Category: Wills

celebrity estate planning mistakes

Celebrity Estate Planning Mistakes

The size and scope of the mistakes made by celebrities may be enormous, but many of the mistakes are common for, well, us common people. Learning lessons from celebrity estate planning mistakes is a good way to prevent yourself from making those same errors, says the recent article  “Lessons to be Learned From Failed Celebrity Estates” from Forbes.

Let’s start with James Gandolfini, famed for his role in The Sopranos and many movies and television shows. Strangely, he left only 20% of his estate to his wife. Had he left the entire estate to his wife, the family would not have gotten stuck with a huge tax bill. Instead, 55% of his total estate, including a significant art collection, had to be sold to pay estate taxes.

James Brown, the godfather of soul, left copyrights to his music to an educational foundation, tangible assets to his children and $2 million for his children’s education. That sounds like smart thinking, but his estate planning documents contained a great deal of ambiguous language. His girlfriend and her children challenged the estate. Six years and millions in estate taxes later, his estate was settled.

Michael Jackson’s estate fail is a classic error. He had a trust created but failed to fund it. The battle in the California Probate Court over control of his sizable estate could have been avoided.

Howard Hughes, famed entrepreneur, aviator and engineer wanted his $2.5 billion fortune to go towards medical research, but no valid will was found. Instead, his assets were divided among 22 cousins. Before he died, he did take the step of gifting Hughes Aircraft Co. to the Hughes Medical Institute. The company was not included in his estate, but everything else was.

Author Michael Crichton was survived by his pregnant fifth wife, and a son was born after his death. Crichton failed to update his will to include the future offspring. His daughter from a previous marriage fought to exclude his son from the estate. His will included language that specifically overrode a California statute that would have included his son in the estate. All heirs not otherwise mentioned in his will were to be excluded.

Doris Duke inherited a tobacco fortune. When she died, she left a $1.2 billion estate to her foundation, with her butler in charge of the foundation. The result was a series of lawsuits claiming that the foundation was being mismanaged, and cost millions in legal fees. Foundations of that size need a strong management team to avoid legal challenges.

Few estate failures are as graphic as that of Casey Kasem. The famed radio personality’s estate battle after his death included kidnapping and the theft of his corpse. His wife and children from a prior marriage fought over his care, his end-of-life care and the disposition of his remains.

Iconic artist Prince died without a will. The Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, died without a will, then handwritten wills were found in her home weeks after she died. For both families, lawsuits, court proceedings and huge estate tax bills could have been avoided. So many of these estate planning mistakes by celebrities and other very wealthy people could have been avoided with some basic planning.

If you don’t have an estate plan, get it started. If you haven’t looked at your estate plan in a while, have it reviewed. Make provisions for your family, take a close look at potential tax liabilities and if you have been married more than once, make sure to have a rock-solid estate plan that will withstand challenges.

If you would like to learn more about estate planning mistakes, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: Forbes (June 18, 2021) “Lessons to be Learned From Failed Celebrity Estates”

New Episode of The Estate of The Union Podcast

 

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Episode 6 of The Estate of The Union podcast is out now

New Episode of The Estate of The Union Podcast!

The new episode of The Estate of The Union podcast is out now. In Episode 5 Brad Wiewel is joined by attorney Ann Lumley, Director of Probate and Estate Administration with The Wiewel Law Firm, to discuss the often confusing and complicated world of Probate. Many people have heard horror stories of contested wills and families struggling for years to probate the estate of a loved one.

Brad and Ann cover the most common mistakes made by families during the probate process and provide the listeners with tips to help avoid some of those pitfalls. They focus special attention on the role of the executor, how to properly name beneficiaries, and how trust administration works.

In each episode of The Estate of The Union podcast, host and lawyer Brad Wiewel will give valuable insight into estate planning, making an often daunting subject easier to understand.

It is Estate Planning Made Simple!

The Estate of The Union can be found on Spotify, Apple podcasts, or anywhere you get your podcasts. Please click on the link below to listen. We hope you enjoy it.

The Wiewel Law Firm focuses its practice exclusively in the area of wills, probate, estate planning, asset protection, and special needs planning. Brad Wiewel is Board Certified in Estate Planning and Probate Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. 

A trust is a good option when your children are minors

A Trust is an Option when Children are Minors

Let’s say that there’s a young father with a wife and young son, who owns a home and a Roth IRA account, with a few stock investments. On the stock investments, he’s filled out the beneficiary designation forms passing all his assets to his wife and son, should anything happen to him. This father owns his home is joint tenancy with right of survivorship with his wife. Does he need to set up a separate trust, if most of his assets pass through beneficiary designations? A trust is a good option when your children are minors.

