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20 Feb

The Value of Having a “Life Plan” in Estate Planning

House and Keys in Female HandsAll too often, estate planning is viewed as a transaction; just sign here, here, and here on a document: will, a living trust, and powers of attorney – then be off. But the best planning happens when an estate planning attorney can get to know the client on a deeper level, to uncover hopes, dreams, and aspirations. It becomes more about family and values, and it becomes a lifelong process instead of a transaction.


This process begins with having a plan for our lives. There is a certain power in planning. When plans are carefully thought through and written out, they tend to come true. A plan can also serve as a guide, helping to align our deepest values, beliefs, and goals with our financial resources so we can realize our dreams. Having a plan allows us to live richer, fuller lives — personally, professionally, financially, and spiritually.


How to Formulate A Life Plan


1. Think broadly and deeply about what matters most to you. If you had all the money you needed, what would you do with it? If you had only five or ten years to live, how would you live them? If you learned you have 24 hours left to live, what would you miss?


2. Take this vision, sweep away any doubts, and craft your ideal life in as much detail as possible. This action will energize you to achieve your vision in the shortest time possible. Goals are no longer something to be hoped for “some day,” but can become immediate and vibrant.


3. A thoughtful professional can help you identify obstacles and roadblocks that may be keeping you from achieving your vision. These are sometimes financial, but more often they are internal beliefs.


4. An experienced estate planning attorney can then recommend the best ways to achieve your goals. Quite often, we will put together a team of professionals from different disciplines to make sure all your needs are met. In addition to our office, the team may include a financial advisor, an insurance advisor, a CPA, a retirement plan advisor, and even a planned giving expert.


We will ask open-ended questions and listen carefully to the answers. The client, on the other hand, will need to be open, honest, and willing to make an emotional connection, with us and with him/herself. We will be building mutual trust and a relationship, one that can last for many years, possibly even into the next generation.


The result of this type of planning is a real life plan -not just a pile of papers – and is far more rewarding than any document-focused transaction.

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17 Feb

Why Does a Living Trust Cost More than a Will?

Avoiding LossesYes, you will likely invest more in trust-based planning than will-based planning because you get a whole lot more value. Comparing these estate planning investments is like comparing apples and oranges – and the overall investment may not be what you think.


  • A living trust document has more provisions than a will because it protects you and your loved ones while you are alive and well, while you are alive and not-so well, and after your death. A will only handles matters after death.
  • A properly prepared and funded living trust will avoid court proceedings at incapacity and death. A will provides no such protection and ensures court interference at both events, which can be very costly (in time, privacy, dollars, and stress) to your family.


Instructions at Death and Incapacity


  • Both a will and a living trust contain instructions for distributing your assets after you die.
  • But only a living trust contains your instructions for managing your assets and your care and providing for your loved ones should you become incapacitated.


A Living Trust Avoids the Costs of Court Interference at Incapacity and Death


  • A properly prepared and funded living trust (one that holds all of your assets) will avoid the need for a court guardianship and/or conservatorship if you become incapacitated.
  • The person(s) you select will be able to manage your care and your assets privately, without court interference.
  • A will is only effective after death, so it fails to provide instructions and assistance during any period of incapacity.
  • If incapacity strikes, your family would almost certainly have to ask the court to establish a guardianship and/or conservatorship for your care and your assets — a process that is public, time-consuming, expensive, and stressful.


What You Need to Know


  • The same living trust document that can keep you out of court at incapacity can also keep your family out of probate court when you die.
  • But a will requires probate. Depending on where you live, this can be costly and time-consuming. Probate is always public and open to nosey neighbors and predators.


Costs to Transfer Assets… Pay Now or Later


  • There may be some minor costs to transfer assets into your living trust when you set it up, and then from your trust to your beneficiaries after you die. But these will be minimal if you and your successor trustee do much of the work yourselves.
  • With a will, the probate court (with its costs and attorney fees) is the only way to transfer your assets to your heirs after you die. So you can pay now to set up your trust, transfer titles, and benefit from the trust during your lifetime – or you can pay the courts and attorneys to transfer assets after you die.


Actions to Consider


  • Find out what probate costs are where you live. If your state has a fee schedule based on the value of probate assets, this will be fairly easy. If it has “reasonable” fees, ask an attorney to estimate what these fees would be if you die tomorrow and, if you are married, and your spouse dies the next day.
  • Similarly, ask your attorney to estimate what the costs would be if you become incapacitated tomorrow and, if you are married, if your spouse becomes incapacitated the next day.
  • Practically speaking, this will be impossible to estimate because no one will be able to predict how long the incapacity will last or what complications might arise. The mere uncertainty of these costs should give you pause — and propel you to plan for incapacity.
  • Add these estimates to the cost of having a will prepared — and compare that to the cost of a living trust. When you make a true comparison, you may conclude that having a living trust actually costs less than a will.


