Category: Beneficiaries

Portability can be used to Protect Farm

Portability can be used to Protect Farm

When one of the spouses dies, the surviving spouse can make what is known as a portability election. This means that any unused federal gift or estate tax exemption can be transferred from the deceased spouse to the surviving spouse. Portability can be used to protect the family farm.

Ag Web’s recent article entitled “It’s So Important to Elect ‘Portability’ for Your Farm Estate” explains that this is an election that has to be made proactively, after the death of the first spouse.

You’ll have to file a Form 706 federal estate tax return within two years of death at the latest, even though there’s no tax owed. Under current federal law, portability is available for farm couples to implement through the end of 2025. This the opportunity then “sunsets,” and the provision will no longer be available.

This could really be a multi-million-dollar mistake, if it’s not elected.

Even after two years, the surviving spouse can elect portability (through the end of 2025). However, he or she will incur considerable expense in the process.

You can still file for it, but you’ll pay a user fee that costs about $12,000. You’ll then have to pay an attorney to prepare the paperwork, and that’s probably another $10,000 to $15,000.

As a result, you’re going to pay between $25,000 and $50,000. However, if you’d just filed it within two years of your spouse’s death, you could have avoided those expenses.

Before portability was an option, it was common for husbands and wives to each own about the same amount of assets, or at least the amount of assets that could fully soak up and use each person’s exemption.

Therefore, many farm families are used to seeing farms titled one-half with the husband, one-half to the wife – as tenants in common not husband and wife jointly. That is because in the old days, if you didn’t use the wife’s exemption to cover her assets (if she died first), it would just expire.

Now, with portability, all the assets can flow through to the surviving spouse.

At the first spouse’s death, the survivor files that portability election and then has two exemptions to cover assets. Speak with an estate planning attorney to decide if portability can be used by your family to protect the farm for generations. If you would like to learn more about portability, and other strategies to protect the family farm or ranch, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: Ag Web (April 18, 2022) “It’s So Important to Elect ‘Portability’ for Your Farm Estate”

 

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Best Uses of Life Insurance Benefits

Best Uses of Life Insurance Benefits

The loss of a spouse is an extremely stressful event. It comes with many emotions that can be overwhelming for the bereaved. Hopefully, life insurance is one thing that was put in place to allow those remaining to process their loss without fretting over their finances. But what are the best uses of life insurance benefits, says Kiplinger’s recent article entitled “What Is the Best Way for a Widow to Use Life Insurance Proceeds?”

Life insurance death benefits can be paid within 30 days after you submit a claim. To do this, you need a certified death certificate, which is generally issued in less than a week by the funeral home. You should also order plenty of copies (about 15) for closing accounts.

The best use of the money is different for each widow and her unique situation.

Funeral Costs. Use life insurance money to cover these costs to decrease your financial strain.

Ongoing Expenses. When your spouse dies, living expenses do not stop. Your income is frequently reduced. In fact, after the death of a spouse, household income generally declines by about 40% due to changes in Social Security benefits, spouse’s retirement income and earnings. The death benefit from a life insurance policy can help provide the funds you need to help cover your mortgage, car payment, utilities, food, clothing and health care premiums.

Debts. You are generally not personally responsible for paying off the debts of your husband, provided they are in his name alone. When an estate does not have enough funds to pay all the debts, any gifts that were supposed to be paid out to beneficiaries will most likely be reduced. Note that you may be responsible for certain types of debt, such as debt that is jointly owned or a loan that you have co-signed. Talk to an experienced elder law attorney to understand the laws of your state, so that you know where you stand concerning all debts.

Create an Emergency Fund. Life insurance can help build a liquid emergency fund, which should cover three to six months of expenses.

Supplement Your Retirement. When a woman loses her spouse, she becomes much more vulnerable to poverty. To retire, a person typically needs 80% of their preretirement income to live comfortably.

Education. If you are a young widow, the life insurance proceeds can be used to pay for going back to school to augment your earning abilities. These funds could also cover the cost of college for your children. However, you should only save for college educational costs after your retirement savings is secure.

