Avoiding the Flaws of Self-Help Legal Planning

It seems like a simple fix to find a document online and use it for distributing your estate in the future, but this could be a big mistake if the form is not correct. Unfortunately, in many such cases, no one realizes the mistakes until it’s too late.

Many people who approach the estate planning process want to get through what they need to do as quickly as possible. However, this can be a mistake if you choose to go the DIY route. Having an estate plan that is specific to your needs and appropriately prepared can make a big difference between having your assets tied up in a costly and frustrating probate proceeding and passing things on in a smart manner.

Online self-help companies have surfaced to provide estate planning to the crowd who is looking for a quick fix, however, these fill-in-the-blank documents often do not suit the individual needs of the person completing them and may not even be legally valid depending on your state’s laws.

Legal language is frequently omitted in these fill-in-the-blank forms, for example, in the event that a revocable online trust form doesn’t specify the language about where your assets would go if one of you beneficiaries passes away before you, this could generate confusion in the future. Special consideration for these plans requires that you schedule a meeting with a Massachusetts estate planning lawyer who can help you determine the most appropriate avenue for your individual strategies.


New Study Shows that Most People Are Confused and Cynical About Retirement Planning

A recent study conducted by Scottrade identified that the vast majority of people who are investing do not act on their own for retirement planning and while some of them are satisfied that the advice they receive, many investors are also confused, cynical or even overwhelmed.

The majority of U.S. investors have made the decision to partner directly with an advisor for retirement planning. Approximately two-thirds of people in the United States are working directly with a financial professional to help them with the retirement planning process and nearly half of them are extremely satisfied with the way their financial advisor has managed their retirement assets.

Nearly half of investors in the United States, in particular GenXers and Millennials, are overwhelmed with the investment choices available and have trouble finding the right advisor.

The challenges associated with retirement planning mean that far too many people choose not to take any action. There are clear parallels between retirement planning and the lack of estate planning, since many people find the process confusing or overwhelming without the help of an outside professional.

It is just as important to identify an experienced professional to help you navigate the estate planning process as it is to find someone to assist you with your retirement. Your estate planning attorney can make recommendations about your individual situation and help you navigate this complex process to determine a plan that works for your individual needs.


New Study Shares that Baby Boomers Do Not Feel the Economy has Recovered From Financial Crisis

Baby boomers are one of the biggest sections of society considering the estate planning and retirement planning process. According to a new study published by Bankers Life Center for a Secure Retirement, baby boomers have a lack of trust in institutions that has led to a permanent financial problem for many of them.

Ten years after the financial crisis started in 2007, only 2% of baby boomers with median incomes felt that the economy had completely recovered. This has required many boomers to adjust their retirement expectations. Although the middle-income boomers who participated in the study still indicated that they plan to retire, the crisis has forced them to reconsider their expectations for what their retirement will actually look like.

One important consideration in this is adjusting your estate planning documents and considering long term care insurance to help with any additional health costs that may emerge suddenly after an accident or diagnosis. The assets you may have set aside for your loved ones may need to evaluated carefully if you need help with nursing home care, for example. How your retirement assets affect your ability to qualify for Medicaid is another crucial conversation you will want to have with your estate planning attorney.

The latest report conducted in the study indicated that up to 84% of boomers in the median income range took a minimum of one step to adjust their spending behavior after the recent financial crisis. To learn more about the estate planning process and how it can work hand in hand with retirement planning, consult an experienced estate planning lawyer today.


What You Should Know About Anxiety in Older Adults

Your aging loved ones may require advanced care as they face greater physical issues, but as family members, you should also be aware of potential mental indicators that your loved one is struggling. This may be in the form of symptoms of depression, anxiety, or isolation. No matter how these signs prevent, they can have a serious impact on your loved one’s ability to live independently. Existing mental concerns can also amplify physical conditions.

Anxiety in older adults is more common than you might think. While anxiety that makes it difficult for an elderly individual to get through the day is not a typical part of aging, up to 14% of older adults already meet the criteria for an anxiety disorder. According to research published in the International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, nearly 30% of older individuals currently receiving care from a provider will have anxiety symptoms outside of a disorder that make day-to-day life difficult.

The most common anxiety disorders affecting the elderly include social phobia, panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and PTSD. If you begin noticing that your loved one is withdrawn or not engaging in activities he or she previously enjoyed, it may be time to sit down and discuss anxiety-specific care.

