Estate Planning Law Articles
Articles written by attorneys and experts worldwide
discussing legal aspects related to Estate Planning.
The chance that a person will develop Alzheimer's disease increases significantly after the age of 65. Almost one out of every eight people will develop Alzheimer's disease. Though there is currently no treatment for this condition, you can look out for the common warning signs associated with Alzheimer’s. The following are a few examples:
Stieg Larsson, for those of you who can’t place the name offhand, was a Swedish journalist and right wing political activist for most of his life. He will be remembered though as the author of the novel turned blockbuster movie, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. As is the case with many writers, Larsson lived a modest life without acquiring a significant estate up to the time of his death.
We have all heard the warning for years now about the Social Security retirement system. Some analysts issue warnings that are dire predictions of doom while others tell us that the problem can be fixed. So do you need to be worried and if so what can you do about it?
Now that we are getting well into the year it is important to recognize the fact that there are some significant changes to the tax laws scheduled to kick in at the end of 2012. These alterations may make it necessary for you to make changes to your estate plan and perhaps your long-term financial plan as well.
Every new survey has a different percentage of Americans that do not have a Will or any other type of estate plan. The latest survey from Rocket Lawyer puts the number at 50% of Americans without a Will. If you are one of them, you should take some time to consider what will happen to your property after you pass away.
At the present time the details regarding the way that the late TV icon Dick Clark planned his estate have not yet been made public. One thing is for sure though: If Clark did not take steps to gain tax efficiency his heirs will be faced with an enormous estate tax bill.
An irrevocable trust by its nature is not one that is easily changed, which is why it's referred to as “irrevocable.” However, there are some situations in which a trustee can take action that will for all intents and purposes, change the terms of an irrevocable trust. This is known as decanting, and it involves transferring the trust property from one trust to another.
Issue 1: Making medical decisions If you and your partner have been living together for years and one of you should suddenly fall ill, the other automatically has the legal right to make health care choices on that person's behalf
None of us really like the idea of sitting down and planning for our death, yet as the old saying goes “the only things that are certain in life are death and taxes. Interestingly, the two go hand in hand in many cases. If you do not plan for your death, your estate will likely owe more taxes than had you taken the time to plan ahead.
As you are inventorying your assets in order to execute your estate plan, you may find that you have the ability to make an impact well after your passing. This may be true within your family, but your legacy may also extend beyond those that you know personally.
While the situation is getting better, the law still makes things more difficult for LGBT couples than for others. In many places an LGBT couple cannot get the legal recognition they need to properly care for each other as they get older and to leave their estate to their partner. Sometimes, it is not the law that stands in the way, but individuals who are opposed to same-sex relationships.
We have all heard how important it is to create an estate plan. Despite this, many people put off creating one. We all also know how important it is to discuss funeral plans or burial wishes without loved ones, yet many people also fail to do so. The best way for people to understand the consequences of not preparing properly is often to provide an example of what happens absent preparation. Imagine the following scenario.
Moving can be an incredibly stressful time. Even if you've planned well and the move goes without a hitch there are a lot of potential legal issues involved with your estate plan that you may need to address if you move to a new state. While moving within the same state usually doesn't require any significant changes to an estate plan, moving across state lines can sometimes be problematic.
When you create your Last Will and Testament you want to make sure the document addresses all the “big questions” about your estate such as who receives your real estate and how you divide your large assets. For the small stuff, the personal items such as your family heirlooms and photographs, you can often address this transfer by creating a personal property distribution letter. Here are three tips to help you create such a letter.
As people continue to live longer and medical science continues to make improvements, elderly people often face a range of legal topics that younger people typically do not have to deal with. Elder law attorneys are lawyers who specialize in knowing how specific areas of the law impact their clients and what people can do to protect themselves as they get older. Let’s take a look at some of the most common areas that elder law attorneys deal with.
A pet trust is a trust you create specifically to provide for the care of your pets after you die. The trust is typically created when you include specific trust creating provisions in your last will and testament though you can also create one that will take effect when you are still alive.
Even those who have no experience with estate planning issues may have heard of probate court and the probate process. Probate is simply the legal method involved in transferring property from a deceased owner to a new owner. The popular notion that probate is a bureaucratic nightmare is often overblown, though there is a kernel of truth to it.
