Estate Planning Basics

If you have never done any estate planning, you should become familiar with the basic concepts.

It is important for everyone to do some estate planning. Not doing any planning, means you do not get a say in who gets your possessions after you pass away.

The courts will decide using statutes written by your state government. Getting started in planning is not always easy, because people do not have the basic information needed. recently wrote about some of those basics in “Now is the time to consider the basics of estate planning.”

The biggest things people need to know are what is involved with wills and trusts and how they differ.

A will is a formal written document you can use to establish how your property should be distributed after you pass away. Your will is submitted to court after your death and the court appoints someone to make sure what you want done is actually carried out. A will has no effect until after you pass away.

A “living” trust is different. It does take affect before you pass away. Trust documents create a legal entity into which you transfer your assets. After you pass away, the assets are then managed or distributed, according to the directions given in the trust document.

A trust does not ordinarily need to be submitted to court. If you have a will, you do not necessarily need a trust. However, if you have a trust you still need a will.

There is a lot more to estate planning, including additional basic information that you should know.

The best way to learn that information is to schedule an appointment with an estate planning attorney and to get started planning.

Reference: (Nov. 2, 2017) “Now is the time to consider the basics of estate planning.”

Wills Must Go through Probate

A misconception is going around about estate planning, is that wills do not have to go through the probate process.

It is not always clear how mistaken estate planning beliefs get started. It usually happens on the Internet with people seeking out legal advice from often bad sources.

Sometimes, it starts with a television show or movie that has played loose with the law.

Regardless of how mistaken beliefs start, it is important to make sure that you do not believe any of them.

One that more people believe than might be expected, is that wills do not have to go through probate.

That is just wrong, as TC Palm discussed in “Common misconceptions about wills and trusts.”

This idea probably got its start, because in some states if an estate is small enough, then it does not have to go through probate. Usually, these are very small estates with very few assets.

Someone with good intentions probably had a relative or friend who passed away with few assets and as a consequence, the will did not have to go through probate.

However, most wills do have to go through probate. They need to be submitted to the court and approved.

The probate court then oversees the administration of the estate as conducted by the executor or personal representative.

If you want your estate to avoid probate, what you need is not a will.

Instead you need to use other estate planning instruments, such as trusts.

Trusts do not have to go through probate in almost all cases. If you would like to get one, schedule an appointment with an estate planning attorney.

Reference: TC Palm (Oct. 5, 2017) “Common misconceptions about wills and trusts.”

Everyone Can Get a Trust

Trusts used to be viewed as a tool for the wealthy. That is no longer the case.

Most people probably first learned about trusts in a history class.

The idea of trusts is often introduced when we study the presidency of Teddy Roosevelt. He is famous for speaking out against the trusts of his day and beginning to break them up.

The trusts being talked about in history, were the vehicles of extremely wealthy people that were used to hold their assets. The biggest trusts had immense economic power and near full control over some industries.

Because of this history, people often still think of trusts as things that very wealthy people get and use.

However, trusts are now for everyone, as the Times Herald-Record discusses in “Trusts are no longer just for the wealthy.”

There are all kinds of trusts available today. They can be created for many different purposes.

Trusts can be used to make inheritances in blended families less contentious. They can also be used to hold inheritances for minor children. Trusts can be as simple as being nothing more than a convenient way to avoid the potentially costly and time-consuming probate process.

Because trusts are so versatile, almost anyone can benefit from a trust.

If you would like to know how you might personally benefit from getting one, talk to an estate planning attorney about your needs and what types of trusts can help meet those needs.

Reference: Times Herald-Record (Sep. 28, 2017) “Trusts are no longer just for the wealthy.”

Wills Need Probate

If you inherit something through a will, you cannot just take the will to the bank and demand they give you the contents of a bank account.

How wills actually work, is not understood by everyone.

Many people think that if something is written down in a will, then everything is settled. They think all that is required is for the beneficiary to show the will to whoever is holding the property the beneficiary is to inherit.

That is not the way it works at all.

Unfortunately, the misperception is common.

In fact, estate attorneys are used to hearing this from people named in wills, who think it all works that way and are upset when they discover that it does not.

The Times Herald recently discussed this in “Wills won’t work without probate.”

A will is only a bunch of words on paper that have no real legal authority, until the will is filed with a probate court.

The court must then agree to accept the will as representing the valid wishes of the deceased.

Once that is done, the probate court appoints a personal representative for the estate.

That personal representative is then charged with carrying out the directives in the will, under the supervision of the court.
This can result in a long and often expensive process.

