footage of you signing of the written will. Whether this is a good option depends on state law and your circumstances, so this may not be recommended for you.
And of course, you can (and should!) create a personal video that has nothing to do with a will. If you have a family video collection, consider making a new video including favorite snippets and commenting on the earlier days. Time gives perspective and appreciation—and those gifts are priceless. The memories and meaning that these videos have can be memorialized for generations to come.
The Old-Fashioned Way:
Scrapbooking is a time-honored pastime that’s recently experienced a renaissance. Pass on journals, photos, newspaper clippings and other ephemera via scrapbooks or albums. You can leave specially constructed letters inside for your family and loved ones. While only one family member can have the physical scrapbook at any one time, digital scrapbooking tools are fast-evolving and now allow you to create either a digital version or multiple print copies so that all your loved ones can share your life and thoughts.
Many of us have a favorite charity or cause we support during life. Estate planning offers many opportunities to continue to support these organizations via planned charitable giving, both during your lifetime and after your death. An estate planning attorney can discuss charitable planning options best suiting your situation. Two examples are the Charitable Lead Trusts which can provide an immediate charitable gift and Charitable Remainder Trusts which can support a loved one (or you) for a period of time with money eventually going to your chosen charity. Leaving some of your estate to charity shows the next generation what mattered to you, and it encourages them to follow in your footsteps. While your heirs may not choose to fund the same organizations, you are setting an example of the importance of financially supporting charities close to your heart.
Business Succession Planning:
If you own your company, business succession planning is crucial. Formal business succession planning, however, is just as important as your personal estate planning. It can make the difference in whether the company succeeds or fails, and the financial future of your family. But along with proper succession planning, a written statement or video to your board or employees helps enshrine your business’ mission, values, and tradition.
Leave a History:
When you’re bequeathing antiques, art, jewelry and the like, leave the beneficiary a history of the piece and why it was important to you. If it’s a family heirloom, write down whom it has passed to, from generation to generation. It’s possible the family ties outweigh the actual value of the item. Sharing these stories will make a family heirloom cherished all the more.
Regardless of how you’re leaving your memories and the meaning behind them to the next generation, you want to make sure that your family avoids unnecessary hassle and expense. Contact us today to discuss how we can implement a plan to leave the wisdom and wealth you’ve accumulated to your loved ones.
If you want to ensure that your family is cared for, please click here to schedule your complimentary Estate Planning Strategy Call with San Francisco’s premier estate planning attorney, Matthew J. Tuller.
According to a March 2017 survey by Caring.com, six out of ten Americans have no will or any other kind of estate planning. Many said they’d get around to it, eventually. When they’re old. (The survey did find that the elderly are much more likely to have some plan in place.) It’s all too clear that most of us think “estate planning” is a euphemism for “death-time” planning. Indeed, in the Caring.com survey, one-third said that they didn’t need an estate plan because they didn’t have any assets to give someone when they’d died.
However, comprehensive estate planning isn’t just death-time planning. It’s lifetime planning, too. It’s about ensuring that your medical and financial decisions can be made by someone that you trust. Lifetime planning can help you address potential tax liabilities, find you benefit programs you may eligible for, and protect your family from costly guardianship or conservatorship court. It can make sure that a trusted party looks after and protects your affairs, if you’re not able to.
Lifetime Planning Tools:
As estate planners, we have an arsenal of lifetime planning tools to benefit clients, and we can custom-tailor such plans to an individual’s needs. Here are a couple of the most common (and necessary) lifetime planning tools you should discuss with us.
Revocable Living Trusts:
When people hear the word “trust,” they may think of “trust fund babies” or think that trusts are something only for the super-rich.
However, a trust is simply a legal tool that can help almost anyone with property - not just the wealthy. In a trust, assets you own are re-titled and transferred into the trust. When this happens, technically, you no longer own your real estate, stocks, bonds and similar properties. Instead, the trust owns them all. But you still control everything in the trust: You can buy and sell these assets as if they were still in your name. In fact, revocable living trusts don’t even change your income taxes while you’re alive. You continue to file your tax returns as you always have, making them very easy to administer while you’re alive. And as the creator, or settlor of the trust, you can continue to make changes to the trust as long you’re competent to do so.
Once you die, the trust becomes irrevocable, meaning its terms can’t generally be changed. At this point, your chosen successor trustee distributes assets to beneficiaries (the people, such as your spouse, children, a church, or other charity, you named to inherit from you). In many respects, the role of the trustee is akin to that of the Executor of a Will. However, a trustee of a fully funded trust does not have to go through the public and expensive probate process. Trusts are private unlike wills, which can also provide valuable privacy to your family. While widely unknown, a Will becomes effective only after it has been approved by the Probate Court.
Durable Power Of Attorney:
Durable powers of attorney come in two forms. With a standard durable power of attorney, a person is legally designated to act on your behalf, in the ways specified in the document. You can make the durable power of attorney broad in scope or quite limited, and it becomes active as soon as you sign it. Under this document, the person may sign checks for you, enter contracts on your behalf, even buy or sell your assets. What they can do depends on what you authorized in the document.
In the case of a “springing” power of attorney (POA), also known as a conditional power of attorney, the person only has this authority if you become incapacitated. At that point, the POA “springs” into action.
There is no “best” power of attorney. We’ll work with you to determine which is the best fit for your needs and goals.
Health Care Power of Attorney:
In an instant, an accident can change a healthy, vigorous person into someone who can’t make her healthcare decisions. Others face a long decline in mental capacity because of a disease like Alzheimer’s. In either case, you want to empower those you trust to make medical decisions for you. Though health care legal documents vary somewhat by state, the general principle is that, through this document, you authorize someone to make medical decisions for you, if you no longer have the capacity to do so. You can also communicate your desired treatment and end-of-life care. However, those instructions may not be valid in every state.
