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.
When a loved one suffers from a mental illness, one small comfort can be knowing that your trust can take care of them through thick and thin. There are some ways this can happen, ranging from the funding of various types of treatment to providing structure and support during his or her times of greatest need.
A well-crafted estate plan is comprised of many individual parts, and careful, trust-based estate planning is the best way to ensure the highest possible quality of life for you and your loved ones.
One way couples can make get the most mileage out of their estate plans is through community property trusts. This is a special type of trust that combines a couples jointly acquired assets as community property and can save a significant amount of taxes.
Why Community Property Trusts Are Beneficial:
The essential benefit of a Community Property Trust (“CPT”) is that the basis of community-owned property is stepped up when one member of the couple dies. Not only that—it also steps up the basis for the surviving spouse’s half of the property (rather than only half, which is what happens with “plain” jointly owned property). This means that the capital gains tax will take a much smaller percentage of the surviving spouse’s wealth when the property is sold.
The Limits Of Community Property Trusts:
There are two states in which CPT’s can be formed: Alaska and Tennessee. These trusts must be funded and have ongoing requirements to achieve their tax benefits. So, they are not a panacea and don’t necessarily fit every married couple’s situation.
How CPT’s Fit In With Other Estate Planning Strategies:
If your estate plan is robust and ready for all of life’s potential successes and challenges, it likely includes any number of revocable and irrevocable trusts, powers of attorney, long-term care directives, and miscellaneous probate-avoidance precautions.
Community property trusts can only work for the property you fund into them, meaning that you can and should have other strategies in place such as a revocable trust, will, power of attorney, etc. The same property cannot be managed under multiple trusts at the same time, so it is important for us to figure out which of your assets you’d like to set aside for other types of trusts before settling on the details of your CPT.
Community property trusts are not for everyone. However, if we can determine that setting one up is a realistic fit for you and your family, you can expect to save a large sum by avoiding taxes you would otherwise accrue. Schedule your complimentary Estate Planning Strategy Session with our office, to see whether this solution might be an effective addition to your other estate planning strategies.
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.
When it comes to your family’s legacy, every dollar you can save from tax collection counts. One way to keep your assets out of the hands of the IRS is the formation of community property trusts.
How Does A Community Property Trust (CPT) Work?
Community Property Trusts (“CPT’s”) save you money on taxes by adjusting or “stepping up” the basis of the entire property after the death of one member of the couple. When you and your spouse invest in property jointly—be it real estate, stocks, or other assets—it becomes what’s called community property if you live within nine applicable states. However, there are two states, Alaska and Tennessee, where community property can be utilized via the creation of a community property trust, even if you do not live in Alaska or Tennessee.
When couples work with their estate planning attorneys to create these trusts, they can take advantage of a double step-up on the property’s basis. The basis of the property is stepped-up to its current value for both members of the couple’s halves. This is different from jointly owned property which only receives the step-up on one-half of the property. That means capital gains taxes are much lower because the taxed amount is reduced thanks to the stepped-up basis. Community property helps couples reduce their income taxes after the death of a spouse.
Getting To Know Your Basic CPT Terminology:
First, let’s start with a few quick definitions of the financial terms you will need to know to get a sense of whether a community property trust is right for you.
1. Community Property
Assets a married couple acquires by joint effort during marriage if they live in one of the nine community property states: Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington, and Wisconsin.
2. Community property trust:
A particular type of joint revocable trust designed for couples who own low-basis assets, enabling them to take advantage of a double step up. Tennessee or Alaska are the two places you can form these trusts.
What you paid for an asset. The value that is used to determine gain or loss for income tax purposes. A higher basis means less capital gains tax.
4. Stepped-up basis:
Assets are given a new basis when transferred by inheritance (through a will or trust) and are revalued as of the date of the owner’s death. The new basis is called a stepped-up basis. A stepped-up basis can save a considerable amount of capital gains tax when an asset is later sold by the new owner.
5. Double step-up:
Because of a tax loophole, community property receives a basis adjustment step-up on the entire property when one of the spouses dies. So, if a surviving spouse sells community property after the death of their spouse, the capital gain is based on the increase in value from the first spouse’s death (where the basis got adjusted on both spouses’ shares) to the value at the date of the sale. This allows the survivor to save money on capital gains tax liability.
One of the best parts of estate planning is that you get out so much more than you put in. In just a short amount of time, we can implement a community property trust that could save your spouse and family tens of thousands of dollars down the road. We are here to help make sure as little of your hard-earned property as possible ends up lost to taxation. Schedule your free consultation with us today, and set yourself up for a better tomorrow.
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.
