Monday, November 6, 2017

10 Costly Misconceptions about Wills, Trusts, & Powers of Attorney

Misconception #1: A Power of Attorney can be used after death. No. Upon a person's passing, Powers of Attorney lose any and all authority possessed during a person's life. Whether a Power of Attorney for Health Care or a Power of Attorney for Finances, both documents, expires upon death. Neither document allows for anything to be done after death. Such decisions remain strictly in the hands of the Personal Representative under a Will or a Trustee under a Trust.

 Misconception #2: A Will avoids probate.  No.  A Will is the primary tool of the probate system. Your Will is like a letter to the Court telling the Court how you want your property distributed.  The Court gets to interpret your Will. After your death your representative must prove to the Court that all your property is collected and appraised, and all your bills and taxes are paid, before your property can be distributed to your heirs.

Misconception #3: Your Will and your assets remain private.  No.  Because probate is a public legal proceeding, everything that occurs with your estate will become public record.  This means that anyone – including nosy neighbors and salespeople – can go to Court to find out the balance in your accounts, the value of your stocks and other assets, and who you left your property to.

Misconception #4: Estranged family members do not need to be notified of a probate if the Will excludes them from an inheritance.  No.  All heirs must be notified of the probate even if they are excluded from the Will.   It is safer to handle an estate with potentially disgruntled heirs through a Living Trust.

Misconception #5: A Testamentary Trust avoids probate.  No.  A Testamentary Trust is a Trust created at your death by direction of your Will for a specific purpose. Your Will and estate still must go through the probate process.

Misconception #6: Minimizing Estate Taxes should be a primary concern. Probably No. Currently, the exemption level is over $5,450,000 per person. This means prior to having to pay any estate taxes, you need to have assets over that exemption level. While there may be other taxes worth worrying about, namely income taxes on pre-tax retirement accounts, estate taxes often are not of paramount importance.

Misconception #7: Revocable Living Trusts are only for large estates.  No.  Revocable Living Trusts are for anyone who wants to avoid costly conservatorship and probate proceedings.  Those with small estates, and especially their heirs, can benefit from a Revocable Living Trust.

Misconception #8: A Revocable Living Trust must have a separate tax return.  No.  If you are a trustee or co-trustee of your Revocable Living Trust, it does not need a tax return of its own.  Your personal tax return is sufficient for the IRS.

Misconception #9: There are no costs associated with administering a Trust at the death of the original settlor of the Trust.  Not always true.  Depending on what assistance and professional help a Trustee relies on, administering a Trust, distributing the assets, and terminating the Trust can result in fees and costs.  Many trustees hire attorneys and accountants, but these costs are substantially less than the costs of probate.  Typically, these costs are paid by the Trust.

Misconception #10: You have to amend a Revocable Living Trust when you buy or sell your assets.  No.  Your Trust does not have to be changed when you buy or sell assets.  When you buy a new asset, such as real property, a car, or open a new bank account, you simply take title as trustee of your Trust.  If you sell an asset, you sell it as trustee of your Trust.

If you’d like to ensure that you maximize the resources available to your loved ones and keep your family out of Court and out of conflict, schedule a Family Life and Legacy Planning Session.™ We can review your existing plan and help you make adjustments that will help you achieve your goals.

This article is a service of The Estate Planning Group and Davidson Law Office, LLP, your Life & Legacy Planning Lawyers, who believe in developing trusting relationships with families for life. We don’t just draft documents, we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

9 Mistakes that Tear Families Apart

Mistake #1: Relying on the Law.  If you do not set up an estate plan, upon your death your property will be distributed according to the laws of your last state of residence.  Often, the law will require the probate judge to give your property to someone other than the people you would have chosen.

Mistake #2: Relying on a Will.  If your estate plan consists only of a Will, your heirs may face many costly problems such as probate and conservatorship proceedings.  A Will is the most common estate planning tool, but it is usually not the best tool to use.

Mistake #3: Relying on Community Property laws.  Relying on the Community Property laws is a position many clients take.  However, your property will still have to go through probate on the death of the spouse.  Also, Community Property ownership requires a conservatorship if a spouse is incapacitated and the home needs a mortgage, home equity line, or to be sold.  Relying on the Community Property laws is not a good estate plan.

