Category: Intestacy

Ways to Minimize Your Probate Estate

Ways to Minimize Your Probate Estate

Having a properly prepared estate plan is especially important if you have minor children who would need a guardian, are part of a blended family, are unmarried in a committed relationship or have complicated family dynamics—especially those with drama. There are ways you can protect your loved ones, and minimize your probate estate, as described in the article “Try these steps to minimize your probate estate” from the Indianapolis Business Journal.

Probate is the process through which debts are paid and assets are divided after a person passes away. There will be probate of an estate whether or not a will and estate plan was done, but with no careful planning, there will be added emotional strain, costs and challenges left to your family.

Dying with no will, known as “intestacy,” means the state’s laws will determine who inherits your possessions subject to probate. Depending on where you live, your spouse could inherit everything, or half of everything, with the rest equally divided among your children. If you have no children and no spouse, your parents may inherit everything. If you have no children, spouse or living parents, the next of kin might be your heir. An estate planning attorney can make sure your will directs the distribution of your property.

Probate is the process giving someone you designate in your will—the executor—the authority to inventory your assets, pay debts and taxes and eventually transfer assets to heirs. In an estate, there are two types of assets—probate and non-probate. Only assets subject to the probate process need go through probate. All other assets pass directly to new owners, without involvement of the court or becoming part of the public record.

Many people embark on estate planning to avoid having their assets pass through probate. This may be because they don’t want anyone to know what they own, they don’t want creditors or estranged family members to know what they own, or they simply want to enhance their privacy. An estate plan is used to take assets out of the estate and place them under ownership to retain privacy.

Some of the ways to remove assets from the probate process are:

Living trusts. Assets are moved into the trust, which means the title of ownership must change. There are pros and cons to using a living trust, which your estate planning attorney can review with you.

Beneficiary designations. Retirement accounts, investment accounts and insurance policies are among the assets with a named beneficiary. These assets can go directly to beneficiaries upon your death. Make sure your named beneficiaries are current.

Payable on Death (POD) or Transferable on Death (TOD) accounts. It sounds like a simple solution to own many accounts and assets jointly. However, it has its own challenges. If you wished any of the assets in a POD or TOD account to go to anyone else but the co-owner, there’s no way to enforce your wishes.

An experienced, local estate planning attorney will be the best resource to minimize your probate estate. If there is no estate plan, an administrator may be appointed by the court and the entire distribution of your assets will be done under court supervision. This takes longer and will include higher court costs. If you are interested in learning more about the probate process, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: Indianapolis Business Journal (Aug. 26,2022) “Try these steps to minimize your probate estate”

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Dying without a Will is costly

Dying without a Will is costly

Dying without a will in place is a costly mistake. Without a valid and legal will, it can open the door to family fighting or significant court costs to settle an estate.

The Seattle Times’s recent article entitled “Do you have a will? Without an estate plan, families can struggle to sort it out” advises you to put your wishes in writing, so your estate is handled responsibly at the end of your life.

It’s the best thing that you can do to help your family and help eliminate fighting in the future.

A will can help with the most routine aspects of settling someone’s affairs or provide additional protection for more rare events.

If a person dies without a will, they are said to have died intestate. When this occurs, the deceased’s estate is handed over to the local probate court to identify creditors, beneficiaries and allocate assets.

Property typically goes to a surviving spouse first, then to any children, then to extended family and descendants, following the state’s probate laws. If no family can be found, property typically reverts to the state.

You can also ask an experienced estate planning attorney about a living trust.

A trust is a legal document that can set out plans for someone while they’re still alive and after death, including instructions for how to divide up all assets, including property, businesses and investments.

While most of the instructions should be covered in the living trust, writing a will can also serve as a back-up document to lay out how property and other assets should be transferred. In addition, wills used in conjunction with a living trust commonly designate that trust as the beneficiary of the will. Hence, such wills are referred to as pour-over wills.

A will that’s entirely in someone’s own handwriting — not anyone else’s — that’s signed and dated may be valid, depending on your state of residence. However, it can be disputed in court if there are questions about its authenticity. People who handwrite their wills risk leaving out or forgetting heirs or assets they want to identify, if it’s not checked over by a professional. Dying without a will in place is a costly mistake that could have significant implications for your love ones. If you would like to learn more about drafting a will or trust, please visit our previous posts.

Reference: Seattle Times (May 16, 2022) “Do you have a will? Without an estate plan, families can struggle to sort it out”

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options to give assets to minor grandchildren.

Options to give Assets to Minor Grandchildren

If a married couple is creating its estate plan, then how does the couple leave the estate to non-adult grandchildren? What if something were to happen to them before the grandchildren become adults? Can this couple make sure the minor grandchildren do not get control of any inheritance until they’re adults? There are options to give assets to minor grandchildren.

