Estate Planning Mistakes

Some of the biggest estate planning mistakes that people make are not technically estate planning, but they can have a big effect on an estate.

When people are planning for their estates, they want to make sure they do not make any mistakes.

It is important that the plans can be carried so assets are distributed in the way they wanted and so taxes, court costs and attorneys’ fees do not eat up a large portion of the estate.

Avoiding those types of mistakes is important in estate planning.

However, a potentially bigger mistake is not planning for end-of-life care while planning for an estate, as Forbes points out in “The Biggest Estate Planning Mistake People Make.”

Some end-of-life documents you should get from your estate planning attorney include:

• A Durable Power of Attorney — With this document you can appoint someone else to handle your financial responsibilities, if you are ever unable to do so due to incapacitation. This is important if you want to make sure that your bills get paid on time, for example.

• A Health Care Power of Attorney — This document lets you appoint someone else to make medical decisions for you, if you are unable to do so. When doctors need to know what decision to make about your care, this is the person they will ask.

• A Living Will — This document allows you to give advanced directives to medical professionals about what procedures to give you or to withhold in the event you are incapacitated, terminally ill and unable to communicate your wishes.

Reference: Forbes (August 16, 2017) “The Biggest Estate Planning Mistake People Make.”

Even without an Estate Tax, Trusts are Beneficial

Many people get trusts as their primary estate planning instrument because of the estate tax, but trusts do have many other benefits.

With Congress taking up tax reform soon, one thing that many people are following is President Trump’s desire to eliminate the estate tax.

It is important for many people because the estate tax can take a sizeable portion out of an estate. Many people have designed their estate plans around not having to pay the tax.

If the estate tax is repealed, then people might have good reason to change their estate plans and they might decide to get rid of their trusts.

That is one of the main reasons people get trusts. They are a way to avoid the estate tax.

However, do not plan on scrapping your trust yet, since there are other reasons to get trusts than the estate tax, as Elder Law Answers discusses in “Are Trusts Still Useful If the Estate Tax Is Repealed?”

One of the best things about trusts is that they do not have to go through the probate process, which can be very expensive and time-consuming, depending on the state in which you live.

Trusts can also be kept private so your estate plan is not shared with the general public, as is often the case with wills.

Trusts can be used to pass your assets to beneficiaries in a controlled way and only after certain conditions are met. The truth is that trusts are an extremely versatile estate planning tool and beneficial with or without an estate tax.

It is too soon to know if the estate tax will be repealed.

If it does happen, do not let it fool you into thinking you no longer need a trust.

Reference: Elder Law Answers (June 30, 2017) “Are Trusts Still Useful If the Estate Tax Is Repealed?”

Before You Have a Baby

If you are expecting your first child, there are a few things that you need to do before the due date to make sure that you are financially prepared.
Having your first child is an exciting time in anyone’s life.

People make all kinds of plans about the child. Names are picked out. Nurseries are built. Detailed plans about how to get to the hospital on the big day are decided. Plans to have grandparents come out to help take care of the new baby are often made.

All of those things are important.

In the frenzy of making those plans, people often forget that they need to make some financial arrangements before the baby is born, as Business Insider points out in “The first 3 things to do with your money before you have a baby are easy to overlook.”

Things that you should do include:

•Make sure that you understand health insurance and how to get your new child on your plan as soon as you possibly can. If your employer provides your insurance, then speak to your HR representative about what you will need to do.

•Make sure that you have plenty of access to cash. Children often require parents to spend cash in emergencies. You will need to have liquid assets, so you can do that. A financial advisor should be able to assist you in getting those liquid assets.

•Think about who you would want to be the guardian of your child, if anything should happen to you. You should then go to an estate planning attorney and get a will, so the person you want to be guardian will be appointed by the court.

Reference: Business Insider (August 22, 2017) “The first 3 things to do with your money before you have a baby are easy to overlook.”

Why You Should Fund a Trust

If you have a trust, you might find by looking carefully at the estate planning documents that you do not really need to put assets into the trust while you are alive. Don’t let that fool you.

When you get a living trust, the estate planning attorney who drafted the trust will tell you that you need to fund the trust. That simply means that you need to transfer your assets to the trust.

This can be difficult at times, because you have to figure out what goes into the trust and what should stay out of it for various reasons.