Mistake #4: Relying on Guardianships.  These Court supervised proceedings for addressing your physical or mental incapacity are costly, time-consuming and horribly burdensome.  Your properly set up Revocable Living Trust, as well as Powers of Attorney, Durable Powers of Attorney for Health Care, and Physician’s Directives and Releases avoid this issue.

Mistake #5: Relying on the small estate affidavit or informal administration procedure to avoid probate.  Most people assume they have fewer assets than they actually have.  In Wisconsin the small estate exemption that avoids probate is permitted only for estates consisting of less than $50,000.

Mistake #6: Relying on a gifting program as your way of avoiding probate. The law allows you to give away your property at a rate of $14,000 per person per year.  A married couple can give $28,000 per year to anyone they choose without gift tax consequences.  While this is an effective way to reduce the size of your estate, trying to spend your last dime on your last day is difficult to put odds on, plus you lose control of the assets you have given away, and beneficiaries get total control over everything that has been given to them.

Mistake #7: Relying on the Courts to take care of your child’s finances.  If you die intestate (with no Will) or with only a Will, and your property passes to your minor child, the Court will put your child’s money into a Court-supervised guardianship requiring at least annual accountings to the Court.  Naturally, this may require hiring CPAs to prepare accountings, and lawyers to file those accountings with the Court, plus filing fees, all of which comes out of the inheritance.   It also means that the Court determines the person who will serve as guardian of the property, who may not be the person you would have chosen.

Mistake #8: Relying on a form kit for your Will or Living Trust.  One size does not fit all because no two people or families are alike.  From your family’s needs and dynamics to its personalities and values, can you imagine any form kit ever being suitable for any family?  If you use a form kit, you’re asking for problems.  If your will is not properly executed, it will not be valid.  The only estate plan you can rely on is one that is custom prepared by a qualified estate planning and asset protection lawyer.

Mistake #9: Relying on the wrong attorney.  Most attorneys know very little about estate planning.  What’s more, even some estate planning attorneys don’t put much time or energy into comprehensive protections for your family’s unique circumstances.  That’s why I urge you to choose an estate planning attorney who has the primary focus, mission and purpose to help you achieve your family’s estate planning and asset protection goals:  protecting, preserving and passing on more of what you’ve worked for.

If you’d like to ensure that you maximize the resources available to your loved ones and keep your family out of Court and out of conflict, schedule a Family Life and Legacy Planning Session.™ We can review your existing plan and help you make adjustments that will help you achieve your goals.

This article is a service of The Estate Planning Group and Davidson Law Office, LLP, your Life & Legacy Planning Lawyers, who believe in developing trusting relationships with families for life. We don’t just draft documents, we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love.

Friday, September 22, 2017

What happens to my Facebook profile after death?

Facebook! With users easily surpassing 1,000,000,000, Facebook is arguably the most common social media platform. However, what happens to your Facebook page when you pass away? Who has access to your profile upon your death? Can you have your account deleted upon your passing?

Each person has their own Facebook page, right? The whole point of Facebook is you can make that page your own and post, share, like, whatever you want. However, when "you" are no longer available to take care of your page, what happens to it? Surprising to many, access to one's Facebook profile can become highly restricted after a person passes away, even if that person is a mother trying to access her deceased daughter's account. http://thehill.com/policy/technology/335759-german-court-rejects-mothers-request-to-access-deceased-daughters-facebook

As the desire for greater access to decedents' accounts grow, Facebook has come up with several different options for accessing a decedent's page.

One of the most common means is the legacy contact. Each person can designate one of their Facebook "friends" to serve as their "legacy contact" after they pass away. This individual has the authority to write posts on their wall, post articles (e.g. an obituary), and even shut down their Facebook page. This process can work great if you have a desire to notify distant relatives/friends of your passing when most of your communication is through social media. As social media becomes the norm for notification about such events, the legacy contact option is becoming more and more popular. https://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/2015/02/12/facebook-policy-change-allows-one-final-post-after-death/23184757/

Another option is to have Facebook simply delete your profile upon your passing. This option is great for the individual who simply wishes their online persona to die with them. No exposure of past messages or lingering digital presence. Instead, your Facebook profile is simply deleted after Facebook is notified of your passing.

A final option utilized by some, but certainly not condoned by Facebook, involves sharing your username and password with a trusted person and informing them to login as you after your passing and shut down your profile. While this may be the simplest option, sharing username and passwords is a risky proposition, indeed!