Estate planning is the process of developing a strategy for the care and management of your estate if you become incapacitated or upon your death. One commonly known purpose of estate planning is to minimize taxes and costs, including taxes imposed on gifts, estates, generation skipping transfer and probate court costs. However, your plan must also name someone who will make medical and financial decisions for you if you cannot make decisions for yourself. You also need to consider how to leave your property and assets while considering your family’s circumstances and needs.
Since your family’s needs and circumstances are constantly changing, so too must your estate plan. Your plan must be updated when certain life changes occur. These include, but are not limited to the following Six: 1) Marriage, 2) The birth or adoption of a new family member, 3) Divorce, 4) The death of a loved one, 5) A significant change in assets, and 6) A move to a new state or country.
It is not uncommon for estate planning to be the last item on the list when a couple is about to be married - whether for the first time or not. On the contrary, marriage is an essential time to update an estate plan. You probably have already thought about updating emergency contacts and adding your spouse to existing health and insurance policies. There is another important reason to update an estate plan upon marriage. In the event of death, your money and assets may not automatically go to your spouse, especially if you have children of a prior marriage, a prenuptial agreement, or if your assets are jointly owned with someone else (like a sibling, parent, or other family member). A comprehensive estate review can ensure you and your new spouse can rest easy.
2. Birth Or Adoption Of Children Or Grandchildren:
When a new baby is born, it seems like everything changes—and so should your estate plan. For example, your trust may not “automatically” include your new child, depending on how it is written. So, it is always a good idea to check and add the new child as a beneficiary. As the children (or grandchildren) grow in age, your estate plan should adjust to ensure assets are distributed in a way that you deem proper. What seems like a good idea when your son or granddaughter is a four-year-old may no longer look like a good idea once their personality has developed and you know them as a 25-year-old college graduate, for example.
Some state and federal laws may remove a former spouse from an inheritance after the couple splits, however, this is not always the case, and it certainly should not be relied on as the foundation of your plan. After a divorce, you should immediately update beneficiary designations for all insurance policies and retirement accounts, any powers of attorney, and any existing health care proxy and HIPAA authorizations. It is also a good time to revamp your will and trust to make sure it does what you want (and likely leaves out your former spouse).
4. The Death Of A Loved One:
Sometimes those who are named in your estate plan pass away. If an appointed guardian of your children dies, it is imperative to designate a new person. Likewise, if your chosen executor, health care proxy or designated power of attorney dies, new ones should be named right away.
5. Significant Change In Assets:
Whether it is a sudden salary increase, inheritance, or the purchase of a large asset these scenarios should prompt an adjustment an existing estate plan. The bigger the estate, the more likely there will be issues over the disposition of the assets after you are gone. For this reason, it is best to see what changes, if any, are needed after a significant increase (or decrease) in your assets.
6. A Move To A New State Or Country:
For most individuals, it is a good idea to obtain a new set of estate planning documents that clearly meet the new state’s legal requirements. Estate planning for Americans living abroad or those who have assets located in numerous countries is even more complicated and requires professional assistance. It is always a good idea to learn what you need to do to completely protect yourself and your family when you move to a new state or country.
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.
Estate planning [creating your Family Legacy Protection Plan] offers many ways to leave your wealth to your children, but it’s just as important to know what not to do. Here are some things that are all-too-common, but textbook examples of what not to do or try…
If you feel you have a good rapport with your family or don't have many assets, you might be tempted simply to tell your children or loved ones how to handle your estate when you’re gone. However, even if your family members wanted to follow your directions, it may not be entirely up to them. Without a written document, any assets you own individually must go through probate, and “oral wills” have no weight in court. It would most likely be up to a judge and the intestate laws written by the legislature, not you or your desired heirs, to decide who gets what. This is one strategy to not even try.
In lieu of setting up a trust, some people name their children as joint tenants on their properties. The appeal is that children should be able to assume full ownership when parents pass on, while keeping the property out of probate. However, this does not mean that the property is safe; it doesn't insulate the property from taxes or creditors, including your children’s creditors, if they run into financial difficulty. Their debt could even result in a forced sale of your property.
There’s another issue. Choosing this approach exposes you to otherwise avoidable capital gains taxes. Here’s why. When you sell certain assets, the government taxes you. But you can deduct your cost basis—a measure of how much you’ve invested in it—from the selling price. For example, if you and your spouse bought vacant land for $200,000 and later sell it for $315,000, you’d only need to pay capital gains taxes on $115,000 (the increase in value).
However, your heirs can get a break on these taxes. For instance, let’s say you die, and the fair market value of the land at that time was $300,000. Since you used a trust rather than joint tenancy, your spouse’s cost basis is now $300,000 (the basis for the heirs gets “stepped-up” to its value at your death). So, if she then sells the property for $315,000, she only pays capital gains on $15,000, which is the gain that happened after your death! However, with joint tenancy, she does not receive the full step-up in basis, meaning she’ll pay more capital gains taxes.