Nj.com’s recent article entitled “How can I leave my money to my minor grandchildren when I die?” says that one way to solve these issues is to create a testamentary trust to provide for young beneficiaries whether they’re children, grandchildren, step-children, or unrelated beneficiaries. The terms of a testamentary trust are in your will. It is only established and funded after you pass away.

The terms of the trust generally provide instructions to the trustee about the ages at which distributions must be made, if any. These instructions also allow the trustee to make discretionary distributions of income and principal to the beneficiaries.

Beneficiaries do not need to be identified by name or need to be born at the time the will is written.  However, they must be able to be identified upon your death. As a result, you can provide a bequest to all of your grandchildren, whether or not they are born yet.

It doesn’t matter where your grandchildren live as far as estate planning is concerned. However, if they live outside the United States and the bequest is considerable, the laws of their home country should be addressed. This is because a big gift may cause adverse tax implications to the recipient.

For children, some states’ laws allow you to add a term in your will that penalizes any interested person — like an heir or beneficiary — for contesting the will.

However, if there’s probable cause initiating a proceeding concerning the estate, then the clause will not be enforced.

When a person names another as primary beneficiary, they should also name one or more contingent beneficiaries, so that if the first person predeceases him or her, they will not have to revise the will.

If you do not designate a contingent beneficiary, and an heir predeceases, the assets pass according to the state’s intestacy statute rather than according to the will. You have options to ensure assets you give to minor grandchildren are honored after you pass. An experienced estate planning attorney will help you draft a testamentary trust that is right for you. If you would like to learn more about testamentary trusts, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: nj.com (Dec. 9, 2021) “How can I leave my money to my minor grandchildren when I die?”

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Understanding the Legal Terms in Estate Planning

Understanding the Legal Terms in Estate Planning

Having a working understanding of the legal terms used in estate planning is the first step in working successfully with an estate planning attorney, says a recent article, “Learn lingo of estate planning to help ensure best outcome” from The News-Enterprise. Two of those key words:

Principal—the individual on whose behalf documents are prepared, and

Fiduciary—the person who signs some of these documents and who is responsible for making decisions in the best interest of the principal and the estate.

In estate planning and in business, the fiduciary is the person or business who must act responsibly and in good faith towards the person and their property. You’ll see this term in almost every estate planning or financial document.

Within a last will and testament, there are more: beneficiary, conservator, executor, grantor, guardian, testator, and trustee are some of the more commonly used terms for the roles people take.

The testator is the principal, the person who signs the will and on whose behalf the will was drafted.

Beneficiaries are individuals who receive property from the estate after death. Contingent beneficiaries are “back-up” beneficiaries, in case the beneficiaries are unable to receive the inheritance. In most wills, the beneficiaries are listed “or to descendants, per stirpes.” This means if the beneficiary dies before the testator, the beneficiary’s children receive the original beneficiary’s share.

In most cases, specific distributions are made first, where a specific asset or amount of money goes to a specific person. This includes charitable donations. After all specific distributions are made, the rest of the estate, referred to as the “residuary estate,” is distributed. This includes everything else in the probate estate.

The administrator or executor is the fiduciary charged with gathering assets, paying bills and making the distribution to beneficiaries. The executor is the term used when there is a will. If there is no will, the person in the role is referred to as the administrator and may be appointed by the court.

If a beneficiary is unable to take the inheritance because they are a minor or incapacitated, the court will appoint a conservator to act as fiduciary on behalf of the beneficiary.

A guardian is the person who takes care of the beneficiary, or minor children, and is named in the will. If there is no guardian named in the will, or if there is no will, a court will appoint a person to be the guardian. Judges do not always select family members to serve as guardians, so there should always be a secondary guardian, in case the first cannot serve. If the first guardian does not wish to serve or is unable to, naming a secondary guardian is better than a child being sent to foster care.

Finally, the trustee is the person in charge of a trust. The person who creates the trust is the grantor or settlor. It’s important to note the executor has no control or input over the trust. Only the trustee or successor trustee may make distributions and they are the trust’s fiduciary.

Having firm understanding of legal terms will make you feel more comfortable in your estate planning. It will make the process easier and help you understand the different roles and responsibilities involved. If you would like to learn more about estate planning, please visit our previous posts.

Reference: The News-Enterprise (Jan. 18, 2022) “Learn lingo of estate planning to help ensure best outcome”

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be sure your will is valid

Be sure Your Will is Valid

A properly created will is used to distribute assets, name the executor of the estate, provide details for the powers you want the executor to have and more, depending on what you want the will to accomplish. Most importantly, you want to be sure your will is valid, as explained in a recent article “Estate Planning: A valid will” from Lake Country News.

