What Your Child Needs before Heading to College

It isn’t just money and clothes on the list, when leaving home for that freshman year in college.

Parents want what is best for their children. There are a few things that should be done before a child goes off to college, according to the Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog in “Five Essentials for College Freshman.”

Things that you can do include:

•Get your child a health care power of attorney. If your child has a medical emergency, you will want to make sure you or someone else has the legal authority to make important health care decisions.

•Get your child a general durable power of attorney. This will make it so you or someone else can handle your child’s finances in an emergency.

•Get your child a will. While hopefully not necessary, should the worst happen, it would be good for your child to have a will. If nothing else, getting a will should help your child understand why having a will is important.

•Make sure that your child knows about cyber security and how to protect their identity. The internet is still a dangerous place in many ways. Future employers also know all about social media.

•Have your child get a credit card. It is possible your child might abuse it, but establishing credit early is important enough to take that risk.

Reference: Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog (July 12, 2017) “Five Essentials for College Freshman.”

Electronic Wills in Florida Vetoed

The Florida legislature recently passed a bill that would allow for electronic wills in the state. It has been vetoed by the governor.

Creating legal documents online is increasingly common. Many people today, for example, work under contracts that are created online and digitally signed.

Taxes can now be done online, that require nothing more than a digital signature. There are some people who would like for this trend of creating legal documents online to reach one of the legal documents that has the most formal requirements of them all: wills.

For wills to be valid, they must be executed and witnessed in a specific way.

The Florida legislature recently passed a bill that would allow wills to be created electronically.

The law would even allow the wills to be signed and witnessed electronically.

The governor, however, decided to veto the bill, as the Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog reports in “Florida Governor Scott Vetoes Landmark Electronic Will Legislation.”

The governor had several concerns about the proposal and the ability to ensure security.

However, one of the biggest concerns is that the bill would have allowed electronic wills that were not created in Florida to be probated in Florida. The governor was concerned that would allow people to use the law, when there was no actual connection with the state.

Although this particular proposal did not become law, it is likely that in the not too distant future, electronic wills will become legal in some states.

Reference: Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog (June 28, 2017) “Florida Governor Scott Vetoes Landmark Electronic Will Legislation.”

Do You Need a Trust?

One of the biggest questions in estate planning today, is whether a trust is the best option for your family.

If you were to conduct a representative poll of middle class Americans about the best way to plan for your estate, it is almost certain that the majority of respondents would suggest getting a living trust.

It is the first piece of advice you will find almost anywhere you look for estate planning information. The reason for that is complex.

One reason is that many internet companies who sell trust creation documents have been very active in pushing the benefits of trusts to get more customers. Trusts are also often the best estate planning option for people.

Nevertheless, the key is to determine what the best estate planning option is for you personally, not for society generally, as Madison.com points out in “Is a Living Trust Right for You and Your Family?.”

Trusts do have many benefits over wills.

Trusts do not have to go through probate and, therefore, are not subject to the commonly cited costs and delays associated with probate.

Trust provisions do not have to be made public, as most wills do. Trusts are also a great way to control what your heirs might do with their inheritances, but “testamentary trusts” under wills do so as well.

If you really want to know whether you should get a trust, the best thing to do is to ask an estate planning attorney. Tell the attorney what your needs are and let the attorney suggest the best ways to meet those needs.

Reference: Madison.com (June 27, 2017) “Is a Living Trust Right for You and Your Family?.”

Fight Over Barry White’s Estate

When someone says that you should trust them to handle an estate and be fair to you, it is not usually a good idea to agree to that idea, without first seeing the estate plan so you know what you are supposed to receive.

Barry White passed away in 2003. To date, his estate has stayed out of the news.

For a celebrity estate it has been a smooth estate administration by all appearances. However, Darryl White, Barry’s son, has now filed a lawsuit opening up the estate to public scrutiny.

Darryl claims that when his father passed away, his widow told Darryl that she would make sure he got his fair share of the estate, as long as he agreed not to challenge the estate. For his part, Darryl claims he never even saw his father’s will to know what he was supposed to receive.

He received regular payments until 2015, when they suddenly stopped. He believes the money is now being wasted by his stepmother.

Darryl has filed suit and is demanding to see the will to know what it is he should be receiving.