Giving Away the Inheritance Early:
Some parents choose to give children their inheritance early–either outright or incrementally over time. But this strategy comes with several pitfalls. First, if you want to avoid hefty gift taxes, you are limited to giving each child $14,000 per year. You can give more, but you start to use up your gift tax exemption and must file a gift tax return. Second, a smaller yearly amount might seem more like current expense money than the beginnings of your legacy, so they might spend it rather than invest. Third, if situations change that would have caused you to re-evaluate your allocations, it's too late. You don’t want to be dependent on them giving the cash back if you need it for your own needs.
Shortcuts and ideas like these may look appealing on the surface, but they can do more harm than good. Consult with an estate planner to find better strategies to prepare for your and your families' future.
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.
There is no such uncertainty as a sure thing.
Even with an estate plan, things can always happen that may cause confusion for the estate–or threaten the plan altogether. Below are three examples of worst-case scenarios and ways to demonstrate how a carefully crafted plan can address issues, from the predictable to the total surprise.
Scenario 1: Family Members Battle One Another:
Despite your best intentions, what happens if the people you care about most get into a knockdown, drag-out fight over your estate? Disputes over who should get what assets, how to interpret an unclear instruction from you, or how loved ones should manage your business can open old wounds.
Lawsuits between family members can drain your estate and tarnish your legacy. Family infighting can lead to less obviously dramatic problems as well. For instance, let’s say you name your daughter as the executor, and she holds a deep grudge against your youngest son. Your daughter cannot do something as drastic as rewriting your will to leave him out. However, she could drag her feet with the probate court, interpret the will “poorly” (unfairly privileging herself and your other son over your youngest), or engage in other shenanigans. In each of these cases, your youngest son would have to hire a lawyer and potentially get involved in a protracted legal battle. This is a bad outcome for everyone.
To prevent such scenarios, consider using an impartial (e.g. third party) trustee or executor. Moreover, speak with a qualified estate planning attorney to prepare for likely future conflicts among family members.
Scenario 2: Both Spouses Die Simultaneously:
Many estate plans transfer assets to a surviving spouse, but what happens if both spouses die at or near the same time? This situation may be even more complicated if both spouses have separately owned assets or if the size of the estate is significant. In that case, asset distribution may depend on who predeceased whom, the amount of estate tax paid, and other factors. There are, however, ways to address this in an estate plan making it easier for your family to understand your intent, including, as recently discussed in Motley Fool:
· A simultaneous death clause that automatically names one spouse as the first to die;
· A survivorship deferral provision, delaying transfer of assets to a surviving spouse, thus preventing double probate and estate taxes; and
· A so-called “Titanic” clause that names a final beneficiary in the event all primary beneficiaries die at once.
Scenario 3: Passing Away Overseas:
Expatriates may require specific expertise when creating an estate plan. If a death occurs outside the U.S., foreign laws may conflict with provisions of an American-made estate plan. As such, a plan may need to be reviewed both for the US and other nations’ laws. If you intend to live abroad for an extended period, as discussed in this New York Times article, it may be smart to draw up a second will consistent with those nations' laws, too. However, the starting point is completing your estate planning (will, trust, and other documents) here in the United States first.
If you have concerns as to whether your current estate plan is safeguarded against these three worst-case scenarios or anything else you might be worried about, we are here to help.
Comprehensive estate planning is more than your legacy after death, avoiding probate, and saving on taxes. Good estate planning includes a plan in place to manage your affairs if you become incapacitated during your life and can no longer make decisions for yourself.
What happens without an incapacity plan?
Without a comprehensive incapacity plan in place, your family will have to go to court to get a judge to appoint a guardian or conservator to take control of your assets and health care decisions. This guardian or conservator will make all personal and medical decisions on your behalf as part of a court-supervised guardianship or conservatorship. Until you regain capacity or die, you and your loved ones will be faced with an expensive and time-consuming guardianship or conservatorship proceeding. There are two dimensions to decision making that need to be considered: financial decisions and healthcare decisions.
Finances During Incapacity:
If you are incapacitated, you are legally unable to make financial, investment, or tax decisions for yourself. Of course, bills still need to be paid, tax returns still need to be filed, and investments still need to be managed.
Health Care During Incapacity:
If you become legally incapacitated, you won’t be able to make healthcare decisions for yourself. Because of patient privacy laws, your loved ones may even be denied access to medical information during a crisis and end up in court fighting over what medical treatment you should, or should not, receive (like Terri Schiavo’s husband and parents did, for 15 years).
You must have these five essential legal documents in place before becoming incapacitated so that your family is empowered to make decisions for you:
1. Durable Power of Attorney:
This legal document gives your agent [called your Attorney-in-Fact] the authority to pay bills, make financial decisions, manage investments, file tax returns, mortgage and sell real estate, and address other financial matters that are described in the document.
