Estate Planning Lawyers Returning To Offices Soon!

The coronavirus pandemic has done more than just smash the U.S. economy and put our citizens at risk from the deadly disease it causes, COVID-19. It also closed courthouses and law firms around the country — which put people at risk for innumerable other reasons, ranging from personal injury and crimes gone unnoticed to incomplete planning for the future. When will our estate planning lawyers be back to the office? The answer is soon!

A few months ago, we were forced to transfer most daily operations and redundant tasks to automated systems. More important tasks were sent to our best lawyers, who were still working from home using high-speed internet to perform Zoom conference calls via video. Many of you called wondering when we would be open for business again.

Thankfully, most states are reducing the number of restrictions placed on small businesses. That means we should be up and running at half-capacity in a few weeks. The firm should be back to full capacity within three months, barring any unforeseen spikes in the number of coronavirus cases due to recent events like the national protests.

That is why this is the perfect time to consider your future, as uncertain as it seems. Do you have a last will and testament already written and signed? Have you assigned power of attorney for financial and medical decisions to a trusted individual? Now is the time to think about making these decisions, even if you are young and healthy.

Wealthier clients may want to consider amending estate plans involving large sums of invested money, especially those involving mutual funds or trusts set aside for specific beneficiaries. The stock market has been extremely unpredictable throughout this crisis, but certain stocks remain reliable. It could be the right time to reallocate funds where they are safest.

Contact an estate planning lawyer to address any concerns you might have about the near-future (or far-future) right now!

Coronavirus Pandemic A Stark Reminder That It’s Always A Good Time For Estate Planning

The coronavirus pandemic has taught us one thing above all else — you can never really be prepared for an outbreak or public health scare. After all, only a small fraction of the affected population actually suffer serious complications when infected with the virus. An even smaller fraction will succumb to the virus. Most of those who do are very old or have other health conditions that reduce immune response. 

But that hasn’t changed the unexpected consequences: the stock market has sunk to historic lows, Broadway has closed its doors, the NHL has canceled its season, travel to and from Europe is mostly shut down, and there is a serious lack of toilet paper on store shelves. One would think that facial tissue would be the first staple to disappear from grocery stores, but no — we’re most concerned about the ability to wipe our butts.

All this fallout from the coronavirus might have been prevented with proper planning. Which is exactly why seniors should start estate planning if they haven’t done so before now. It’s an important step that can really prevent headache for family or other beneficiaries if and when the worst happens. 

What does that look like?

Well, there’s no time like the present to update your living will and power of attorney. Should you fall seriously ill — a possibility on everyone’s mind right now — then you want to know that someone trustworthy has the power to make decisions about your healthcare and finances. You can nominate an individual for either category, or the same person can handle both. It depends on what you need and who you trust.

Haven’t named any heirs or beneficiaries yet? Think about your assets. Who should get that antique vase of Great Aunt Charlotte’s when you’re gone? Family heirlooms are meaningful. Don’t let a probate court judge give it to your delinquent stepson, Bobby Joe.

When left without a proper estate plan, your family won’t have the last say in who gets what. The entire matter will be left to probate court if there are any altercations at all. Both kids want the car? Too bad: A judge will make the decision for you. 

Estate planning can also help minimize the tax burden for your beneficiaries if you own a lot of wealth. Smaller estates usually aren’t taxed at the federal level, but state laws vary. Check with an estate planning lawyer in your neighborhood to see where you fit.

Estate Planning For Seniors Set To Become More Difficult

We live in an ever-changing world. Those changes continue to present obstacles for businesses and industries around the world. Estate planning is no different. Children are teaching older generations how to live more freely, and it seems parents are learning the lesson in ways no one predicted. For example, senior citizens are far more likely to get a divorce in 2020 than they were only a decade or two ago.

Estate planning is all about making complex decisions regarding retirement, choosing beneficiaries, and disseminating assets. When two parties make these decisions together but then choose to divorce, the consequences cause a ripple effect for estate planning attorneys. Sorting out the messes isn’t always easy!

