Benefits of a Will

If you are getting older, it may be time to consider having a will drafted. Having a will drafted has a number of benefits, many of which can protect your family from hardships after your passing. A will puts you in control of the assets and wealth you have worked so hard to build, even after you pass away. If you aren’t convinced, check out the list of benefits below.

Why You Should Have a Will Drafted

1) Distribute your assets – A will allows you to choose where your assets go and who will inherit them. Without a will, it may be left up to the state to decide where your assets go.

2) Choose the executor of your estate – When you create a will, you will be able to name an executor. An executor will be the one who carries out your will and ensures that each individual receives what they are entitled to. When you are deciding who to choose as the executor of your will, make sure to discuss this role with the person. Some people may not be comfortable carrying out these duties.

3) Appoint a guardian for minors – If you have young children, they are likely the most important part of your life. A will allows you to appoint a guardian. Pick someone that is comfortable with taking on this responsibility and will care for them as you do.

4) You can change things up whenever you want – You can make changes to your will whenever you want. Have things changed? Do you want to include/remove someone from your will?

5) Peace of Mind – Even if you are not expecting to pass away anytime, it will bring you peace of mind to know that in the event of an accident, your assets will be left in the right hands. If you do not have a will, there is no guarantee that your family members will receive your assets and it will be heavily taxed.

Contact an estate planning attorney today to begin drafting your will.

Common Mistakes To Avoid When Making Life Insurance Beneficiaries

While thinking about your own death is not always appealing but sadly it is a reality. Many of us purchase life insurance with the intent that in our unfortunate passing that our loved ones will have the financial security they need to continue living the same lifestyle. But in order for that to happen there are some mistakes that are imperative to avoid when setting up your life insurance policy.

Example Mistake 1: Not Naming A Beneficiary 

This might sound silly but it’s important to name the exact person you want your insurance policy to go, otherwise, it will go to your “heirs at law” and might be subjugated to estate taxes.

Example Mistake 2: Naming Minor Children As The Beneficiary 

In the event of your untimely death, a minor will not be given the money but rather to their guardian. If a guardian was not appointed then the state will appoint someone. This ends up delaying the release of funds.

Example Mistake 3: Not Updating The Beneficiary Designation

Any life-changing event such as a marriage or divorce, the designated beneficiary should be updated. You do not want your ex-spouse to receive your life insurance policy benefits.

Example Mistake 4: Not Being Specific 

Leaving your life insurance policy to your children is not specific enough, you need to designate how much each child is entitled to get from your life insurance policy.

Planning for what happens after your death might seem morbid but it’s one of the necessary things in life. For more information, contact one of our estate planning attorneys.

Seven Tips for the Executor of an Estate

When a loved one passes on, it is a sad time for family and friends. While you must take your time to grieve, the executor of an estate will be forced to take action sooner rather than later. The process can be a lot to manage. If your loved one has chosen you to be the executor of their estate, they know that you are capable of handling the responsibilities that come along with it.

We have been able to put together a list of tips that will help you sort out your loved one’s estate plan. The most important item on the list is to take your time. If you try to rush this process, mistakes might be made. These mistakes can lead to a legal situation that can bare the world’s weight on an already grieving family.

Tips for the Executor of an Estate Plan

1. Obtain the death certificate

If you are the executor of the estate, not only are you going to be responsible for distributing the assets of the deceased, but you are going to be responsible for the funeral and burial arrangement as well.

The death certificate is an important document because it is an official document that states that the individual is deceased. You will need this document when notifying banks, insurers, investment firms, the Social Security Administration, and others about the death.

2. The Will and Trust

The next set of documents on the list are the will and trusts of the deceased. If you are required to go to probate court, these documents will come in handy. If the deceased had a living trust, you may be able to avoid probate altogether.

3. Look for Professional Help

Don’t be afraid to ask for help from a professional. An attorney will be able to help you sort through any legal matters quickly. Also, a tax professional might be worth enlisting. A tax professional will help organize a final tax return and any taxes that are owed on investments, retirement accounts, or inheritance.