Nj.com’s recent article entitled “Do I need a trust in case something happens to me?” says that leaving assets outright to a minor is typically a bad move. The son’s guardian and/or the court would take custody of the assets, both of which require significant court oversight and involvement.

The minor would also receive the assets upon attaining the age of majority, which in most states is age 18.

No one can tell what a young child will be like at the age of 18, especially after suffering the loss of their parents. Even if there are no significant issues, such as drug addiction or special needs, parents should think about what they’d have done with that much money at that age.

The best option is to leave assets in trust for the benefit of the minor son.

The trustee can manage and use the assets for the benefit of the young boy with limited court involvement.

The terms of the trust can also delay the point at which the assets can be distributed and ultimately paid over to the beneficiary, if at all.

For example, it’s not uncommon for a trust to stipulate that the beneficiary gets a third of the assets at 25, half of the remaining assets at 30 and the rest at age 35. However, other trusts don’t provide for such mandatory distributions and can hold the assets for the beneficiary’s lifetime, which has its advantages.

In some instances, the terms of the trust are included in a will. This creates a trust account after death, which is also called a testamentary trust.

If you have minor children, it is a good option to create a Trust. Talk to an experienced estate planning attorney, who can assess your specific situation and provide guidance in creating an estate plan. The attorney can also make certain that trust assets are correctly titled and that beneficiary designations of retirement accounts and life insurance are correctly prepared, so the trust under the will receives those assets and not the minor individually.

If you are interested in learning more about trusts and minor children, please visit our previous posts.

Reference: nj.com (June 14, 2021) “Do I need a trust in case something happens to me?”

 

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avoid these common estate planning scams

Avoid these common Estate Planning Scams

The Wealth Advisor’s recent article entitled “Beware of These Estate Planning Scams” advises you to avoid these common estate planning scams.

  1. Cold Calls Offering to Prepare Estate Plans. Scammers call and email purporting to be long lost relatives who’ve had their wallets stolen and are stranded in a foreign country. Seniors fall prey to this and will pay for estate planning documents. Any cold call from someone asking that money be wired to a bank account, in exchange for estate planning documents should be approached with great skepticism.
  2. Paying for Estate Planning Templates. For a one-time fee, some scammers will offer estate planning documents that may be downloaded and modified by an individual. While this may look like a great deal, avoid using these pro forma templates to draft individual estate plans. Such templates are rarely tailored to meet state-specific requirements and often fail to incorporate contingencies that are necessary for a comprehensive and complete estate plan. Instead, work with an experienced estate planning attorney.
  3. Not Requiring an Estate Plan. Although less of a scheme, some people think they do not need an estate plan. However, proper estate planning entails deciding who can make health care and financial decisions during life, in the event of incapacity. These documents help to minimize the need for family members to petition the Probate Court in certain situations.
  4. Paying High Legal Fees. Like many things in life, with an estate plan, you may get what you pay for. Paying money upfront to have your intentions memorialized in writing can minimize the expense. Heirs should be on guard if an attorney hired to administer an estate is charging exorbitant fees for what looks to be a well-prepared estate plan. Don’t be afraid to get a second opinion in these situations.
  5. Signing Estate Planning Documents You Don’t Understand. Estate planning documents are designed to prepare for potential incapacity and for death. It is critical that your estate planning documents represent your intentions. However, if you don’t read them or don’t understand what you’ve read, you will have no idea if your goals are accomplished. Make certain that you understand what you’re signing. An experienced estate planning attorney will be able to explain these documents to you clearly and will make sure that you understand each of them before you sign.

You can avoid these common estate planning scams, by establishing a relationship with an experienced attorney you trust. If you would like to learn more about estate planning mistakes, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: The Wealth Advisor (June 7, 2021) “Beware of These Estate Planning Scams”

 

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Planning is critical for unmarried couples

Planning is Critical for Unmarried Couples

If you, like so many others, found yourself settling the affairs of a loved one in the last 18 months, you may be well aware of the challenges created when there is no estate plan. The lack of planning can create an enormous headache for loved ones, explains a recent article titled “3 Estate Planning Tips for Same-Sex Couples” from The Street. If this is true for married couples, then it’s even more important for unmarried couples. Planning is critical for unmarried couples.

Planning for incapacity and death is not fun, but unmarried couples in serious relationships need to plan for the unknown. Even married same-sex couples may face hostility from family members, including will contests and custody battles over children. There are three key issues to address: inheritance, incapacity and end-of-life care and beneficiary designations.