If you are an adult helping an elderly loved one cope with physical or mental concerns tied to aging, you may also benefit from setting up a meeting with an experienced estate planning attorney. Talk to a lawyer now about the tools and strategies that can help you plan ahead with a loved one.

Does a Trust Belong in Your Estate Plan?

Estate planningThe most basic facets of estate planning often include a will and a trust. Both can be helpful for different reasons, but if you’re not familiar with how a trust fits into your general estate plan, consider talking with your estate planning lawyer in Massachusetts to discuss how this might benefit you.

For the purposes of simplicity, a trust is a legal arrangement holding assets for a beneficiary. An individual or entity known as the trustee is designated to manage these assets according to the terms outlined in the trust documents.

As the creator of the trust, you – as Grantor – can determine how the trustee should manage these assets and under what terms they should be distributed. The terms of your trust are somewhat flexible and can be aligned with how you want the trustee to handle it as well as the individual needs of your beneficiaries.

There are several different parties included in a trust. These include:

  •    The beneficiary or the person entitled to receive part or all of the property inside the trust.
  •    The trustee- the company or the person that holds legal title to the assets inside the trust and manages them for others.
  •    The grantor or the person creating the trust, who may also be referred to as the trustor or the settlor.

The two primary types of trusts are irrevocable and revocable. An irrevocable trust may be created during the grantor’s lifetime or upon his or her death. A revocable trust is created during a grantor’s lifetime and can be changed or revoked at any time. Do you think a trust belongs in your estate plan? If so, talk to an experienced Massachusetts lawyer today about next steps.

Optimizing Your Retirement Planning Strategy for Taxes

Time for taxes with moneyLooking ahead to the future is critical for any individual who is in the process of saving for retirement. Setting aside enough money to handle increasing longevity concerns and the rising costs of long term care are two of the most common reasons why an individual will approach retirement planning and estate planning with the help of an experienced professional. However, it is also important to consider how you can optimize your retirement planning strategies for taxes as well.

Your retirement planning and estate planning needs often intersect, and leveraging the right professionals, such as a financial planner and a Massachusetts estate planning attorney, can help ensure that your comprehensive plans are working for your retirement as well as for the benefit of your estate.

There are several different steps that you can take to accomplish this goal, including:

  • Plan to take your Social Security benefits after reaching full retirement age. This allows you to tap into the best tax advantage income sources and will not allow for inflation degradation.
  • Consult with an experienced financial planner and estate planning attorney. Tapping into the power of professionals who have worked in this field for a number of years gives you an overview of the different types of strategies available and allows you to partner with someone who has extensive experience in the field.
  • Update your retirement planning program under an annual basis along with your estate planning. A lot will depend on your tax rates currently and how you will be taxed in the future.

Since tax laws can change every single year, it is important to look back at what actually happened to your investments over the year and how you can update your plan to make the most of it.

Most Americans Simply Are Not Prepared for Retirement: How to Plan Ahead

Majorca, SpainThe country’s largest money manager BlackRock, recently asked Americans who are participating in a defined contribution plan like a 401(k) how they see themselves as prepared for retirement. Most of those individuals said that they were prepared for the future and had a generally optimistic view towards retirement. This suggests, however, that individuals who are in workplace defined contribution plans may actually be too confident about their future returns.

Last year, 52% of people said they were on track to retire with the amount of money and the type of lifestyle they wanted. This year that number increased to 50% and approximately 70% of Americans believe they will able to save enough to meet their financial goals for retirement. One of the challenges with this, however, is that those same individuals had very optimistic feelings about what will happen in the future with regard to how much money they’ll be able to generate. 66% of the savers who participated in the survey, for example, expect that their returns over the next ten years will keep in pace with past performance.

Of those individuals who participated in the survey, 17% expected higher than current returns. Approximately two-thirds of those employees said that they did not know that Wall Street has anticipated lower returns in the near future.
Given that there is such a disconnect with retirement planning, it is no surprise that up to 60% of Americans across the country do not have a will either. Financial planning and estate planning can be difficult topics to discuss but they are both equally important for helping an individual accomplish all of his or her goals.