And what’s the cost of a plan not working and you and those you love being vulnerable, losing control, and being tied up in court? What’s the cost of your loved ones having their inheritances seized and being left with a mess? For many folks, the investment in trust-based planning is a good one.

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13 Feb

Impacts of the Trump Presidency on Estate Planning: Your Quick Guide

MP900341744It’s official — the Electoral College voted on December 19, 2016, essentially completing the 2016 presidential election cycle. With that bit of uncertainty behind us and a fresh year starting out, here’s what you need to know about planning your estate under the incoming Trump administration and Republican-controlled Congress.


President Trump’s tax plan


A new president usually means major shakeups in fiscal and tax policy, and Trump’s tax plan is no exception. Here are several of the proposed changes we will potentially see rolling out during his administration:

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10 Feb

How to Avoid High Octane Stress and Organize Information for Your Family

Frustrated Businesswoman on the PhoneThink, for just a few moments, about what would happen if you suddenly became incapacitated or died. Would your spouse or family know what to do? Would they know where to find important records, assets, password, usernames, and insurance documents? Would they be able to access (or even know about) online accounts or files on your computer?


Would they know whom to ask if they need help? Would they miss assets or insurances you’ve paid for? Not knowing what’s out there, where to find it, and how to access it is extremely stressful and burdensome. If you put all of your information in a safe place and let loved ones know where it is, you’re providing for and protecting your family, instead of dumping stress on them at an already stressful time. Putting the effort in now, to establish a formal document inventory, will alleviate unnecessary anxiety and turmoil at one of the hardest times of their lives.

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08 Feb
06 Feb

Why Factoring Long-Term Care Into Your Estate Plan Pays Off

6a01b8d0a6271d970c01b7c7c92fa4970b-500piFor most people, thinking about estate planning means focusing on what will happen to their money after they pass away. But that misses one pretty significant consideration: the need to plan for long-term care.


The last thing any of us want to contend with when a health issue arises later in life is having to throw together a hasty estate planning solution in the face of mounting medical costs. Your best defense is careful planning with the help of a trusted expert.

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03 Feb

Till Death Do Us Part, Too: Estate Planning Tips for Commitment Without Marriage

6a01b8d0a6271d970c01b7c7e249f7970b-500piAdvice columnist Ann Landers once observed that “love is friendship that has caught fire.” If that’s true, there are thousands of ways for that blaze to unfold. For many Americans, such devotion and passion do not need to be neatly formalized as marriage.


In fact, our cultural norms are shifting, and quickly. Consider the following:


  • Per the U.S. Census Bureau, approximately 112 million people in the U.S. are unmarried;
  • 45 percent of our country’s households are “unmarried households.”
  • In 2013, the CDC found that “cohabitation [without marriage] is now a regular part of family life in the U.S.”


Unfortunately, the law has not kept up with these societal trends. If you and your significant other love each other but don’t want to tie the knot, you need an estate plan that takes into account your specific situation while protecting you both, along with any other family members or loved ones you wish to include.


Estate planning for married couples can seem pretty straightforward because it relies on long-standing, proven legal and tax strategies. Unmarried couples, however, may need to take a more individualized approach in order to achieve their goals. Here are some of the documents and methods you need to consider when creating or updating an estate plan.


1. Living Trusts


Living trusts allow you to use your assets while you are alive and then bypass the probate process when transferring property to loved ones after you die. A trust can also keep your business out of the public record, and it can empower someone else to handle your finances if you become unable to do so. Even though trusts tend to cost more up-front than related solutions, the benefits they provide cannot be easily or reliably replicated with other planning options. On balance, a trust is the superior tool for virtually everyone; it should be the cornerstone of almost any comprehensive plan, especially for couples who have not formalized their relationships with a legal marriage.


2. Wills


A pour-over will can be an effective “backup” and compliment to a revocable trust. When you die, your assets get funneled into (or “poured-over” into) your trust and then distributed to your beneficiaries per the terms and instructions of that trust. The pour-over will keeps things simple, making the process less stressful (and prone to error) for your executor and trustee. It also helps wrap up loose ends, in case you didn’t transfer every last asset to your trust before you die.