Financial Powers of Attorney come in two forms: “durable” and “springing.” A durable power of attorney goes into effect as soon as it is signed, while a springing power of attorney only goes into effect after you have been declared mentally incapacitated. There are advantages and disadvantages to each type, and we can help you decide which is best for your situation.
2. Revocable Family Trust:
This legal document has three parties to it: the person who creates the trust (you might see this written as “trustmaker,” “grantor,” or “settlor” — they all mean the same thing); the person who legally owns and manages the assets transferred into the trust (the “trustee”); and the person who benefits from the assets transferred into the trust (the “beneficiary”). In the typical situation, you will be the trustmaker, the trustee, and the beneficiary of your own revocable living trust. But if you ever become incapacitated, your designated successor trustee will step in to manage the trust assets for your benefit. Since the trust controls how your property is used, you can specify how your assets are to be used if you become incapacitated (for example, you can authorize the trustee to continue to make gifts or pay tuition for your grandchildren).
3. Advance Health Care Directive:
This legal document, also called a medical or Health Care Agent, gives your agent the authority to make healthcare decisions if you become incapacitated.
4. Living Will:
This legal document shares your wishes regarding end of life care if you become incapacitated. Although a living will isn’t necessarily enforceable in all states, it can provide meaningful information about your desires even if it isn’t strictly enforceable.
5. HIPAA authorization:
This legal document gives your doctor authority to disclose medical information to the agents selected by you. This is important because health privacy laws may make it very difficult for your agents or family to learn about your condition without this release. It is crucial that each fiduciary nominated in your estate plan that may need access to your HIPPA-protected health documents is granted such legal authority.
Is your incapacity plan up to date?
Once you get all of these legal documents for your incapacity plan in place, you cannot simply stick them in a drawer and forget about them. Instead, your incapacity plan must be reviewed and updated periodically and when certain life events occur such as moving to a new state or going through a divorce. If you keep your incapacity plan up to date and make the documents available to your loved ones and trusted helpers, it should work the way you expect it to if needed.
When you hear the phrase “estate plan,” you might first think about paperwork. Or your mind might land on some of the uncomfortable topics that estate planning confronts head-on: end-of-life decisions, incapacity, and your family’s legacy from generation to generation. Those subjects hit home for everyone.
But while that could feel like a reason to avoid estate planning, the emotional nature of these decisions is a reason to embrace the process with enthusiasm. Here are a few ways in which emotion in estate planning is a good thing:
Estate Planning Creates Stability In Times Of Loss:
If you end up in a state of incapacity later in life, it’s guaranteed to be a difficult time for your family. If your estate plan doesn’t include detailed instructions for a trusted decision maker and an actionable long-term care plan, it’s guaranteed to be even worse. You can save your loved ones from the confusion about what to do and the pressure to make rushed choices if this occurs, allowing them to save their energy for processing the situation.
2. Comprehensive Estate Plans Keep Emotional Matters Private
Detailed, trust-based estate planning with lifetime beneficiary directed trusts keeps your private matters out of the public eye. When your estate plan is scant—such as a simple “I love you” will—you’re running the risk of your estate going through court in a proceeding called probate. This means that choices become visible to those outside your inner circle. Because of the notice requirements, probate can also invite controversy and conflict which a private transfer would have avoided.
3. Estate Planning Can Bring A Family Together:
Everyone has heard of a situation in which siblings argued over what their parents left them as beneficiaries. But the opposite is also quite true. When you get your family and other loved ones involved in your estate planning process, you gain a wonderful opportunity to show them how much you care. Creating your estate plan can strengthen the bonds of love in a family and serve as a reminder of those bonds for years to come.
4. Your Estate Is About Much More Than Money:
Estate planning is about a whole lot more than just wealth distribution and taxes. During an estate planning session, we can talk about significant family heirlooms, your hard-won hobby collection, and other matters totally unique to your life. We can even dive deeply into the memories and intellectual property you want to make sure your beneficiaries receive, such as photos, art, and even recorded videos or audio files of family stories you’d like to share with future generations.
5. An Estate Plan Means You’re Not Going It Alone:
You shouldn’t have to face trying times alone. Whether the estate in question is yours or a loved one’s, your estate planning attorney will have the answers. Let us take care of the nuts and bolts with regards to educating your appointed agents about their duties so you can know that your family will be in good hands if anything happens to you. The idea of setting everything straight on your own can be a stressful one, but these emotional decisions are much easier to make with a trusted advisor by your side.
We want you to feel ownership and investment in getting your estate plan to reflect who you are. Estate planning is an opportunity to look at some of life’s big questions and ultimately make sure your family feels your care for them through the choices you make. Schedule your free consultation with us today to see how we can create custom-made solutions that do just that.