If a partner in an unmarried couple dies and there is no will, assets belonging to the decedent pass to their family, which could leave their partner with nothing. With no will, the estate is subject to the laws of intestacy. These laws almost always direct the court to distribute the property based on kinship.

A will establishes an unmarried partner’s right to inherit property from the decedent. It is also used to name a guardian for any minor children. Concern about the will being contested by family members is often addressed by the use of trusts. When property is transferred to a trust, it no longer belongs to the individual, but to the trust. A trustee is named to be in charge of the trust. If the surviving partner is the trustee, he or she has access and control of the trust.

A trust helps to avoid probate, as property does not go through probate. A will also only goes into effect after the person who created the will passes away. A revocable living trust is effective as soon as it is established. Trusts allow for more control of assets before and after you pass. The trustee is legally bound to carry out the precise intentions in the trust document.

Establishing a trust is step one—the next step is funding the trust. If the trust is established but not funded, there is no protection from probate for the assets.

Incapacity and end-of-life planning allows you to make decisions about your care, while you are living. Without it, your unmarried partner could be completely shut out of any decision-making process. Here are the documents needed to convey your wishes in an enforceable manner:

Healthcare power of attorney (proxy). This document allows you to name the person you wish to make healthcare decisions on your behalf. You may be very specific about what treatments and care you want—and those you don’t want.

Healthcare directive. The healthcare directive lets you designate your wishes for end-of-life care or any potentially lifesaving treatments. Do you want to be resuscitated, or to have CPR performed?

Durable financial power of attorney. By designating someone in a financial power of attorney, you give that person the right to conduct all financial and legal matters on your behalf. Note that every state has slightly different laws, and the POA must adhere to your state’s guidelines. You may also make the POA as broad or narrow as you wish. It can give someone the power to handle everything on your behalf or confine them to only one part of your financial life.

Beneficiary designations. Almost all tax-deferred retirement accounts and pensions permit a beneficiary to be named to inherit the assets on the death of the original owner. These accounts do not go through probate. Check on each and every retirement account, insurance policies and even bank accounts. Any account with a beneficiary designation should be reviewed every few years to be sure the correct party is named. Estranged ex-spouses have received more than their fair share of happy surprises, when people neglect to update their beneficiaries after divorce.

Some accounts that may not have a clear beneficiary designation may have the option for a Transfer on Death designation, which helps beneficiaries avoid probate.

Planning is critical for unmarried couples. Review these steps with your estate planning attorney to ensure that your partner and you have made proper plans to protect each other, even without the legal benefits that marriage bestows.

If you would like to learn more about planning for unmarried couples, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: The Street (June 2, 2021) “3 Estate Planning Tips for Same-Sex Couples”

 

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short-cuts in planning can have consequences

Short-Cuts in Planning can have Consequences

It seems like a simple way for the children to manage mom’s finances: add the grown children as owners to a bank account, brokerage account or make them joint owners of the home. However, these types of short-cuts in planning can have consequences for the parent’s estate and the children themselves, says the article entitled “Estate planning: When you take the lazy way out, someone will pay the price” from Florida Today.

By adding an adult child as owner to the account, the child is being given 50% ownership. The same is true if the child is added to the title for the home as joint owner. If there is more than $30,000 in the account or if the asset is valued at more than $30,000, then the mother needs to file a gift tax return—even if no gift tax is due. If the gift tax return is not filed in a timely manner, there might be a gift tax due in the future.

There is also a carryover basis in the account or property when the adult child is added as an owner. If it’s a bank account, the primary issue is the gift tax return. However, if the asset is a brokerage account or the parent’s primary residence, then the child steps into the parent’s shoes for 50% of the amount they bought the property for originally.

Here is an example: let’s say a parent is in her 80s and you are seeing that she is starting to slow down. You decide to take a short-cut and have her add you to her bank account, brokerage account and the deed (or title) to the family home. If she becomes incapacitated or dies, you’ll own everything and you can make all the necessary decisions, including selling the house and using the funds for funeral expenses. It sounds easy and inexpensive, doesn’t it? It may be easy, but it’s not inexpensive.

Sadly, your mom dies. You need some cash to pay her final medical bills, cover the house expenses and maybe a few of your own bills. You sell some stock. After all, you own the account. It’s then time to file a tax return for the year when you sold the stock. When reporting the stock sale, your basis in the stock is 50% step-up in value based on the value of the stock the day that your mom died, plus 50% of what she originally paid for the stock.

If your mom bought the stock for $100 twenty years ago, and the stock is now worth $10,500, when you were added to the account, you now step into her shoes for 50% of the stock—$50. You sold the stock after she died, so your basis in that stock is now $5,050—that’s $5,000 value of stock when she died plus $50: 50% of the original purchase. Your taxable gain is $5,450.