4. File ‘Letters Testamentary’ 

This tip is only applicable for estates that have to go through the probate process. Letters testamentary is a document that states that you are the executor of the estate. This letter is necessary for your to begin the process of filing for taxes, distributing assets, paying bills, and so on.

5. Locate and Protect the Assets 

One of the most important steps in this process is not only locating all of the assets but protecting them as well. After you are deemed officially deemed the executor of the estate, you are going to want to locate all of the deceased’s assets and get the financials in order. Make sure that all of the assets are represented and documented. Do not allow anyone to take an asset (favorite painting) before you pay any debts the deceased had.

6. Pay Bills and Taxes

The executor of the state is responsible for paying the debts of the deceased. If there are any unpaid bills or taxes, he/she will address them before distributing the assets.

7. Don’t Rush the Process

As we stated earlier, this may be the most important tip on the list. Don’t rush the process. We understand that this process can be long and potentially drawn out with technicalities and legalities, but it is important that you do everything by the book. Keep yourself organized and don’t be afraid to as for help from a  professional.

 

Pet Trusts: The Basics

After you pass on, you might want to leave your belongings to your family and/or friends. You might think you have everyone accounted for, but there is a member of the family you may have forgotten about; the family pet. Yes, you can leave a trust to your pet.

What is a Pet Trust?

A pet trust should be created by an experienced pet trust attorney. Basically, a pet trust should provide the pet with a source of income and assets that will be used to care for your pet after you pass. The agreement should include very specific instructions on how to care for your pet. You can assign a trustee to your pet trust. The trustee will be required to make sure your pet’s trust is carried out as intended.

Types of Pet Trusts

When you are considering having a pet trust written, the first step will be to determine what type of trust is best for your pet. The more common type of pet trust is called a traditional pet trust. This type of trust is accepted in every state. The trust is intended to provide owners with control over the future of their pet’s life.

The other type of pet trust is called a statutory pet trust. This type of trust is very basic and leaves the care of the pet to be determined by state laws. If you intend on providing for your pet’s financial future and that’s all, this is the right choice for you. Statutory pet trusts are recognized in most states.

 Can I Just Address my Pet in a Will?

Yes, you can address your pet in your will. The only difference here is that you can only assign a caregiver to the pet. Once the caregiver takes control of your pet, they are not held to any requirements that may have been included in the will.

If you are planning your estate and care about the future of your pet, contact an experienced estate planning attorney.

 

I Don’t Have Kids, Do I Still Need an Estate Plan?

Planning your Estate Without Children

Estate planning is often a topic that is accompanied by the feeling of anguish. The overwhelming majority of people are uncomfortable talking about their imminent death. Unfortunately, it’s something that must be discussed., because, frankly, there’s no way of avoiding death. It happens to everyone; sometimes out of the blue and other times you can see it coming. It is important to have a plan in place for your possessions after you pass away.

If you don’t have children, you may be thinking “what’s the point of putting together an estate plan?” Well, the point is that you get to decide where a lifetime of hard work ends up. You can leave your possessions to anyone, it does not have to be your children or spouse; it can be a friend or a charity as well.  If you do not have a plan for your estate, the state government will determine what happens to your property.

Tips for Planning your Estate

We took it upon ourselves to give you some personal tips on what to do with your stuff after you leave this life. Some of the things you should take care of in an estate plan are:

  • Name an Executor

Naming an executor is one of the most important aspects of an estate plan. The executor will make sure that your estate plan is properly carried out. This person should be reliable and reputable as they will divide your property amongst recipients. Before you name an executor, make sure to speak to the individual. Some people may not want this responsibility.