A Holistic Approach:
Lifetime planning is a comprehensive approach to estate planning. And while it addresses needs of the living, comprehensive planning may also improve the after-death part of your plan as well, because it can reduce family conflict and preserve assets against court control or interference in the event of incapacity.
Contact an Experienced Estate Planning Attorney:
For insight into how to establish a trust and implement other lifetime planning options, we are here to help.
If you want to ensure that your family is cared for, please click here to schedule your complimentary Estate Planning Strategy Call with San Francisco’s premier estate planning attorney, Matthew J. Tuller.
Substance addiction is by no means rare, impacting as many as one in seven Americans. Because of its prevalence, navigating a loved one’s addiction is a relatively common topic in everyday life. But you should also consider it when working on your estate planning. Whether the addiction is alcoholism, drug abuse, or behavioral like gambling, we all want our loved ones to be safe and experience a successful recovery. A properly created estate plan can help.
The idea that money from a trust could end up fueling those addictive behaviors can be a particularly troubling one. Luckily, it’s possible to frame your estate planning efforts in such a way that you’ll ensure your wealth has only a positive impact on your loved one during their difficult moments.
Funding For Treatment:
One of the ways your trust can have a positive influence on your loved one’s life is by helping fund their addiction treatment. If a loved one is already struggling with addiction issues, you can explicitly designate your trust funds for use in his or her voluntary recovery efforts. In extreme cases where an intervention of some sort is required to keep the family member safe, you can provide your trustee with guidance to help other family members with the beneficiary’s best interest by encouraging involuntary treatment until the problem is stabilized and the loved one begins recovery.
Incentive features can be included in your estate planning to help improve the behavior of the person in question. For example, the loved one who has an addiction can be required to maintain steady employment or voluntarily seek treatment in order to obtain additional benefits of the trust (such as money for a vacation or new car). Although this might seem controlling, this type of incentive structure can also help with treatment and recovery by giving a loved one something to work towards. This approach is probably best paired with funding for treatment (discussed above), so there are resources to help with treatment and then benefits that can help to motivate a beneficiary.
Lifetime Discretionary Trusts:
Giving your heirs their inheritance as a lump sum could end up enabling addiction or make successful treatment more difficult. Luckily, there’s a better way. Lifetime discretionary trusts provide structure for an heir’s inheritance. If someone in your life is (or might eventually) struggle with addiction, you can rest easy when you know the inheritance you leave can’t be accessed early or make harmful addiction problem worse.
Of course, you want to balance this lifetime protection of the money with the ability of your loved one to actually obtain money out of the trust. That’s where the critical consideration of who to appoint as a trustee comes in. Your trustee will have discretion to give money directly to your beneficiary or pay on your loved one’s behalf (such as a payment directly to an inpatient treatment center or payment of an insurance premium). When dealing with addiction, your trustee will need to have a firm grasp of what appropriate usage of the trust’s funds looks like. Appointing a trustee is always an important task, but it’s made even more significant when that person will be responsible for keeping potentially harmful sums of money out of the addicted person’s hands.
Navigating a loved one’s addiction is more than enough stress already without having to worry about further enablement through assets contained in your trust. Let us take some of the burden off your shoulders by helping you build an estate plan that positively impacts your loved one and doesn’t contribute to the problem at hand. That way, you can go back to focusing your efforts on the solution. Contact our office today to see how we can help.
If you want to ensure that your family is cared for, please click here to schedule your complimentary Estate Planning Strategy Call with San Francisco’s premier estate planning attorney, Matthew J. Tuller.
Earlier this year, NBA team owner Gail Miller made headlines when she announced that she was effectively no longer the owner of the Utah Jazz or the Vivint Smart Home Arena. These assets, she said, were being placed into a family trust, therefore raising interest in an estate planning tool previously known only to the very wealthy—the dynasty trust.
Dynasty Trusts Explained:
A dynasty trust (also called a “legacy trust”) is a special irrevocable trust that is intended to survive for many generations. The beneficiaries may receive limited payments from the trust, but asset ownership remains with the trust for the period that state law allows it to remain in effect. In some states, a legal rule known as the Rule Against Perpetuities forces the trust to end 21 years after the death of the last known beneficiary. However, some states have revoked this limitation so, in theory, a dynasty trust can last forever.
Advantages and Disadvantages:
Wealthy families often use dynasty trusts as a way of keeping the money “in the family” for many generations. Rather than distribute assets over the life of a beneficiary, dynasty trusts consolidate the ownership and management of family wealth. The design of these trusts makes them exempt from estate taxes and the generation-skipping transfer tax, at least under current laws, so that wealth has a better ability to grow over time, rather than having as much as a 40-50% haircut at the death of each generation.
However, these benefits also come at the expense of other advantages. For example, since dynasty trusts are irrevocable and rely on a complex interplay of tax rules and state law; changes to them are much more difficult, or even potentially impossible as a practical matter, compared to non-dynasty trusts. Because change is very difficult or even impossible as a practical matter, the design of the dynasty trust needs to anticipate all changes in family structure (e.g. a divorce, a child's adoption) and assets (e.g. stock valuation, land appraisals), even decades before any such changes occur.
Is a Dynasty Trust Right for Your Family?