TMZ reported on this story in “Barry White’s Son Sues My Dad’s Widow Can’t Get Enough of His Dough.”
In one sense, this is not an unusual story.

It is very common for children to have fights with a step-parent over an estate. On the other hand, this is an extremely unusual story.

It is not at all common for a child to trust the step-parent enough to agree to her terms, without at least seeing the estate plan and knowing what the child is supposed to inherit.

If nothing else, this case illustrates why it is an obviously bad idea for the child to agree to that.

Reference: TMZ (May 24, 2017) “Barry White’s Son Sues My Dad’s Widow Can’t Get Enough of His Dough.”

Wealthy People Torn

Many wealthy people are torn between wanting to leave a large inheritance for their children and fears that their children will not be able to handle the wealth.

Wealthy parents whose children do not get independently wealthy on their own, often fear that leaving those children a large inheritance would be a mistake. The children might not be able to handle the money and it might cause them to give up their own careers.

In some cases, the children might also waste all of the money and leave nothing for their own children. Despite this common fear, the wealthy parents do want to leave their children large inheritances.

This tension creates problems for many people as they plan their estates, as the Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog points out in “New Focus for Estate Planning.”

The key to resolving this tension is to understand that estate planning can be about more than just transferring a lot of assets to heirs. With a traditional will, heirs get all of the assets at once, which leaves open the possibility that assets will be misused.

There are many kinds of available estate planning tools that can be used to make sure that heirs do not waste everything.

Many types of trusts will help preserve the assets.

Of course, this can only be done, if an estate planning attorney knows that the client fears his children will waste an inheritance. The attorney needs the client to express these fears, so the attorney can devise the best plans.

Reference: Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog (May 17, 2017) “New Focus for Estate Planning.”

Treating Your Children Fairly

One of the biggest problems in estate planning is figuring out how to treat children fairly in circumstances when fairly does not necessarily mean equally.

The default estate planning option for people with more than one child is to divide their estates equally between their children. That is the most common thing that is now done in estate planning.

It is easy and simple.

Most of the time it is a fair way to divide a parent’s estate and one that the children accept. That does not always work, however, because as every parent eventually learns, treating children fairly does not always mean treating them equally. That holds true in estate planning.

Adult children can wind up in very different life circumstances for a variety of reasons. For example, if one child became wealthy after receiving a large gift from his parents to start a business, it might not be fair to treat that child the same in an estate plan as another child who went into public interest work.

Figuring out how to divide an estate unequally but fairly between children can be difficult, as the Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog discussed in “Dividing Your Wealth Among Your Children.”

The biggest problem is figuring out how to make the unequal division without causing any of the children to dispute the estate. Trusts are extraordinarily helpful in these situations, since they are much more difficult to challenge.

Parents can create a trust with an independent trustee and give the trustee the power to make distributions to the children based on their circumstances and needs. It is also important that parents who are leaving unequal inheritances for their children talk to the children and let them know the reasons for doing so.

If you want to leave your children unequal inheritances, you need to seek the advice of an experienced estate planning attorney to make sure you do so in a way that your children will think is fair and not seek to challenge.

Reference: Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog (May 5, 2017) “Dividing Your Wealth Among Your Children.”

John B’s Mistakes

A new podcast is a great opportunity to learn about some basic estate planning mistakes.

Serial might be the most successful podcast of all time. Millions of people tuned in to hear the story of a murder and its aftermath. It was one of the first podcasts to receive mainstream critical attention.

Thus, it is not a surprise that its creators are back with a successor show, S-Town.

This new podcast features the story of John B., the resident of a small town in Alabama. He lives on a 128-acre estate and is believed to be wealthy by the community. He was living with his octogenarian mother with dementia.

John B. apparently told his friend Tyler that he did not have any bank accounts and that Tyler could have $20,000 from his estate. The next day, John B. committed suicide. He did not have a will, but instead left a series of instructions about what to do with his estate.

The drama of the story is in people trying to find out what happened to his money, if he had any at all.

The Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog discussed this podcast in “Estate Planning Lessons from John B.”

John B. made some basic estate planning mistakes that everyone can learn from.

First, he did not have a will. While leaving some written instructions is better than nothing, it is not worth very much legally. If any money can be found, then under Alabama law, it will all go to his mother.

His friend Tyler would get nothing.

A simple will could have solved that problem.