While Facebook is just one electronic provider, there is no denying that online accounts are becoming more pervasive. And while Facebook is just one example, with online banking, automatic billing, etc. all becoming much more commonplace, knowing how your online accounts will be addressed are a top priority to ensure an easy and smooth process for the loved ones you leave behind!

If you’d like to ensure that you maximize the resources available to your loved ones and keep your family out of Court and out of conflict, schedule a Family Life and Legacy Planning Session.™ We can review your existing plan and help you make adjustments that will help you achieve your goals.

This article is a service of The Estate Planning Group and Davidson Law Office, LLP, your Life & Legacy Planning Lawyers, who believe in developing trusting relationships with families for life. We don’t just draft documents, we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

How can I preserve my assets for my kids and loved ones?

With tax time well behind us, you may be thinking you did well by minimizing what you paid to Uncle Sam and your state in taxes, so more can go to your family.  Every year around tax-time, we’re reminded of how complicated maximizing your money and minimizing tax liabilities can be - and for many people, this seems to be the singular focus for how to preserve assets for loved ones.

Unfortunately, we don’t get much in the way of real information about really preserving our assets through estate planning.  And, regrettably, many of us simply don't think about it, or maybe think we don't have enough to make a difference.

Simply put, this is Penny Wise and Pound Foolish - Your family will likely lose more in the costs of estate administration than you can ever overcome with annual tax tricks. 

Truth is, if you have people you love and any assets at all in your name, you do have an estate and it is worth preserving for the people you love. In some cases, that may mean keeping them out of court and out of conflict, if anything happens to you. (Did you know that the biggest family fights happen over the smallest sums of money or even the personal effects of a person who has passed on? Let’s keep that from happening to your family!)  

If you’re concerned about maximizing the amount your heirs receive and minimizing the amount received by governments, there are several steps you can take.

First and foremost, keep your family out of Court. It’s unnecessary, extremely expensive and almost always public. Consider using a Trust to make it easy to handle your assets if you become incapacitated or when you pass on. 

Second, ensure legal documents are in place for trusted family or loved ones to take care of financial, legal and health care issues in the event of any incapacity.  An incapacity without simple legal planning in place can be devastating to a family, both financially and emotionally. 

Third, while most Americans need not worry about the Federal estate and gift tax ($5.49 million in 2017), if you have an estate near or above that level ($10.9 million for married couples) you need to implement tax minimization strategies to avoid the extreme estate tax hit your heirs will experience. Some will need to think about State taxes, as well, if you live in one of the 20 states that impose them. (Wisconsin does not.) 

If you’d like to ensure that you maximize the resources available to your loved ones and keep your family out of Court and out of conflict, schedule a Family Life and Legacy Planning Session.™ We can review your existing plan and help you make adjustments that will help you achieve your goals. 

This article is a service of The Estate Planning Group and Davidson Law Office, LLP, your Life & Legacy Planning Lawyers, who believe in developing trusting relationships with families for life. We don’t just draft documents, we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

10 Estate Planning Questions to Ask Yourself


We are all busy, right? We have things to do, places to visit, and people to see. So, it is understandable why people do not often think about what would happen in an emergency, where something happens and you can no longer do things you want, visit the places you plan, and see the people you want.

While a proper estate plan cannot avoid these issues, it can leave you better equipped to address these situations when they arise.

Here are 10 estate planning questions to get you started. How many of these questions can you answer, "Yes" to?

1.    Have you appointed a trusted financial decision-maker for financial decisions during your life?

2.    Have you appointed someone who knows your health care wishes if you cannot communicate them?

3.    Have you shared your health care desires with your health care decision-maker?

4.    Do your beneficiary designated-assets, reflect your current wishes?

5.    Would someone know how to access your online accounts if they need to access them?

6.    If you wish to avoid the probate process, does your current plan accomplish this?

7.    Have I planned for a potential stay in a nursing home?

8.    Have you shared your wishes with your family, so your desires will be followed upon your death?

9.    Will your medical records be accessible to your family if they need to view them?

10. Does your current plan reflect your current wishes?

Proper consideration of these factors now can avoid needless time, effort, and headaches, for your loved ones.