This trust usually makes the most sense for very wealthy families whose fortunes would be subject to large estate taxes. For multiple generations, it can defend estates from taxes, divorces, creditors or ill-advised spending habits. That said, if you desire to give your descendants more flexibility with their inheritance, a dynasty trust may not be right for you. To learn more about the pros and cons of this and other estate planning strategies, contact our office today.
It’s clear why you might want to avoid court involvement in your estate for financial reasons, knowing that probate can quickly get costly and time consuming for those involved. But there is an emotional component to it as well. Your assets are just that: yours. And the idea of them being discussed and deliberated on in a public forum might not be such an appealing one.
If you feel that the matters of your estate should be kept private and that your assets should be distributed to your loved ones rather than eroded by court fees, you’re not alone. And luckily, all it takes to get there is a proactive attitude toward planning your estate. Let’s dive in:
A. Court Interference 101
Two of the most common situations in which the court becomes involved in your estate are guardianship and probate:
B. Guardianship and Conservatorship
When someone experiences mental incapacity, documents in their estate plan can direct a trusted person to carry out that individual’s wishes for the situation. But what if no such documents have been drafted? Then their business becomes the government’s business, too. A court proceeding called guardianship or conservatorship (also known as “living probate”) will be held to appoint guardians and conservators to manage the affairs of the incapacitated person.
When an estate goes through probate, the court oversees the gathering of the probate assets, payment of any outstanding debts, determining whether a will is valid, and who the deceased’s heirs are. The proceedings ultimately determine who should receive the assets that are left after payment of debts, taxes, and costs.
D. Free Your Estate From Interference:
To avoid guardianship, conservatorship, and probate, you can work with us to keep your affairs out of court entirely.
Powers Of Attorney:
Agents or attorneys-in-fact are the individuals or entities you appoint to make decisions for you, be they medical or financial. You designate agents or attorneys-in-fact in a document known as a power of attorney. Durable powers of attorney are documents that continue in validity after the incapacity of the maker of the document (i.e. “durable” against incapacity). Since a durable power of attorney continues in validity, a durable power of attorney can help bypass the need for court-appointed guardianship or conservatorship.
Trusts are agreements that hold some or all your assets, and trustees can be either individuals or corporate entities. Unlike wills, trusts do not go through probate. There are several types of trusts, and we can help you decide exactly which kind is best suited to your estate. By setting up and completely funding a revocable living trust, you can accomplish two important things. First, you can rest assured that your assets will be distributed to your chosen beneficiaries and won’t go through probate upon your death. Second, you also retain the ability to change or cancel the arrangement during your lifetime enabling you to adjust your plan as your financial or family circumstances change.
Ensure That Your Estate Plan Is Air-Tight:
Deciding on appropriate powers of attorney and drafting revocable living trusts are just two of the many steps we can take together to keep your affairs free from court involvement. With a solid estate plan put into place with the help of a trusted attorney, you can take comfort knowing that everything you’ve worked so hard to build and maintain will be passed along to only the people who matter most. Contact our office today to learn more about interference-proofing your estate plan.
“Every one of us receives and passes on an inheritance. The inheritance may not be an accumulation of earthly possessions or acquired riches, but whether we realize it or not, our choices, words, actions, and values will impact someone and form the heritage we hand down.”
— Ben Hardesty
Successful estate planning is about far more than simply passing your wealth to the next generation—it’s also about passing on your values. No matter which financial or legal structures you choose to contain and manage your assets, these instruments only preserve your wealth until it reaches the hands of your beneficiaries. What happens then? Your values enabled you to accumulate wealth and persevere despite all obstacles and long odds. If your children and grandchildren don’t share and cherish those values, they could lose their inheritance as quickly as they received it.
But our values can be hard to capture in language. They seem second nature to us only because we live them every day. Here’s an exercise to help you identify your (perhaps) rarely-spoken moral code and communicate it to the next generation.
The Science of Surfacing Your Subconscious Values:
In Chapter 3 of his bestselling book, Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity, productivity author David Allen discusses what he calls vertical project planning—that is, identifying the “why’s” and“what’s” of any project before engaging with its details. To reveal the standards that you have regarding any task, just finish the following sentence:
“I would give others totally free rein to do this as long as they…”
For instance, if you’re planning a dinner celebration for your dad’s 70th birthday, you could fill in the blanks as follows:
…So long as they created a budget for the party and got buy-in from both of my sisters to contribute;
…So long as they made sure to double check the guest list with mom;
…So long as they booked a restaurant within 30 minutes from my parents’ home.
As it pertains to communicating values, we could reword it like this:
“I would give a total stranger free rein to guide the people I care about most about how to live a great and moral life as long as they…”
…So long as they make sure to communicate my core values of creativity, compassion and integrity;
…So long as they give many concrete examples of these standards being met and not met to demonstrate exactly what I mean;
…So long as there’s some mechanism to remind my family of these values in an ongoing way, so that they don’t forget;
…So long as they make inheritance from the trust I establish conditional on whether my beneficiaries live these values.
Estate planning is ultimately not only about passing along your tangible wealth and deciding how to distribute assets. It’s an opportunity to ensure your legacy into the next generation and beyond. Clarifying your values and working to effectively pass them along can be a profoundly liberating experience.
Things don’t always go according to plan. Sometimes, pet owners can get a bit creative when providing for their pets. Let’s look now at 3 famous cases involving pet trusts and distill important lessons from them.
David Harper and Red:
David Harper, a wealthy, reclusive bachelor in Ottawa, Canada, wasn’t exactly famous during his life. In his death, however, he made headlines by reportedly leaving his entire $1.1 million-dollar estate to his tabby cat, Red. Just to make sure his wishes were carried out, Harper bequeathed the fortune to the United Church of Canada under the stipulation that they take care of Red for him! The ploy worked.
