Estate Planning for People Without Children

In talking about estate plans, much of the discussion tends to focus on children. How much should they inherit and when, what kinds of trusts do they need, who should serve as guardian in the event of tragedy, etc.

http://gty.im/180410090

What about childless couples, though? That’s a question The Wall Street Journal recently asked, and I think it’s an important point for discussion. Even for people who don’t have kids now and may never have them in the future, estate planning is too imperative to simply shrug off.

The Journal breaks it down like this. People without kids have a primary checklist with just two boxes on it:

  • Set up a distribution plan to determine who gets your property when you die.
  • Assign someone to make medical and financial decisions on your behalf should you ever become incapacitated.

That’s a rather barebones approach to nonparent estate planning, but even those two items can be trickier — and more critical — than they seem.

As an estate planning attorney, I could accomplish those two tasks for my clients by drafting a will and a healthcare directive for each spouse according to their needs, but that could still leave the door open for unintended consequences.

Without a trust, for example, assets may be subject to costly and time-consuming probate when they pass to relatives.

Whatever your approach, it’s important for childless couples to remember that even though they don’t have kids, they do have relatives, friends, and other people they care about. When they die, their assets are going to go somewhere.

Without a strategic estate plan in place, it’s possible for one whole side of the family to be shut out altogether. Often, the default statutory procedures render rather undesirable distributions. But with some careful forethought, spouses can avoid those outcomes and rest easy, knowing that their best intentions are protected.

Art Is In The Trust Of Fhe Beholder… Or Is It?

The Wall Street Journal is shining the light on a different kind of estate planner: the diehard collector.

http://gty.im/663718

Whether it’s comic books, baseball cards, home video libraries, music memorabilia, Disneyana, or what have you, collections can grow enormous over a lifetime. And with enormity comes value.

But as the Journal points out, the same aficionados who work so diligently to amass a dazzling collection during life often fail to make provisions for their allocation after death.

In deciding which beneficiaries to leave a collection to, and under which terms, there are a lot of things to consider: personal interest, the cost of storing and maintaining the items, the higher rates at which those gifts may be taxed, etc.

One option, of course, is to set up a trust to hold the collectibles during life or after death. Another is to gift part of the collection annually in order to reduce the total size of the taxable estate while staying within the tax-free gift-giving threshold each year.

Charitable donations are an option too, as are good old-fashioned sales. The collection can even be split up, with different portions distributed differently.

Whichever approach works best for you, you’ll need to be thorough in your paperwork and making sure you understand the tax liabilities for each decision. You’ll also likely need to have the collection itself professionally appraised so that you have an actual dollar amount to work with when making those decisions.

If you’d like to chat about the interesting things you collect and how you can best protect them for the future, feel free to give me a call. I’m happy to help.

 

Inheriting A Collection Is Not Always Easy

When parents die, their adult children inherit many things: money, property, family heirlooms and collectables.

Sometimes, it is hard to figure out what to do with the collectables.

Photos (Photo credits: PB Teen)

Photos (Photo credits: PB Teen)

A story I came across in the New York Times told of a woman who inherited a collection of photographs from her mother who had been a photography editor at a magazine. She gave one of the photos to a friend who noticed it was taken by a renowned photographer. It was worth $14,000.

So she looked through all the photos in the box and found many more by the same photographer. In all, there were about 1,400 photos and she had no idea what they were worth or what to do with them.

While you are not likely to inherit a box of valuable photographs, you never know what you are going to wind up with.

Whatever you end up with, you may want to take steps to preserve the items, organize them and archive them. Then you may want to have them appraised.

The key is finding the right appraiser for the kinds of things you want appraised. And make sure the appraiser is reputable. Take your time doing it.

Don’t Give Away Money Until You Know You Won’t Need It

Many in their 50s and older are thinking about gifting money to their adult children. Many are unsure if they can afford to do so. That’s because the real question they are asking is whether they have saved enough for themselves in retirement.

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

An article I read on marketwatch.com really zones in on this thorny question and suggests that many people won’t really know the answer to well into older age.

About 17 percent of wealth transfers occur while the giver is still alive, the story says. People enjoy seeing how their gifts are used to improve their loved ones’ lives. They also realize that if they wait too long to give, their heirs will already be old and into retirement before they get a chance to see any money.

But the story says that givers must consider the costs of long-term care when they are doling out gifts. Seven in 10 people are going to need help one day. And Medicare isn’t going to cover long-term care costs in most cases.

If you have long-term care insurance, you are probably going to be more comfortable giving money away while you are still alive. If you don’t have it, you probably will want to be more conservative in your gifting.

Nursing home costs run at least $10,000 a month in most places and most people who need one are going to be there for a few years. Home health aides, if you plan to stay at home, can run $20 an hour.