The estate planning attorney can help you in making those determinations. Unfortunately, instead of asking for that help, many people end up not funding their trusts.

They see that they were also given a pour-over will at the same time as they got the trust.

That is a will that says any assets in an estate should be transferred to the trust, after the owner of the assets passes away.

Since the assets will be transferred later by the pour-over will, people think there is no reason to do it now.

That is a mistake, as the Times Herald-Record discusses in “Importance of funding a trust.”

The biggest problem is that one of the main reasons to get a living trust is to avoid having your estate go through probate court after you pass away.

However, if you rely on the pour-over will to fund your trust, then the place your trust gets funded is in probate court.

It is the probate court that will have to direct assets to a trust. By not funding the trust on your own, you defeat one of the primary reasons that you got the trust in the first place.

If you have difficulty funding your trust, then talk to your estate planning attorney about what you need to do.

Reference: Times Herald-Record (August 17, 2017) “Importance of funding a trust.”

Do Not Fear the Estate Tax

You do not have much reason to fear the federal estate tax, because few estates end up paying it. Even if your estate could be affected by it, there are ways to minimize the tax and possibly to avoid it completely.

The estate tax is one of those things that gets a lot more attention than it probably should. The political parties are willing to go to war over any potential changes to the federal estate tax and there is a lot written about it when they do.

However, the American public in general does not need to worry about it too much.

The estate tax only realistically affects about 1% of American families.
The overwhelming majority of estates do not have enough assets to even begin to worry about having to pay it.

Even for those who have enough assets, there are things you can do to avoid paying any estate tax as the Marco Eagle discusses in “Tax Secrets: Slay the estate tax monster.”

If you go to an experienced estate planning attorney, you will most likely be presented with several different options to minimize any estate tax burden on your estate.

The estate tax can often be avoided completely.

It is all a matter of how you structure your estate plan and what other things you want to accomplish with your plans.

Some states also have estate taxes, so merely avoiding the federal estate tax will not necessarily help you avoid all estate taxes.

Nevertheless, estate planning attorneys can also help you with states’ taxes, should that be necessary.

Reference: Marco News (August 20, 2017) “Tax Secrets: Slay the estate tax monster.”

Preparing for Alzheimer’s

Everyone needs to prepare for Alzheimer’s Disease. They should do so long before they think that they might get it, because it is not just the elderly who suffer from the disease.

The typical view of people with Alzheimer’s Disease is of an elderly person in a nursing home who cannot remember very much. That is probably true for the average Alzheimer’s patient.

Most people who get the disease are elderly and many of them do have to go to a nursing home.

However, those are not the only people who get it.

Although the reasons are not understood, there are some people who get the disease long before they reach retirement age.

It is called Early-Onset Alzheimer’s, as the Massillon Independent reports in “Alzheimer’s not limited to elderly.”

Because it is possible for you to get the disease and it could happen much sooner than you think, you need to prepare for it. You need to do something now that you will have difficulty doing after you get the disease.

You need to plan for your estate.

That does not just mean you should plan for who gets your possessions, which you should do, it also means that you should plan for who will help you, when you can no longer handle things on your own.

You need a general durable power of attorney, so someone can handle your finances.

You also need a health care power of attorney, so someone can make medical decisions when you are unable to do so.

Both of those legal documents are routinely provided by estate planning attorneys.

It is not likely that you get Alzheimer’s before you retire. However, you should always prepare as if you will want to be on the safe side.

Reference: Massillon Independent (August 22, 2017) “Alzheimer’s not limited to elderly.”

Adapting Your Home for the Elderly

If you would like to stay in your current home when you are elderly, then you might need to make changes to it now to make it a comfortable place for an elderly person to live.

Most homes in the U.S. were not built with elderly people in mind. This is especially true for older homes.

Houses in the U.S. often have too many stairs for elderly people. Bathrooms can be too small for a person in a wheelchair to easily use. Cabinets and countertops can be too high to reach.

These are just a few examples with homes that can be a problem for elderly people, as Tulsa World reports in “Transition your home for aging in place.”

Therefore, if you are planning to stay in your own home during your elder years or if you are a younger person moving an elderly relative in with you, then you need to make sure your home is appropriate for the elderly.

You might need to make some changes to your home.