Reason 1: Your children will need a guardian. - In the event that both you and your spouse should suddenly be killed or injured so severely that you can no longer care for your children, a guardian will need to step in to take on your parenting duties. If you do not have an estate plan in which you name your choice for guardian, it will be up to a court to make the choice for you.
According to the Alzheimer's Association, there are a variety of warning signs and symptoms that may indicate the onset of Alzheimer's disease. If you notice any of these symptoms, you should contact a doctor right away. Though many of these symptoms mimic age-related problems that almost all elderly people experience, Alzheimer’s disease symptoms are typically more significant than the common ailments associated with growing older.
Property settlement agreements are a great way for parties who are separating or divorcing to settle property issues amicably and to their mutual satisfaction. Without proper legal representation, however, these agreements can lock people into settlements that are detrimental. Following are five of the pitfalls people should avoid when working on such agreements:
Medicaid is the federal program that provides healthcare benefits to a wide variety of people including uninsured individuals with low income, pregnant women, certain children and disabled individuals, and senior citizens who need nursing home care. However, in order to receive Medicaid benefits individuals must meet financial eligibility requirements.
The prepaid funeral plan is basically a plan that allows someone to prepay for their final arrangements, as well as plan them in advance. The money is either held in trust until it is needed, or will be taken from an insurance policy. Due to the rising costs of funerals and burials, the prepaid funeral plan has become very popular in recent years.
Planning for when you may become incapacitated is critical for everyone, but especially so for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered persons as GLBT couples do not always have the same rights as heterosexual married couples under the law. It is very important for GLBT people to think through what they want to happen if they cannot take care of themselves and their finances.
Saving for a child's college education ranks right up there with paying off your mortgage and saving for retirement in terms of major money concerns. It can be especially hard for the sandwich generation--those not only having to paying for college but helping out their elderly parents.
If you are even thinking about this question, the answer is probably NOW. You need to start the process of estate planning now. Especially if you have a house and mortgage, children, and other assets, you need to start getting a plan in place.
A friend or family member has become incapacitated, physically or mentally, and cannot take care of themselves and their finances. You want to step up to help. What can you do to become their guardian? First, get an attorney to help you with the process. Have a complete understanding of the health, living conditions, and finances of the person you want to help.
One of the most common mistakes that people make with estate planning is in thinking that if they are not wealthy, they don’t need a living trust. If you consider the value of everything you own, such as you home, vehicles, bank accounts, art collection, jewelry, and life insurance, you will likely find that your estate is worth much more than what you think.
When we die, our property typically goes through probate – a process where the courts read our Will (if we have one), appoint an executor of our estate and determine how our assets should be distributed. This is known as “death probate.” Living probate works much the same way except that it occurs while we are still living.
When we’re planning for our future, we want to be sure we choose the best plans, the best programs and the best instruments for the job. But so many options can make it difficult to decide where to put your money. Do you focus on your 401(k) or go after the popular Roth IRA? Here’s a quick way to simplify your decision:
Where you keep your estate documents is important. Your documents must be kept safe from natural disasters while remaining easy for your family to find after you pass away. There are five common ways to store your estate documents safely.
Prenuptial agreements still get a bad rap. People often crack jokes when talking about them, saying they are for the paranoid, the pessimistic, and the greedy and how unromantic they are. But wanting or signing a prenup doesn't mean you are planning for divorce. In reality, they serve a very important estate planning function, particularly in second marriages. Such agreements can also be made after marriage and are called post-nuptial agreements.
If you want to leave money to a friend or family member when you die, but are worried about their financial acumen, you might want to consider establishing a spendthrift trust. A spendthrift trust protects people who may be mentally incapacitated or who may waste money by establishing a trust overseen by someone (a trustee) who controls the funds. The beneficiary cannot spend the money before getting a distribution.
If you have an employer sponsored 401k and you happen to leave your current job, you’ll probably have some decisions to make about how to handle that money going forward. In most cases if you have $1,000 or less in your 401k, you will probably get that money in the mail within a month or two after you stop working for the company.
Creating a Family Tree is a helpful method to guarantee your estate plan encompasses all your wishes for distribution of your property. A comprehensive estate plan includes a Last Will and Testament, Living Trust, Living Will and insurance policies. Depending on your personal circumstances, you may or may not need all of these documents. Each of these documents involves making specific bequests to family, friends or charitable organizations.