It is up to beneficiary to decide the best uses of life insurance benefits going forward. It is a good idea to consult an estate planning and probate attorney to make sure you have a full grasp of the benefits provided. If you would like to learn more about life insurance and estate planning, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: Kiplinger (Dec. 17, 2021) “What Is the Best Way for a Widow to Use Life Insurance Proceeds?”

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Planning for Special Needs Requires Care

Planning for Special Needs Requires Care

Planning for loved ones with special needs requires great care. When a family includes a disabled individual, sometimes referred to as a “person with special needs,” estate planning needs to address the complexities, as described in a recent article titled “Customize estate plan to account for disabled beneficiaries” from The News-Enterprise. Failing to do so can have life-long repercussions for the individual.

This often occurs because the testator, the person creating the estate plan, does not know the implications of failing to take the disabled person’s situation into consideration, or when there is no will.

The most common error is leaving the disabled beneficiary receiving an outright inheritance. With a simple will, or no will, the beneficiary receives the inheritance and becomes ineligible for public benefits they may be receiving. The disruption can impact their medical care, housing, work and social programs. It may also lead to the loss of their inheritance.

If the disabled beneficiary does not currently receive benefits, it does not mean they will never need them. After the death of a parent, for instance, they may become completely reliant on public benefits. An inheritance will put them in jeopardy.

A second common error is naming the caregiver as the beneficiary, rather than the disabled individual. This causes numerous problems. The caregiver has the right to do whatever they want with the assets. If they no longer wish to care for the beneficiary, they are under no legal obligation to do so.

If the caregiver has any liabilities of their own, or when the caregiver becomes incapacitated or dies, the assets intended for the disabled individual will be subject to any estate taxes or creditors of the caregiver. If the caregiver has any children of their own, they will inherit the assets and not the disabled person.

The caregiver does not enjoy any kind of estate tax protection, so the estate may end up paying taxes on assets intended for the beneficiary.

The third major planning mistake is using a will instead of a trust as the primary planning method. A Special Needs Trust is designed to benefit a disabled individual to protect the assets and protect the individual’s public benefits. The trust assets can be used for continuity of care, while maintaining privacy for the individual and the family.

Planning for individuals with special needs requires great care, specifically for the testator and their beneficiaries. Families who appear to be similar on the outside may have very different needs, making a personalized estate plan vital to ensure that beneficiaries have the protection they deserve and need. If you would like to learn more about special needs issues, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: The News-Enterprise (March 15, 2022) “Customize estate plan to account for disabled beneficiaries”

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When to File a Gift Tax Return

When to File a Gift Tax Return

The IRS wants to know how much you’re gifting over the course of your lifetime. This is because while gifts may be based on generosity, they are also a strategy for avoiding taxes, including estate taxes, reports The Street in a recent article “How Do Gif Taxes Work?”. It is important to understand when to file a gift tax return and the consequences of not filing.

Knowing whether you need to file a gift tax return is relatively straightforward. The IRS has guidelines about who needs to file a gift tax return and who does not. Your estate planning attorney will also be able to guide you, since gifting is part of your estate and tax planning.

If you give a gift worth more than $16,000, it is likely you need to file a gift tax return. Let’s say you gave your son your old car. The value of used cars today is higher than ever because of limited supply. Therefore, you probably need to file a gift tax return. If the car title is held by you and your spouse, then the car is considered a gift from both of you. The threshold for a gift from a married couple is $32,000. Make sure that you have the right information on how the car is titled.

What if you added a significant amount of cash to an adult child’s down payment on a new home? If you as a member of a married couple gave more than $32,000, then you will need to file a gift tax return. If you are single, anything over $16,000 requires a gift tax return.

529 contributions also fall into the gift tax return category. Gifts to 529 plans are treated like any other kind of gift and follow the same rules: $16,000 for individuals, $32,000 for married couples.

What about college costs? It depends. If you made payments directly to the educational institution, no gift tax return is required. The same goes for paying medical costs directly to a hospital or other healthcare provider. However, any kind of educational expense not paid directly to the provider is treated like any other gift.

