Friday, September 16, 2011

Estate Planning For Women (And the Men Who Love Them)

While important to both sexes, estate planning often affects women more profoundly. Women live longer on average and tend to marry older spouses, making them three times as likely as men to be widowed at 65. So for women, estate planning is a crucial part of retirement planning. And since they usually survive their spouses, women more often have the last word about how much wealth goes to family, charity or the taxman.

A fellow attorney (and award winning journalist) Deborah Jacobs recently authored an article in Forbes titled “Estate Planning for Women (And the Men who Love Them)” she indicated the below question is one every financially savvy woman should be able to answer. 

Question #1  

What key deadlines apply when a spouse dies?

Starting in 2011, a surviving spouse can add any unused estate tax exclusion of the just deceased spouse to her own $5 million exclusion--this is called portability. So a widow can pass on as much as $10 million, untaxed, through either lifetime gifts or her will. But portability is not automatic. To get it, the executor of the estate of the first spouse to die must file an estate tax return, even if no tax is due. Surviving spouses should see to it that the form is filed even if they have nowhere near $5 million of their own, because who knows what the future holds?

Nine months is also the deadline if you plan to disclaim (turn down) any portion of what you inherited from a spouse so that it can go directly to your children or other family members or into a trust for their benefit. The new tax law makes it more likely that spouses will leave everything to each other outright. Other couples may want to give the survivor the right to disclaim at least some money and have it go into a family trust or bypass trust, as it is also called.  This allows the survivor to make an informed decision based on her own financial resources and federal and state estate laws at that time. If you want to use this postmortem tax planning strategy, you need to keep an eye on the calendar.

Questions like this one can often trigger even more questions in your mind.  Please accept my invitation to schedule a meeting where we can discuss this topic and others that might be relevant to your estate planning.  Give my office a call to set a meeting.


Thursday, September 8, 2011

Amy Winehouse got her will right

This commentary is taken from an article authored by Karen Datko in MSN Money on July 27, 2011.  It gets right to the core of a will and its potential importance for your estate. I wanted to share this with you.

The late soulstress reportedly wrote a will that excluded her ne'er-do-well ex-husband.

The late Amy Winehouse was many things to many folks -- fabulous talent, an inspiration to Lady Gaga, an addict who couldn't quite shed her demons all come to mind. Add to that list: wise estate planner.

Winehouse's revised will reportedly prevents any of her fortune, estimated at $16 million and most assuredly growing, from going to her ex-husband, Blake Fielder-Civil, widely regarded as the person who introduced her to hard drugs. Instead, her millions will be divided among her father, Mitch; mother, Janis; and older brother, Alex.

 "Let this be a lesson to both the famous and the obscure: A will is a good idea at any adult age," Ron Dicker wrote at DailyFinance.

Fielder-Civil, now serving a sentence for burglary and possession of an imitation firearm, might have inherited everything had Winehouse not put a new will in place. Tim Worstall wrote at Forbes:

However, the one thing, under English law, that divorce does not do is undo the presumption that the natural inheritor is the spouse. In the absence of a will the surviving spouse will inherit at least the bulk of any estate.
Even in the presence of a will written pre-marriage which states otherwise the surviving spouse, or ex-spouse, will again be the natural inheritor.

How would it work in the United States? It varies from state to state, but generally if you die intestate, your estate will go to spouse and kids, or parents or siblings if you are single and don't have children.

 Do you have a will? There's a good possibility you don't, even if you're well past 27. "According to an AARP survey, more than one third of Americans over 50 lack a will, living trust, or power of attorney," Kimberly Palmer wrote at U.S. News & World Report.

If you're a parent of minor children, consider yourself negligent if you don't have one. Liz Weston of MSN Money wrote: "No matter how icky you feel about planning for your own demise, you owe it to your kids to spare them the potentially ugly and drawn-out custody battle that could ensue if you don't make these decisions now."

Whether you are older than 27 or younger than 27, it may be worth meeting to discuss a will.  After all, it was a very smart move by Amy Winehouse and it could be equally beneficial to you. I’m available to schedule a meeting.


Friday, August 26, 2011

Uncovering Dementia and Alzheimer's Cover-ups

One of my estate planning colleagues, who practices in Nevada recently penned this comment on dementia cover-ups.  Her post occurred after reading this “The Danger of Your Aging Parent Covering Up Dementia” article in Forbes (August 11, 2011)

Here’s what’s important: it doesn’t matter if you have a diagnosis for your aging parent or not. It matters how your aging parent functions. It matters how you deal with what you see.

Dementia and Alzheimer’s are becoming increasingly common, but even if we are beginning to become more and more aware of how to spot them, it doesn’t make it any easier. Many a reader will be familiar with the terrible uncertainty and concern over their elderly parent’s thinking. Fortunately, Carolyn Rosenblatt of Forbes has more advice to give in her recent article.

Among the many dangers to keep in mind when an elderly loved one starts “slipping” is that they may begin “hiding” it. For one thing, it is not something with which any senior looks forward to acknowledging, even if they are aware of some telltale symptoms. It is human nature.

We all compensate or distract when there is something to hide, both from ourselves and from others. But when something like Alzheimer’s is at stake, it can be all the more difficult to get past, and it is harmful to hide. Indeed, since there is no actual test for dementia or Alzheimer’s, it is possible that a doctor will be unable to diagnose those conditions.