Adult guardianship is a legal proceeding in which a ‘ward’ is found lacking in the capacity to care for themselves and legally authorizes a guardian to make their decisions. Adult guardianship is often required when an elderly person can no longer care for themselves because of declining health, dementia, a stroke or another medical condition. Adult guardianship is a court procedure during which the ‘ward’ is found to be mentally incompetent and lacking the capacity to care for themselves.
If you’re covered by life insurance, you’re the “insured», and you’re most likely the owner of the policy, too – but not necessarily. In some situations, you might choose to have your spouse, your children, or a trust own the policy. If you’re a business owner, your company might own a life insurance policy on you and your partners to cover the value of your ownership interest in the company.
Everyone knows that long-term care is expensive, and it’s not likely to get more affordable in the near future. Figuring out how to pay for a nursing home or another form of long-term care has become a nagging concern for countless families. What happens if you have too much income or too many assets to qualify for Medicaid, but not enough savings to foot the entire bill for long-term care?
As you go through the process of planning your estate, one of the things you’ll be asked to do is to name an Executor of your Will. Many people name their spouse or child without giving much thought to what an Executor actually does – and this could be a mistake. The role of Executor is an important one, and it can involve unfamiliar and stressful duties.
Leaving an inheritance to a child is a little trickier than leaving an inheritance to an adult. After all, if you want to leave money or property to an adult, it can be as simple as saying as much in your will or revocable living trust. Children, however, can’t take control of money or property they’ve inherited – at least not until they reach adulthood. Until that time, they need someone to manage it for them.
The revocable living trust has become an indispensible estate planning tool in recent years. It gives you the ability to avoid probate. Plan for disability, and keep your personal affairs private, while at the same time offering you the flexibility to remain in full control of your assets. And, for basic estate planning purposes, a revocable living trust is an effective tool.
For example, what if your incapacity planning documents are old and don’t include the appropriate HIPAA language. In the event that you become disabled, your loved ones might have to end up going to court to get the right to make decisions on your behalf. And this is the very thing that an incapacity plan is meant to avoid.
One of the great things about a Roth IRA is that since you fund the account with after-tax dollars, amounts you withdraw from the account are usually tax-free. But not always. Here are the basic rules (keep in mind that there are separate rules for funds converted from a traditional IRA):
If you have a Revocable Living Trust, you know that it can serve as an essential incapacity planning tool. If you’re ever disabled – through illness or injury – to the point that you can no longer manage your own financial affairs, your Disability Trustee can step in and take over your trust property. However, if a Revocable Living Trust is the only estate planning tool in your incapacity plan, then there are probably gaps that need to be filled.
Not even the extremely wealthy are immune from basic estate planning mistakes. Time and time again, people name one child as a Trustee. That is a great way to make sure that your other children and heirs will dispute the administration of the Trust. A recent example concerns the estate of Lee Byung-chull who passed away in 1987. In his life, he founded Samsung.
If the deceased Florida resident has at least one child with a person other than the surviving spouse, and there is no will, the law is unchanged. Florida has made an important change in its inheritance law for surviving spouses. In the absence of a will, under current Florida law, an existing spouse of a deceased Florida resident is entitled to $60,000 plus 50% of the decedent’s estate if all the decedent’s children are also children of the existing spouse.
Procrastination is common as we all live busy lives, and time can get past you in a hurry. If you have been planning on discussing your situation with a good Central New Jersey financial planning lawyer this year you may want to take action because we are already well into 2012.
According to a news piece that is appearing on the Forbes website the late multi-Grammy award-winning pop singer Amy Winehouse died intestate. The article cites probate records as the source of this information. This is indeed news because it flies in the face of earlier reports. The tabloids from across the drink published stories shortly after the death of the mercurial diva praising her stalwart estate planning efforts.
Everyone has heard of Alzheimer's disease, a debilitating condition that causes dementia among our nation's senior citizens. People who suffer from dementia can find it difficult to understand certain concepts, and as a result they can find it impossible to make sound decisions for themselves.
Not just anyone may challenge the validity of a Will. Though state laws differ slightly, all require that you be related to the Will in some manner. Typically, you must be able to show that you would have received more from the decedent, if he or she had died without a Will; or if he or she wrote an earlier Will that left you more than the current Will.