  • Name a Decision Maker

The decision maker is another important aspect of an estate plan. The decision maker will do just that; make decisions for you when you are unable to, both financially and medically. They will also be responsible for making decisions on items that are not covered in your in your estate plan. This individual must be strong and have the capability to make tough decisions. When you are choosing a decision maker, make sure that person is aware of their impending responsibilities. It’s also recommended that you choose alternate decision makers in the event that the main individual is unable to make a sound decision.

  • Assign Your Stuff

Create a list of everything you own, from your finances, to any jewelry, or any other property or possessions you would like to be addressed. Then designate who gets what. The more detailed you are here, the easier it will be for the executor to follow your estate plan.  

  • Charities?

Are there any charities you contribute to? If there is no one else to leave your possessions to, or because you just feel like it, you can leave them to a specific charity. There are also ways to lessen the tax hit on charities, speak with an estate planning attorney for more information.

  • Pets?

Are you a pet owner? Do your pets have a place to go after you die? You should think about your pet(s) when creating an estate plan. For example, if you have a dog, choose a family member or a friend that is okay caring for them in the event of your death.

How Does A Prenup Agreement Help Protect Your Inheritance?

What is a prenuptial agreement? You may have heard this referred to as a “prenup.” A prenuptial agreement is a document that is signed and agreed upon by both parties before they marry that concerns the ownership of respective assets should the marriage fail. In other words, a prenuptial agreement is put in pace when one or both people that are getting married have individual pieces of property that they want to protect in the case of a divorce. A prenuptial agreement is considered a non-romantic gesture by many, but it may be necessary. If one person in the marriage is invested in assets that are worth a large sum of money prior to the marriage, they may be inclined to have a prenuptial agreement protecting those assets drafted in an effort to protect what they have collected in the event that the marriage goes sour.

Can I Protect my Inheritance With A Prenuptial Agreement?

You can include a number of things in your prenup agreement including your inheritance. This makes sense since a prenuptial agreement is usually put in place to protect the individual finances of a person who is getting married. You can include any type of financial inheritance in your prenup whether it is a business, property, trust, or so on.

Common Things Included in a Prenuptial Agreement

There are a number of reasons to get a prenuptial agreement. If you are getting married, you should meet with a lawyer and have him/her analyze your situation financially. Some things you might want to detail in your prenuptial agreement are:

  • Separate business
  • Retirement benefits
  • Income, deductions, and claims
  • Management of household bills and expenses
  • Management of joint bank accounts
  • Arrangement regarding investing in certain purchases or projects, like a house or business
  • Management of credit card spending and payments
  • Saving contributions
  • Property distribution to the survivor, including life insurance, in the event of death
  • Arranging putting one or the other through school
  • Settlement of potential disagreements

Although these are all things that you can detail in your prenuptial agreement, you are not limited to these details. A prenuptial agreement can also include:

Distinguish between separate marital properties – Each state has its own laws on what types of property constitute separate and marital property. In the event of a divorce, the court will separate the property acquired while married evenly. If you have a prenuptial agreement, you can use it to separate your property from your spouse’s before the marriage takes place.

Protect one spouse from the other’s debt – Without a prenup, creditors can go after marital property for one spouse’s debt. You can limit this by adding a clause in your prenup that outlines debt liability.

Provide for children from previous relationship – If you want to ensure that your children inherit what you intend to pass down, you can include this in your prenup. This clause is most commonly used when you are entering a second marriage.

Keep family property in the family – If you have a family inheritance, business, or property that you want to pass on to your children, you should include this in your prenuptial agreement.

Define property distribution – This is a safety plan for a divorce. In this section you will agree on the division of property if you end up getting a divorce.

Things you Can Not Include in a Prenuptial Agreement

Although you can include many things in a prenuptial agreement, there are a number of things that can not be included in a prenup. It is important for your attorney to make sure you only include details that are accepted in court. If your attorney does not, sections of your prenup may not be considered by the judge. The following details should not be included in your prenup:

Provisions detailing anything illegal -You cannot include anything illegal in  your prenuptial agreement. If there is something illegal in your agreement the judge might void the agreement.