Lesson learned: You can be as creative as you desire in your approach to making sure your pets receive proper care after you’re gone.
Maria Assunta and Tommaso:
In a four-legged and furry version of the classic rags-to-riches story, wealthy Italian widow Maria Assunta rescued a stray cat from the streets of Rome and gave him a proper home and name: Tommaso. As Assunta’s health failed, she tried for several years to find an animal organization to entrust Tommaso. When no suitable organization was found, Assunta left the estate valued at $13 million directly to the cat in her will and named her own nurse as caretaker. She passed away in 2011 at the ripe old age of 94, knowing her beloved Tommaso would be well taken care of.
Lesson learned: The best way to ensure the care of your pet is in writing, with a proper estate plan.
Patricia O’Neill and Kalu:
Patricia O’Neill, daughter of British nobility and ex-spouse of Olympian Frank O’Neill, had designated a fortune worth $70 million to her chimpanzee, Kalu and other pets, in her will - or so she thought. It was discovered in 2010 that the heiress herself was virtually broke, thanks to the shady dealings of a dishonest financial advisor. This story provides perhaps the most famous example of a pet trust gone dry while the owner is still living.
Lessons learned: You can only give away what you have. If caring for your pets after your death is important to you, make sure your financial plan is in line with your estate plan and that you’ve taken appropriate steps to oversee your advisors.
To summarize, establishing a pet trust is the best way to ensure that your beloved pets receive the care they deserve after you pass on. If you want to ensure that your family—including your pet animals—are cared for, please click here to schedule your complimentary Estate Planning Strategy Call with San Francisco’s premier estate planning attorney, Matthew J. Tuller.
When you pass away, your family may need to visit a probate court in order to claim their inheritance. This can happen if you own property (such as a house, car, bank account, investment account, or another similar asset), which is solely in your name. Although having a Will is a good basic form of planning, a Will does notavoid probate. Instead, a Will simply allow you inform the probate court of your wishes—your family still must go through the probate process to make those wishes legal.
Now that you have an idea of why probate might be necessary, here are 3 key reasons why you want to avoid probate at all costs possible.
1. It’s all public record:
Almost everything that goes through the courts, including probate, becomes a matter of public record. This means when your estate goes through probate, all associated family and financial information becomes accessible to anyone who wants to see it. This doesn’t necessarily mean account numbers and social security numbers, since the courts have at least taken some steps to reduce the risk of identity theft. But, what it does mean is that the value of your assets, creditor claims, the identities of your beneficiaries, and even any family disagreements that affect the distribution of your estate will be available, often only a click away because many courts have moved to online systems. Most people prefer to keep this type of information private, and the best way to ensure discreteness is to keep your estate out of probate.
2. It can be expensive:
Thanks to court costs, attorney fees, executor fees, and other related expenses, the price tag for probate can easily reach into the thousands of dollars, even for small or “simple” estates. These costs can easily skyrocket into the tens of thousands or more if family disputes or creditor claims arise during the process. This money from your estate should be going to your beneficiaries, but if it goes through probate, a significant portion could go to the courts, creditors, and legal fees, instead.
3. It is a long process:
While the time frame for probating an estate can vary widely from state to state and by the size of the estate itself, probate is not generally a quick process. It’s not unusual for estates, even seemingly simple or small ones, to be held up in probate for 6 months to a year or more, during which time your beneficiaries may not have easy access to funds or assets. This delay can be especially difficult on family members going through a hardship who might benefit from a faster, simpler process, such as the living trust administration process. Bypassing probate can significantly speed the disbursement of assets, so beneficiaries can benefit sooner from their inheritance.
If your assets are in multiple states, the probate process must be repeated in each state in which you hold property. This repetition can cost your family even more time and money. The good news is that with proper trust-centered estate planning, you can avoid probate for your estate, simplify the transfer of your financial legacy, and provide lifelong asset and tax protection to your family. If you want to ensure that your family is cared for, please click here to schedule your complimentary Estate Planning Strategy Call with San Francisco’s premier estate planning attorney, Matthew J. Tuller.
If you want to leave a robust financial legacy for your family, a financial plan alone is like trying to guide a boat with just one oar. It’s only part of the big picture for your overall monetary health. A well-informed financial plan is worth your time for several reasons, but let’s look at how financial and estate planning can work in tandem to create the best possible future for you and your family in the years to come.
What’s included in a financial plan:
Financial planners take stock of an individual’s fiscal landscape and come up with approaches to maximize his or her overall financial well-being. Take Emily for instance, an energetic project manager in her late-twenties. She’s found a successful career track after graduating with her bachelor’s and now has the steady income necessary to start daydreaming about buying a house with bay windows like the one she passes on her morning commute.
But before she can take such a big leap, Emily tracks down a skilled financial planner who will take an honest look at her foreseeable cash flow and her spending and saving habits. People from all walks of life use thehelp of financial planners to make sure they’re in good shape for making big purchases, saving for their children’s education, and ensuring a comfortable retirement. This also includes developing an investment portfolio, which the financial planner monitors and manages.
But financial planning only goes so far. To have a comprehensive approach, Emily also must also consider her estate and the wills and trusts she should put in place so her assets go where she wants them to in the long run. That’s where a trusts and estates attorney comes in.