Do trusts count as gifts? Good question. This depends upon the type of trust. A conversation with your estate planning attorney is definitely recommended in this situation. If the trust is a “Crummey” trust, which gives the beneficiary a right to immediately withdraw the gift put into the trust, then you may not need to file a gift tax return.

A Crummey trust is not intended to give the beneficiary the ability to make an immediate withdrawal. However, the withdrawal right makes the gift in the trust a “current gift” and it qualifies for the annual exclusion limit. Recategorizing the gift can potentially exempt the person giving the gift from certain tax obligations. Check with your estate planning attorney.

Even when someone does file a gift tax return, the amount of tax being paid is usually zero. This is because the gifts are offset by each person’s lifetime exemption. The IRS wants these returns filed to keep track of how much each individual has gifted over time. Unless you are very wealthy and making gift transfers from a family trust or to family members, it is not likely you will ever end up paying a tax. You are, however, required to keep the IRS informed. If you would like to learn more about gift taxes and ways to limit them, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: The Street (March 31, 2022) “How Do Gift Taxes Work?”

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GRATs are used to Reduce Taxes

GRATs are used to Reduce Taxes

Estate planning includes using various methods to reduce gift and estate taxes, as described in a recent article titled “Grantor Retained Annuity Trust Questions Answered” from Entrepreneur. GRATs are one type of irrevocable annuity trust used by estate planning attorneys to reduce taxes.

An annuity is a financial product, often sold by insurance companies, where you contribute funds or assets to an account, referred to as premiums. The trust distributes payments to a beneficiary on a regular basis. If you have a Grantor-Retained Annuity Trust (GRAT), the person establishing the trust is the Grantor, who receives the annuities from the trust.

The GRAT payments are typically made annually or near the anniversary of the funding date. However, they can be made any time within 105 days after the annuity date. Payments to the GRAT may not be made in advance, so consider your cash flow before determining how to fund a GRAT. For this to work, the grantor must receive assets equal in value to what they put into the GRAT. If the assets appreciate at a rate higher than the interest rate, it’s a win. At the end of the GRAT term, all appreciation in the assets is gifted to the named remainder beneficiaries, with no gift or estate tax.

Here is a step-by-step look at how a GRAT is set up.

  • First, an individual transfers assets into an irrevocable trust for a certain amount of time. It’s best if those assets have a high appreciation potential.
  • Two parts of the GRAT value are the annuity stream and the remainder interest. An estate planning attorney will know how to calculate these values.
  • Annuity payments are received by the grantor. The trust must produce a minimum return at least equal to the IRS Section 7520 interest rate, or the trust will use the principal to pay the annuity. In this case, the GRAT has failed, reverting the trust assets back to the grantor.
  • Once the final annuity payment is made, all remaining assets and asset growth are gifted to beneficiaries, if the GRAT returns meet the IRS Section 7520 interest rate requirements.

The best candidates for GRATS are those who face significant estate tax liabilities at death. An estate freeze can be achieved by shifting all or some of the appreciation to heirs through a GRAT.

A GRAT can also be used to permit an S-Corporation owner to preserve control of the business, while freezing the asset’s value and taking it out of the owner’s taxable estate. Caution is required here, because if the owner of the business dies during the term of the GRAT, the current stock value is returned to the owner’s estate and becomes taxable.

GRATs are used most often in transferring large amounts of money to beneficiaries, helping to reduce taxes. A GRAT allows you to give a beneficiary more than $16,000 without triggering a gift tax, which is especially useful for wealthy individuals with healthy estates.

There are some downsides to GRATs. When the trust term is over, remaining assets become the property of the beneficiaries. Setting a term must be done mindfully. If you have a long-term GRAT of 20 years, it is more likely that you may experience serious health challenges as you age, and possibly die before the term is over. If the assets in the GRAT depreciate below the IRS’s assumed return rate, any benefits of the GRAT are lost. If you would like to learn more about GRATs, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: Entrepreneur (March 17, 2022) “Grantor Retained Annuity Trust Questions Answered”

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Maximize the Benefits of a Trust Fund

Maximize the Benefits of a Trust Fund

To maximize the benefits of a trust fund, you’ll need to understand how trusts funds work and how to create a trust fund the right way, advises this recent article from Yahoo! Money titled “How to Start a Trust Fund the Easy Way.” You don’t have to be a millionaire to start a trust fund, by the way. “Regular” people benefit just as much as millionaires from using trusts to protect assets and minimize taxes.