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.
While most proactive individuals know the importance of having a well-rounded estate plan, it is typically considered as something that will take effect after they have passed away. But in fact, there are many ways in which comprehensive estate planning can have a positive impact on your life while you are still around to reap the benefits.
Planning for Incapacity:
Most people who reach old age come to a point at which they are no longer able to handle all their affairs on their own. In many cases this incapacity is due to dementia or other cognitive impairments associated with the elderly. At that point, the decisions they’ve made with their estate planning attorney can have major repercussions on their lifestyle and the handling of their wealth.
Take Alex for example. Long before Alex retired from his long and successful career as an IT manager at a large corporation, he put a cursory estate plan in place with a will detailing who would get which of his assets upon his death. But, Alex didn’t update his plan as he aged. In his late seventies, he developed Alzheimer's and it became unclear to his family how to proceed with his medical care and wealth management. Since Alex did not formally choose an individual to be in control of his affairs in the event of incapacity, it falls upon the court to appoint a guardian or conservator. Unfortunately, that’s where things get complicated.
What is guardianship?
Guardianship goes by a few other names, so it’s important to get familiar with various terms used to indicate similar and somewhat overlapping concepts. The other terms you may hear include “conservatorship,” “plenary guardianship,” and “living probate.”
It’s important to note that these terms are used in slightly different manners from state-to-state, with some states using “guardian” and “conservator” interchangeably. Others maintain the distinction of a guardian being a person who makes decisions about medical care and living arrangements, whereas a conservator makes decisions about property and assets. In either case, the guardian or conservator is essentially a substitute decision maker that’s authorized by the court to make decisions on behalf of the incapacitated person.
3 Reasons You Should Avoid It:
In the process of living probate, the court tries to settle on solutions that will fit the incapacitated individual’s best interests. However, there is a much better way. Here are just a few of the reasons guardianship and conservatorship are not ideal fallbacks:
1. Cost To put it simply, living probate is expensive. The legal fees associated with court-appointed attorneys representing incapacitated individuals can chip away at their estates very quickly. Living probate also brings your affairs into the public sector.
2. Privacy Alex may not have wanted his family to have to experience the financial and emotional costs of his living probate court proceedings, but he may also have felt less than enthusiastic about his personal affairs being discussed in a public forum.
3. Clarity In addition to being costly and a compromise of privacy, living probate is also full of guesswork. If Alex had assigned powers of attorney and established long-term care provisions in his estate plan, his affairs would be handled exactly as he wished in the event of his incapacity. When the court is involved, they usually apply default rules of state law, which means the legislature is essentially making some choices for you and your family.
How to Structure Your Estate Plan:
What does an individual like Alex need to do to avoid the chance of his family having to go through living probate? There are a few specific steps we can take to make in planning your estate to ensure your affairs never end up in a court-appointed guardian’s hands:
Powers of Attorney:
A complete estate plan includes named powers of attorney who will fulfill the roles of guardians and conservators in the event of your incapacity. The difference is that these individuals will be chosen by you rather than by the court. There are several different types of powers of attorney for specific purposes, such as a healthcare power of attorney or a general durable power of attorney, the latter of which controls the management of your finances.
2. Long Term Care Planning
Although you may never need long-term care, building a strategy for it into your estate plan will allow you to relax knowing that you’ll receive long-term care according to your wishes if that becomes necessary. This type of planning also helps protect the assets in your estate plan from being used up on medical expenses before going to your beneficiaries.
Avoiding guardianship and conservatorship through living probate is a relatively pain-free process if handled well ahead of time. Get in touch with us today to go over the parts of your estate plan that may need amending to give you and your family the best possible outcomes. We are here to help and can quickly get your estate plan in optimal shape.
We know it’s hard. Thinking about someone else raising your children stops us all in our tracks. It feels crushing and too horrific to consider. But you must. If you don’t, a stranger will determine who raises your children if something happens to you—your child’s guardian could be a relative you despise or even a stranger you’ve never met.
Due to the importance of choosing an appropriate Guardian, and our experience seeing firsthand the difficulties people go through determining who to name—we have created a step-by-step Guide: How To Choose Your Child’s Guardian. To obtain your free copy, click here.
No one will ever be you or parent exactly like you, but there is someone who could muddle through and provide for your children’s general welfare, education, and medical needs. Parents with minor children need to name someone to raise them (a guardian) in the event both parents should die before the child becomes an adult. While the likelihood of that happening is slim, the consequences of not naming a guardian are more than intense.
