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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
“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.
A pet trust is an excellent way to make sure your beloved pet will receive proper care after you pass on. The problem, of course, is that you won’t be there to see that your wishes are carried out. It’s critical to set up a pet trust correctly to ensure there are no loopholes or unforeseen situations that could make your plans go awry. Here are 5 tragic mistakes people often make when leaving their assets to their pets.
1. Appropriating more than the pet could ever need:
The gossip stories about such-and-such celebrity who left his or her entire fortune to a pet are the exception rather than the rule. Leaving millions of dollars, houses, and cars to your pet is not only unreasonable, but it’s more likely to be contested in court by family members who might feel neglected. To avoid this pitfall, leave a reasonable sum of money that will give your pet the same quality of life that she enjoys now.
2. Providing vague or unenforceable instructions:
Too many pets don’t receive the care their owners intended because they weren’t specific enough in their instructions or because they did not use a trust to make the instructions legally binding. Luckily, a pet trust can clarify your instructions and make them legally valid.
If you leave money to a caretaker without a pet trust in place, hoping it will be used for the pet’s care for example, nothing stops the caretaker from living very well on the pet’s money. But when you use a pet trust to designate how much the caretaker receives and how much goes for the pet’s care, you’ve provided a legal structure to protect your furry family member. You can be as specific about your wishes as you’d like, from how much is to be spent on food, veterinary care, and grooming. You can even include detailed care instructions, such as how often the dog should be walked.
3. Failing to keep information updated:
Bill sets up a pet trust for his dog Sadie, but what happens if Sadie passes away? If Bill gets a new dog and names her Gypsy, but he doesn’t update this information before he dies, Gypsy could easily wind up in a shelter or euthanized because she’s not mentioned in the trust. This is a common yet tragic mistake that can be easily avoided by performing regular reviews with your estate planning attorney to ensure that your estate plan works for your entire family.
4. Not having a contingency plan:
You might have a trusted friend or loved one designated as a caretaker in your pet trust, but what happens if that person is unable or unwilling to take that role when the time comes? If you haven’t named a contingent caretaker, your pet might not receive the care you intended. Always have a “Plan B” in place, and spell it out in the trust.
5. Not engaging a professional to help:
Too many people make the mistake of trying to set up a pet trust themselves, assuming that a form downloaded from a do-it-yourself legal website will automatically work in their circumstances. Only an experienced estate planning attorney should help you set it up to help ensure that everything works exactly the way you want.
When attempting to leave assets to your pet, the good news is that with professional help, all these mistakes are preventable. Talk with us today about your options for setting up a new pet trust or adding a pet trust to your current estate plan. 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.
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.
As a new mother, you naturally want to ensure your new baby’s future in every way. For many new mothers, infancy is a time for celebrating new life, and making a Will is the last thing on their minds. For others, the process of bringing new life into the world sparks intense feelings of wanting control and needing organization. Regardless of where you fall on that spectrum, you might be struggling to figure out what steps you need to take to protect your children’s future should the unthinkable happen. Here are five key things every new mother should know about Wills.
1. Naming a guardian could be the most important part of your Will:
If you pass away while your child is a minor, the first issue to be addressed is who will assume responsibility for your child’s care. If you don’t name a guardian for your child in the Will, the courts may decide this question for you, and the guardian might not be the person you would choose. Selecting a trusted guardian is in many ways more important at this stage than deciding about how to pass any assets you own.
2. Name an executor you trust:
To ensure your child does receive all that you have allocated when she comes of age, choose a trustworthy executor. Many people choose a family member, but it’s just as acceptable to appoint a trusted attorney to handle your estate. Typically, an attorney has no emotional attachment to the family, which might seem bad, but usually results in less potential conflict.
3. Named beneficiaries on your financial accounts may override the Will:
Many accounts allow you to name a beneficiary. When you pass away, the funds go to the beneficiary named on the account, even if your Will states otherwise. If you’re creating a Will with your child in mind (or adding the child to an existing Will), you should review your investment and bank accounts with your financial advisor to make sure there are no inconsistencies when naming beneficiaries. It’s also a good time to check retirement account and life insurance beneficiary designations with your financial advisor and your attorney.
4. A Will is not always the right document for your goals:
When naming your child as a beneficiary, a Will only goes into effect after you die. If your Will leaves property outright to a minor child, the court Will step in and hold the assets until your child turns 18. Most 18 year olds lack the maturity to handle even a modest estate, so we don’t recommend outright inheritance for minor children.