Take the first step now and talk with an estate planning attorney today about putting in place a plan, so you can answer "Yes" to all ten questions!

Monday, May 8, 2017

How can I preserve my assets for my kids and loved ones?

With tax time just behind us, you may be thinking you did well by minimizing what you paid to Uncle Sam and your state in taxes, so more can go to your family.  Every year around tax-time, we’re reminded of how complicated maximizing your money and minimizing tax liabilities can be - and for many people, this seems to be the singular focus for how to preserve assets for loved ones.

Unfortunately, we don’t get much in the way of real information about really preserving our assets through estate planning.  And, regrettably, many of us simply don't think about it, or maybe think we don't have enough to make a difference.

Simply put, this is Penny Wise and Pound Foolish - Your family will likely lose more in the costs of estate administration than you can ever overcome with annual tax tricks. 

Truth is, if you have people you love and any assets at all in your name, you do have an estate and it is worth preserving for the people you love. In some cases, that may mean keeping them out of court and out of conflict, if anything happens to you. (Did you know that the biggest family fights happen over the smallest sums of money or even the personal effects of a person who has passed on? Let’s keep that from happening to your family!)  

If you’re concerned about maximizing the amount your heirs receive and minimizing the amount received by governments, there are several steps you can take.

First and foremost, keep your family out of Court. It’s unnecessary, extremely expensive and almost always public. Consider using a Trust to make it easy to handle your assets if you become incapacitated or when you pass on. 

Second, ensure legal documents are in place for trusted family or loved ones to take care of financial, legal and health care issues in the event of any incapacity.  An incapacity without simple legal planning in place can be devastating to a family, both financially and emotionally. 

Third, while most Americans need not worry about the Federal estate and gift tax ($5.49 million in 2017), if you have an estate near or above that level ($10.9 million for married couples) you need to implement tax minimization strategies to avoid the extreme estate tax hit your heirs will experience. Some will need to think about State taxes, as well, if you live in one of the 20 states that impose them. (Wisconsin does not.) 

If you’d like to ensure that you maximize the resources available to your loved ones and keep your family out of Court and out of conflict, schedule a Family Life and Legacy Planning Session.™ We can review your existing plan and help you make adjustments that will help you achieve your goals. 

This article is a service of The Estate Planning Group and Davidson Law Office, LLP, your Life & Legacy Planning Lawyers, who believe in developing trusting relationships with families for life. We don’t just draft documents, we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

5 Common Misconceptions about Estate Planning

Whenever you work long enough in a selected profession, you often find that there are common questions that arise and many times common misconceptions as well. Estate planning is no different. Here are five of the common misconceptions about this area of law:

 

  1. "If I have a will, I will avoid the probate process, right?" Wrong! A Last Will and Testament will not help you avoid the probate process. A Last Will and Testament only informs the Probate Court how you wish to have your assets distributed upon your death.

  2. "I can handle a decedent's Estate because I am the Power of Attorney." False. A Power of Attorney is a document that applies only during a person's lifetime. As soon as that person passes away, your authority ceases to exist. If you continue taking actions after a person passes away, you could become legally liable for actions taken. 

  3. "I heard a revocable trust protects my assets from the nursing home. Is that true?" Unfortunately, no. A revocable trust will not give you protection from the costs of nursing home care. A slightly different trust, called an irrevocable trust, can offer such protections, but it comes with a number of factors worth considering to see if such a tool is right for you. There are certainly other reasons to consider a revocable trust, but nursing home care protection is not one of them.

  4. "Should I be worried about estate taxes?" While there may be taxes due at your passing, the estate tax (also called the death tax) is unlikely to be one of them. Under the 2017 Estate Tax rules, each individual can pass up to $5,490,000.00 at their death without having to pay any estate taxes. This high exemption level means that a very small percentage of the population will have to pay estate taxes.

  5. "I do not need to have a trust because I am not wealthy." Wealth oftentimes has little to do with whether you would like a trust or not. More important, is evaluating whether the efficiencies of avoiding the probate process and avoiding potential conflict and time for your heirs, justifies the creation of a trust.

 

Unfortunately, these misconceptions have been repeated and shared so often that they are now viewed as true. To get started on your own estate plan, contact our office today!  We offer an initial complimentary Life & Legacy Planning Session, where your goals and objectives determine what plan is right for you.