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?”

When Couples Split Up

Many married couples separate from each other long before they get divorced. They need to redo their estate plans when that is the case.

If you and your spouse get divorced, estate law is good at recognizing that you probably no longer want your ex-spouse to inherit your property.

If you do not rewrite your will and your ex-spouse still inherits under it, then the law will assume that you meant to do so and constructively write the ex-spouse out.

However, the law stops there.

If your ex-spouse is the beneficiary of a trust, it is much more difficult to change the trust.

Even more difficult is what happens if you and your spouse have separated but not yet gotten divorced, as the Canadian newspaper The Globe and Mail discusses in “A warning for couples who have split but not divorced.”

The laws in Canada and the U.S. are mostly the same in this area.

The law will not assume you do not want a spouse from whom you have separated, to not inherit under your estate plan.

Why? Until a divorce is finalized, you and your spouse can always get back together and courts cannot divine what you intended.

The solution to this problem is to see an estate planning attorney, when you separate from your spouse.

You need to do this before a divorce is finalized, so the attorney can assist you in creating an estate plan that makes your wishes clear.

Reference: The Globe and Mail (Sep. 12, 2017) “A warning for couples who have split but not divorced.”

Writing Your Plans Down Is Important

If you want to have a say in who gets your possessions after you pass away, then you need to get an estate plan or at least write something down.

A commonly held belief is that it really is not that important to get an estate plan, if you do not have much property or do not have kids. People think that because they do not have much of importance, things will just go to whoever wants them.

If they have a spouse, he or she will just get everything.

If there are children, then they will get what they want.

Unfortunately, things are not always that simple, as the New Jersey Herald reports in “Put your plans in writing.”

If you do not have an estate plan, then your possessions will be distributed according to the laws of your state. The government will decide who gets what.

Sometimes that might be the same person you would choose, but other times it might not be.

There is no reason anyone should ever take the chance. It is much better to write your plans down.

Write down what you want.

In some places, you might be able to get away with just writing everything down yourself, but do not rely on that.

It is much better to go to an estate planning attorney and have formal plans drawn up.

This ensures that your wishes are followed, because the attorney knows how to draft and execute documents that will be considered legally valid in your state.

Do not take the chance that your belongings might go to people you do not want to have them. Get an estate plan.

Reference: New Jersey Herald (Sep. 12, 2017) “Put your plans in writing.”

Determining an IRA Beneficiary

One of the most important estate planning decisions that many people make, is who should inherit IRAs.

For many people, deciding who should be the beneficiary of their retirement accounts is something that is not thought about for too long. The decision is made quickly and the person chosen is usually a close relative.

When filling out the paperwork, most married people instinctively write down their spouses.

Parents who are not married will write down their children.

Younger people might just write down their parents or a sibling.

However, if an IRA is consistently paid into and wisely invested, it can grow to be of tremendous value. It is often one of the biggest assets that people have when they pass away.

That means IRA beneficiaries should be carefully considered and chosen wisely, as Morningstar discusses in “Who Should Inherit Your IRA?”
The bottom line is that the beneficiary of your IRA should be chosen based upon where the money will do the most good.

Since there are different tax implications for different types of beneficiaries, you should consult with an estate planning attorney.

Doing so will help ensure that your IRA and the rest of your estate can be distributed to heirs in a way that is fair for everybody and has the fewest negative tax implications for everyone.

Beneficiary designations should be done as part of your overall estate planning. Therefore, you should seek professional advice.

Reference: Morningstar (Sep. 10, 2017) “Who Should Inherit Your IRA?”

Electronic Wills are around the Corner

Almost all business can now be conducted electronically. Wills are one of the last holdouts, but that is starting to change.

Traditionally, for a will to be accepted as valid in probate court, it had to follow very strict forms and procedures. It needed to be signed and there needed to be witnesses present who could testify that the will was signed. Normally, two witnesses were needed.

Eventually, some states relaxed the strict formalities and allowed other wills to be probated, if it could be proven that the contents of the will were the intentions of the testator. However, some states kept the very strict rules.

That makes it difficult for wills to be made digitally, like most everything else can be today.

The law is now beginning to adapt in ways that will make them possible, as the New Jersey Law Journal discusses in “Electronic Wills: No Longer in A Galaxy Far, Far Away.”

In 2013, an electronic will was accepted into probate in Ohio. In that case, the person had digitally signed the will using a stylus and witnesses were present to the signing.

While Florida recently rejected an electronic wills law, Nevada has passed a law that allows them.

In other states, courts are rewriting the rules to allow more non-conforming wills to be accepted, which will eventually pave the way for electronic wills in those states.

For now, you probably do still need to make sure that your will is written on paper and that all of the formal procedures are followed correctly.

That might not be true in a decade.

Reference: New Jersey Law Journal (Sep. 11, 2017) “Electronic Wills: No Longer in A Galaxy Far, Far Away.”

Spousal Election

A surviving spouse has the right to an inheritance, in almost all circumstances.