A trust, on the other hand, goes into effect when you create it and can provide structure to manage the assets you leave behind for the benefit of your child. An experienced estate planning attorney can advise you on the best option for your family and your circumstances.
5. In the absence of clearly stated intentions, the state steps in:
Think of a Will, trust and other estate planning documents as an instruction manual for your executor and the courts to follow. You must be clear and consistent in your stated intentions regarding your child, as well as for others. If you’re not clear or if you don’t leave any instructions at all, the probate courts will step in and follow the government’s plan, which can lead to long delays and is probably not the plan you would have selected for your child and family.
Providing for your baby’s long-term welfare may start with just a simple Will, but to be fully protected, you probably need more. That’s why it’s important to talk with a competent estate planning attorney to make sure you have the right plans in place to fulfill your goals. 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.
On June 19, 2016, when successful actor Anton Yelchin (Chekov in the recent Star Trek movies) failed to show for rehearsal, his friends became worried and drove to his house. Sadly, they found Yelchin pinned between his security fence, brick mailbox, and Jeep Grand Cherokee.
According to investigators, the 27-year-old star exited the vehicle before it allegedly rolled backwards down his steep driveway, pinning, and ultimately killing the Star Trek actor. Los Angeles County Coroner Assistant Chief Ed Winter stated the cause of death was “accidental blunt traumatic asphyxia.” Two days later, Fiat Chrysler released a statement informing the public of an investigation to determine whether a gear shift defect could have been to blame for the accident.
In June 2016, the manufacturer reported that this defect could be responsible for as many as 266 auto accidents. Back in April 2016, the manufacturer issued a recall for nearly 500,000 2014 and 2015 Grand Cherokees, as well as other models due to an allegedly dangerous design error in the electronic shifters. Until Yelchin, no deaths had been linked to the issue.
Following Yelchin’s death, several Jeep owners took steps to file a class action lawsuit against Fiat Chrysler, alleging that the drivers suffered economic losses in the aftermath of the tragic accident. According to the lawsuit, plaintiffs claim that Fiat Chrysler knew about the shifting device’s possible defect for at least two years but hid this knowledge from the public, a decision that allegedly resulted in dozens of reported injuries and possibly Yelchin’s death.
Estate Planning Lessons: What Happens if You Pass Away Unprepared?
When you’re in your 20’s and 30’s and in good health, it’s easy to feel invincible and to justify deferring estate planning. Why worry about a long-term financial strategy and your “legacy” if you’re just getting a toehold in your industry?
Yelchin’s tragic situation highlights the fact that we are all – young and healthy, old and infirm alike – vulnerable to events outside our control. Establishing even a rudimentary plan is better than having nothing.
Details have yet to emerge about whether the actor had estate planning documents in place. However, actors who suddenly vault to success via high profile movie and TV roles as well as business owners who experience dramatic surges in income should reevaluate their plans frequently, especially during and after periods of major career growth and contraction.
Depending on the nature of your income surge, you might need focused, specialized planning to minimize tax consequences. Likewise, when your life or business goes through big inflection points, it can help to rethink your long term financial strategy just as a way to clean up the “open loops” in your life – to eliminate background distraction, so you can concentrate more on what’s important and what you love to do.
Failing to establish, amend, or revise a trust or will as your life changes can create needless risks. While no lawsuits appear to have been filed yet by Yelchin’s heirs, a properly drafted, up-to-date estate plan can make it easier for a family to hold those responsible for the death of a loved one accountable. In addition, the clarity created by such a plan helps keep family members concentrated on meaningful and important work, such as consoling children left behind and supporting one another emotionally, rather than potentially distracting legal issues.
While drafting a trust or a will does require skill and thoughtfulness, an experienced estate planning lawyer can take the emotional charge out of this process, simplify it greatly for you, and ensure an enduring legacy for the next generation. 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.
A resume is really just a snapshot of your experience, skill set, and education. It provides prospective employers insight into who you are and how you will perform. Imagine not updating that resume for 5, 10, or even 15 years.
Would it accurately reflect who you are? Would it do what you want it to do? Likely not.
Estate plans are similar in that they need to be updated on a regular basis to reflect changes in your life so they can do what you want them to do.
Outdated estate plans—like outdated resumes—simply don’t work.
Take a Moment to Reflect:
Think back for a moment. Consider all of the changes in your life. What’s changed since you signed your will, trust, and other estate planning documents? If something has changed that affects you, your trusted helpers, or your beneficiaries, your estate plan probably needs to reflect that change.