Decisions regarding child support and child custody – When it comes to child custody and child support, the court has final say. The judge will determine which living situation is “best fit for the child” and how the custody should be planned.

Waive your right to alimony – This is the most commonly struck down provision by courts. Some states allow you to waive your right to alimony, in some states it is frowned upon to include this provision, and in a few it is strictly prohibited to waive your right to alimony in a prenuptial agreement.

Encourage Divorce – You are not allowed to offer an incentive to get divorce. This incentive is usually financial. If this is included in a prenup, the court will rule this section void.

Make rules about personal, rather than financial matters – Prenuptial agreements are designed to address financial matters. Non-financial issues will not be upheld in court. If you want to have personal matters factor into a divorce, you must include it in a separate document.

Going through a divorce is difficult for anyone, even if you have a set terms prior to the marriage. Our divorce attorneys are experienced in writing prenuptial and postnuptial agreements. Contact one of our attorneys for assistance in planning your prenuptial or postnuptial agreement. We will make sure all of your assets are protected in the event of a divorce.

What Happens To The Joint Checking Account When Someone Dies?

One of the most important documents that you can never create is a will, a document that will be activated at the point of your death. It is going to state where you would like to have your assets distributed. People that do not have a will are subject to intestate laws. This is because they fall under the category of intestacy. These are the laws that govern situations where a person has not filed an official last living will and trust which directly instructs where their assets are to go. One of those assets is a checking account, and the assets that are in their will be distributed as mentioned on the will. This can sometimes be different when there is a joint checking account. Let’s look at what happens to a joint checking account when someone dies and they do not have a will.

What If There Is No Will When Your Spouse Dies?

If your spouse dies, and you do not have a will, people wonder what happens to a joint checking account. In most states, because the checking account is in the name of the spouse or partner that they have, those assets immediately are redirected to the person on the account. This is very important to have, in case you are not able to create a will and one of you unexpectedly dies. This prevents any problems from occurring such as family members that would request the money that is in the checking account, something they will not be able to access because it is jointly in your name.

Does A Joint Banking Account Need To Be In A Will?

Although it typically does not need to be, it is a good idea to put it in the will because it reaffirms that the deceased wanted the other person to have the money. By doing so, it prevents any possibility of family members stating that the money should be distributed to family members and not the spouse. It is done to prevent any possibility of disputes occurring which are quite common when someone dies.

The best thing to do is to have a will, or a living will, created before your death. Most of us do not know the time or date that will happen. Therefore, by creating one early, even if you are young, you can make sure that your assets are distributed to people that you would actually want to receive what you own. In the case of a joint checking account, there is usually no problem, but it’s always good to have a will that will list the joint checking account and its assets going to the surviving spouse or partner.

Some Common Types Of Will Contests

Essentially, a will is established to protect an individual’s wishes regarding his or her estate. It is the document that will also be enforced by their legal party, or chosen representative. For the most part, the estate will be distributed according to the will without any complications. But there are instances where people “contest” the will, and this can be based on several different reasons. Also, the individual or group needs to have a good basis for bringing the contest in the first place.

Here are some of the most common types of will contests.

1. Questionable Mental Capacity

Questioning the mental capacity of the testator (the individual who sets up the will) is one of the most common contests. Given that the testator has to be of sound mind when executing or adapting his or her will, it leaves a lot of room for exploitation. In other words, the contest is based on the assumption that the testator wasn’t of sound mind and complete understanding.

While courts don’t particularly like this type of claim, it is still one that enjoys a lot of popularity.

2. The Testator Was Wrongfully Influenced

A will should typically only be handled by the testator and his or her attorney because it prevents this type of contest to hold any ground. Basically, the contest claims that somebody influenced or coerced the testator at the time when the will was executed.

If it can be proven that a third party influenced the decisions of the te

3. The Right Procedure Wasn’t Followed

This is going to vary between states, but there are certain things that need to apply when establishing a will. For example, some states have made it mandatory to sign the will in front of witnesses and have them sign as well. The moment specific procedure isn’t followed, it can render the will invalid.