A trust fund is an independent legal entity created to own assets and ensure money and property are used to benefit loved ones. They are commonly used to transfer assets to family members.

Trust funds are created by grantors, the person who sets up the trust and transfers money or assets into it. An experienced estate planning attorney will be essential, since creating a trust is not like going to the bank and opening an account. You need the assistance of a professional who can create a trust to reflect your wishes and comply with your state’s laws.

When assets are moved into a trust, the trust becomes the legal owner of the property. Part of creating the trust is naming a trustee, who manages the trust and is legally bound to follow the wishes of the trust following the grantor’s wishes. A successor trustee should always be named, in case the primary trustee becomes unwilling to serve or dies.

Subject to compliance with specific requirements, assets owned by an irrevocable trust are not countable towards Medicaid, if someone in the family needs long-term care and is concerned about qualifying. Any transfer must be done at least five years in advance of applying for Medicaid. An elder law attorney can help in preparation for this application and to ensure eligibility. This is a very complex area of law. Do not attempt it alone without the assistance of an elder law attorney.

Trusts can have a long or short life. Some trusts are held for a child until the child reaches age 25, while others are structured to distribute a portion of the assets throughout the beneficiary’s lifetime or when the beneficiary reaches certain milestones, such as finishing college, starting a family, etc.

A revocable trust allows the grantor to have the most control over the assets in the trust, but at a cost. The revocable trust may be changed at any time, and property can be moved in and out of it. However, the assets are available to creditors and are countable towards long-term care because they are in the control of the grantor.

The irrevocable trust requires the grantor to give up control, in exchange for the benefits the trust provides.

There are as many types of trusts as there are situations for trusts. Charitable Remainder Trusts reduce estate taxes and allow beneficiaries to receive an income stream for a designated period of time, at the end of which the remainder of the trust’s assets go to the charity. Special Needs Trusts are created for disabled persons who are receiving means-tested government benefits. There are strict rules about SNTs, so speak with an experienced estate planning attorney to ensure that your loved one continues to be eligible, if you want them to receive assets from you.

Trusts are often used so assets will pass through the trust and not through the probate process. Assets owned by a trust pass directly to beneficiaries and information about the assets does not become part of the public record, which is part of what occurs during the probate process.

Your estate planning attorney will help you maximize the benefits of a trust fund, achieve your specific wishes and are in compliance with your state’s laws. A boilerplate template could present more problems than it solves. For trusts, the experienced professional is the best option. If you would like to learn more about the benefits of a trust, please visit our previous posts.

Reference: Yahoo! Money (March 18, 2022) “How to Start a Trust Fund the Easy Way”

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There are the New IRA Distribution Rules

There are the New IRA Distribution Rules

The IRS recently announced there are new IRA distribution rules in the works. Many of the proposed distribution rules, which will be subject to further action in late spring, depend upon whether or not the original IRA owner died before or after the applicable required beginning date for distributions. As explained in the article “The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Issues Proposed Minimum Distribution Rules” from The National Law Review, the age changed as a result of the SECURE Act, to 72.

Spousal Beneficiaries. If the spouse of the deceased IRA owner is the sole designated beneficiary and elects not to rollover the distribution, the surviving spouse may take RMDs over the deceased’s life expectancy. However, if the owner died before their required beginning date and the spouse is the sole beneficiary, the spouse may opt to delay distributions until the end of the calendar year in which the owner would have turned 72.

If the decedent died after turning 72, the annual distributions are required for all subsequent years and the spouse may take distributions over the longer remaining life expectancy.

Minor Children Beneficiaries. If the beneficiary of the IRA is a minor child, under age 21, annual distributions are required using the minor child’s life expectancy. When the minor turns 21, they must take annual distributions and the account must be fully distributed ten years after the child’s 21st birthday.