Here are examples of changes that are significant enough to warrant an estate plan review and, likely, updates:
4. Divorce or separation
8. Health challenges
9. Financial status changes—whether good or bad
10. Tax law changes
11. Move to a new state
12. Family circumstances changes—whether good or bad
13. Business circumstances changes—whether good or bad
If you’re like most people, if updating your estate plan is on the calendar, you’ll make it happen. Just as you update your resume on a regular basis and just like you meet with the doctor, dentist, CPA, or financial advisor on a regular basis, you need to meet with your estate planning attorney on a regular basis as well.
Our office can help to ensure that your estate plan reflects your current needs and those of the people you love. Updating is the best way to make sure your estate plan will actually do what you want it to do.
We all need a “do over” from time to time. Life changes, the law changes, and professionals learn to do things in better ways. Change is a fact of life - and the law. Unfortunately, many folks think they’re stuck with an irrevocable trust. After all, if the trust can be revoked, why call it “irrevocable”? Good question.
Fortunately, irrevocable trusts can be changed and one way to make that change is to decant the original trust. Decanting is a “do over.” Funds from an existing trust (with less favorable terms) are distributed to a new trust (with more favorable terms).
As the name may suggest, decanting a trust is similar to decanting wine: you take wine from one bottle and transfer it to another (decanter)—leaving the unwanted wine sediment / trust terms in the original bottle / document. Just like pouring wine from one bottle to another, decanting is relatively straight-forward and consists of these four steps:
1. Determine Whether Your State Has a Decanting Statute.
Nearly half of US states currently have decanting laws. If yours does, determine whether the trustee is permitted to make the specific changes desired. If so, omit step 2 and move directly to step 3.
If your state does not have a decanting statute, the answer isn’t as clear cut. While attempting to decant a trust in a state without a statute certainly can be done, it’s risky. Consider step 2.
2. Move the Trust.
If the trust’s current jurisdiction does not have a decanting statute or the existing statute is either not user friendly or does not allow for the desired modifications, it’s time to review the trust and determine if it can be moved to another jurisdiction.
If so, we can make that happen, including adding a trustee or co-trustee, and taking advantage of that jurisdiction’s laws. If not, we can petition the local court to move the trust.
3. Decant the Trust.
We’ll prepare whatever documents are necessary to decant the trust by “pouring” the assets into a trust with more favorable terms. All statutory requirements must be followed and state decanting statutes referenced.
4. Transfer the Assets.
The final step is simply transferring assets from the old trust into the new trust. While this can be effectuated in many different ways, the most common are by deed, assignment, change of owner / beneficiary forms, and the creation of new accounts.
Get the Most from Your Trust
Although irrevocable trusts are commonly thought of as documents which cannot be revoked or changed, that isn’t quite true. If you feel stuck with a less than optional trust, we’d love to review the trust and your goals to determine whether decanting or other trust modification would help.
Michael Jackson, the “King of Pop,” had always been a controversial superstar. Over the years, he became the father of three children, Prince Michael Jackson II, Paris-Michael Katherine Jackson, and Michael Joseph Jackson, Jr.
While Jackson created a trust to care for his children and other family and friends, he never actually fundedit. The result? Embarrassing and seemingly endless probate court battles between family members, the executors, and the IRS.
4 Essential Purposes of a Trust:
A trust is a fiduciary arrangement which allows a third party (known as a trustee) to hold assets on behalf of beneficiaries. There are four primary benefits of trusts:
Avoiding probate. Funded trusts are not subject to probate. However, unfunded or underfundedtrusts, just like wills, generally must go through probate.
Maintaining privacy. Probate is a matter of public record. However, since trusts aren’t subject to probate, privacy is maintained.
Mitigating the chance of litigation. Since trusts are not subject to the probate process, they are not a matter of public record. Therefore, fewer people know estate plan details – mitigating the chance of litigation.
Providing asset protection. Assets passed to loved ones in trust can be drafted to provide legal protection so assets cannot be easily seized by predators and creditors.
While these are arguably the most essential purposes, trusts can also affect what you pay in estate taxes as well.
Sadly, Jackson could not take advantage of any of these benefits. Although he created a “pour-over” will, which was intended to put his assets into a trust after his death, the “pour-over” will, like any other will, still had to be probated.
The probate, along with naming his attorney and a music executive as his executors (instead of family members), fueled a fire that could have been avoided with more mindful planning. Given the size of Jackson’s estate, it’s no surprise that everyone wanted a piece of the pie.
Don’t Burden Your Family!