Reason 1: Your children will need a guardian if you should die. Becoming a parent changes you, especially when you realize that your children are entirely dependent on you. With this realization also comes the knowledge that if you and the other parent should die, your children will have to be cared for by someone else. But who will take on this role?
It would be logical to assume that you can leave behind financial resources to your loved ones without losing money in the process. However if you do not plan your estate carefully your legacy may well be eroded as it is being passed on to your heirs. One source of asset erosion is probate.
There are a number of things about the Federal estate tax that do not seem fair to many observers. One of them is the fact that it is a tax that is imposed on resources that are still in your possession after you paid taxes. They are not subject to more taxes by virtue of their very existence while you are alive. But the event of your death is somehow viewed as a taxable one by the powers that be.
Every family dynamic is unique and the level of communication that exists among family members is going to vary on a case-by-case basis. Some families have very frank and open lines of communication and this can be helpful when you are considering the implications of the aging of a family member.
You may hear about payable on death accounts and walk away thinking that these accounts are an ideal estate planning solution. After all, simply adding a beneficiary who would assume ownership of resources left in the account after you die is a pretty efficient solution.
Mark Zuckerberg and Dustin Moskovitz are two young men who are in possession of some extraordinary wealth. The Facebook founders are in a position where they have to look for ways to preserve considerable financial resources beyond their own lives. There can be significant tax consequences that go along with gift giving and asset transfers after death, so careful planning is key.
Far too many people go through life without executing the appropriate estate planning documents. The reasons why they procrastinate vary but one reason is the misconception that it is a very simple matter that can be handled at any given time. You simply jot down your final wishes, call it a last will, and the matter is closed.
The probate process governs what happens to all the property a person owned after that person dies. Each county usually has a probate court that is set up to deal with these property questions. Though each state and even each county, has a slightly different procedure for probate cases, all of them require the same basic process. To begin, someone has to go before the court and file a petition.
Probate law is often one of the more misunderstood, and even feared, areas of the legal system. Not to worry. The probate process itself is based on some very simple ideas. Let’s take a look at how a case begins.
Whether you are a newly married couple, a couple with young children, or a blended family with children from a previous relationship it's important for you to begin your estate planning efforts immediately. While many people believe that estate plans are only for the elderly, parents with young children are in a much greater need to develop a plan because the children rely on you so much. Here are two key parts to your estate plan you need to address soon.
Millions of Americans have not taken the time to sit down and create a comprehensive estate plan. In addition, a shocking number of Americans have also not sat down and discussed their funeral and/or burial wishes with loved ones. If you are one of those people, stop and consider the consequences of not doing these things now, before it’s too late.
As part of your legacy planning efforts, you may wish to consider digital tombstones. What are digital tombstones? Essentially they are websites that allow you to assemble your personal information in one place, so your family and friends can visit it when they wish. If you're considering using such a service, there are several issues you will want to consider.
Answer: Maybe. In order to challenge a Will you must have “standing,” the legal right to challenge a will in court. In order to have standing you must typically have stood to receive more from the deceased person either through a previous Will or if that person had died without leaving any Will at all. Essentially, in order to have standing you must stand to receive more if you win the Will challenge and a court declares the Will invalid.
People like to do things for themselves. We all think that we know what we need to do and what is in our best interests. However, if you try to make your own estate plan instead of seeking the advice of an experienced attorney, you are likely to make some serious mistakes.
According to recent survey data, less than half of Americans 18 and older are married. For unmarried or cohabiting couples, estate planning is significantly different than it is for married couples. Whether you've been living together for years and have no intention of getting married, or simply want to take precautions in case the unthinkable should happen, here are three tips you can use if you are a cohabitating couple with concerns about estate planning.
If you've experienced the death of a close family member, you may have to soon confront the prospect of beginning the probate process. Though the process is slightly different depending on where you live, beginning a probate case involves several key steps and requirements.
For any adult child who is facing the decision whether or not to petition to become his parent’s legal guardian, feelings of conflict are normal. Being appointed as your parent’s guardian is the ultimate in role reversal. Many adult children feel as though seeking guardianship means taking away your parent’s independence. Concerns that you may be over-reacting are also common.