There are times when an unhappy heir receives less than expected, or for whatever reason, the heir feels they have been shortchanged. If this results in litigation, the will must be not just be valid, but strong enough to withstand a legal challenge.

A will may only be executed by a person who is of sound mind at the time they sign the will, and who is signing the will without any kind of duress, menace, or undue influence. The law sometimes presumes the signature has been made under duress in certain situations, such as when a paid caregiver is the recipient of an unusually large gift. Incapacity or duress is a common reason for wills to be challenged.

A will may be valid, if it satisfies the estate laws of your state of residence. While there are instances when a holographic will, one that has been handwritten, may be accepted, it is more easily challenged than a will created and executed with an estate planning attorney.

The will must be signed by the person making the will, i.e., the testator, and depending upon the state, must be witnessed by one or two people at the same time. Your estate planning attorney will be familiar with the laws of your state. Those two witnesses must see the testator either signing the will or acknowledging the will in their presence. If you have a will in a state that requires one witness, but move to a state requiring two witnesses, your will may be deemed invalid.

Different states also have different requirements for accepting wills prepared in another state. Some states have reciprocity, whereas as long as the will aligns with the state’s law at the time it was executed, it is acceptable. Others are not so flexible.

As a result of the Covid pandemic, some states now permit witnessing documents to take place remotely, usually through a video platform like Zoom or Facetime. These rules vary from state to state, with some states ending the practice in 2021 and others restarting this method in 2022. Check with your estate planning attorney to learn if a will may be witnessed remotely.

You want to be sure your will is vaild. When the will is filed with the court to begin the probate process, the court will examine the will to be sure it complies with the state’s law. Any assets outside of the will—i.e., trusts—are not subject to probate and are not considered part of the taxable estate. One of the reasons to have trusts is to remove the asset from the estate for tax purposes, but also to keep the asset private. Only the grantor, trustee and estate planning attorney know the trusts exist and what they contain.

Heirs who feel they have been shortchanged may not know about assets in trust, which is likely the reason the grantor had the trusts created in the first place. If you would like to learn more about drafting a will, please visit our previous posts.

Reference: Lake County News (Dec. 31,2021) “Estate Planning: A valid will”

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holidays are a good time to have a family meeting

Holidays are a good time for a Family Meeting

Kiplinger’s recent article entitled “Someone Needs to Know Where Your Money Is” recommends that families talk about money with an elderly parent. The holidays are a good time for a family meeting. If it’s really too late, you should know where to find the following:

Get the most recent tax return. This will have the name and contact information of the accountant who prepared the tax return. The tax return will also document income. If you find the income, you can find the assets. The reason is that earned interest, dividends, pension income and withdrawals from retirement accounts will be reported on the tax return. You should also call his or her employer’s human resources department to see if there’s a company life insurance benefit or 401(k) balance.

When a senior is admitted to the hospital, their health can sometimes deteriorate quickly. It’s one example of how everyone needs to have their estate plan updated and make sure their financial affairs are in order at all times. Someone must know all of the financial details and how to access the money, life insurance and other important documents. Here are some actions to consider taking now to ensure this situation doesn’t occur with you or a family member.

Collect key financial documents. During the family meeting, ask your parents to collect copies of the following documents:

  • Their wills;
  • Any trusts;
  • Their financial power of attorney;
  • All bank and brokerage account information;
  • Social Security statements;
  • Their website log-ins for any financial assets and insurance policies;
  • A list of beneficiaries for IRAs, annuities and life insurance policies;
  • A list of any other assets and debts; and
  • Their most recent tax returns.

As you begin gathering these documents, the most crucial one to help uncover current assets is the tax return. It can help describe the parent’s assets and the income they have from pensions, annuities, real estate investments, business interests and Social Security. A Schedule B is filed to report the interest and dividends received each tax year. If you’re unable to locate any paper statements or log-in information to financial websites to track down an asset, ask the tax preparer for a copy of the 1099 form for each asset, so you will know which company to contact.