If no guardian is named in your will, a judge—a stranger who does not know you, your child, or your relatives and friends - will decide who will raise your child. Anyone can ask to be considered, and the judge will select the person she deems most appropriate. Families tend to fight over children, especially if there’s money involved - and worse - no one may be willing to take your child; if that happens, the judge will place your child in foster care. On the other hand, if you name a guardian, the judge will likely support your choice.
How to Choose a Guardian:
Your child’s guardian can be a relative or friend. Here are factors our clients have considered when selecting guardians (and back up guardians).
How well the child and potential guardian know and enjoy each other
Parenting style, moral values, educational level, health practices, religious/spiritual beliefs
Location - if the guardian lives far away, your child would have to move from a familiar school, friends, and neighborhood
The child’s age and the age and health of the guardian-candidates:
Grandparents may have the time, and they may or may not have the energy to keep up with a toddler or teenager
An older guardian may become ill and/or even die before the child is grown, so there would be a double loss
A younger guardian, especially a sibling, may be concentrating on finishing college or starting a career.
5. Emotional Preparedness:
a. Someone who is single or who doesn't want children may resent having to care for your children.
b. Someone with a houseful of their own children may or may not want more around.
Serving as guardian and raising your child is a big deal; don’t spring such a responsibility on anyone. Ask your top candidates if they would be willing to serve, and name at least one alternate in case the first choice becomes unable to serve.
Who’s in Charge of the Money?
Raising your child should not be a financial burden for the guardian, and a candidate’s lack of finances should not be the deciding factor. You will need to provide enough money (from assets and/or life insurance) to provide for your child. Some parents also earmark funds to help the guardian buy a larger car or add onto their existing home, so there’s plenty of room for extra children.
Factors to consider:
1. Naming a seperate person to handle this money can be a good idea. That person would be a guardian of the estate or a trustee, but not guardian of the children.
2. However, having the same person raise the child and handle the money can make things simpler because the guardian would not have to ask someone for the money.
3. But the best person to raise the child may not be the best person to handle the money and it may be tempting for them to use this money for their own purposes.
Compromise Will Likely be Necessary:
Naming a guardian is a difficult decision for most parents. Keep in mind that this person will probably not raise your child because odds are that at least one parent will survive until the child is grown. By naming a guardian, however, you are being responsible and planning for a bad—but avoidable—situation arises. It’s important to realize that no one besides you will be the perfect parent for your child, so typically this means making compromises in some areas. Select the person you think will muddle through the best.
Let’s Continue this Conversation:
We know it’s not easy, but don’t let that stop you. We’re happy to talk this through with you and legally document your wishes. Know that you can change your mind and select a different guardian anytime you’d like. You are a parent and your job is to provide for and protect your children, so let’s do this—together. To get started, download your free copy of our Guide: Choosing Your Child’s Guardian. Next, contact our office to schedule your free consultation and we’ll get your children protected.
While the term fiduciary is a legal term with a long history, it very generally means someone who is legally obligated to act in another person’s best interests. Trustees, executors, and agents are all examples of fiduciaries. When you pick trustees, executors, and agents in your estate plan, you’re picking one or more people to make decisions in your and your beneficiaries’ best interests and in accordance with the instructions you leave. Luckily, understanding the basics of what each of these terms means and what to consider when making your choices can make your estate plan work far better.
A revocable living trust is often the center of a well-designed estate plan because it is simply the best strategy for achieving most individuals’ goals. In a revocable living trust, your successor trustee will be responsible for making sure your wealth is passed on and managed in accordance with your wishes after your death or incapacity. Like each of the following individuals involved in your estate planning, it’s best to have a trusted person or financial institution carry out this vitally important role.
It’s important to make the language in your trusts as clear as possible so that your trustee knows exactly how to handle various situations that can arise is asset distribution. Lastly, your trustee will only control the assets contained within the trust — not the rest of your estate, another reason that completely funding yourliving trust is incredibly important.
Powers of Attorney:
Your power of attorney is the document in your estate plan that appoints individuals to make decisions on your behalf if you become unable to do so yourself. There are a few different types of powers of attorney, each with their own specific provisions. There is quite a wide range of situations covered by various powers of attorney, and we can help you decide which types you’ll need based on your current situation and future goals. Here are two common types to cover in your estate plan:
● Financial Powers of Attorney :
Financial powers of attorney grant individuals the ability to take financial actions on your behalf such as purchasing life insurance or withdrawing money from your accounts to cover your costs. In most cases, powers of attorney are granted to individuals appointed as agents. However, especially regarding financial decisions, an institution like a trust company can also be named.
● Advance Health Care Directive:
Your Advance Health Care Directive, also referred to as your Health Care Power of Attorney, covers a wide range of specific actions that can be taken regarding an individual’s medical needs such as making decisions about the types of care you receive. For example, a health care power of attorney can be the doctor you most trust to gauge your mental competency.