In many places, there are experts on elder living who can assist you by coming to your home and telling you what changes you should make.

Even if you do not live in an area where that service is available, a little common sense will go a long way in helping you figure out how to adapt your home for an elderly resident.

Ideally, of course, you should adapt your home for an elderly resident before it is necessary to do so.

That will give you time to make the right changes or to find a good contractor to make the changes for you.

Reference: Tulsa World (August 22, 2017) “Transition your home for aging in place.”

Trusts Are Cheaper Than Wills

If you are looking to save money on your estate plan, then you might think that you should get a will since they are cheaper to get than a trust. However, trusts are actually cheaper overall.

Estate planning can be expensive for some people. Estate planning attorneys do not always come cheap and not everyone thinks they can afford to hire one.

In most cases, a will is less expensive to get than a trust. This is because trusts normally require more of the attorney’s time to draft. This leads many people to get wills to save time and money.

The problem with is that a will is more expensive overall than a trust, as the Times Herald-Record explained in “Trusts will cost you less at settlement time.”

When someone passes away, someone must then administer either the will or the trust to make sure that property is distributed as the deceased directed.

Using a will requires going to probate court and having an executor, who can charge for the service, go through the process of administering the estate.

On the other hand, using a trust means that a trustee, who can also charge for the service, is required to distribute everything.

The trustee normally does not have to go to court, which makes it a much faster process. The speed means that the trustee may charge much less overall.

In the end, the trustee may be a lot cheaper than any money that might have been saved by getting a will instead of a trust.

When getting an estate plan created, it is important to use the instruments that work best for your situation. Do not be afraid to get a trust because of the initial expense.
It just may be cheaper in the long run.

Reference: Times Herald-Record (August 2, 2017) “Trusts will cost you less at settlement time.”

Estate Planning Is Important

You cannot merely tell your family what should be done with your assets after you pass away. You need to go through the process of getting a formal estate plan drawn up.

Many people are under the impression they do not need to get a formal estate plan, because they can rely on their family to divide up their assets after they pass away without any problems. They think if they just give family members some directions about who should get what, then the family will reliably carry out those wishes.

While we all would hope that we can rely on our families in this way, there are legal and practical reasons why it is unwise to do so and why people need to get a proper estate plan. This was discussed in a recent Fontana Herald News article titled “Having estate planning documents is very important.”

The biggest issue faced by your family if you do not make an estate plan, is that your family will not decide who gets your property. Instead, the courts get to make that decision and they do so by following statutes that determine who gets everything.

The person who the courts decide gets everything, might not choose to follow any directions you have given to distribute that property to other people. In some cases, it might be impossible for them to follow your wishes, even if they wanted to, since they could face negative tax consequences.

If you can take the time to tell your family how you want your property divided up, then you can take the time to get a formal estate plan that will actually carry out your wishes.

Reference: Fontana Herald News (August 7, 2017) “Having estate planning documents is very important.”

What Is Fair in Blended Families?

How to fairly divide an estate between multiple children, can be a difficult question to answer. It can get even more difficult, when the family is not a traditional one.

When people get remarried and they have children from a previous relationship, then their estate planning can get pretty complicated.

Consider for example, a man who has two homes and two daughters from a previous relationship getting remarried. This man decides to create a trust that leaves one of his homes to his two daughters, since that is the house in which they grew up in. The other home will go to his new wife.

That seems like an equitable solution.

However, the man and his new wife, then had a son and they also purchased a third home.
Now, the question becomes how do they make sure that all of the man’s children are treated equally?

If any inheritance the new wife receives will eventually go to her son and he also receives a portion of his father’s estate, then he will receive a larger inheritance than his step-sisters.

How to resolve this situation was the subject of a recent letter to Market Watch as reported in “How do I split my estate between my two stepdaughters and biological son?”

There is no single perfect solution to this situation that will work in all cases.

It depends on how much the woman brought into the marriage and how old her step-daughters were at the time.

What will work for one family, will not work for another.

If the women brought few assets into the marriage, then the fair thing to do might be to give her a life estate in the property, but then divide that property up equally between all three children when she passes away.

If you have a blended family, then visit an estate planning attorney to learn about the options to deal with this type of situation for your family.

Reference: Market Watch (August 8, 2017) “How do I split my estate between my two stepdaughters and biological son?”