Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Asset Protection: When a Will Won't Work

One of the most prevalent misconceptions when it comes to estate planning is that if you have a will, it will take care of everything that needs to happen after you die in terms of your assets. But before you leave everything to just a will, consider these circumstances where a will simply doesn’t work:

Avoiding Court. To take effect, a will must go through the probate process (called a conservatorship during your lifetime), which can be lengthy and deny your heirs (or family while you are living, but incapacitated) a quick resolution to the distribution of your estate (or the ability to pay your bills while you are living). This is particularly true if you own property in another state.

Protecting privacy. Once a will is open to probate, it is open to everyone -- meaning that anyone can get access to it and learn everything you owned and where it is going. Wills can also contain personal information that is attractive to identity thieves.

Protecting you in case of incapacity. Since a will only goes into effect upon death, it provides zero protection for you if you should become incapacitated and no longer able to handle your own financial affairs or make decisions about your health care. If that were the case, your family would have to go through the stress and expense of petitioning the court to appoint a guardian or conservator to handle your affairs. This is costly and can even drain your entire estate. This can be avoided by having advance medical directives and a financial power of attorney drawn as part of your estate plan.

Protect your assets. Passing assets to heirs via a will does not provide any protection for those assets. Once they are distributed, they may become vulnerable to a divorce action, creditors or bad financial decisions by your beneficiaries.   Placing your assets in a trust gives you more control over how and when they are distributed, and protects them from creditors and judgments.

One of the main goals of our law practice is to help families like yours plan for the protection of yourself and your family through thoughtful estate planning.  Call our office or go to www.TheEstatePlanningGroup.com today to schedule a time for us to sit down and talk through a Life and Legacy Planning Session, where we can identify the best strategies for you and your family.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

How to Reduce the Risk of Identity Theft When a Loved One Dies

A new trend in identity theft – afterlife identity theft – is on the rise, with thieves scouring obituaries for personal information to steal the identities of those who have passed. When you lose a loved one, it is important to take quick action and notify a number of institutions and government agencies about the death to help prevent afterlife identity theft.

The National Funeral Directors Association provides a list of government and credit reporting agencies, creditors and banks for notification, including:
  • Social Security Administration
  • Veteran's Administration (if the decedent formerly served in the military)
  • Defense Finance and Accounting Service (military service retiree receiving benefits)
  • Office of Personnel Management (if the decedent is a former federal civil service employee)
  • U.S. Citizen and Immigration Service (If the decedent was not a U.S. citizen)
  • State Department of Motor Vehicles (If the decedent had a driver's license)
  • Credit card and merchant card companies
  • Banks, savings and loan associations and credit unions
  • Mortgage companies and lenders
  • Financial planners and stock brokers
  • Pension providers
  • Life insurers and annuity companies
  • Health, medical and dental insurers
  • Disability insurers
  • Automotive insurer
  • Mutual benefit companies
  • All three credit reporting agencies: Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion
  • Any memberships held by the decedent (ex: health clubs, professional associations, clubs, library etc.)
The NFDA recommends that you notify these entities first by phone followed by a written confirmation, where you will need to provide a certified copy of the death certificate, the decedent’s Social Security number and, if you are the executor or administrator of an estate, the verification of your appointment by a probate court. Be sure to ask the funeral home you are using if they can provide notification services for you, as many do.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Go to Walmart for Bananas, Not Estate Planning

Did you know that the best-selling item at Walmart is bananas? It’s true, and has been for several years. So the next time you need a great price on your favorite yellow fruit, go ahead and head for Walmart.

But steer clear of the world’s largest retailer when you need a will or other estate planning documents.

While not available in the U.S. (yet), Walmart just started selling wills for $99 in several Canadian locations. You can also get powers of attorney at the boutique law shop called Axess Law set up in Walmart. And in our opinion, that’s not just bananas, it’s nuts too.