Your executor is the person who will see your assets through probate if necessary and carry out your wishes based on your last will and testament. Depending on your preferences, this may be the same person or institution as your trustee. You might also see this position designated as personal representative, but it means the same thing.
Many individuals chose to go with a paid executor. This is someone who doesn’t stand to gain anything from your will, and is often the best choice if your estate is large and will be divided among many beneficiaries. Of course, family or friends can also serve, but it’s important to consider the amount of work involved before placing this burden on your family or friends.
Being an executor can be hard work and may have court-ordered deadlines, so it’s crucial to pick someone you know will be up for the job. They may need to hire a CPA to help sort out your taxes or a lawyer to assist in the process or to aid in dispute resolution. Therefore, choosing a spouse or someone else intimately involved in your life may not always be the wisest option, as they may not be up to the task at the time.
Get in touch with us today:
Let us help you make the process of picking your trustee, powers of attorney, and executor as smooth and headache-free as possible. Once you have these choices in place, you’ll be able to rest easy knowing that your estate plan is in good hands no matter what life brings. 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.
George Carlin would have been a great pitchman for estate planning. You may remember his stand-up routine on “stuff.” We all have stuff, and we're quite particular about our stuff. We move it around with us, it's hard for some of us to get rid of it, and some of us don't like our stuff mixed up with other people's stuff.
During your lifetime, you collect a lot of stuff, some of it valuable and some of it not. But because it's your stuff, it means something to you. You already know you can't take it with you when you die, so there must be some way of distributing your stuff to other people.
Normally, you want your stuff to go to people you care about—your family and special friends, sometimes a worthwhile cause. And you may want certain people to have certain things to remember you by.
Document Instructions for Your Stuff:
When you die, all your stuff, no matter how valuable or invaluable it is, is called your "estate." In the simplest terms, an “estate plan” is your instructions for getting your stuff to the people you want to have it after you die.
Important Legal Mumbo Jumbo:
An estate plan must meet certain legal requirements, including that it must be written down, it must be signed by you, and it must be witnessed by other people who see you sign it. Your estate plan may be very simple, or it may be more complex, depending on how much stuff you have, how long you want your stuff to provide for the people you care about, and when you want them to receive your stuff. For example, you'd probably want to wait a few years before that cute two-year-old receives grandpa's antique pocket watch.
How Do You Get an Estate Plan?
You decide who you want to get your stuff and when you want them to get it. Your attorney then puts your instructions into a legal document called a will or trust. (There are distinct advantages to using a trust, but we'll save that discussion for another time.) Also, while you can legally write your own, you have a much better chance of your estate plan working if you have an experienced attorney do it for you. To be frank, laypersons mess it up all the time.
What Happens if I Just Don’t Get Around to It?
What if you die and you don't have an estate plan? Well, there still must be a way to get your stuff to other people, so the state in which you live has a plan waiting if you don't have one. The only problem is that you won't have any say in who gets your stuff, and someone might get left out, and, your stuff may go to a stranger—some “heir at law”—that you don’t even know.
Example 1: If more than one of your relatives want the same part of your stuff, that can get messy and expensive… and a lot of your stuff will be used to pay the courts and attorneys to sort it all out. (Happens all the time.)
Example 2: If you're not married and you want your significant other to get some of your stuff when you die, you'd better get your plan in place, or it just won't happen. Under the state's plan, your stuff will go to your blood relatives. Period.
Example 3: If you're married and you've got kids, don't be too sure that your spouse is going to get all your stuff. Your kids will probably get their share of your stuff, which means your spouse may not get enough of your stuff to live on.
By the way, if your stuff includes kids, then you've got to have a plan. Otherwise, the court will decide wh will raise them if something happens to both parents.
Scary thoughts? You bet!
The Bottom Line:
If you're responsible enough to have your own stuff, you need to be responsible for making sure what will happen to it after you're gone. Let’s make sure you do it right; call the office now and we’ll help you translate your plans for your stuff into a legally binding document. 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.
For most people, thinking about estate planning means focusing on what will happen to their money after they pass away. But that misses one pretty significant consideration: the need to plan for long-term care.
The last thing any of us want to contend with when a health issue arises later in life is having to throw together a hasty estate planning solution in the face of mounting medical costs. Your best defense is careful planning with the help of a trusted expert.
Why it’s so important to plan for long-term care:
While only about 19 percent of current U.S. residents will need to reside under long-term care for a period of over three years, that number sharply increases when factoring in nursing home stays of a shorter duration — which will still have a substantial impact on your estate.
Whether the care you need takes place in a nursing home, assisted living facility, or with an in-home provider, the costs can mount with alarming speed. For example, national average rates for assisted living hover around $3,500 per month. As those costs add up, you could see your assets dwindle much sooner than you’d hoped. Luckily, estate planning attorneys can help in several ways.
