The Four Fundamental Questions of Estate Planning

As we get older, we may obsess over our appearance, dying our hair, getting plastic surgery, etc. Some of us go into health mode and start a new diet and working out to prolong the inevitability of death. However, it would be surprising to learn that many people think about their estate plan. If you are getting older and are considering creating an estate plan or if your loved one is near retirement age, these are the four fundamental questions you need to ask:

Do you have your estate planning documents in place? Basic estate planning documents include last wills and testaments, powers of attorneys, healthcare proxies, and living wills.

If you do have them in place, where are they located? Having an estate plan is one thing but if it can’t be found in a moment of crisis can make it difficult for friends and family. A good estate planning attorney should have a copy for their records. Do not put documents in a bank deposit or safe that cannot be accessed after death.

What are your assets? Once passed, an executor will be in charge of gathering all the assets and doling them out according to your wishes in your estate plan. It is helpful to know exactly what your assets, in fact, are, as well as your debts. Assets including everything from property to bank accounts and debts include credit card to loan. It will be the burden of the beneficiary to pay for the debts.

What do you want to do with your body? Funerals are sadly expensive. By having the details of your funeral written and secured with the estate plan, along with funds saved for it, will make this burden easier on your family and friends at the event of your passing.

For more information about creating an estate plan, contact our attorney for a free consultation.

Estate Planning Could Have Saved President Trump Millions Of Dollars (Legally)

Estate planning is a simple concept. For those whose families aren’t wealthy enough to incur any estate taxes at the time of their death (this is the case for almost all of us), you might only require an estate planning or probate lawyer in order to set up a legal will and last testament or determine power of attorney in cases during which you’re incapacitated and need someone who you trust to make the important decisions for you.

For others, estate planning is a way to conserve assets. The process is complicated and convoluted, but it helps save families a lot of money by avoiding taxes they might otherwise have to pay. Sometimes it helps keep businesses alive. With the right estate planning lawyer, the probate courts can be avoided down the road. More importantly, it’s a legal path.

Donald Trump and his family decided to go another way. Instead of using estate planning lawyers to their advantage, he and his father set up a sham company in order to hide money and dodge taxes throughout the 1990s. This, after claiming that his fortune was “self-made” and that he had no help from his father, from whom he inherited about $413 million worth of real estate.

Trump was allegedly in part responsible for the devisement of a plan to undervalue those real estate holdings. Subsequently, the taxes were reduced substantially when the estate passed to him and his other siblings. All the children together received over $1 billion in assets, but paid only $52.2 million in taxes even though the typical tax rate of 55 percent would have resulted in a $550 million bill. Not surprisingly, Trump doesn’t have much to say about these accusations, save to say that no one cares about his tax returns.

One of Trump’s lawyers was quick to contend how these allegations are false, and borderline defamatory. He made this claim by arguing that Trump had delegated the tasks to others, and that it was really those individuals and possibly the other members of his family who had potentially broken the law. Sure thing, that’s a likely story.

Experts take note that Trump will likely never be prosecuted under criminal law because the statute of limitations has elapsed. Although this will likely also reduce the chances of an investigation, if one were to take place then he might be liable for civil fines that stem from tax fraud or tax evasion.

What The New 2018 Estate Planning Law Might Mean For You

Estate planning laws have always been complicated, and some of you may not even know that the laws are a little bit different in 2018. In particular, the estate tax exemption has been raised to $11 million if you file as single. If you’re married, it may have been raised to $22 million based on your selections during planning.

Before the new law, it was thought that the tax might be eliminated altogether. That turned out not to be the case, and for most of us the differences won’t matter. Estate planning is for the wealthy. Most people who need estate planning or probate help use simpler, easier services that making writing up wills and trusts a lot easier.

There is an annual amount that you can exempt from taxes by declaring it a gift. You can declare this tax exemption because you are, in effect, choosing to let your assets diminish by the amount of the annual gift, which helps your unified lifetime credit for gifts go up each year. If single, you can “give” away $15,000. If married, the amount increases to $30,000. Believe it or not, you can do this without filing any gift tax returns. You only need to do this when you give a gift that exceeds the maximum gift allowance.