What’s included in an estate plan:
Estate planning attorneys are lawyers who give sound advice about what will happen to a person’s assets if he or she becomes mentally incapacitated or when he or she dies. While this may not sound like the sunniest of topics, knowing that what you pass on to your family will be legally protected lets you focus on enjoying the best things in life without worrying about your loved ones’ futures. Estate planning includes defining how you want your loved ones to benefit from the financial legacy you leave behind, implementing tactics to protect your assets from creditors down the road, providing a framework so your loved ones can make medical decisions on your behalf when you can’t, developing strategies to help you reduce estate taxes, and more.
And at the end of the day, your attorney is a teacher. He or she should be equipped to clearly explain your legal options. Even though estate planning can be highly technical, your professional bond with your attorney can and should feel like a friendly partnership since it involves taking an honest look at many personal wishes and priorities. There is no one-size-fits-all estate plan, so choose an attorney whom you trust and enjoy working with and who is responsive to questions and needs.
Remember Emily? While financial planning helped, her get from point A to point B with some pretty big money milestones, she now knows she needs an estates and trusts attorney to make sure her wishes are carried out and her money stays in the right hands—her family’s.
How these two efforts work together:
There are several ways these two components of your financial wellness work in harmony. Asking your financial planner and estate planning attorney to collaborate is common practice, so don’t be concerned that what you’re asking is outside their regular scope of work. Knowing who else advises you will help both parties get the information they need do their jobs at peak effectiveness. For example, your estate planning attorney may prepare a living trust for you, but your financial planner may help you transfer certain assets into that trust.
What are you waiting for?
If you already have a financial planner and are thinking about working with a trusts and estates attorney, you’re in an excellent position. We can often collaborate with your advisor to begin working on your estate plan. This might save you time and money, as we’ll get up to speed with the help of your financial planner.
The right time to plan your estate is right now. The sooner you put yourself and your family able to rest easy knowing a solid plan is in place, the better. And now that you know your financial plan is a wonderful start—but not a complete solution—you’re ready to take the first step on the path to total financial security.
Not long ago, pet trusts were thought of as little more than eccentric things that famous people did for their pets when they had too much money. These days, pet trusts are considered mainstream. For example: in May 2016, Minnesota became the 50th (and final) state to recognize pet trusts. But not every pet trust is enacted exactly per the owner’s wishes. Let’s look at 3 famous pet trust cases and consider the lessons we can take away from them so your furry family member can be protected through your plan.
Leona Helmsley and Trouble:
Achieving notoriety in the 1980s as the “Queen of Mean,” famed hotelier and convicted tax evader Leona Helmsley passed away in 2007. True to form, her will left two of her grandchildren bereft and awarded her Maltese dog Trouble a trust fund valued at $12 million. The probate judge didn’t think much of Helmsley’s logic, however, knocking Trouble’s portion down to a paltry $2 million, awarding $6 million to the two ignored grandchildren and giving the remainder of the trust to charity. Furthermore, when Trouble died, she was supposed to be buried in the family mausoleum, but instead she was cremated when the cemetery refused to accept a dog.
Lessons learned: Leaving an extravagant sum to a pet may not be honored in a lawsuit and can cause family conflict. It’s best to leave a reasonable amount to provide for the care and lifestyle your pet is used to, for the rest of his or her life. If you are looking to disinherit one or more family members, make sure to specifically talk with your attorney so you can have a game plan to make the disinheritance as legally solid as possible.
Michael Jackson and Bubbles:
Most Michael Jackson fans will remember his pet chimpanzee Bubbles, who was the King of Pop’s constant companion. Jackson reportedly left Bubbles $2 million. After the singer’s death, Bubbles’ whereabouts became a point of speculation amid allegations that Jackson had abused the pet while he was alive. The good news is that Bubbles is alive and well, living out his years in a shelter in Florida. The bad news is that if he was left $2 million, he never received it; and he is being supported by public donations.
Lessons learned: Always be clear about your intentions and work with your attorney to put them in writing so your furry family member is cared for and doesn’t wind up in a shelter.
Karla Liebenstein and Gunther III (and IV):
Liebenstein, a German countess, left her entire fortune to her German Shepherd, Gunther III, valued at approximately $65 million. Tragically, Gunther III passed away a week later. However, the dog’s inheritance passed on to his son, Gunther IV; the fortune also increased in value over time to more than $373 million, making Gunther IV the richest pet in the world.
Lesson learned: It’s possible for pet trust benefits to be passed generationally, so make sure your estate plan reflects your actual wishes and intentions.
If your estate plan has not already made arrangements for your beloved pet, we’re here to help. If you want to ensure that your family is cared for, please click here to schedule your complimentary Estate Planning Strategy Call with San Francisco’s premier estate planning attorney, Matthew J. Tuller.
While it is an honor to be named as an executor of a will or estate, it can also be a sobering and daunting responsibility. Being a personal representative requires a high level of organization, foresight, and attention to detail to meet all responsibilities and ensure that all beneficiaries receive the assets to which they are entitled. If you’ve found yourself in the position of “overwhelmed executor,” here are some tips to lighten the load.
1. Get professional help from an experienced attorney:
The caveat to being an executor is that once you accept the responsibility, you also accept the liability if something goes wrong. To protect yourself and make sure you’re crossing all the “i’s” and dotting all the “t’s,” consider hiring an experienced estate planning attorney at the beginning. Having a legal professional in your corner not only helps you avoid pitfalls and blind spots, but it will also give you greater peace of mind during the process.
2. Get organized:
One of the biggest reasons for feeling overwhelmed as an executor is when the details are coming at you from all directions. Proper organization helps you conquer this problem and regain control. Your attorney will help advise you of what to do when, but in general, you’ll need to gather several pieces of important paperwork to get started. It’s a good idea to create a file or binder so you can keep track of the original estate planning documents, death certificates, bills, financial statements, insurance policies, and contact information of beneficiaries. Bringing all this information to your first meeting will be a great start.