Most people do not want to cut their spouses out of their estate plan. However, there are some people who have built up a lifetime’s worth of grievances, have not gotten a divorce and who do try to disinherit their spouses.

This used to be a much bigger problem, when divorces were more difficult to obtain. However, the issue still persists today.

Fortunately, for surviving spouses, people are not allowed to merely disinherit their spouses.
It is not a simple matter though, as the Times Herald-Record discusses in “A spouse’s inheritance rights no simple matter.”

The details vary by state, but a surviving spouse has the right to make what is known as a “spousal election.” This allows a spouse to elect to receive whatever is or is not given to her in the estate plan or to receive a certain percentage of the total assets of the estate. Commonly, this election is for between one-third and one-half in most states.

The reason for the rule is that people felt there was a duty to care for one’s own spouse and that it would be wrong to leave a widow destitute.

There are ways around the law, if the spouses have entered a pre-nuptial agreement, but they are not ironclad.

If you need help navigating the rules of spousal elections in your state, then schedule an appointment with an estate planning attorney who can assist you and make sure your estate plan leaves enough for your spouse. You can also learn how to take the election, if you are a surviving spouse.

Reference: Times Herald-Record (Aug. 31, 2017) “A spouse’s inheritance rights no simple matter.”

Considerations for Elderly Widows

Many elderly women are not fully prepared for what might happen after their spouses pass away.

We live in an age where, at least on a legal level, men and women are treated equally. Women can now enjoy a far greater range of possibilities than their ancestors would have ever imagined.

However, just because the law says one thing, does not mean that each individual woman fully enjoys its advantages.

Even today, many women defer family finances to their husbands.

This is especially true for older women, which can leave the women poorly prepared to handle things after their husbands pass away, as The New York Times discusses in “Helping Women Over 50 Face Their Financial Fears.”

The biggest thing for most women, is that they need to know how to manage the day-to-day finances. They need to learn how much money there is, what bills need to be paid and how any money should be invested.

Some widows also have problems in that their husbands own a business that they inherit and do not know how to run.

The best way to deal with these problems is to avoid them, if at all possible.

Husbands and wives should discuss things to make sure the wife is prepared, in case the husband passes away.

Other widows have legal problems, since their stepchildren might seek to challenge the widows’ inheritances in court. These problems need to be addressed with the help of an experienced estate attorney.

Reference: New York Times (Sep. 1, 2017) “Helping Women Over 50 Face Their Financial Fears.”

Hidden Benefit to Physician-Assisted Death Law

California’s new law to allow physician-assisted death continues to be controversial, but doctors are starting to see a hidden benefit to the law.

The recently enacted law that allows terminally ill patients in California to request lethal prescription medicine from their doctors, has caused a lot of controversy in the state and throughout the country. People are watching closely to see what effects the law will have, which patients will use it and what it will mean for doctors.

What happens in California will be cited by advocates in other states as they work to get similar laws passed or as they look to prevent similar laws from passing in their states.
The Los Angeles Times recently reported on one unexpected benefit of the law in “There’s an unforeseen benefit to California’s physician-assisted death law.”

One thing the law does, is force physicians to talk to their patients about why they want to end their own lives.

That often leads to discussion about pain, quality of care and what the patient would prefer happen.

What doctors have found is that some of the assumptions they make about what is good for patients are inaccurate.

The patients would prefer that they be treated differently at the end of their lives.

Doctors and other health workers can use that information to better treat the patient.

Even if the individual patient still prefers to end his or her own life, the information can be used to improve treatment for other people.

Although it was not intended to do so, California’s law has led to better quality care for all of the state’s terminally ill patients. That is to be welcomed.

Reference: Los Angeles Times (Aug. 21, 2017) “There’s an unforeseen benefit to California’s physician-assisted death law.”

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.”

A Large Bequest for Two Cats

A woman in New York left a large sum of money for her cats in her will.

It is becoming fashionable for wealthy people to leave large inheritances for the care of their pets, after the owner passes away. Every few months, another story makes the rounds in the media.

The latest incident comes out of New York, where a widow named Ellen Frey-Wouters left $300,000 for her cats. She instructed that the money be used so the two cats, Troy and Tiger, would never be caged and would always receive good care.

Fox News reported on the story in “New York widow leaves $300G to her cats.”

While there is an obvious tabloid appeal to stories of wealthy people leaving lavish gifts for their pets, there is a very serious side to these stories as well.

More and more people are viewing their pets as something more than mere animals they possess. Pets offer companionship and many people view them with as much love as they do human family members.

This leads to the desire to make sure that pets are taken care of, after the owner passes away.

You do not have to be wealthy to leave something behind for the care of your pets.

Estate planning attorneys can draw up plans for just about anyone to leave some money and instructions for how their pets should be treated.

It can be done through wills or through specially designed pet trusts.

See an estate planning attorney to ask about what you can do for your pets.

Reference: Fox News (Aug. 22, 2017) “New York widow leaves $300G to her cats.”