Care for his mother is set to go to another relative who has been appointed as guardian. Of course, no one should go completely without a bank account.

Do not make the same mistakes as John B.

Hire an attorney and get a will.

Reference: Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog (April 21, 2017) “Estate Planning Lessons from John B.”

The Danger of Wills

It is easier to get wills today than it ever has been, since forms can be downloaded and filled out on your own. However, that ease has led to many people not understanding the potential dangers of wills.

That everyone should have an estate plan is a principle which most people understand when the reasons are explained to them. Estate plans, even as simple as a will, at the very least can help prevent families from fighting over estates.

Since you do not know when you will pass away, you should go ahead and get an estate plan.
While most Americans still do not have a will, a greater percentage of Americans have them than ever before. It is easy and cheap to get wills today, since you can purchase downloadable forms from several different services.

However, there are some hidden dangers in doing that, as The New York Times explained in “Wills Can Avert Family Warfare, but Have Their Own Hidden Traps.”

The biggest issue is that the probate process is different in every state.

Submitting a will to probate for administration, in some states, is very expensive and can take a long time. That suggests that probate avoidance strategies should be used, which could lead some people to utilize a trust instead of a will as their primary estate planning vehicle.

Trusts, however, are more expensive to get than wills and in some states probate is relatively quick and inexpensive. Consequently, trusts may only be needed for people with larger estates.

There are other probate avoidance strategies that can be used, but they also have their drawbacks. For example, retitling an asset as joint property with a child, which is a common tactic, can make the asset vulnerable to the child’s creditors.

The best thing to do is to hire an experienced estate planning attorney in your state, so that attorney can help you with the best estate planning strategy for your state and your estate.

Reference: New York Times (April 21, 2017) “Wills Can Avert Family Warfare, but Have Their Own Hidden Traps.”

Do Not Put Your Will in the Bank

It is important to keep your will and other estate planning documents in a safe, secure location where they can be easily found, when needed. A safety deposit box in a bank is not one of those places.

A will is only effective if it can be used after you pass away to administer your estate. If no one knows where your will is or if it has been destroyed, then it cannot be used by the courts.

You could have the most detailed will that has ever been created, but it is worth nothing if it cannot be found.

For this reason, it is important to make sure your will can be found and accessed quickly by those who need it after you pass away. Many people believe that a good storage place is somewhere safe and secure.
That is true.

Many people also believe that the safe and secure place is at a bank in a safety deposit box.
That is not true, as Noozhawk recently explained in “12 Things to Keep in a Safe at a Home, Not at a Bank.”

The biggest drawback to safety deposit boxes is that they are secure because access to them is extremely restricted. The bank is not going to let someone show up and access your box, even if that person has your key and your death certificate.

Access normally requires a court order, which can be time-consuming to get. Courts are often reluctant to give them to anyone other than the executor of the estate. However, without seeing the will, it would not be known who the executor of your estate is supposed to be.

The better option is to keep your original will on file with the estate planning attorney who drafted it for you. Take a copy home and put it in a secure place, such as a safe.

Reference: Noozhawk (April 23, 2017) “12 Things to Keep in a Safe at a Home, Not at a Bank.”

The Beauty of Wills

Wills might seem like a bunch of dry legal words, but they can be quite beautiful, if done well.

The average layperson reading a legal document is unlikely to find it beautiful. No layperson has ever read, for example, a petition to the court in a personal injury case and been struck by the beauty of the document. Even plaintiff’s attorneys are unlikely to find a lot of beauty in even the most well written petitions in personal injury cases.

The fact is that most legal documents are dry, technical and unlikely to ever appear in anyone’s list of the most beautiful things they have ever read.

But, wills are different.

Wills can be beautiful, as Nasdaq points out in “A Will Can Be a Beautiful Thing.”

The potential beauty of a will is not in the actual words themselves.

That much should be obvious, because most wills are, in fact, dry, technical and boring legal documents to read. They often contain formal required language that does not change very much from will to will.

The true beauty of a will is in what lies behind the words.

A will, at its best, tells how a person wants his or her loved ones to be taken care after the person passes away.

It is an expression of caring and love.

A will shows that we have carefully thought about what will happen to the people we love, after we pass away.

That can be a beautiful thing, even if the language itself is dry and boring.

Reference: Nasdaq (April 10, 2017) “A Will Can Be a Beautiful Thing.”