What happens if you die without a will or other estate plan? Courts refer to this as “dying intestate,” and it means that the rules that will apply to your estate will be those written into your state’s laws. These laws rarely, if ever, account for long-term unmarried partners, so a will is essential to protect the person to whom you are committed. As an unmarried couple, you simply cannot rely on the intestate laws to work for you.


3. Beneficiary Designations


Most retirement accounts and many other types of accounts allow you to designate a “beneficiary,” or a person who will automatically receive what’s in the account when you die. Make sure you update your beneficiaries on your 401(k), IRA, or other retirement accounts, as well as on life insurance and other documents. Depending on how your trust is designed, your circumstances, and your goals, you may name one or more trusts as the beneficiary rather than an individual person.


4. Power of Attorney, Designation of Health Care Surrogate, and Similar Documents


These documents allow you to designate your significant other as the person who has the right to make certain types of decisions and sign documents on your behalf if you become incapacitated. If no such power exists, the decision-making task typically passes to a close blood relative and typically also requires a court proceeding called a guardianship or conservatorship, depending on the type of help you need and what state you in live. Your lawyer can help you determine which powers should be covered by documents like these to ensure that enough authority is granted while still providing protection against unauthorized actions.


Whether you’ve been living with a life partner for decades, and you’re now eyeing retirement options; or you’re just beginning a family with a person who has not formally and legally been recognized as your wife or husband, you probably have questions. How should you protect yourself and family financially as you get older? What can you do to enshrine the values you hold dear for the next generation? What if an unwanted event happens, throwing you and your partner off balance — what contingency plans can be put in place?


Our experienced estate planning attorneys can help you identify a strategy to get the peace of mind you need. Please call or email us to schedule a private consultation.

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01 Feb

Why Your Estate Planning Project Must Morph into a Process

A shot of an asian student working on his laptop at the campusMany people put their estate plan on their to-do list as a one-time project: “Create estate plan” or “Meeting with lawyer 10:30 a.m. Thursday for estate plan.”


Thinking of your estate plan as a single project or task to complete and move off your list is a common approach – but it’s also an approach that can land you in considerable hot water. Here’s why it’s essential to view your estate plan as a process, rather than a project.


Process vs. Project: What’s the Difference?


A project that takes several steps to complete – like an estate plan – can seem like it’s a “process” already. First, I need to call the lawyer. Then, I need to make time to attend the appointment. Before that, I need to get together these documents….


In fact, a project doesn’t become a process simply because it takes time and effort to complete. Here are some of the key differences between a project and a process.


A Project:


  • Seeks to create something new or implement a single, concrete change.
  • Requires leadership to plan and execute.
  • Can have its plans or goals changed on short notice.

A Process:


  • Creates value by returning to the same task many times.
  • Requires management to ensure the process is consistent and produces expected results.
  • Can be changed only by launching a project with a goal to change the process.


Estate Planning as Process


When you’re creating a new estate plan, it’s natural to see that plan as a project. You’re creating something new when you work with a team to implement your plan. You create a positive change in your life by having an estate plan from not having one. And, you’re right. Setting up a trust or implementing your first estate plan certainly qualifies as a project.


But, the goal of the estate plan “project,” however, should transition into an estate planning process by which you check, evaluate, and update your will, trust, and other legal documents regularly – perhaps once a year, but certainly every time you hit a major life milestone, like the birth of child or grandchild, death of family member, divorce, marriage, significant change in assets or income, and the like. When your estate planning is viewed as a lifelong process, your plan is much more likely to serve your family’s needs, whatever they may be, when the time comes simply because you’ve been managing it proactively with each change in your circumstances.


We can help you get started with estate planning and are here to guide you along the entire process. Let us become your ally in managing the process and in ensuring that you and your family gain maximum value from returning to it on a proper schedule.

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30 Dec

Make Estate Planning Your New Year’s Resolution


The holidays are here. It’s also a good time to get started with some Old Year end and New Year beginning planning activities, especially if family members are going to be celebrating the holidays with you. Start with reviewing what you have and how you own it (by yourself, with your spouse, with a child or with whomever). Do you still want to own it in this way?

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28 Dec

529 Plan Misunderstandings


Providing for grandchildren’s college expenses is becoming an important estate planning goal for many families. Many people see it as one of the best ways to contribute to the overall health of future generations. 529 college savings plans are a very useful tool to accomplish this goal, but only if you know what they are and do not have misconceptions about them.

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