Even so, there are things you can do in order to relieve yourself of the estate tax. If you choose not to engage with estate planning services, then you should realize that any family you leave behind will be forced to endure the probate process, which is basically the court’s decision. Extensive estate planning will help avoid that process, and grant you the power to do what you want with the assets you earned after a lifetime of work.

The 2018 law doesn’t change much else about the estate planning process. Keep in mind that each state has its own estate planning tax laws, which might reduce, increase, or eliminate the tax altogether. In order to find out how estate planning can work for you, consult with a qualified attorney as soon as possible. There’s no such thing as planning for the future too early.

What Is An Educational Trust?

Probate is all about planning for the future. What do you want to leave behind for your living heirs? What kind of legacy will they remember when they think of your name? It’s all up to you, but you have to make plans while you have the chance. One way of providing beneficiaries with an inheritance is to set up a trust.

A trust can be used to get around what would otherwise be a solid wall of taxes. It’s a fiduciary contract that allows a trustee to hold or manage money or other assets for your beneficiary. There are a number of different types of trusts that you can use to transfer wealth in a variety of ways. One such type of trust is an educational trust. Funds placed in this kind of a trust can only be used for education. The person who is transferring assets into the trust decides who will get the money and who will control it until that happens.

Often, the funds will only be funneled into the trust upon the death of the grantor. Or sometimes the grantor decides to transfer money immediately. You might do this if one of the beneficiaries was set to go to school soon. The trustee might be different from the beneficiary, and when the trust becomes operational the trustee is responsible for providing the required money to the beneficiary depending on the terms of the trust.

If you decide to set up an educational trust, there are a few questions you need to answer:

Will you set up the trust for one beneficiary? Multiple?

Who will be the trustee?

When will the trust go into effect?

What kind of education will the trust require? You determine any requirements the beneficiary might need to keep in mind. You can decide to offer the money only for a full-time legal student or you can support any education at all. Your choice.

When will the trust be terminated? You will need to determine what happens if there are remaining funds when the beneficiary completes an education. Then again, you’ll need to decide what happens if the beneficiary decides not to acquire an education. Will the money go to a new beneficiary if the first dies or is unable to complete the terms of the trust?

There are a number of options, and you must weigh them all before you can set up a reliable trust!


Most of us never want to think about death. But while we never want to admit it, death is a certainty. We can’t’ a void it, but we also can’t always plan for it either.

And many of us seem to plan according to the belief that we’re going to live for 100 years. “Next year, next year, next year,” we keep saying to ourselves. How many times have “next year” not come for some people?

Too many to count, sorry to say.

As we get our first jobs as adults, it really would be a good idea to start putting together your assets and work on an estate plan. And it wasn’t’ that long ago that an estate pretty much consisted of a will, a deed to a home and maybe some stock certificates locked away.

When you sit and start making a list of your assets (including life insurance policies, retirement and/or investments accounts, etc.) for your estate, you may think you have everything when you look at papers. But you do have to stop and ask yourself – how do I communicate with people? Only by phone or mail?

Or course not. You have e-mail, text messages and the like. And you know what those are? Digital assets –especially your contacts lists. Oh, and your social-media accounts – after all, when you die your Facebook page doesn’t automatically go dark. Either someone has to shut it down for you, or keep it going posthumously (if it’s a page for your business, for example).

While you are on the subject of digital assets, do you happen to have investments in digital assets like cryptocurrency (Bitcoin, Ethereum)? While they are alternative investments to the gold, mutual funds or stock holdings you may have, they are no less important to protect. Estate law has been trying to catch up with the evolving times in terms of ivestments and digital assets, and now it is important that you keep track of those crypto assets that you have as well.

There are estate planners who deal with crypto and other digital assets, and they advise that you have keys and passcodes of whatever crypto accounts you have and put those on paper for your executor – right alongside passwords and other access credentials for any e-mail and social-media accounts as well. And you should put something in you will giving direction as to what the executor should do with those digital assets upon your passing (sell them off, close or delete the accounts, pass them on to another family member, etc.).

Just like you never want to leave your home in probate, and you want your life insurance to go where you want it to go, you have to take the same approach with your digital assets and make sure they are disposed of the way you want – and that you provide the necessary access so those accounts may either continue on or be deleted when they are no longer being used.

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.