Creating a comprehensive estate plan is a complicated undertaking and requires a thorough understanding of all the myriad tax laws that will impact your plan. This can be difficult under normal circumstances. In an election year, it becomes increasingly difficult as the fate of many tax laws is uncertain. This is not, however, the time to become complacent. Doing nothing could cost you a substantial amount in taxes.
In recent years, the rate at which technology has developed is mind boggling. Just a generation ago, the internet was virtually non-existent. Today almost anything can be located and viewed on the internet, giving rise to privacy concerns for many people. Are your estate documents public information?
If you recently received a letter or a telephone call telling you that you just inherited a small fortune from a long lost relative you probably feel as though you just hit the lottery. The next thought is likely “What do I do with the money? If you are already financially secure, then you can probably answer that question yourself.
We all hope never to need to know the answer to that question; however, if you do find yourself in the position of trying to figure out what practical steps need to be taken after the death of a loved one. It is good to know where to start. Often, the emotional impact of a death prevents us from thinking clearly. While each death may require unique steps, there are some universal steps that most people find must be taken.
It is generally true that you might be able to use the services of a non-attorney for your important estate planning documents and end-of-life plans. But is it wise to do so? Absolutely not. Not only are people and companies who offer these services often breaking the law, they are also often not serving your best interests.
How many people not named Britney does it take to manage Britney Spears' affairs? It turns out that the answer might be two. Recently, a court approved her fiancé as a co-conservator in charge of her day-to-day affairs. Her father has been her conservator since 2008 and will also continue in that capacity.
When most people make an appointment to sit down with their estate planning attorney, they have given some very serious thought to how they want their assets to be distributed upon their death. If you are like most, you have done this as well as thought about the need to provide for your family in the event you die an untimely death. These are the things that most people think about when it comes to estate planning.
It may be human nature to avoid subjects that are not especially pleasant, and this is one of the reasons why people often procrastinate when it comes to incapacity planning. Though it is not hard to understand why someone may prefer to avoid the topic, if you do you are putting yourself and your family members in a vulnerable position.
Most people have watched an episode of 60 Minutes at some point in their lives and are familiar with Mike Wallace who recently passed away at the age of 93. Wallace's son recently stated that his father suffered from dementia before he passed away. It’s never easy watching a family member who has dementia. It’s particularly hard when the proper planning has not been done before the family member gets dementia.
If you are afraid of your family fighting over your estate in Probate Court, an estate planning attorney has ways to help alleviate that concern. The most important way for many people is to use a Revocable Living Trust, because the assets in the Trust do not have to go through the Probate process. However, you should be aware that a Revocable Living Trust does not stop all interfamily legal fights.
Receiving an unexpected inheritance can sometimes feel a lot like winning the lottery. Suddenly, you have assets that you did not plan on having. Before making plans to spend any of the inheritance, there are several reasons that you should visit with a probate attorney.
Estate plans can have many different goals. At a minimum, an estate plan sets out what will happen to your assets after you pass away. One thing you should consider when creating your estate plan is the potential for conflicts between your family members over your estate and how you can minimize that potential. Hiring an estate planning attorney can lessen the potential for conflict.
Most people are aware that they should have some legal documents that state what happens to their property when they pass away. You probably know that you can state who gets your property in a Will. However, you may not know that a Will might not be the best tool to use to dispose of all of your property and that it is just one document out of many that you might want to use.
One of the remarkable changes to the 2010 tax law increases the amount a taxpayer may gift on a tax-free basis from $1 million to $5,120,000 ($10,240,000 per couple) for 2012, more than five times greater than any gift tax exclusion previously offered.
Anyone who welcomes a new child should always update his or her estate plan as soon as possible. Not only will you want to make provisions in your plan to care for your child financially if you should die prematurely, but you should also name a guardian. Also, if you created an estate plan when your child was first born and the child has since grown older, you will probably want to review the plan to make sure your choice of guardian is still appropriate.
A pet owner who creates a pet trust ensures that his or her pet will be cared for after the owner dies. A pet trust is a legal entity that owns property for the benefit of your pet. You create this trust by detailing what you want to trust to do after you die and include those terms in your last will and testament or living trust, or by creating the trust to take effect while you are still alive.