3. Establish lines of communication:
As an executor, you are effectively a liaison between multiple parties related to the estate: namely, the courts, the creditors, the IRS, and the heirs. Create and maintain an up-to-date list of everyone’s contact information. You’ll also want to retain records, such as copies of correspondence or notes about phone calls for all the contact you make as executor. Open and honest communication helps keeps the process flowing smoothly and reduces the risk of disputes. It’s worth repeating because it’s so important -- keep records of all communications, so you can always recall what was said to whom.
If you have been appointed as an executor, and you are feeling overwhelmed, we can provide skilled counsel and advice to help you through the process. We can also help you set your own estate plan, so your family can avoid the stress of probate. If you want to ensure that your family is cared for, please click here to schedule your complimentary Estate Planning Strategy Call with San Francisco’s premier estate planning attorney, Matthew J. Tuller.
With all the wealth accumulated by the rich and famous, one would assume that celebrities would take steps to protect their estates once they pass on. But think again: Some of the world’s richest and most famous people have passed away without a will or a trust, while others have made mistakes that tied their fortunes and heirs up for years in court. Let’s look at three high-profile celebrity probate disasters and discover what lessons we can learn from them.
1. Tom Carvel:
As the man who invented soft-serve ice cream and established the first franchise business in America, Tom Carvel had a net worth of up to $200 million when he passed away in 1990. He did have a will and accompanying trust that provided for his widow, family members and donations for several charities, but he also named seven executors, all of whom had a financial stake in the game. The executors began infighting that lasted for years and cost millions. In the end, Carvel’s widow passed away before the disputes could be settled, essentially seeing none of the money.
Lesson learned: “Too many cooks spoil the broth.” Your trustee and executor may have to make tough decisions. Consider naming executors and trustees who have no financial interest in your estate to reduce the risk of favoritism. Also, consider have only a single trustee and executor rather than a committee.
2. Jimi Hendrix:
Passing away tragically at age 27, rock guitarist Jimi Hendrix left no will when he died. What he did leave behind was a long line of relatives, music industry bigwigs, and business associates who had an interest in what would become of his estate - both what he left behind, and what his intellectual property would continue to earn. An attorney managed the estate for the first two decades after Jimi’s death, after which Jimi’s father Al Hendrix successfully sued for control of the estate. But when Al attempted to leave the entire estate to his adopted daughter upon his passing, Jimi’s brother, Leon Hendrix, sued, launching a messy probate battle that left no clear winners.
Lesson learned: When you don’t leave a will or trust, the effects can last for generations. An experienced estate planning attorney can help put your wishes in writing so they are carried out after your death rather than opening a door to costly conflict.
The court battle currently in preparation over Prince’s estate is a celebrity probate disaster in action. When the 80’s pop icon died in early 2016, he left no will, reportedly due to some previous legal battles that left him with a distrust of legal professionals in general. The lines are already being drawn for what will likely be a costly and lengthy court battle among Prince’s heirs. Sadly, there’s even a battle looming about determining who his heirs are—for certain.
Lesson learned: Correct legal documentation protects your legacy. Don’t let a general distrust or a bad experience cause your heirs to fight and potentially lose their inheritance.
These celebrity probate disasters serve as stark reminders that no one’s wealth is exempt from the legal trouble that can occur without proper estate planning. As always, we are here to help you protect your family and legacy. If you want to ensure that your family is cared for, please click here to schedule your complimentary Estate Planning Strategy Call with San Francisco’s premier estate planning attorney, Matthew J. Tuller.
You finally crossed “getting your estate plan done” off your list, and you’ve (rightly) breathed a huge sigh of relief. By tackling this challenge, you’ve not only established protections for your loved ones and legacy, but you’ve also freed up some important “mental space” that had previously been preoccupied.
Once you create the documents that make up your estate plan, your estate planning attorney will prepare a binder containing all pertinent documentation. This estate planning binder is critical because it provides key information regarding your intentions after you pass away or if you become incapacitated. Once your trust is fully funded, your binder should also contain information about your assets. This makes administration easier for your family. This binder should be stored safely, reviewed regularly, and updated when necessary to avoid confusion when your loved ones need to refer to it.
Before we get into the nuts and bolts about how to complete this review process – to help you stay in control now that you’re there – let’s first take a step back and clarify a point that confuses many clients. Your estate plans and your financial plans for the future are two completely different things. They are both obviously important, and they both should be kept in a safe place and reviewed often. However, the estate planning binder has special importance because it contains your wishes and instructions for what should happen if you become incapacitated and when you die…as well as who should be in charge of what—at those times. But this binder is not the same thing as your financial plan. Your financial plan is a comprehensive plan of the assets you have now (and the assets you may need in the future) to help you achieve your goals in life.
Where to Keep Your Estate Planning Binder:
Your estate planning binder should be kept in a safe place along with your other important financial information. We recommend keeping it secured in a safe deposit box at your local bank or in a fireproof strong box, if you keep the documents at home. You can make photocopies or scans of the documentation for your own use if you wish to refer to them more frequently or have them as a backup. Remember though, the original documents have legal significance, so don’t create a situation where your family is forced to attempt to rely on copies - you need to safeguard your originals!
Who Should Have Access to the Binder:
You obviously have discretion regarding who can access your personal financial information. However, strongly consider retaining direct access yourself until circumstances require someone else to step in to take control. If you keep the binder in a safe deposit box, for example, you could keep a spare key in your home or office and notify your attorney, next of kin, or successor trustee as to the key’s location in case they need to use it. Talk to your bank about what limited access rights to the safe deposit box might be available.