What to go over with your estate attorney:
If long-term care isn’t factored into your estate plan, you are probably not looking at a truly realistic and accurate representation of your assets. Talk to your estate planning attorney about the following factors in order to get on the right track:
Set reasonable expectations for long-term care:
It’s impossible to know what life will bring, but we can certainly make educated guesses. For example, are there any major diseases that run in your family? There is a chance you will have the good fortune of staying healthy well into your golden years, but estate planning is an aspect of your financial life in which it’s helpful to protect yourself against worst-case scenarios.
In the estimated likelihood that you will require such care, at what age could you reasonably predict you’ll need it? Do you have any current health conditions to consider? Exploring these possibilities may not be the most enjoyable exercise, but it’s far better than facing the reality of long-term care with no plans in place.
2. Consider a long-term care insurance policy:
As Medicare or standard health insurance may not cover your costs, a long-term care insurance policy is one way to protect yourself against draining your financial assets. Ask for resources for finding an affordable premium that isn’t likely to increase prohibitively over time. Begin this process as soon as possible, as your premium will be lower the younger you are when you apply.
Another potential oversight is assuming your long-term care will be covered by Medicaid. Discuss it as an option to determine your qualifications and get authoritative insights about the specificities of your unique financial situation in terms of Medicaid benefits.
3. Get Smart About Living Wills and Trusts:
To best prepare your loved ones for complex medical decisions, go over advance directives. In addition, discuss options for setting a revocable living trust, and possibly one or more irrevocable trusts, like a life insurance trust or a charitable remainder trust, as part of your long-term care planning.
It’s also important to create a plan that allows someone you trust to access and utilize your financial resources for your benefit in the event of unforeseen medical circumstances. One common mistake is tying up assets in investments that lack liquidity when you need them most. For example, money locked into annuities can result in a fee for early withdrawal. Working with a team of that includes an estate planning attorney, financial advisor, and insurance professional can provide you and your family with the best overall solution.
Take the time now to talk to an estate planning attorney about the best ways to maintain financial security in tandem with the demands of long-term care. Even if you don’t end up needing long-term care in you lifetime, you can enjoy the peace of mind knowing you’ll be covered.
The process of completing a long-term care plan may sound daunting, but we’re here to help you by making it a streamlined experience—simply get in touch with us today and let us put you in a more secure position for the future. 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.
Ideally, when someone passes away, the paperwork and material concerns associated with the estate are so flawlessly handled—usually thanks to excellent preparation—that they fade into the background, allowing the family to grieve and remember in peace.
In fact, the whole business of estate planning—or at least a significant piece of it—is concerned with ease. How can assets and legacies be transferred to the next generation in a harmonious, stress-free, fair process?
To that end, one primary goal of many people is to avoid the complications and costs involved with probate.
There are many “tools of the trade”, that a qualified attorney can use to keep your assets out of probate—for example, establishing joint ownership on bank accounts and real estate titles, designating beneficiaries for life insurance policies and certain accounts, and so on. However, setting up a revocable living trust is quite often the best, most comprehensive option for avoiding probate. Let’s discuss why this is true.
What is a trust?
Often touted as an alternative to a will, a trust is a legal structure that permits management of your assets by a trustee on behalf of your beneficiaries. A living trust is established while you are still alive, as opposed to being created upon your death. You can be the trustee for your own living trust until you are no longer able to manage your financial affairs or pass away, at which point the responsibility for managing the trust passes to someone you designate as a successor trustee.
How does a trust help you avoid probate?
The purpose of probate is to transfer property ownership for all assets that were listed in your name when you passed away. A trust can bypass this process completely because your assets are transferred to the trust while you are still alive. Therefore, when you die, there’s nothing that needs to be transferred by the probate court (everything is already in your trust). Furthermore, a trust can cover virtually any type of asset, from real estate to vehicles to stock to bank accounts. When a trust is structured correctly with the help of an experienced estate planning attorney, your entire estate can stay out of probate court entirely. This process not only limits court costs, but it also maintains the privacy of your financial records while enabling your beneficiaries to enjoy the benefits of the trust without disruption or delay.
Establishing a trust can be a bit complicated, and the process can cost a bit more upfront than a will; however, if you’re willing to invest a little more up front, a trust can be your best option for avoiding probate later. Especially in California, probate should generally be avoided absent extenuating circumstances.
That said, as wonderful as revocable living trusts can be—always bear in mind H.L. Mencken’s warning that “For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.”
The key to planning effectively to minimize the likelihood of a drawn out, contentious, expensive process is to work with highly qualified, trusted people. Find a lawyer who genuinely cares about you and your family and who knows how to forge the right strategy for you and 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.