This is in part because divorce is rarely mutual. Even when spouses are in agreement that a divorce is in the cards, rarely are they in agreement about how to divide a lifetime worth of assets. You can imagine how much easier it is to do for 20 or 30-somethings who haven’t always made big purchases or had children together.

A survey was conducted by TD Wealth (for TD Bank) in order to measure the time and money committed to making decisions after these “gray” divorces (those that occur after the age of 50).

TD Wealth Head of Private Trust Ray Radigan said, “As a result of the growing divorce rate, it’s more important than ever to proactively review and discuss estate plans with clients and their families on an ongoing basis.”

What should you do when you plan to divorce after 50? First, you need to communicate your wishes to your soon-to-be ex-spouse. That might not be easy, but these are decisions you will inevitably have to make together anyway, or through arbitration if it comes down to that. Next, you’ll probably want to let potential beneficiaries how they could be affected.

Be sure to name a new health care proxy if the task had been assigned to your spouse. It’s probably not a good idea to have someone who might benefit from your death in control of whether or not to pull the plug! The same goes for the power of attorney.

State laws will most often determine how previously made agreements can be amended. Speak to your estate planning lawyer as soon as you make the decision to divorce to obtain as much information on the subject as possible. 

Spouses also have legal rights to certain aspects of inheritance, and you should know what they are. Failing to leave a spouse what they are entitled to will mean a visit to court for whomever you leave behind — and you don’t want to do that to your friends and family.

In Your 30s? Time To Get On The Estate Planning Bandwagon!

We’ve continually put forth the importance of estate planning while you’re young. Although couples are waiting much longer to marry than they once did, they’re still cohabiting for a long time before they finally tie the knot — and that means that who owns what can get very confusing very fast. That’s just one reason to start the estate planning process if you’re a couple in your 30s. And the new year is the perfect time to get the ball rolling.

Palm Harbor, Florida estate lawyer Sherri Stinson says that “rich people can afford to make mistakes with their estate plan. Everyone else can’t.”

It’s a funny thing to consider since most people are still under the illusion that only the rich need estate planning. The truth is a lot simpler. Those living in poverty or those with cush middle-class homes need it even more. And they need to be even more careful when putting that plan into action. 

Part of the reason is based on the family’s financial situation. The probate court process can be quite divisive for families. There could be lots of fighting over who should get which assets. But probate court also costs a lot of money. There are fees. Plus, everything is held up in court a lot longer than it would have been if you had planned ahead of time, allowing your family to bypass the process.

Probate accomplishes a few things for those who didn’t make an estate plan before death. Those things include ensuring that a person’s will is valid (if they left one), identifying assets, appraising those assets, using those assets to first pay off loans, debts, and remaining taxes, and finally distributing the remainder to beneficiaries. But the court ultimately decides who those beneficiaries are and what they should receive.

Estate doesn’t mean you own a mansion. Most of us have a home, a few savings left over, and a vehicle or two. That amounts to a decent chunk of cash.

Although people are waiting longer to marry, they still begin having kids by their 30s. The average age women have their first child, according to the National Center for Health Statistics is 26. That’s why your 30s is the time when you begin to amass wealth. You need to know what will be done with it if something should happen to you. Are there accounts set up for your children? Would you like to set up a college fund? 

Sherri said, “Creating an estate plan is deciding now what will come later. No matter what, the unexpected happens in life. An estate plan helps you anticipate the needs of your family after you’re gone and allows you to make decisions on what you want to happen should you be incapacitated. This means you are the one making the decision — not the courts or another family member.”

When Is A Person Legally Incapacitated?

One of the most important components of the estate planning process is getting it done before it’s too late. When is it too late? Much of the time, the answer is not “when death occurs.” Instead, people are often ruled legally incapacitated by the courts long before they pass away. If the owner of an estate becomes legally incapacitated before making a plan or naming beneficiaries, then upon death the process kicks over to probate court — and that means a judge will make the decisions on your behalf, regardless of what you wanted.