Medicaid pays for many people’s nursing home stays but you can’t just give away your money to meet the rigorous low income requirements to be covered by that program. There is a five-year look back period.

As a result, the article recommends you having enough money in the bank to cover at least five years of nursing home care before starting to gift to others. That’s about $600,000.

And don’t give away money thinking your children will give it back in the event you need it, the story warns. There may be many reasons why they can’t or won’t give it back.

Some people get around this issue by giving away possessions, like a beloved family piano, for example, rather than cash.

But the bottom line, the story says, is that you don’t owe them anything once you’ve raised them and educated them.

Estate Planning Nightmares To Avoid

When it comes to estate planning, there are some big mistakes that you should take pains to avoid.

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Problems can begin when parents and their offspring haven’t talked about the subject. And even when they do, they often don’t get into the proper level of detail.

There can be hurt feelings and misunderstandings as children often view the amount of money each one gets as how much each one was loved.

An article I saw recently on dailyfinance.com lists some of the biggest mistakes that can be made when it comes to estate planning. I thought it would be good to summarize them for you here, and if you want to read the entire story you can click on the link.

Mistakes to avoid:

    1) Failing to plan. The article tells the story of a grandfather whose grandson had put his life on hold to care for the grandfather, yet the grandfather made no estate plans, so when she died, the grandson got no inheritance.

    2) Simple administrative details can get in the way. This is illustrated by the story of a woman whose entire estate went to her new husband, with nothing going to her kids, because she forgot to update her beneficiary designation.

    3) Sibling squabbles. Two children ended up fighting over possessions because their mother’s will did not leave specific items to specific children.

Getting the plan that is right for you takes some time and thought – I call this stage the “Design Meeting.” In some cases, the Design Meeting may actually be two or three separate meetings. But the important thing is that the final documents actually reflect your wishes.

Williams Took Care Of His Kids

5043690881It seems nobody can resist reading the juicy details of the life and death of a beloved celebrity and I am no different.

But some of the stories are simply salacious, while others are instructive. This one I found on Yahoo Finance fits into the latter category.

According to the story, the actor and comedian Robin Williams apparently didn’t leave a note prior to taking his own life last week, but details that have come out showed his estate was left in good shape, even if he might have been having financial problems, which some stories say was the case while others deny it.

What we do know from documents unearthed is that Williams in 2009 set up a trust for his three children who ranged in age from 22 to 35.

According to the story, the trust documents say that when each child turned 21 he or she would get one-third of the cash set aside for them. When they turned 30, they each would get their full share. The payout was not dependent on Williams’ death. That means he felt it was better for them to have the money while he was still alive. As it turned out, that was only partly true. But the idea is that by making lifetime distributions he could guide them and watch them build their lives responsibly.

The story did not say how much was in the trusts but said he had a significant amount of money outside of the trust and that his wife, Susan Schneider, would certainly get a healthy amount.

His net worth was once estimated at $130 million, the story said, but in 2013 he said he was nearly bankrupt. He reportedly paid his first two wives $30 million combined. Another report said he was worth about $50 million at the time of his death. He had put his $35 million ranch in Napa up for sale because he couldn’t afford it any more, the story said.

In 2013, he took a part on a TV sitcom because he needed the money. The show, “The Crazy Ones,” was cancelled after one season.

The Dangers Of Using Cookie-Cutter, Downloadable Legal Forms

When people learn that I am an estate planning and elder law attorney, some of them ask what I think about “do it yourself” wills, trusts, and other estate planning forms that can be found online. Of course, when I tell them that it is advisable to hire an attorney, it sounds rather self-serving.

Last Will And Testament

Last Will And Testament (Photo credit: Ken_Mayer)

A recent article in the ABA Journal speaks to my concerns about the potential pitfalls and unwanted consequences of using downloadable forms. It discusses the case of a Florida woman, Ann Aldrich, who used an “E-Z Legal Form” to create her will in 2004. In the will, she left all of her assets to her sister, with the caveat that if Aldrich’s sister predeceased her, the assets would go to her brother.

Sounds simple enough, right? So why, then, did the Florida Supreme Court rule that Aldrich’s two nieces were entitled to part of her estate? Because the E-Z Legal Form failed to include what is known as a residuary clause providing for property not listed in the will. That is, assets acquired by Aldrich after 2004, when she made her will, were distributed according to the laws if intestacy. With regard to these assets, it was as if the will had never been created in the first place! Florida intestacy laws mandated that the nieces inherit these assets, not Aldrich’s brother.