Make certain key documents are signed. These are a will, financial power of attorney, health care power of attorney and any trust documents. Put these in a safe place, along with a copy of the Social Security card, birth and marriage certificates. You should also provide copies and access to files to people who serve as professional advisers, such as attorneys, accountants, financial planners and insurance agents. In addition, share contents of this collection with your parent’s executor, financial and health care agent and/or another relative who lives nearby. With everyone gathered together, the holidays are a good time to have a family meeting and make sure everyone is on the same page. If you would like to learn more about planning for elderly loved ones, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: Kiplinger (Nov. 1, 2021) “Someone Needs to Know Where Your Money Is”

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Estate Planning for Young Adults

Estate Planning for Young Adults

There are some basic estate planning needs for young adults once they reach 18. This 18th birthday milestone legally notes the transition from minors to official adults, bringing with it major changes in legal status, says NJ Family’s recent article entitled “What You Need to Know (Legally and Medically) On Your Teen’s 18th Birthday.”

Adults—even your 18-year-old— is entitled to privacy rights. This means that anyone not given explicit rights via a power of attorney and HIPAA (the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) release, among other important documents, can be denied info and access—even parents. Here’s what every family should have:

Power of Attorney. A power of attorney (POA) gives an agent (such as you as the parent) the authority to act on behalf of a principal (your adult child) in specific matters stated in the POA.

You can also have a POA for medical decisions and one for finances.

HIPAA Release. When kids become legal adults, they have a right to complete health privacy under HIPAA. That means no one can see their information without permission, even you!

Ask your child to sign a HIPAA release form (which is often included along with the medical power of attorney), to let their health providers share relevant information.

Wills. A simple Will is a good idea. It may also be a good time for you to review your estate plan to see how circumstances changed.

The wisest and safest way to get a credit card for your adult child is to add your child to your account. That way you can monitor transactions. Students also get an immediate bump in their credit score, which is important for renting apartments. However, the main point is to teach them skills and how to be responsible with money.

Talk with an experienced estate planning attorney about drafting all of the necessary estate planning for your newly-minted young adult. If you would like to read more about estate planning for young adults, please visit our previous posts.

Reference: NJ Family (Oct. 6, 2021) “What You Need to Know (Legally and Medically) On Your Teen’s 18th Birthday”

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Trusts and wills have some key differences

Trusts and Wills have some Key Differences

Trusts and wills are two different ways to distribute and control your assets after your death. Trusts and wills have some key differences. Family trusts and wills are both worthwhile estate planning tools that can make sure your assets are protected and will pass to heirs the way you intended, says MSN’s recent article entitled “Family Trusts vs. Wills: What Are the Differences Between These Estate-Planning Options?”

This article tells you what you need to know about the differences between family trusts and wills to help you avoid estate planning mistakes.

Remember that without a will, the state probate laws will determine what happens to your assets. It may or may not be what you want. In contrast, a will lets you state to whom you want to distribute your assets.

Note that a trust permits the grantor (the person making the trust) to do what he or she wants with the assets. A trust also avoids probate.

A family trust is a wise choice for those who want to provide for the management of their assets if they become incapacitated, people interested in keeping information about their assets and who inherits those assets private and those who have a significant number of assets or a large estate. Here are some other situations in which a family trust would be appropriate to use:

  • Asset protection from creditors and divorce
  • For disabled beneficiaries who need to qualify for government benefits
  • For tax-planning; and
  • For cost and time efficiency over a lengthy probate process.

Everyone should have a will. It’s a way to leave bequests, nominate guardians for a minor child and an executor.

If you have a family trust, you still need a will. There may be some assets not owned by the trust, such as vehicles and other personal property. There may also be payments due you at your death. Those assets must go through probate, if not arranged to avoid probate.

Once that process is complete, the assets are distributed to the family trust and are governed by its provisions. This is what is known as a “pour-over will” because the assets “pour over” to the family trust.

Trusts and wills have some key differences, so it is important to contact an experienced estate planning attorney to discuss the estate planning options available for you and your situation.

If you would like to read more about the differences between wills and trusts, and which is right for you, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: MSN (Aug. 27, 2021) “Family Trusts vs. Wills: What Are the Differences Between These Estate-Planning Options?”

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Using Cryptocurrency in your Estate Planning

Cryptocurrency is a digital currency that can be used to buy online goods and services, explains Forbes’ recent article entitled “Cryptocurrency And Estate Planning: What Digital Investors Should Know.” Part of cryptocurrency’s appeal is the technology that backs it. Blockchain is a decentralized system that records and manages transactions across many computers and is very secure. If you are intent on using cryptocurrency in your estate planning, there are things you need to know.

As of June 24, the total value of all cryptocurrencies was $1.35 trillion, according to CoinMarketCap. There are many available cryptocurrencies. However, the most popular ones include Bitcoin, Ethereum, Binance Coin and Dogecoin. Many believe cryptocurrency will be a main currency in the future, and they’re opting to buy it now. They also like the fact that central banks are not involved in the process, so they can’t interfere with its value.