Cadence Bank’s Trust and Management Executive Patrick Pacheco said, “People want to believe their family gets along pretty well and there won’t be any issues, but they are all just a collection of people. These folks have their own families and their own advisor, spouse or otherwise, whispering in their ears about what should happen or not happen. Will contests and incapacity or guardianship contests are the most bitter suits you ever get, and most of the time, control of the money is a driving factor.”

Sadly, those lawsuits are commonplace after a close family member passes away without going through the proper estate planning channels.

A person is legally incapacitated when they no longer have the physical or mental capabilities to properly communicate their wishes. This most often occurs when mental illnesses like dementia or Alzheimer’s disease ruin someone’s ability to think clearly. While that sounds simple, the ultimate determination often ends up in court when someone hasn’t named power of attorney.

Pacheco said, “If you are incapacitated, legally or otherwise, you won’t be able to sign contracts, estate documents, checks or anything of substance or do anything without help. The only thing you definitely want to avoid in almost all circumstances is a guardianship, because it is a court proceeding that requires budget approval, investment approval and spending approval. It can cost you, or more correctly the guardianship estate, a lot of money because court proceedings tend to ramp up all costs pretty quickly.”

That’s why you want to name a durable power of attorney while you’re still young. This person should be trustworthy, good with money, and reliable when carrying out your wishes. Most of what you want them to do should already be on paper when you name the person, so the responsibility will be mitigated somewhat. Still, don’t be upset with someone who doesn’t want to do it. It’s a big ask.

Your power of attorney will likely work in combination with a living will, which defines what can and cannot be done if incapacitation should occur.

Can My Estate Planning Lawyer Help Me Draft An Elder Abuse Lawsuit?

There are a lot of complicated subjects surrounding our loved ones as they grow older. That’s because with increasing age comes an increasing need for protection. Sometimes we share these tasks with specialized caregivers — who may or may not have our loved ones’ interests at heart. When those caregivers break our trust, we need to act fast. But how? Well, it just so happens that many estate planning lawyers also specialize in elder abuse. 

These practice areas are like pieces of the same pie.

Take a recent lawsuit lodged by Terry Ann McIntosh and her lawyers, for example: she was 75 years old and confined to a wheelchair when circumstances finally required the services of a full-time caregiver. The person who arrived to help perform all the daily tasks McIntosh couldn’t do for herself was a young woman — an innocent-looking enough young woman at that. But innocence was just a facade in this case, and McIntosh soon found her bank account under attack.

The caregiver tried to transfer a whopping $10,000 from McIntosh’s bank account into her own. The transaction was immediately marked as possible fraud by the managers at Bank of America, and they blocked it pending the confirmation of McIntosh’s identity via a phone call. The caregiver subsequently committed identity fraud, pretending to be McIntosh. She even failed those security questions with which we’re all so familiar! But Bank of America lifted the fraud alert anyway. The caregiver had just won her $10,000 payday.

The next 44 money transfers were much easier after the alert was lifted. The caregiver managed to pilfer about $245,000 during those more successful attempts, spending almost all of it before she was finally caught by the police, charged with grand theft and identity fraud, and convicted on both counts. McIntosh received only $8,000 of the stolen funds. She requested the money from Bank of America, whose security measures had proved insufficient, but Bank of America denied the request.

What’s important to understand is that this kind of theft is even less common than more organized theft committed by bigger organizations of people.

Director of elder abuse prevention at the Institute of Aging Shawn Reeves said, “This is big business, perpetrated by actors people think are legitimate.”

Des Moines Assistant Attorney General Chantelle Smith said that complaints are based on “any type of business you can imagine.”

That’s why it’s so important to seek out the qualified services of an estate planning or elder abuse attorney when delving into thefts of acts of fraud like the aforementioned. Even if you so much as suspect that such criminal acts are taking place, it’s worth your time to find out for sure.

Should You Attend An Estate Planning Workshop?