It depends on the size of the estate, the ability of the personal representative and whether there are any challenges to the estate.

Of course, this can all usually be avoided by speaking to an estate planning attorney about getting a trust instead of a will.

Reference: The Times Herald (Sep. 22, 2017) “Wills won’t work without probate.”

Cutting a Child Out

It is not all that unusual for a child to not live up to the expectations of parents. Sometimes parents will be so disappointed when that happens, that they will attempt to cut the child out of their estate plans. They might want to reconsider.

Wealthy parents often have extremely high expectations for their children. They want their children to go to school, get a good job, raise a family and do all of the things that made the parents so successful.

However, sometimes a child just does not live up to those expectations.

Sometimes there is a black sheep who does everything the parents would not want him or her to do.

If the problems are severe enough, then the parents might even stop contact with the child and seek to cut him or her out of their estates.

The latter is often a bad idea, as the Globe and Mail discusses in “Think twice, wealthy family, before cutting the black sheep out of your will.”

One big thing to consider is that a child who receives nothing has no incentive to not cause problems.

A no-contest clause can prevent someone who does receive an inheritance from challenging an estate plan that they do not like, but it cannot prevent someone from doing so who is set to receive nothing or very little from an estate.

This can make cutting a child out of an estate plan a very expensive proposition. This is because the child has no reason to not launch legal fights.

A black sheep child can also be more easily controlled by using an estate plan to incentivize that child into desired behaviors.

An estate planning attorney can help you create a trust, for example, that only distributes money to the child when certain actions are taken by the child.

Reference: Globe and Mail (Sep. 19, 2017) “Think twice, wealthy family, before cutting the black sheep out of your will.”

The In-Law Problem

A big concern for many people when they are planning their estates, is that they do not trust the people their children married. They fear that a son or daughter-in-law will waste their children’s inheritances.

The situation where parents do not get along with their sons and daughters-in-law is a Hollywood cliché. TV sitcoms often feature running storylines featuring the cliché that play out over multiple seasons.

There is a reason for the cliché.

It is based in reality.

There is often tension between in-laws.

In estate planning, this plays out with the parents being wary that their son-in-law or daughter-in-law will meddle in the inheritance of the parents’ own children and waste the inheritance.

A recent example comes to us from the U.K., where someone wrote into a This Is Money advice column and asked how to protect a child’s inheritance from a bad son-in-law.

The article title asks this question: “I have a terminal illness and our son-in law is unreliable with money – how can we protect daughter’s inheritance?”

The answer in the U.S. is the same as it is in the U.K.

Instead of leaving a child an inheritance outright through a will, a trust can be used to protect the assets from a wayward in-law.
With a trust, you can make sure the money is only used for things you would want.

If your child gets divorced, the trust can also protect the inheritance in the divorce.

If you have an issue with your son-in-law or daughter-in-law and would like to make sure your child’s inheritance is not wasted, then contact an estate planning attorney to get a trust.

Reference: This Is Money (Sep. 8, 2017) “I have a terminal illness and our son-in law is unreliable with money – how can we protect daughter’s inheritance?”

No-Contest Clauses

One way to make people hesitate before challenging a will or trust, is to include a no-contest clause, which disinherits them, if they file a legal challenge.

People often get very upset when they think they have not received their fair share of a deceased family member’s estate. They can often be so upset that they decide to issue a legal challenge to the estate plan, especially if there is a substantial money involved.

These challenges can take a lot money out of the estate, since lawyers have to be hired to defend the estate from the challenge.

A way around this problem is to include a no-contest clause in wills and trusts, as Press Enterprise discusses in “The Pros and cons of the no-contest clause.”

A no-contest clause helps prevent these challenges. It simply states that anyone who challenges the will or trust will receive nothing from it.

As a result, the document will be effectively rewritten to disinherit the challenger.
This is an easy way to stop many people from challenging an estate plan.

They might not be happy with what they received, but they do not want to risk getting nothing.
Some criticize these clauses as deterring people from challenging an estate plan when they have good reason to, such as when there has been undue influence used by someone else to get more of the estate than he or she should.

However, most states will not enforce a no-contest clause, if the person challenging the will or trust has probable cause to do so.

If you want to make sure a no-contest clause is included in your will or trust, then visit an estate planning attorney and make sure the clause is included.

Reference: Press Enterprise (Aug. 5, 2017) “The Pros and cons of the no-contest clause.”

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?”

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.”

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.”