4. Basic Fraud

There are situations where individuals are lied to and deceived during the execution of the will. When this can be proven in court, the will is immediately declared as useless.

What happens when the contest is successful?

The court will either rely on a previous will to distribute the estate, or it will implement the state’s intestacy rules. And it is due to these contests that individuals use experienced and trustworthy estate planners to help secure their last wishes, otherwise, it can easily be unfairly contested.

Common Estate Planning Myths: Stay Informed

There are many myths that surround estate planning. In fact, these myths can lead to a great disadvantage for those who choose to stay misinformed. But in light of staying informed and getting some of the common estate planning myths out of the way, here are some of them.

1. Only Rich People Invest Time In Estate Planning

Just because you don’t have millions in the bank doesn’t mean you shouldn’t look into estate planning. Remember, this is a process where you distribute your sentimental possessions and everything else you own. If you don’t do it, regardless of how little you think you have, you might leave your loved ones in a small claim war.

2. Only Old People Think About Estate Planning

While it is definitely something you should take seriously in your senior years, estate planning cannot be left until the spur of the moment. When you pass on, there is no coming back and executing a will.

If you have people who depend on you, estate planning needs to happen as soon as possible. Seeing as nobody can predict the future, you are never too old to execute a will.

3. Estate Planning Is Basic And Straightforward

Unfortunately, estate planning isn’t just about choosing beneficiaries and forgetting about the document altogether. You need to take into account things that can change. For example, the person you leave everything to might pass away unexpectedly, meaning provisions have to be in place.

These types of considerations are usually focused on when you use an experienced estate planner. They know which questions to ask and how to expand on a basic will.

4. Everyone Will Be Happy With Your Choices

There is simply no pleasing everyone, even with a big estate plan. You have to decide who deserves what, and you need to stick to your decisions. You won’t be able to satisfy everyone’s needs, so don’t put unnecessary pressure on yourself.

5. Estate Planning Isn’t Necessary If You Trust Your Family

As much trust as you might have in your family to do the right thing, the situation is going to be challenging. Dealing with your death can change their perspective, and ultimately create a fight over who gets what.

Don’t expect your family to think logically during this time, because they won’t. Instead, execute a will and keep them from making the situation worse.

How To Plan For End Of Life Medical Treatments

Death isn’t something we want to think about, but it is going to happen whether we like it or not. The more you plan for your eventual death the easier it will on your loved ones. Not planning can lead to expensive court costs and other issues that can cause stress and cause you to lose money. Planning for end of life medical treatment is important because you want your loved ones to know what you want if you can’t articulate what that is.

You never know when you are going to become unable to make your own decisions, so you should start planning for the inevitable right now. Drawing up a Power of Attorney is a good place to start. You can choose to only use the Power of Attorney to make medical decisions on your behalf or you can draw up a broad Power of Attorney that allows the person you appoint to make all types of decisions, including financial ones.

If you don’t want extensive medical treatments when you can’t make your own decisions, you need to state that in the documents. You can specify the types of treatments you want and you don’t want and your wishes will be carried out by the person you appoint. You can draw up the papers yourself, or you can visit a lawyer.

If you don’t want to be resuscitated, you can also include a DNR, or Do Not Resuscitate order, with your Power of Attorney. This is a separate document and you will include it with your paperwork. If you are only interested in appointing someone to deal with your health issues, you could set up a Health Care Power of Attorney which will allow the person you designate to make any type of medical choices for you.

Many people choose not to have extended end of life medical treatments but you need to spell this out beforehand. If you don’t get the legal documents completed before you become incapacitated, the court is going to get involved and they could end up appointing someone to handle your medical needs that you don’t want.

You need to set up a Power of Attorney document before you actually need it so you are prepared for when the inevitable happens. If you want to make sure your wishes are respected, you need a Power of Attorney in advance.