In larger communities, it isn’t uncommon for attorneys to offer their time for estate planning workshops designed to teach learners what they might not already know about the subject. The attorneys have ulterior motives, of course, but estate planning is also an oft-misunderstood subject that many of us believe is just for rich people. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Should you attend one of these workshops? 

It depends on how much you know and how well prepared you are for your family’s future.

Typically, workshops will offer a run-down of essential estate planning techniques, annual alterations to previously made estate planning documents, tax laws, and options to reduce the tax burden sustained by donating to charity.

William K. Hayes, Esq. of the Hayes Law Firm said, “Even if you don’t have many assets, you want to make sure that you have all the proper estate planning documents in place that will give written instruction as to what you want to have happen to you if you are in a car accident or if you get some type of a debilitating chronic illness that requires Long Term Care. Your estate planning should account for long-term healthcare costs. If you haven’t prepared for long-term healthcare costs, then you really haven’t planned at all.”

Other commonly discussed topics include: the potential for internet plans ending up in court, living trusts, inheritance obstacles, common mistakes and pitfalls, long-term care opportunities, protecting assets, avoiding court supervision when impaired, and protecting a child’s inheritance.

Fiorito said, “Estate planning is unlike any other area of law and is something that really does apply to every single person on the planet, each of us will die at some point. For those with minor children, it is especially important to designate a legal guardian who you feel comfortable raising your children should the circumstance arise. Parents who choose not to properly plan, are subject to having court-appointed guardians care for their children.”

Many law firms are dedicated to holding these workshops at monthly seminars, but they are normally coupled with community education projects. If you are interested in this type of workshop, you might start researching online or looking at education services offered through local high schools or community colleges. Many workshops are free or cost a nominal fee. 

Without the proper estate planning, the probate court system will almost always decide how your assets are divided when you die — and that means the people you would have listed as beneficiaries if you had “gotten around to it” won’t necessarily get their due. 

Should Estate Planning Include The Family Pet?

If you’ve been online at all during the last seven days, you’ve probably noticed how many people were posting cute pictures of their dogs — because it was National Dog Day. For some reason it went viral on Instagram and Facebook this year more than any other. It also begs the question: is the family pet actually a member of your family? That’s what you need to ask yourself when deciding whether or not to add them to your estate plan.

If the answer is a resounding “yes” — and for most people that’s the case — then you’ll probably want to include Fido or Fluffy when drafting your last will and testament or speaking with an estate planning attorney.

What exactly does that mean?

Basically, it means making sure your pet is cared for after you pass away. You do the same for your kids, parents, spouse, and other close relatives, so why not your beloved cat, dog, or cockatoo? That’s why you can name a pet in your will. Legally, a pet is classified as property, which means the best shot of ensuring your pet gets where you want him to go is to decide for yourself.

Lots of pets end up in a shelter after their owner has died. If you don’t want that to happen to your pet, then it’s time to look for someone who would agree to look after him now rather than later. Before naming a pet in your will, be sure to ask your friends and family who would want him. Name someone who doesn’t want your king cobra and that poor, adorable snake will probably end up out in the cold anyway.

Although you can’t set up a trust fund for a pet the same way you can for a beneficiary, what you can do is leave money or assets specifically for the care of that pet. This becomes easier by setting up a trust fund that cannot be accessed unless by someone who owns and cares for the pet. This is especially necessary if your pet is getting older and needs more care.

The least popular option is placing your pet in the care of a facility that prides itself on taking care of animals after their owners pass away. If your pet is a member of the family — then that’s probably not the way you’ll want to go as long as their are other options available.

Alternatively, you can opt to leave your pet out of the will entirely. In this case you’ll want to put a “non-legal” arrangement in place with a trusted friend or family member. Keep in mind that these arrangements are entirely non-binding and there is nothing to keep the other party from reneging on their end of the deal when you’re no longer around to do anything about it. 