How do you avoid this? If the ownership of the brokerage account remained solely with your mother, but you were a Payable on Death (POD) or Transfer on Death (TOD) beneficiary, you would not have access to the account if your mom became incapacitated and had appointed you as her “attorney in fact” on her general durable power of attorney. What would be the result? You would get a step-up in basis on the asset after she died. The inherited stock would have a basis of $10,000 and the taxable gain would be $500, not $5,450.

Short-cuts in planning can have dire consequences for your loved ones. A better alternative—talk with an estate planning attorney to create a will, a revocable trust, a general durable power of attorney and the other legal documents used to transfer assets and minimize taxes. The estate planning attorney will be able to create a way for you to get access or transfer the property without negative tax consequences.

If you would like to read more about poor estate planning mistakes, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: Florida Today (May 20, 2021) , “Estate planning: When you take the lazy way out, someone will pay the price”

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not everyone can contest a will

Not Everyone can Contest a Will

Estate planning documents, like wills and trusts, are enforceable legal documents, but when the grantor who created them passes, they can’t speak for themselves. When a loved one dies is often when the family first learns what the estate plans contain. That is a terrible time for everyone. It can lead to people contesting a will. However, not everyone can contest a will, explains the article “Challenges to wills and trusts” from The Record Courier.

A person must have what is called “standing,” or the legal right to challenge an estate planning document. A person who receives property from the decedent, and was designated in their will as a beneficiary, may file a written opposition to the probate of the will at any time before the hearing of the petition for probate. An “interested person” may also contest the will, including an heir, child, spouse, creditor, settlor, beneficiary, or any person who has a legal property right in or a claim against the estate of the decedent.

Wills and trusts can be challenged by making a claim that the person lacked mental capacity to make the document. If they were sick or so impaired that they did not know what they were signing, or they did not fully understand the contents of the documents, they may be considered incapacitated, and the will or trust may be successfully contested.

Fraud is also used as a reason to challenge a will or trust. Fraud occurs when the person signs a document that didn’t express their wishes, or if they were fooled into signing a document and were deceived as to what the document was. Fraud is also when the document is destroyed by someone other than the decedent once it has been created, or if someone other than the creator adds pages to the document or forges the person’s signature.

Alleging undue influence is another reason to challenge a will. This is considered to have occurred if one person overpowers the free will of the document creator, so the document creator does what the other person wants, instead of what the document creator wants. Putting a gun to the head of a person to demand that they sign a will is a dramatic example. Coercion, threats to other family members and threats of physical harm to the person are more common occurrences.

It is also possible for the personal representative or trustee’s administration of a will or trust to be contested. If the personal representative or trustee fails to follow the instructions in the will or the trust, or does not report their actions as required, the court may invalidate some of the actions. In extreme cases, a personal representative or a trustee can be removed from their position by the court.

An estate plan created by an experienced estate planning lawyer should be prepared with an eye to the family situation. If there are individuals who are likely to challenge the will, a “no-contest” clause may be necessary. Not every family member can contest a will, but it only takes one to make a headache for everyone. Open and candid conversations with family members about the estate plan may head off any surprises that could lead to the estate plan being challenged.

One last note: just because a family member is dissatisfied with their inheritance does not give them the right to bring a frivolous claim, and the court may not look kindly on such a case.

If you would like to learn more about challenging a Will, please visit our previous posts.

Reference: The Record-Courier (May 16, 2021) “Challenges to wills and trusts”

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Probate and estate administration

How to Perform the role of Executor Efficiently

Executors are frequently relatives or friends designated in a last will as the final administrator of a deceased person’s estate. If you agreed to serve as an executor, you likely are aware of some of the tasks you will face, closing accounts, inventorying assets and distributing bequests. Even when it’s a relatively simple situation — one spouse dies and leaves everything to the other — there can be a lot of paperwork involved. It certainly can get more complicated when a widow dies, and there are several children and numerous assets. AARP’s recent article entitled “How to Be a Good Executor of a Will or Estate” says being an executor is a tough job. So, heed these steps to make certain that when the time comes for you to serve, you honor the decedent, serve his or her heirs and learn how to perform the role of executor efficiently.

Communicate. Be sure that you understand the last will writer’s wishes. You can request that he or she be specific about what he or she truly wants to happen with the estate after his or her death. The last will writer can give an explanation in a last letter of instruction. It’s an informal document to be read after he dies that explains his or her decisions.