How Often to Review Or Update Your Binder:
Your financial situation is likely to change over time – and perhaps more critically, other powerful and unexpected life events can shift your priorities and necessitate an adjustment to your plan.
For instance, the death of a spouse or life partner, a new marriage, an illness or accident that affects your child’s future, a sudden job loss or the surprising success of a business venture that you’ve plugged away at for years, or even a spiritual epiphany can reshuffle what’s important to you.
These events can also limit or constrain what’s possible for your future. Without renegotiating these commitments in a conscious way, you’ll likely feel intangible unease about them. The moral is that your binder should be reviewed periodically and updated to reflect the changes that happen in your life.
As a rule of thumb, we recommend reviewing your estate plan as follows:
1. A quick review once a year
2. A thorough review every 3-5 years to ensure the documents reflect your current finances and intentions
3. Any time you experience a significant increase or decrease in income or wealth
4. Any time you experience a major life change, such as a birth, marriage, or death in the family
5. Any time you consider a change in who you want to benefit from your estate plan
Keeping your estate planning binder secure and up to date will reduce confusion and likelihood of disputes when others need to enact your wishes for your estate. If you want to ensure that your family is cared for, please click here to schedule your complimentary Estate Planning Strategy Call with San Francisco’s premier estate planning attorney, Matthew J. Tuller.
As we build wealth, we naturally desire to pass that financial stability to our offspring. With the grandkids, especially, we often share a special bond that makes us want to provide well for their future. However, that bond can become a weakness if proper precautions aren’t set in place. If you’re planning to include the grandchildren in your will, here are five potential dangers to watch for, and ways you can avoid them.
1. Including no age stipulation:
We have no idea how old the grandchildren will be when we pass on. If they are under 18, or if they are financially immature when you die, they could receive a large inheritance before they know how to handle it, and it could be easily wasted.
Avoiding this pitfall: Create a long-term trust for your grandchildren that provides continued management of assets regardless of their age when you pass away.
2. Too much, too soon:
Even if your grandkids are legally old enough to receive an inheritance when you pass on, if they haven’t learned enough about handling large sums of money properly, the inheritance could still be quickly squandered.
Avoiding this pitfall: Outright or lump-sum distributions are usually not advisable. Luckily, there are many options available, from staggered distributions to leaving their inheritance in a lifetime, “beneficiary-controlled” trust. An experienced estate planning attorney can help you decide the best way to leave your assets.
3. Not communicating how you’d like them to use the inheritance:
You might trust your grandchildren implicitly to handle their inheritance, but if you have specific intentions for what you want that inheritance to do for them (e.g., put them through college, buy them a house, help them start a business, or something else entirely), you can’t expect it to happen if you don’t communicate it to them in your will or trust.
Avoiding this pitfall: Stipulate specific things or activities that the money should be used for in your estate plan. Clarify your intentions and wishes.
4. Being ambiguous in your language:
Money can make people act in unusual ways. If there is any ambiguity in your will or trust as to how much you’re leaving each grandchild, and in what capacity, the door could be opened for greedy relatives to contest your plan.
Avoiding this pitfall: Be crystal clear in every detail concerning your grandchildren’s inheritance. An experienced estate planning attorney can help you clarify any ambiguous points in your will or trust.
5. Touching your retirement:
Many misguided grandparents make the mistake of forfeiting some or all of their retirement money to the kids or grandkids, especially when a family member is going through some sort of financial crisis. Trying to get the money back when you need might be difficult to impossible.
Avoiding this pitfall: Resist the temptation to jeopardize your future by trying to “fix it” for your grandchildren. If you want to help them now, consider giving them part of their inheritance in advance, or setting up a trust for them. But, always make sure any lifetime giving you make doesn’t leave you high and dry.
If you’re planning to put your grandchildren in your will or trust, we’re here to help with every detail you need to consider. If you want to ensure that your family is cared for, please click here to schedule your complimentary Estate Planning Strategy Call with San Francisco’s premier estate planning attorney, Matthew J. Tuller.
If you’re thinking about giving your children their inheritance early, you’re not alone. A recent Merrill Lynch study suggests that these days, nearly two-thirds of people over the age of 50 would rather pass their assets to the children early than make them wait until the will is read. It can be especially satisfying to fund our children’s dreams while we’re alive to enjoy them, and there’s no real financial penalty for doing so, if the arrangement is structured correctly. Here are four important factors to take consider when planning to give an early inheritance.
1. Keep the tax codes in mind:
The IRS doesn’t care whether you give away your money now or later. The lifetime estate tax exemption as of 2016 is $5.45 million per individual, regardless of when the funds are transferred. So, whether you give up to $5.45 million away now or wait until you die with that amount, your estate will not owe any federal estate tax (although, remember, the law is always subject to change). You can even give up to $14,000 per person (child, grandchild, or anyone else) per year without any gift tax issues at all. You might hear these $14,000 gifts referred to as “annual exclusion” gifts. There are also ways to make tax-free gifts for educational expenses or medical care, but special rules apply to these gifts. Your estate planner can help you successfully navigate the maze of tax issues to ensure you and your children receive the greatest benefit from your giving.
2. Gifts that keep on giving:
One way to make your children’s inheritance go even farther is to give it as an appreciable asset. For example, helping one of your children buy a home could increase the value of your gift considerably as the home appreciates in value. Likewise, if you have stock in a company that is likely to prosper, gifting some of the stock to your children could result in greater wealth for them in the future.