Creating an estate plan is something you do to leave a legacy of care and love for the people who matter to you the most.   Working with an attorney who understands your goals and wishes for your family, and can articulate those in a well-crafted estate plan, is a much better alternative than relying on a one-stop shopping experience, be it at Walmart or through online legal websites with standard forms that can’t begin to know what you truly want and deserve for your loved ones.

Having the caring guidance of a Personal Family Lawyer® will ensure that your estate plan takes advantage of the ever-changing state and federal laws as well as reduces the potential for family feuds.

If you’re the parent of minor children, your attorney will help you create a valid will (and if you work with a Personal Family Lawyer®, a comprehensive Kids Protection Plan®) that ensures the well-being and care of your children; without one, a judge will make that decision for you (or your kids could even be taken from your home temporarily). Even if you don’t have minor or dependent children, you have stuff that will have to be handled after you are gone and a $99 will is likely only going to make it worse for the people left to clean up the mess.

Estate laws vary by state, which is another good reason to have a Personal Family Lawyer® guide you. The probate process can be lengthy and arduous; your attorney can help you and your family stay out of Court, saving time, money and stress.

Finally, many life circumstances – remarriage, divorce, new children – impact your estate plan, so be sure you review it annually and keep it updated when things change. Having a Personal Family Lawyer® who knows you and your family makes it much easier to keep your plan on track, so it will always be just what your family needs, when they need it.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Ask These 5 Questions Before Gifting Assets

Gifting assets can be a useful estate planning tool if you need to reduce your estate tax bill or for long-term care planning purposes. However, you need to be sure that your gift does not cause any unforeseen problems for you or the person receiving your gift.

Here are five questions you should ask yourself before gifting:

Why is the gift being made? Are you making a gift out of love or is there some estate planning goal you are trying to reach? If it’s the latter, you need to be sure that the transfer of assets will be beneficial to you and your recipient. For example, if you are counting on Medicaid to pay for some of your long-term care, a gift could trigger up to five years of ineligibility unless handled correctly. Contact us or your own personal lawyer to evaluate your options.

Are you keeping enough for your needs? If you are making a large gift, you will need to do some long-term financial planning to ensure your gift does not compromise your future needs.
Are you expecting repayment? If your gift comes with an expectation on your part that you will be repaid, be sure your recipient understands that the gift is coming with these strings attached. Execute a promissory note so all parties are clear on the terms of your gift.

Are you expecting something else in return? If you are gifting property with the expectation that you will be allowed to live there, or gifting assets for someone else to hold for you, you should consider using a trust for these purposes instead. If you don’t, the recipient is legally in control of the gift and if they don’t do what you want with it -- or worse, your assets become entangled in a divorce or bankruptcy -- this could cause huge problems for you.

Will the recipient benefit from your gift? If your recipient has special needs, a gift could disqualify them from receiving important benefits. If he or she has financial or other problems like alcohol or drug dependency issues, the gift could be detrimental.

One of the best ways for you to gift assets is through a Trust, which allows you to decide the best time for children or grandchildren to receive your gift and gives them the necessary time and experience to learn how to protect and grow the assets in the trust for future generations.

One of the main goals of our law practice is to help families like yours plan for the safe, successful transfer of wealth to the next generation. Call our office today to schedule a time for us to sit down and talk about a Life and Legacy Planning Session, where we can identify the best strategies for you and your family to ensure your legacy of love and financial security.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

The Risks of Poor Man’s Estate Planning: How to Pass on Property & Avoid Probate the Right Way

They call it the “poor man’s estate planning.” Put your child on the title to your deed and avoid probate. Yet this “poor man’s” planning often ends up, well, poorly; and costing a lot more for the people you love. Here’s why and what you can do about it:

Risk #1 of Poorman’s Estate Planning: If the deed is titled with the name of parent and child (or any time there is more than one name on title and the parties are not married to each other) ownership of the property could be categorized as tenants in common – meaning that if one property owner dies, his or her interest in the property goes to an heir via probate, not directly to the other owner(s). That’s exactly what the poorman’s estate planning was trying to avoid.