Do the paperwork. When the person passes away, you must find the last will (the original, not a copy). The last will and the death certificate must be filed with the probate court to get letters testamentary. This authorizes the executor to take any actions required to administer the estate. Get at least a dozen extra certified copies of the death certificate because you’ll need these to cancel credit cards, sell a home, transfer title to a car and turn off the utilities.

Safeguard property. A vacant house may attract thieves who scan the obituaries, as well as relatives and neighbors who think they’re entitled to help themselves. After the death, lock up and secure the property. Move jewelry and other valuables to a safe place. Also, take pictures of the home’s interior to document its contents.

Get organized. The executor must maintain and sell an unoccupied house, stop Social Security payments, pay debts, close financial accounts and file taxes. Start a detailed to-do list, keep good records and create a list of assets and liabilities.

Get a thick skin. Closing out an estate entails managing the emotions of heirs. They also may be your siblings who are resentful of the authority you have been given. If so, give them regular updates to smooth bad feelings that may arise. Total transparency is best.

Distribute personal items. This can be a difficult process, so put a system in place to fairly divide the possessions. Even the most ordinary item may have deep sentimental value to an heir and could cause stress for the executor without your guidance.

Educate the heirs. Heirs and beneficiaries can’t be paid, until all taxes and debts of the estate are settled. Let them know that it may take many months before they’ll receive payment.

Final steps. Lastly, the executor must pay any debts and taxes owed by the estate, distribute the estate property and give an accounting for the estate to the beneficiaries.

If you have questions about how to perform the role of executor efficiently, ask an experienced estate planning attorney.

If you are interested in learning more about the role of Executor, please visit our previous posts.

Reference: AARP (May 7, 2021) “How to Be a Good Executor of a Will or Estate”

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Do You Have to Probate an Estate when Someone Dies?

Do You Have to Probate an Estate when Someone Dies?

Do You Have to Probate an Estate when Someone Dies? That is a question estate planning attorneys here almost every day. Probate is a Latin term meaning “to prove.” Legally, a deceased person may not own property, so the moment a person dies, the property they owned while living is in a legal state of limbo. The rightful owners must prove their ownership in court, explains the article “Wills and Probate” from Southlake Style. Probate refers to the legal process that recognizes a person’s death, proves whether or not a valid last will exists and who is entitled to assets the decedent owned while they were living.

The probate court oversees the payment of the decedent’s debts, as well as the distribution of their assets. The court’s role is to facilitate this process and protect the interests of all creditors and beneficiaries of the estate. The process is known as “probate administration.”

Having a last will does not automatically transfer property. The last will must be properly probated first. If there is a last will, the estate is described as “testate.” The last will must contain certain language and have been properly executed by the testator (the decedent) and the witnesses. Every state has its own estate laws. Therefore, to be valid, the last will must follow the rules of the person’s state. A last will that is valid in one state may be invalid in another.

The court must give its approval that the last will is valid and confirm the executor is suited to perform their duties. Texas is one of a few states that allow for independent administration, where the court appoints an administrator who submits an inventory of assets and liabilities. The administration goes on with no need for probate judge’s approval, as long as the last will contains the specific language to qualify.

If there was no last will, the estate is considered to be “intestate” and the laws of the state determine who inherits what assets. The laws rely on the relationship between the decedent and the genetic or bloodline family members. An estranged relative could end up with everything. The estate distribution is more likely to be challenged if there is no last will, causing additional family grief, stress and expenses.

The last will should name an executor or administrator to carry out the terms of the last will. The executor can be a family member or a trusted friend, as long as they are known to be honest and able to manage financial and legal transactions. Administering an estate takes time, depending upon the complexity of the estate and how the person managed the business side of their lives. The executor pays bills, may need to sell a home and also deals with any creditors.

The smart estate plan includes assets that are not transferrable by the last will. These are known as “non-probate” assets and go directly to the heirs, if the beneficiary designation is properly done. They can include life insurance proceeds, pensions, 401(k)s, bank accounts and any asset with a beneficiary designation. If all of the assets in an estate are non-probate assets, assets of the estate are easily and usually quickly distributed. Many people accomplish this through the use of a Living Trust.

Do You Have to Probate an Estate when Someone Dies? It depends on how your estate plan was created. Every person’s life is different, and so is their estate plan. Family dynamics, the amount of assets owned and how they are owned will impact how the estate is distributed. Start by meeting with an experienced estate planning attorney to prepare for the future.

If you are interested in learning more about probate and trust administration, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: Southlake Style (May 17, 2021) “Wills and Probate”

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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 The Wiewel Law Firm to schedule a complimentary consultation.
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