Losing a loved one is difficult enough without having to endure legal battles afterward. In Jackson’s situation, a proper estate plan could have reduced litigation and legal fees, and helped provide privacy for his survivors. His situation, although it deals with hundreds of millions of dollars, applies to anyone who has assets worth protecting. In other words, it likely applies to everyone!
There are many types of trusts and estate planning tools available to ensure that you don’t burden your family after your death. We’ll show you how to best provide for and protect your loved ones by creating the type of estate plan which is tailored to fit your needs.
Sonny Bono, the singer, songwriter, restauranteur, and former Congressman, died in a tragic ski accident in 1998 at the age of 62. His net worth was just under $2 million at the time of his death, yet Bono did not have a Will. Apparently, he meant to have one drawn up, but simply never got around to it.
Sadly, his fourth wife and surviving spouse, former Representative Mary Bono, spent years battling to be the executor of his estate. She also faced lawsuits filed by anyone and everyone who wanted a piece of the pie – some of whom you wouldn’t believe...
Cher & Secret Love Child Want Piece of Sonny’s Estate:
Having died intestate (without a Will), Sonny Bono’s estate was seemingly up for grabs. His surviving spouse had to specifically fend off two people whose demands on the estate made headlines:
1.Cher. Yes, THE Cher, Sonny’s second wife, sued for a share of his estate seeking $1.6 million in unpaid alimony. When the couple divorced in 1974, Sonny was allegedly ordered to pay Cher $25,000 per month for six months, $1,500 per month child support, and $41,000 in attorneys’ fees.
a. Apparently, he never did. While it’s odd that someone with their own net worth of over $300 million would even bother taking the time, it’s nonetheless true. Whether she collected is anyone’s guess, but not likely.
2. Secret Love Child. As if Cher’s lawsuit wasn’t odd enough, a secret love child made his own claim on Sonny’s estate. Then 35-year-old Sean Machu came forward claiming to be Bono’s illegitimate son.
b. Although Bono admitted to having an affair with Machu’s mother in his autobiography, The Beat Goes On, and Machu's birth certificate lists Salvatore Bono (aka Sonny) as the father, Machu later withdrew the lawsuit when a DNA test was required.
Bono’s estate was eventually divided between his surviving spouse and his two children, Chastity (now Chaz) Bono and Christy Bono Fasce (a child from his first marriage).
Don’t Leave Your Wealth Up For Grabs – Take Action Now:
As Sonny Bono’s case shows, not having a Will, trust, or other estate planning documents in place gives others the sense that your wealth is up for grabs. Most of us don’t relish the idea of creating a plan for what will happen when we die. However, it’s a necessity in order to avoid having your spouse and children go through court battles and heartache.
It’s imperative that you take action now. We have the tools you need to put your estate plan into place so that procrastination is not an issue. 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 approximately 10,000 cases are appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court each year, only 75 to 80 make it to oral argument. Of those cases, only a minuscule few grab the media’s attention. Below is a summary of three landmark decisions handed down in 2015 that could affect how you are taxed, pay for healthcare, and plan your estate.
Comptroller v. Wynne – A State Can’t Double Tax Income Earned Outside of the State:
Legal Issue: Does Maryland’s state income tax scheme violate the U.S. Constitution by “double taxing” a resident’s income earned from economic activity in another state that also taxes the same income?
Decision, 5 – 4: In a taxpayer-friendly ruling, the Supreme Court ruled that, yes, Maryland’s “double taxation” scheme violates the dormant Commerce Clause.
The Wynne case involved a Maryland couple who owned stock in a Maryland S corporation that did business in 39 states. Since income generated by an S corporation is passed through to its shareholders, the Wynnes paid income taxes in Maryland as well as their pro-rata share of taxes on the income the corporation earned in the other states.
In Maryland, residents are subject to a state income tax as well as a “local tax” based on the city or county in which they live. Prior to the Wynne case, the state allowed residents to take a credit against the Maryland state tax to offset a similar tax paid to another state, but it did not allow a credit to be taken against the local tax. Thus, income of a Maryland resident earned outside of the state was “double-taxed” by being subject to: (1) out-of-state taxes, and (2) the local city or county tax. The Court struck down this “double taxation” scheme, holding that because the dormant Commerce Clause gives Congress power over interstate commerce, Maryland could not hinder interstate commerce by offering a credit against state income taxes but not against local income taxes.
Planning Tip: The Wynne decision will potentially affect hundreds of cities, counties and states other than Maryland, including Indiana, New York, and Pennsylvania. If you pay income taxes in your home state and other states, you should seek qualified tax advice regarding filing protective claims (such as amended returns or requests for refunds) for tax years in which the statute of limitations has not run.