Everything You Need For A Great Estate Plan Your Beneficiaries Will Love

Estate planning is a simple endeavor for those who have known nothing but riches their entire lives. Some of us have worked for every penny we have, which can sometimes make estate planning seem like a way to capitalize on a lifetime’s worth of toil so that our beneficiaries can live easier in the future. Still, it can be a depressing process because few people want to consider a world that does not include yours truly. But it is necessary.

These are a few steps you will want to take in order to see the best outcome for your beneficiaries.

  1. Speak with beneficiaries. This might result in a few awkward conversations, but you may not want to surprise beneficiaries with an inheritance. Ensure that someone knows what you have and where you want it to go in order to reduce the chance that someone will contest your estate plan; doing so might kick the entire affair over to probate court, in which case a judge will have the ultimate decision-making power.

  2. Write A Last Will & Testament. This can be done electronically (online) without a lawyer present, but you may want to sit down with someone for a free consult in order to make sure you do not make any mistakes. Make a simple list of big ticket purchases like vehicles or homes before moving on to smaller, more sentimental items and trinkets that you may want to leave your friends and family. Don’t forget to include any investments or bank accounts when considering your assets. All these should be included in the legal document, and it should be updated whenever you procure new assets or lose old ones.

  3. Execution and Power of Attorney. When you’re done drafting a will, start thinking about who you trust enough to execute your wishes. This can be a close friend or family member, or even a trusted financial advisor or attorney. This is the person who will make sure your assets are distributed according to your wishes. The same individual might make a good Power of Attorney, or you might wish to let someone else handle the responsibility. This person will make decisions for you when you cannot make them for yourself — such as when you are physically or mentally impaired because of old age or after an accident.

  4. Trusts. Creating a trust for each beneficiary is one of the best moves you can make to determine where your assets go and whether or not they can be used. You might make an inheritance available to a grandchild for college — or bar that inheritance from being used in the event the grandchild opts to forego continuing education. With trusts, it doesn’t matter if you are still alive. The trust will kick in according to the conditions you set.

Tricks Of The Trade Every Estate Should Keep In Mind When Planning For The Future

Imagine this: you’re an individual whose family has always been about lower means. You don’t have much money, nor do you need it because you know how to stretch a dollar. Suddenly you win a multimillion dollar lottery draw. Your life has changed, but you don’t know whether for better or worse because the scope of what you can pay for is drastically different than it was before. Would you know what to do? Would you know who to ask? The answer is simple enough. You need an estate planning lawyer.

Be wary of financial advisors. Many are only out for themselves, trying to make a quick buck off people who don’t know any better. They might try to take control over your slew of new investments. They might try to sell you a service for commission. Don’t fall into their trap.

These are the things you need to keep in mind:

  1. Your goal when estate planning is to minimize your overall taxes so that the beneficiaries who inherit the estate won’t have an enormous financial burden when the time comes. Your estate planning lawyer will help you consolidate assets or create separate accounts so the process is easier. An estate freeze may be put into place to ensure taxes do not grow more than they should, depending on where you live.

  2. Life insurance will sometimes help. Your attorney will help you calculate the tax burden with or without a good life insurance plan.

  3. A family governance plan will help when consolidating those assets. Not only will overall cost of maintenance go down over time, but each beneficiary will be held accountable for specific aspects of maintaining the estate.

  4. Drafting a proper will and allocating power of attorney is an important step in the estate planning process, but many of the wealthier estate owners will fail to keep these documents current. If there are disputes when the estate owner dies because the will isn’t specific enough, then the contested articles automatically get kicked to the probate courts. That means a judge makes the final decision about how to divide those assets.

  5. Decide who will preside as executor over the estate plan once you’re gone. Most people who leave behind a smaller estate will give the responsibility to a trusted family member. As the estate grows, many people will decide to instead give the responsibility to an attorney who has all the relevant documents anyway.

  6. Consider placing money into trusts for beneficiaries; especially those who are younger. You can provide prerequisite instructions for how this money is to be divided up. Will a beneficiary get it all at age 18? Or will he get a slice now, and more when he’s older and wiser? It’s up to you.