Solution: To accomplish the desired objective, the deed would have to stipulate ownership as joint tenants with the right of survivorship or similar language. Even then, passing property outside of probate using a deed may create problems because if both joint tenants die or become incapacitated at the same time (such as in an accident) the property is headed right into probate.

Risk #2 of Poorman’s Estate Planning: If the child you put on title to the property is sued or has some other type of creditor issue, even divorce, the property could be at risk.

Risk #3 of Poorman’s Estate Planning: Gifting property to your children, which is what happens when you put a child’s name on title to your property, could create adverse tax consequences. One of the benefits of death (probably the only one) is that your heirs take your property at a new basis equal to fair market value of your property. This may not happen if you’ve added your child to the title of the property if it’s determined that you made a gift of the property, your kids inherit your tax basis and lose valuable tax savings.

If you would like to learn more about strategies for protecting your assets and avoiding probate, call our office today to schedule a time for us to sit down and talk.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Who do we give the Packer Season Tickets to?

Green Bay Packers Season Tickets. As of the writing of this article, the current wait list is around 120,000 people. So, it is easily understandable why families with tickets want to pass them on to loved ones.

But for some, the answer to who to give the tickets to is a challenging decision. We recently had someone come to see us who was really struggling over who to give his tickets to because he did not want to appear to favor any of his children. Thankfully though, he is making this difficult decision now.

All too often, inadequate instructions can cause conflict among family members and yes, sometimes even lawsuits (See Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Article, "Brother sues brother over Packer Tickets.").
While these are hard decisions, understanding the rules can streamline the process.

Green Bay Packer Ticket Policy requires that the owner of every season ticket be either an individual or a business (no co-ownership allowed). This bears noting because if you have multiple beneficiaries, they may not agree on a single individual owner and in the absence of agreement, no transfer occurs.

Without any direction from a season ticket holder, upon their passing, season tickets will likely first go to a surviving spouse, and if no spouse, then to surviving children. Remember, if the surviving children, cannot agree on a single child owning the tickets, no transfer takes place.

If you have put in place a will or a trust, you can specify who you desire to take ownership of the Packer tickets. Importantly, your will or trust can also list alternate beneficiaries, if your first choice, passes away before you.

In endeavoring to assist individuals, the Packers organization has also put together a Season Ticket Transfer Form to memorialize your desires and pass your tickets to your chosen beneficiary.

For more tips and suggestions on ensuring all of your assets, including your Packer tickets, pass smoothly to your chosen beneficiaries, come to our final seminar of 2016 at the Heart of the Valley Chamber of Commerce Building in downtown Kaukauna on Saturday, December 3rd at 10:00 am. Refreshments will be provided. For information on how to sign-up, click here!

Friday, November 11, 2016

What to do before you travel this Holiday Season!

We are fast approaching the holidays, when travel is the busiest and careful planning is necessary to nab the best airfare or book that New Year’s beach cottage before it slips away. One thing that is probably not on your travel to-do list is estate planning, but it should be so you can travel with peace of mind.

Here are some tips to pack away your worries before you board that flight:

  • Complete your estate plan. If you’ve been putting it off, now is the time to complete your estate plan. If money is a consideration, then start with those the most important items: a will, power of attorney and advance health care directives.

  • Update an existing estate plan. Has something changed in your life since you last updated your estate plan?   A birth, a death, a marriage, a divorce? Each of these triggers your need to update your estate plan.

  • Establish guardianship for minor children. If you have ever gotten a nagging fear about what would happen to your children if something were to happen to you, then use that fear to follow through on naming a guardian for raising your minor children. If you have young kids, there is never an excuse for you to neglect this important step.

  • Review beneficiaries. Beneficiaries of your retirement accounts, life insurance and other assets must be kept current or your assets will not pass to them upon your death. If you have minor children, you will need to set up a trust and name the trust as beneficiary so your assets can pass without court intervention.