In addition, NFTs or non-fungible tokens, are also gaining in popularity. Each token is one of a kind and they’re also supported by blockchain technology. They can be anything digital, such as artwork or music files. NFTs are currently being used primarily as a way to buy and sell digital art. An artist could sell their original digital artwork to a buyer. The buyer is the owner of the exclusive original, but the artist might retain proprietary rights to feature the artwork or make copies of it. The popularity of NFTs is centered around the social value of fine art collecting in the digital space.

Here are three reasons to have an estate plan, if you buy bitcoin:

  1. No probate. Even if your loved ones knew you were using cryptocurrency, and even if they knew where you stored your password, that wouldn’t be enough for them to get access to it. Without proper estate planning, your cryptocurrency assets may be put through a lengthy and expensive probate process.
  2. Blockchain technology. You must have a private key to access each of your assets. It’s usually a long passcode. A comprehensive estate plan that includes this can help you have peace of mind knowing that your investments can be passed on to loved ones’ if anything were to happen to you unexpectedly.
  3. Again, central banks don’t play any part in the process, and it’s secure because its processing and recording are spread across many different computers. However, there’s no governing body overseeing the affairs of cryptocurrency.

Using cryptocurrency in your estate planning could have benefits and consequences. Speak with your estate planning attorney to make sure you have a full grasp on how it works.

If you would like to read more about cryptocurrency and other digital assets, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: Forbes (July 21, 2021) “Cryptocurrency And Estate Planning: What Digital Investors Should Know”

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Estate planning for same-sex couples

Estate Planning for Same-Sex Couples

Proper estate planning can help ensure that your wishes are carried out exactly as intended in the event of a death or a serious illness, says Insurance Net News’ recent article entitled “What Same-Sex Partners Need to Know About Estate Planning.” Having a clearly stated plan in place can give clear instructions and potentially avoid any fights that otherwise might occur. With estate planning for same-sex couples, this may be even more crucial.

Your estate plan should include a will or trust, beneficiary forms, powers of attorney, a living will and a letter of intent. It’s also smart to include a secure document with a list of your accounts, debts, assets and contact info for any key people involved in those accounts. This list should contain passwords for locked accounts and any other relevant information.

A will is a central component of an estate plan which ensures that your wishes are followed after you pass away. This alleviates your family from the responsibility of determining how to divide your property and takes the guessing and stress out of how to pass along belongings. A will or trust might also state the way in which to transfer your financial assets to your children. You should also make sure your beneficiary forms are up to date with your spouse for life insurance policies, bank accounts and retirement accounts.

For same-sex couples, it is particularly important to create a clear medical power of attorney and create a living will that states your medical directives, if you aren’t able to make those decisions on your own. If you aren’t married, this will give your partner the legal protection he or she needs to make those decisions. It is important for you to take time to have those conversations with your partner, so the plans and directives are clear. You can also draft a letter of intent, which is a written, personal note that can be included to help detail your wishes and provide reasoning for the decisions.

Protecting Your Minor Children. Name a legal guardian for them in your will, in the event both parents die. Same-sex couples must make sure that both parents have equal rights, especially in a case where one parent is the biological parent. If the surviving spouse or partner isn’t the biological parent and hasn’t legally adopted the children, don’t assume they’ll automatically be named guardian.  These laws vary from state to state.

Dissolve Old Unions. There could be challenges, if you entered into a civil union or domestic partnership before your marriage was legalized. Prior to the 2015 marriage equality ruling, some same-sex couples married in states where it was legal but resided in states where the marriage wasn’t recognized. If you and your partner broke up, but didn’t legally dissolve the union, it may still be legally binding. Moreover, some states converted civil unions and domestic partnerships to legal marriages, so you and a former partner could be legally married without knowing it. If a former union wasn’t with your current partner, make certain that you legally unbind yourself to avoid any future disputes on your estate.

Review Your Real Estate Documents. Check your real estate documents to confirm that both partners are listed and have equal rights to home ownership, especially if the home was purchased prior to the legalization of same-sex marriage or if you aren’t married. There are a few ways to split ownership of their property. This includes tenants in common, where both partners share ownership of the property, but allows each individual to leave their shares to another person in their will. There’s also joint tenants with rights to survivorship. This is when both partners are property owners but if one dies, the remaining partner retains sole ownership.

Estate planning for same-sex couples can be a complex process, and they may have more stress to make certain that they have a legally binding plan. Talk to an experienced estate planning attorney about the estate planning process to put a solid plan to help provide peace of mind knowing your family is protected.

If you would like to read more about planning for same sex couples, please visit our previous posts.

Reference: Insurance Net News (June 30, 2021) “What Same-Sex Partners Need to Know About Estate Planning”

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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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