It is Important to Know the Difference Between Probate and Nonprobate Assets

Mortgage concept by money house from the coinsWhen it comes to estate planning, many people think that simple is better and they might be under the assumption that a will is all they need. However, people might be under the impression that wills can avoid problems on death because the will outlines who gets the assets. However, what many people don’t realize is that wills only govern the assets that go through a court proceeding referred to as probate.

There are some assets that are not included in the probate process. This is the distinguishing factor between non-probate assets and probate assets. Your wills govern probate assets but the will does not govern any assets outside of probate. The title to the assets or the way in which you own them determines whether or not probate is required.

A probate proceeding in Massachusetts can include paying off any taxes and debts, appraising the property and distributing any remaining assets along with the will’s provisions. In the event that there is no will, the proceeding is called administration proceeding and state law determines how your property is distributed. Probate assets are those items that are in your name alone when you pass away. If it’s not quite clear who the beneficiary is, the asset will go through the probate process. The court has to first determine that the will is valid in order to do this.  Depending on circumstances, the probate process  may be costly. Typical charges to the estate are legal fees, court costs and executor commissions. If there is a will contest or heirs can not be found, the cost of probate increases significantly.
Non-probate assets are the result of forms you signed and filed with different companies. First of all, your life insurance policy, bank account, annuity or IRA will have a beneficiary designation – and alternate beneficiary – that you signed and filed with the company. Assets that you own jointly with the right of survivorship mean that when you pass away, the asset transfers directly to the beneficiary you have named. Consult with an experienced Massachusetts estate planning attorney to learn more about the difference between probate and nonprobate assets, and whether nonprobate assets make sense for your planning.

You Need to Update Your Beneficiaries at Least Once Per Year

Family eating cotton candy on Christmas marketIt is a good idea to have your beneficiaries clearly listed on any account in which the company asks for it, including your retirement accounts and your life insurance policy. Set aside a calendar reminder every single year to sign back in or to contact these companies and verify that the beneficiary information is still correct.

One of the biggest reasons for doing this is simply that your life may change. If you have not checked your beneficiary designation on your retirement accounts recently, you may find out that the designated beneficiary who is legally entitled to receive some or all of the benefits on your retirement plan if something were to happen to you is no longer accurate. This is particularly true if you have gotten remarried, gotten divorced, or had children since your initial retirement plan account was originally established.

For example, if you originally named a charity as your beneficiary, that charity may no longer be in existence. While many people have a reminder set to look at their wills every single year and update these materials, things that are written inside your will do not necessarily transfer over to your retirement accounts.  At the same time, it is a good idea to make sure you also have contingent beneficiaries listed.

These accounts are held separately and therefore, the company is responsible for providing you with the beneficiary designations. In the event that something happens to you and you haven’t verified these accounts for years, the company is well within their rights to transfer the amounts inside your retirement accounts to the last known designated beneficiary. This could be a former spouse or someone else that you do not intend to receive these benefits.

Set a reminder every year so that you have the opportunity to meet with your Massachusetts estate planning attorney and talk about any other updates you need to make to your process.

Tips for Finding Retirement Volunteer Opportunities

Many individuals picture their retirement as being a time of quiet solitude but unfortunately, sometimes this isn’t always how it plays out. Individuals may wish to find a volunteer position in order to help them give back to the community as well as find ways to fill their time that are both meaningful and important to them.

Some of the most important steps that you need to take when entering this process include:

  •    Ask yourself your purposes for volunteering. Without this knowledge it may be difficult for you to identify a position that appropriately fits your volunteer goals. There are many different motivations for being a volunteer including making new friends, giving back to your community, giving more meaning to your life or improving your individual life circumstances.
  •    Identify a volunteer job for which you seem like a good fit. If you have particular experience or skills that are uniquely suited to a position, this can be a sign that you would be an appropriate fit as a volunteer for that organization.
  •    Does the need match with your commitment? When choosing the appropriate volunteer position make sure that the hours that are required every single week, the intensity of the work you’ll be doing, and the duration of the work period is appropriate for the time and energy that you are able to give.

Many individuals in retirement seeking out volunteer opportunities are doing so because it is a great way for them to add in extra opportunities to their schedule but you do not want to be in the position of giving away too much of your time and finding that it interferes with your life.

Stay tuned to my blog to learn more about how to plan for and enjoy retirement to the fullest.