Kent Larsson writes about the proper use of wills, advance directives, trusts, and other estate planning tools, and how how they play a vital role in you receiving proper medical care and helping you to preserve and pass on your assets to your loved ones.
When a spouse passes away, some elderly women need help with handling finances.
Many women defer family finances to their husbands. This is especially true for older women, which can leave the women ill-prepared to handle things after their husbands pass away, according to The New York Times 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.
An estate planning attorney can help advise on challenges a spouse faces after the death of their partner.
Reference: New York Times (Sep. 1, 2017) "Helping Women Over 50 Face Their Financial Fears."
Troy and Tiger included in New York woman’s will.
Pets seem to becoming more important in family life than in the past. A New York woman left behind specific instructions on caring for her cats, according to Fox News in "New York widow leaves $300G to her cats."
A New York 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.
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.
An estate planning attorney can advise you on creating an estate plan that meets your unique circumstances, which could include arranging for the safety of your pets.
Reference: Fox News (Aug. 22, 2017) "New York widow leaves $300G to her cats."
No-contest clause makes people think twice before challenging will or trust.
A way around the problem of challenges to a will or trust, is to include a no-contest clause, according to Press Enterprise 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.
An estate planning attorney can advise you on creating an estate plan that fits your unique circumstances and could include a no-contest clause.
Reference: Press Enterprise (Aug. 5, 2017) "The Pros and cons of the no-contest clause."
Physician-assisted death law creates dialogue between doctors and patients.
The Los Angeles Times recently reported an unexpected benefit of the physician-assisted death law in California, according to the Los Angeles Times 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.
Reference: Los Angeles Times (Aug. 21, 2017) "There's an unforeseen benefit to California's physician-assisted death law."
It is quick and it is easy. However, you really don’t want to go down that road.
It is a new trend. You go to a digital site that offers wills, you answer a few questions and sign it digitally. Now you have a will, right? No, actually you don’t, according to the Jewish Link of New Jersey in "Why You Really Don't Want an Online Will."
The problem is that actually if you use one of these sites, you really do not have a will and you wasted your time.
In order to be valid in court, wills must be executed in specific ways.
That means you need to sign the will in front of witnesses, who also need to sign the will.
In some states, a notary public must also be present to certify that you and the witnesses signed the will.
If these steps are not taken, then the will cannot be entered into probate court.
Online wills are not worth your time.
Even if they do not make the basic error above, you cannot trust them to not make other mistakes.
An estate planning attorney can advise you on creating a will that fits your unique circumstances, as well as meets the legal requirements.
Reference: Jewish Link of New Jersey (August 24, 2017) "Why You Really Don't Want an Online Will."
The estate tax may be repealed. However, that does not eliminate trusts as valuable tools in estate planning.
An estate tax can take a considerable bite out of an estate. Reducing that threat is often a main focus of creating an estate plan.
However, even if the estate tax is repealed, the trust remains a valuable tool of estate planning, according to Elder Law Answers 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. However, whether it is repealed or not, the trust remains a valuable tool.
Reference: Elder Law Answers (June 30, 2017) "Are Trusts Still Useful If the Estate Tax Is Repealed?"
The mistakes may not be estate planning mistakes. However, they can have a big impact on your estate plan.
The idea of an estate plan is to have a plan to distribute your assets and handle taxes, court costs and attorney’s fees, without them having a major impact. While it is important to make these plans, it is also important to include the possibility of a high price tag for end-of-life care, according to Forbes 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."
The amount of assets you have do not make a difference: you still need an estate plan.
Very few people in the U.S. are wealthy, but they still need an estate plan, according to the Napa Valley Register in "New dad wonders about estate planning."
One thing people with limited assets should understand, is that they might not need a trust to avoid probate.
Most states have a law that provides for the simple transfer of assets, if the estate is below a certain total amount. In such instances, even a will does not have to be entered into probate.
The amount varies from state to state, so you will want to check with an estate planning attorney in your state.
Nevertheless, just because you might not need to worry about probate, does not mean you should not get an estate plan.
If you have minor children, for example, then you will definitely want a will so you can choose who would be your child's guardian, if anything happens to you.
An estate planning attorney can guide you in creating an estate plan that fits your unique situation, including taking the size of your assets into consideration.
Reference: Napa Valley Register (August 24, 2017) "New dad wonders about estate planning."
If reform does not occur by the 2030s, benefits will most likely not be stopped, but will be reduced.
Washington has known for a long time now that Social Security needs to be reformed, but it is not expected soon, according to Forbes in "When Can You Expect Social Security Reform?"
The problem is that the Republicans and Democrats are very far apart on how they would like to fix the program.
Republicans would like to raise the retirement age as part of any fix. Many of them would also like to privatize the program.
Both of those ideas are staunchly opposed by Democrats, who would instead like to find further funding, so Social Security benefits can be increased.
This stalemate is not going to end in the near future.
That means it is unlikely the parties will compromise to come up with a fix.
Do not expect them to do so, until the very last minute when a compromise must be reached or benefits will be cut automatically.
The bottom line is that if nothing is done, then sometime in the 2030s the Social Security Trust Fund will run out of money.
Reference: Forbes (August 29, 2017) "When Can You Expect Social Security Reform?"
If you do not fund a trust during your lifetime, then probate gets involved.
A living trust can get confusing and mistakes can be made, if you don’t pay close attention, according to the Times Herald-Record in "Importance of funding a trust."
A key to the living trust is that you need to transfer your assets to the trust. However, that can be difficult because you have to figure out what goes in the trust and what should stay out of it for various reasons.
Unfortunately, many people end up not funding their trusts and when they become aware of a pour-over will that says any assets in an estate should be transferred to the trust after the owner of the assets passes away, they see no reason to do it now.
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.
Your estate planning attorney can advise you on creating an estate plan that meets your unique circumstances and may include a trust. Your attorney can also advise you on when to fund the trust and what assets should go into it.
Reference: Times Herald-Record (August 17, 2017) "Importance of funding a trust."