3. One size does not fit all:
Don’t feel pressured to follow the exact same path for all your children in the name of equal treatment. One of your children might prefer to wait to receive her inheritance, for example, while another might need the money now to start a business. Give yourself the latitude to do what is best for each child individually; just be willing to communicate your reasoning to the family to reduce the possibility of misunderstanding or resentment.
4. Don’t touch your own retirement:
If the immediate need is great for one or more of your children, resist the urge to tap into your retirement accounts to help them out. Make sure your own future is secure before investing in theirs. It may sound selfish in the short term, but it’s better than possibly having to lean on your kids for financial help later when your retirement is depleted.
Giving your kids an early inheritance is not only feasible, but it also can be highly fulfilling and rewarding for all involved. That said, it’s best to involve a trusted financial advisor and an experienced estate planning attorney to help you navigate tax issues and come up with the best strategy for transferring your assets. If you want to ensure that your family is cared for, please click here to schedule your complimentary Estate Planning Strategy Call with San Francisco’s premier estate planning attorney, Matthew J. Tuller.
If you've been appointed an executor or a successor trustee of a loved one’s estate, and that person dies, your grief—not to mention your to-do list—can be quite overwhelming. For example, you may need to plan the funeral, coordinate with out of town relatives coming to visit, and finding an estate planning attorney to help you to administer the estate. Regardless of the additional tasks on hand, it is most crucial that you take care of yourself during such an emotionally taxing time.
To give you an idea of some of the first steps that should be taken after a loved one passes, here is a quick checklist of initial tasks that should be completed. I know it can be difficult, but some of these items are deadline specific, so make sure that you reach out sooner than later:
1. Secure the deceased's personal property (vehicle, home, business, etc.).
2. Notify the post office.
3. If the deceased wrote an ethical will, share that with the appropriate parties in a venue set aside for the occasion. You may even want to print it and make copies for some individuals.
4. Get copies of the death certificate. You'll need them for some upcoming tasks.
5. Notify the Social Security office.
6. Take care of any Medicare details that need attention.
7. Contact the deceased's employer to find out about benefits dispensation.
8. Stop health insurance and notify relevant insurance companies. Terminate any policies no longer necessary. You may need to wait to actually cancel the policies until after you’ve “formally” taken over the estate, but you can often get the necessary paperwork started before that time.
9. Get ready to meet with a qualified probate and trust administration attorney. Depending on the circumstances, a probate may be necessary. Even if a probate is not needed, there is work that needs to be The deceased’s will and trust. If the original of the deceased’s will or trust can’t be located, contact us as soon as possible and bring any copies you do have.
A list of the deceased’s bills and debts. It’s often easier to bring the statements or the actual credit cards into the office rather than try to write out a list, but do whatever is easiest for you.
A list of the deceased’s financial advisors, insurance agent, tax professional, and other professional advisors.
A list of the deceased’s surviving family members, including their contact information when available. Even if they’re not named in the trust, the attorney will need to know about everyone in the family.
10. Cancel your loved one's driver's license, passport, voter's registration, and club memberships.
11. Close out email and social media accounts, and shut down websites no longer needed. Depending on circumstances, to take these steps, you may need to wait until you’ve “formally” taken over the estate, but you can often learn the procedures and be ready to take action.
12. Contact your tax preparer.
You may be thinking about handling all the paperwork yourself. It’s a tempting thought—why not keep things as simple as possible? However, a “DIY” approach to this process might cost you and your family dearly. Read on to understand why.
Consequences of Mishandling an Estate: Examples from Real Life
Example #1: Failing to disclose assets to the IRS. Lacy Doyle, a prominent art consultant in New York City, inherited a large estate when her father passed away in 2003. He allegedly left her $4 million, but she only disclosed fewer than $1 million in assets when she filed the court documents for the estate. Per the New York Daily News: “She opened an ‘undeclared Swiss bank account for the purpose of depositing the secret inheritance from her father’ in 2006 — using a fake foreign foundation name to conceal her identity… [she also] didn't report her interest in the hidden accounts — nor the income they generated — from 2004 to 2009.” As a result of these alleged shenanigans and Doyle’s failure to report the accounts to the IRS, she was arrested, and she now faces a six-year prison sentence.
Example #2: Misusing power of attorney. Another famous case of an improperly handled estate involved the son of famous New York socialite, Brooke Astor. Her son, Anthony Marshall, was convicted of misusing his power of attorney and other crimes. Per a fascinating Washington Post obituary: “In 2009, Mr. Marshall was convicted of grand larceny and other charges related to the attempted looting of his mother’s assets while she suffered from Alzheimer’s disease. He received a sentence of one to three years in prison but, afflicted by congestive heart failure and Parkinson’s disease, was medically paroled in August 2013 after serving eight weeks.”
Some Key Takeaways
1. Seek professional counsel to avoid even the appearance of impropriety when handling an estate.
2. Bear in mind that errors of omission and accident can be costly – even if your intent was good. An executor who makes distributions from an estate too soon can get into serious trouble, for instance. An executor’s personal assets can wind up in jeopardy if his or her actions cause an estate to become insolvent.
3. Even if you’re well organized and knowledgeable about probate and estate law, it’s surprisingly hard to anticipate what can go wrong. There are many ways to end up in hot water when you’re handling the estate or trust of a loved one.
We’re here to help you steer clear of the obstacles and free you to focus on yourself and your family during this difficult time. Contact us for assistance. We can help you manage estate and trust related concerns as well as point you towards other useful resources.
If you want to ensure that your family is cared for, please click here to schedule your complimentary Estate Planning Strategy Call with San Francisco’s premier estate planning attorney, Matthew J. Tuller.V