King v. Burrell – Obamacare Subsidies Are Available to All:
Legal Issue: Can the IRS provide tax-credit subsidies to healthcare coverage purchased through the federal healthcare exchange under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (the “ACA,” commonly referred to as “Obamacare”)?
Decision, 6 – 3: Yes, Obamacare subsidies are available to individuals who obtain their healthcare coverage through a federal exchange.
Buried in the 2,700-page ACA is a provision which states that tax-credit subsidies are available to individuals who sign up for healthcare coverage “through an exchange established by the state.” After the ACA was passed, 34 states did not establish exchanges, leaving their residents to use the federal exchange to obtain their coverage. The King case challenged the validity of federal subsidies given to these residents since the ACA appeared to limit subsidies only to individuals who relied on a state-established exchange. Writing for the majority, Chief Justice John Roberts stated, “We doubt that is what Congress meant to do.” Thus, the validity of subsidies claimed by residents of the 34 states that use the federal healthcare exchange was upheld.
Planning Tip: Despite the King decision, the Obamacare debate will continue to be hashed out in the political arena as the 2016 presidential election fast approaches.
Obergefell v. Hodges – Same Sex Marriage is Legal Everywhere in the United States:
Legal Issue: Does the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution require a state to license same sex marriages and recognize same sex marriages that are legally licensed and performed in another state?
Decision, 5 – 4: Yes, same sex marriages are legal and must be recognized everywhere in the United States.
The Obergefell case consolidated four cases that challenged state-banned same sex marriages in Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee. Relying on the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment, the Court held that marriage is a fundamental liberty and denying the right of same sex couples to wed would deny them equal protection under the law.
Planning Tip: Same sex couples who are considering marriage need to decide if commitments regarding how to handle money, debt, and related matters should be formalized in a prenuptial agreement. Same sex couples who are already married need to determine if their prenuptial agreement should be fine-tuned and if their estate planning documents need to be amended in view of the King decision.
The Bottom Line on the Wynne, King and Obergefell Decisions:
There are constant changes in the law from judicial, legislative, or regulatory action. These selections from the recent Supreme Court session are just a small example of the numerous changes that occur every year. How the Wynne, King and Obergefell decisions will affect your planning options has yet to be fully determined. Our firm is available to answer your questions about these landmark cases and how they may affect you and your family.
While there are many factors to consider when choosing the place where you will retire, the ones that will impact your wallet may be the most important. Why? Because having a low crime rate and beautiful weather will be irrelevant if high costs deplete your retirement nest egg faster than anticipated.
Recently Investopedia.com compared cost-of-living and tax-rate data from Bankrate.com’s list of “Best and Worst States to Retire” and Kiplinger’s list of “10 Worst States for Retirement” to come up with their list of “The Most Expensive States to Retire In.” We’ve added Genworth’s “2015 Cost of Care Survey” to the mix to come up with our five most expensive states for retirees when comparing cost of living, tax rate, and long-term care expenses (as listed in alphabetical order):
Connecticut ranks #3 in tax rate and cost of living and #2 in long-term care expenses. Along with a state estate tax, Connecticut is also one of only two states that collect a state gift tax (New York is the other).
New Jersey ranks #2 in tax rate, #6 in cost of living, and #4 in long-term care expenses. Along with a state estate tax, New Jersey is also one of six states that collect a state inheritance tax.
New York ranks #1 in tax rate, #4 in cost of living, and #5 in long-term care expenses. Along with a state estate tax, New York is also one of two states that collect a state gift tax (Connecticut is the other).
Rhode Island ranks #8 in tax rate, #9 in cost of living, and #10 in long-term care expenses. Rhode Island also collects a state estate tax.
Vermont ranks #9 in tax rate, #10 in cost of living, and barely fell out of the top 10 by coming in at #11 in long-term care expenses. Vermont also collects a state estate tax.
Final Thoughts on Where to Retire:
Each year the statistics on tax rates, cost of living, crime rates, health care expenses, and weather are sliced and diced to come up with various lists for those approaching retirement to consider. But in the end the choice of where to retire is personal. While the financial data may point you away from or to a particular location, staying close to your support system of kids, grandkids, other family members, and friends may be priceless.
No matter where you end up deciding to retire, you should obtain qualified estate planning counsel to make sure your plan will work when it’s needed. If you plan on relocating upon retirement, living part-time in another state, or traveling extensively, we encourage you to contact us, so that we can assist you with your estate planning needs.