One of the concurring justices in the case, Barbara Pariente, said: “While I appreciate that there are many individuals in this state who might have difficulty affording a lawyer, this case does remind me of the old adage ‘penny-wise and pound-foolish.’ I therefore take this opportunity to highlight a cautionary tale of the potential dangers of utilizing pre-printed forms and drafting a will without legal assistance. As this case illustrates, that decision can ultimately result in the frustration of the testator’s intent, in addition to the payment of extensive attorney’s fees—the precise results the testator sought to avoid in the first place.”

Thank you, Justice Pariente. I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Family Heirlooms—How Much Are They Worth?

When a loved one dies, he or she leaves behind much more than assets in a will or trust. There are treasured memories, of course. And what about all the “stuff” that Mom or Dad accumulated over the years? Many of these items have sentimental value at the very least, and others might have monetary value as well. Is the brooch that Mom’s mother gave her when she was a girl actually worth a lot of money?

Brooch in Red and Yellow

Brooch in Red and Yellow (Photo credit: merlinprincesse)

Forbes recently ran an article exploring this topic. It referenced the television show Antiques Roadshow and discussed how the show’s popularity has given birth to a cottage industry of low-cost or even free appraisal events throughout the United States, often hosted by non-profits, banks, auction houses, and others.

If you’ve ever watched Antiques Roadshow, you might be under the impression that practically every heirloom passed on to children by their parents is worth a considerable amount of money. No doubt this makes for a better show, but the Forbes article points out that the vast majority of items people bring in for appraisal have little if any dollar value. And even when they do, these appraisals are known in the industry as “verbal approximations of value.” To determine how much an heirloom is actually worth for the purposes of dividing assets equitably among surviving family members or purchasing insurance to protect the item, it is necessary to obtain a written, formal appraisal.

So is that painting your parents picked up on their trip to Paris, or that armoire passed down from one generation to the next, actually worth something? Absolutely! Even if an appraiser tells you that it has no monetary value, if the heirloom reminds you of your father or mother, it can be conservatively valued as “priceless.”

Enhanced by Zemanta

Who Should Get What: Factors To Consider When Leaving Unequal Inheritances To Your Children

When many parents create an estate plan, they simply divide their assets equally among all their children. While there is certainly nothing wrong with this, in some situations it might not be the best, or even the fairest, approach.

Family discussion

(Photo credit: Muffet)

For example, one of your children may earn significantly more money than your other children. One might have several children, another one child, and another no children at all. Perhaps one of your children has served as a caregiver for you or your spouse while the others have not. Or maybe one of your children has disappointed you so often that you would prefer to leave him or her nothing at all.

These are difficult decisions in and of themselves. Worse, when one child is favored over another in a will or other estate planning document, the decisions may be open to legal challenge by the child who believes he or she has been treated unfairly.

Here are a couple ways to help ensure your wishes will be carried out in the event you decide to leave unequal inheritances to your children.

  • Include a no-contest clause. This typically stipulates that if a beneficiary contests the will’s validity or its provisions, his or interest in the will is forfeited. Of course, you have to leave the heir in question enough of an inheritance to motivate him or her not to challenge the will.
  • One strategy that I have used is to have the client write a letter with a simple explanation for what they have done. This is not a legal document, but can be shown to the unhappy heir if necessary. Only if the child or other heir contests the legal document is this letter unsealed.

For additional strategies, or to discuss any aspects of your plan, feel free to contact me. I am here to help you make these and other difficult decisions, and guide you through the entire process.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Lessons In Estate Planning From Deceased Celebrities

Many of us think, “If I was rich and famous, I wouldn’t have a care in the world.” However, as the recent passing of two Hollywood stars shows us, when it comes to estate planning we all grapple with similar concerns and hopes for our loved ones.

Philip Seymour Hoffman won a Academy Award for...

Philip Seymour Hoffman (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Consider the case of Phillip Seymour Hoffman, who recently died of a heroin overdose. His plan contained a provision requesting that his son, Cooper Hoffman, be raised in or near the cities of Manhattan, Chicago, or San Francisco. Why would he include such a provision? Hoffman’s Will stated, “The purpose of this request is so that my son will be exposed to the culture, arts and architecture that such cities offer.”

Phillip wanted to pass some of his values onto his son, and used his estate plan to make it possible.

Paul Walker

Paul Walker (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Or consider Paul Walker, the star of Fast & Furious who was recently killed in a car accident. He left his entire estate to his daughter, Meadow, with the provision that she cannot access the money until she becomes an adult. Paul also named his mother, not Meadow’s mother, as Medow’s guardian. Paul apparently felt more confident that his mother would be the better guardian and manager of Meadow’s newfound wealth.

Naming guardians, teaching our children proper values, determining “who gets what, and when.” These are difficult issues that all families face, not just celebrities.

I welcome the opportunity to help you make decisions like these and plan for whatever the future holds.

Enhanced by Zemanta