Adult Children Beneficiaries. If the account owner dies after their required beginning date (age 72), an adult child who is a beneficiary must take annual distributions based on the beneficiary’s life expectancy. The account must be completely emptied within ten years of the original IRA owner’s death.

This applies only to adult children who are beneficiaries and are not disabled or chronically ill. Disabled or chronically ill adult children fall into a different category under the SECURE Act, with different distribution rules.

Special Rules for Roth IRAs. The benefits of Roth IRA accounts remain. There are no minimum distributions from a Roth IRA while the account owner is still living. After the death of the Roth IRA owner, the required minimum distribution rules apply to the Roth IRA, as if the Roth IRA owner died before their required beginning date.

If the sole beneficiary is the Roth IRA owner’s surviving spouse, the surviving spouse may delay distribution until the decedent would have attained their beginning distribution date.

Now that there are new IRA distribution rules to consider, speak with your estate planning attorney to determine if you need to update your estate plan. There are strategies to protect heirs from the significant tax liabilities these changes may create. If you would like to read more about IRAs and other retirement accounts, please visit our previous posts.

Reference: The National Law Review (March 25, 2022) “The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Issues Proposed Minimum Distribution Rules”

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Several Ways to Avoid Probate

Several Ways to Avoid Probate

Probate can tie up the estate for months and be an added expense. It can be a financial and emotional nightmare if you have not planned ahead. Some states have a streamlined process for less valuable estates, but probate still has delays, extra expense and work for the estate administrator. A probated estate is also a public record anyone can review. There are, however, several ways to avoid probate.

Forbes’ recent article entitled “7 Ways To Avoid Probate Without A Living Trust” says that avoiding probate often is a big estate planning goal. You can structure the estate so that all or most of it passes to your loved ones without this process.

A living trust is the most well-known way to avoid probate. However, retirement accounts, such as IRAs and 401(k)s, avoid probate. The beneficiary designation on file with the account administrator or trustee determines who inherits them. Likewise, life insurance benefits and annuities are distributed to the beneficiaries named in the contract.

Joint accounts and joint title are ways to avoid probate. Married couples can own real estate or financial accounts through joint tenancy with right of survivorship. The surviving spouse automatically takes full title after the other spouse passes away. Non-spouses also can establish joint title, like when a senior creates a joint account with an adult child at a financial institution. The child will automatically inherit the account when the parent passes away without probate. If the parent cannot manage his or her affairs at some point, the child can manage the finances without the need for a power of attorney.

Note that all joint owners have equal rights to the property. A joint owner can take withdrawals without the consent of the other. Once joint title is established you cannot sell, give or dispose of the property without the consent of the other joint owner.

A transfer on death provision (TOD) is another vehicle to avoid probate. You might come across the traditional term Totten trust, which is another name for a TOD or POD account (but there is no trust involved). After the original owner passes away, the TOD account is transferred to the beneficiary or changed to his or her name, once the financial institution gets the death certificate.

You can name multiple beneficiaries and specify the percentage of the account each will inherit. However, beneficiaries under a TOD have no rights in or access to the account while the owner is alive. An estate planning attorney will be able to identify several ways for you to avoid a costly probate. If you would like to read more about probate, please visit our previous posts.

Reference: Forbes (March 28, 2022) “7 Ways To Avoid Probate Without A Living Trust”

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Keeping the Vacation Home for Generations

Keeping the Vacation Home for Generations

Many family traditions include gatherings at vacation homes. However, leaving these properties to the next generation is not always in the best interest of the family. Some people try to make a simple solution work for a complex problem, leading to more challenges, as explained in the article “Succession planning for the family lakehouse” from NH Business Review. Keeping the vacation home in the family for generations requires solid planning.

Joint ownership among siblings can lead to disputes about how the home is used, operated and maintained. Some children want to continue using the house, while others may see it as an income stream for a rental property. There may be siblings who cannot afford to participate in the house’s upkeep and need the cash more than the tradition. When joint ownership is presented as a surprise in a will, the adult children may find themselves fighting about the vacation home, with no parent around to tell them to knock it off.