With the recent changes to the estate tax, many people have become confused about estate planning. Unfortunately, a lot of the confusion is because people have misinterpreted the changes to the tax. It has some people thinking that the increase in the estate tax exclusion limit means that they do not need to plan for their estate at all. Nothing could be further than truth.
When you lose a loved one, the grief is immeasurable. If you lost a loved one and you believe that someone else was at fault, it can add anger to the flood of emotions you are likely already feeling. It can also require you to do a number of legal things at the same time following the death.
Have you ever considered what might happen to your assets if you have to go into a nursing home for a long term stay? Nursing home care is extremely expensive.The time to plan for it is long before you will ever possibly need it. Waiting until you are sick is too late. Medicaid will pay for long term care in a nursing home.
With the current Federal estate tax limit being at a higher than normal level, some people think that a Revocable Living Trust is no longer a necessary part of a good estate plan. They argue that a Will is all you need. Unfortunately, those people are also often interested in selling you a simple Will form and they are not looking after your interests.
For many people, how you are remembered after you die it as an important part of your estate plan as ensuring your property will pass to your heirs with as few problems and costs as possible. Today, there are several companies that offer the ability to create a “digital tombstone” or other form of digital remembrance. Here are several questions about Internet legacy planning.
As you get older, different laws have a greater or lesser effect on your life. Elder law is simply a phrase used to describe all the legal issues that affect people as they age, retire, and die. Let's take a look at some of the more common issues that elder law attorneys deal with.
If you have more money than you're going to be able to spend during your lifetime you have to consider tax efficient asset transfers. Clearly Facebook founders Mark Zuckerberg and Dustin Moskovitz are in this situation. And, they are also in possession of shares that are going to increase in value dramatically when the company goes public.
You have to be extremely careful about giving gifts of significant value in light of the looming threat of the federal gift tax. Right now this tax carries a 35% rate, and if this was not high enough it is scheduled to rise to 55% at the beginning of 2013.
A pet trust is a legal entity you create by creating a document that includes specific and legally required terms. If you use your Will to establish the trust, it will be created after you die, though you can also create a trust outside of a Will that becomes effective immediately. Once created, the trust owns property and uses it for the benefit of your pets.
If you have spent your life providing for your family and making sure they are well cared for, the thought of having to ask your family for a loan can be incredibly difficult to bear. Surveys have shown that people fear becoming a financial burden far more than they do dying, at a rate of more than 5 to 1.
With all the tools that online life allows us, more companies are offering “Digital Tombstones” that offer the promise to keep your legacy online. Here are some tips you should consider if you want to use one of these services.
A good estate plan is one that takes into consideration all of your major life events, including a planned retirement and the money you'll need once you stop working. However, whether you have already retired or have yet to, you may wish to reconsider your decision to stop working. For many people, choosing not to retire is one of the best decisions they make. Here are several reasons why it may be right for you.
When you are making your estate plan you may hear the phrase “elder law” but not really know what it means. Elder law is simply the collection of legal issues and topics that most often impacts the elderly. Creating an estate plan, for example, is one aspect of elder law, though the topic includes numerous other legal issues. Let’s take a look at some of the most common elder law issues.
There was speculation regarding the Amy Winehouse estate shortly after she passed away last summer. Sources were saying that they had reason to believe that the troubled singer had taken the time to put a solid estate plan in place after she got divorced from her ex-husband Blake Fielder-Civil.
If you find yourself in a position where you have more than ample resources to last throughout your lifetime you have to start to consider how you will be preserving your wealth. Two individuals who certainly are in this category would be Facebook founders Mark Zuckerberg and Dustin Moskovitz.
If you are previously married and have children, you'll want to pay special attention to your estate plan if you're planning on remarrying. In some situations you may leave your children less than you had intended because of your new spouse's rights to inherit at least some of your property.
When you create a pet trust, the trust becomes the owner of some of your property. Animals cannot own property, but if you can create a trust, the pet can benefit from the property the trust owns. After you die the trust will be responsible for caring for your pet. It will use the property it owns to pay for the pets medical care and living expenses.
In previous issues of this magazine, I covered the use of a Power of Attorney (a “POA”) in real estate transactions for those situations in which a party (the “Principal”) is not available to sign documents at a closing and appoints a third person, known as the Attorney-in-fact (“AIF”), to sign on his or her behalf.