Making matters more complicated, if the siblings live in different states and the house is in a neighboring state, ownership of the real estate at death may subject the decedent’s estate to estate taxes where the property is located. As a result, the property may need to go through probate in an additional state. Every state has its own tax rules, so the transfer of joint property will have to be analyzed by an estate planning attorney knowledgeable about the laws in each state involved.

A sensible alternative is creating a Limited Liability Corporation, ideally while the original owners—the parents—are still living. The organizational documents include a certificate of organization to file with the Secretary of State and an operating agreement. The LLC will need its own taxpayer identification number, or EIN.

The operating agreement governs the management of the property and addresses the operating expenses and maintenance of the property. It should also address the process for a child to cash in on their ownership to other children. LLC operating agreements often include these items:

  • Responsibilities for operating expenses
  • Process to transfer member units or interests
  • Duties for regular maintenance, budgeting and approval of property improvements
  • Development of a property use schedule
  • Establishing rules for the home’s use

There are some costs associated with creating an LLC, including annual filing requirements. However, these will be small, when compared to the cost of family fights and untangling joint ownership.

An LLC can also offer personal liability protection from lawsuits brought by renters, creditors, or any litigants. If there is an accident resulting from work being done on the property, the owners may be shielded from the liability because they do not personally own the property, the LLC does.

In the case of divorce, bankruptcy filing, or a large judgement being filed against one of the children, the LLC will protect their interest in the property.

The real estate owned by the LLC is not part of the owner’s probate estate. This avoids the need for a second probate in the state where the property is located. Some states have adopted the Uniform Transfer on Death Security Registration Act, and the LLC membership interest can be assigned along to the terms of the beneficiary designation.

Keeping the vacation home for generations to come provides peace of mind for all in the family. Speak with an experienced estate planning attorney to ensure that the property and the family’s peace is preserved. If you would like to learn more about including property in your estate planning, please visit our previous posts.

Reference: NH Business Review (March 23, 2022) “Succession planning for the family lakehouse”

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Things You should Leave Out of a Will

Things You should Leave Out of a Will

We have written many blog posts over the years about ensuring sure certain things are included in your will. Yet, there are things you should leave out of a will. Let’s look at what shouldn’t be in a will, according to Best Life’s recent article titled “Never Include These 2 Things in Your Will, Experts Warn.”

  1. Never include a conditional gift in your will. A conditional gift is when money or property is given only when and if a specific event takes place. For instance, grandpa might leave a conditional gift for his grandchild, if she graduates college or gets married. These provisions are often drafted in the hopes of encouraging or discouraging certain behaviors and have a tendency to get messy.

Even the seemingly basic condition of graduating from college can turn into a major issue, if the beneficiary decides to pursue the trades or accelerates in college and is offered an excellent job before earning her degree.

Similar obstacles—and, frequently, creative workarounds from beneficiaries who want to unlock their inheritance—will also be encountered with other conditional gifts. However, there are still ways to achieve the spirit of the conditional gift without it getting complicated. Instead, give the bequest outright without any conditions but include the encouragement that the beneficiary does something specific.

Another option is to hold the gift in a trust for a beneficiary. With a trust you can designate a trustee to be in control of the assets in the trust after your death. The trustee will have discretion as to the timing and amount of distributions. You can also detail how narrow or broad that discretion should be.

  1. Be careful with dollar amount bequests. The second thing you should never include in your will is a dollar amount bequest.

While this might seem common, it’s not recommended. This also has the potential to create major conflict within a family.

A better option is to use percentages. In this way, your estate will self-correct for size and each beneficiary will get their proper share.

Every will is specific to the person who creates it. In order to ensure that you are not including things you should leave out of a will, meet with an experienced estate planning attorney to create a will that benefits you and your loved ones—without any unexpected problems. If you would like to learn more about drafting a will, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: Best Life (March 20, 2022) “Never Include These 2 Things in Your Will, Experts Warn”

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Information in our blogs is very general in nature and should not be acted upon without first consulting with an attorney. Please feel free to contact Texas Trust Law to schedule a complimentary consultation.
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