It is important, therefore, to observe how your loved one functions. Keep a keen eye on them and know what you are seeing, for their own sake. The original article has more advice and anecdotes to offer, but Ms. Rosenblatt sums up the steps in four points. As soon as you begin to worry you must, first, persuade your loved one to visit a doctor, and a specialist if possible, to detect it early. Second, you must secure their estate planning documents while they have legal capacity to know and understand what they are doing. Third, you must secure proper care for them. Fourth and last, you have to discuss the circumstances openly with all family members, so all may be aware of the circumstances and can work together to protect your loved one.

Good estate planning should take into consideration the healthcare and power of attorney documents needed to insure a smoother transition for proper care in this type of situation.  As articles, like this one in Forbes, raise our awareness of the growing painfulness of dementia and Alzheimer’s, you or your loved one may want to update your existing plan or design a new plan.  We can help.  Our office is available to take your call to schedule an appointment. 


Friday, August 5, 2011

Back to Basics with Estate Planning

Fundamental Estate Planning

The fundamentals are the same across all sizes of estates.  A recent post by my estate planning colleague, Scott Makuakane, who practices in Hawaii reminded me once again that it is important to review the basics.  Below is Scott’s blog posting on the fundamentals.  I think you will find them a brief, but worthwhile, read.

 No one enjoys a conversation about death.  And, with the estate tax exemption now set at $5 million for an individual and $10 million for a couple, many people may believe they have no reason to consult an attorney about their estate planning.  But avoiding the topic of estate planning can mean unnecessary expense, confusion and conflict.

SmartBusiness recently highlighted the fundamentals of a “well-thought-out estate plan,” with topics that everyone should consider – whether prince or pauper.

  • Why do you need an estate plan?  A comprehensive estate plan ensures that your estate will distributed according to your wishes, provides protection for yourself in the event of your own disability, and allows you to plan for minor children, pets, and charitable causes.  You can also make sure that the assets you leave behind will be there for your intended beneficiaries - and not their creditors or ex-spouses.
  • Can I write my own will?  You certainly can, and there are many online sites to help you do so! However, remember that you get what you pay for.  Improperly drafted or last-minute, hand-written wills frequently are contested and invalidated in court.  If you don’t know what you’re doing, the outcome could be much different than what you expect.
  • What should every estate plan have?  SmartBusiness recommends two powers of attorney and a living will.  That's not a bad start, but I would expand the list to include a will, powers of attorney for financial affairs and for health care, and an authorization to your physician to share your health-care information with your health-care agent.
  • What about trusts?  Many people choose to create trusts, not only to reduce estate taxes, but also to help their heirs avoid probate.  Trusts also can help shield assets from loss to due to unforeseen circumstances, such as the bankruptcy, divorce, or lawsuits of your heirs.
  • What mistakes do people tend to make in estate planning?  The writer points out two common mistakes: failure to plan for their personal effects, and failure to review and update their plans over time.  Reviewing and updating your estate plan is particularly important in light of the frequent changes that have characterized our estate tax law of late.  Although the estate tax "coupon" (the amount you can pass estate tax-free) is $5 million for the next two years, the coupon is set to go down to $1 million in 2013, and the estate tax rates are set to go from 35% to 55% at that time.  Another mistake that we see is failure to implement an estate plan by making sure all assets are properly titled.  Many people create trusts but then do not make sure that title to their assets is transferred into their trusts. 

If you have questions, let’s get together and get them answered.  My goal is to provide you with helpful information for creating, implementing, and updating your estate plan to serve your wishes.  And our mutual goal will be creating an estate plan that will succeed when it is called upon to take you and your loved ones through life’s inevitable transitions.



Monday, July 11, 2011

Top 10 Icebreakers offer guide for blogging

Another subject that I wanted to bring to your attention is a recently published book recommended by one of my colleagues.  It helps with the starting points for getting and keeping good relationships.  My goal as a legal counsel is to connect as well as to deliver good legal counsel.  I thought you would find these “icebreakers” to be helpful suggestions.

Debra Fine, author of The Fine Art of Small Talk  offers a lot of helpful advice on networking and connecting with people while networking.  In her book she includes a list of her top 10 icebreakers. She suggests using them at any occasion where you have few established relationships.  We’ve all been at those types of events – school meetings, business events, fundraisers, cocktail parties, dinners, and conferences/conventions where you need to start a conversation with people you don’t know well or those “strangers” you would like to meet.

Top Ten Icebreakers

1.            What is your connection to this event?

2.            What keeps you busy outside of work?

3.            Tell me about the organizations you are involved with.

4.            How did you come up with this idea?

5.            What got you interested in  … ?

6.            What do you attribute your success to?

7.            Describe some of the challenges of your profession.

8.            Describe your most important work experience ….

9.            Bring me up to date.

10.         Tell me about your family.

According to Fine, the theme to these ten icebreakers is that they are personal, but not too personal. “Your goal is to build a business relationship,” she says, “while still getting to know more about a customer or potential customer. If you are talking to an existing customer, they probably already know you are good at what you do, so you just want them to see you on a more human level.” Thinking about this –when you establish that comfortable connection on the human level, they are more likely to refer you to a friend or associate. 

The other thing to note about these icebreaker guidelines is that they give the new person control to decide just how much information they are willing to share and where they want to set the parameters of the conversation.  On your part,  your job is to help the other person feel comfortable with you as a person.  You never want to overwhelm them with complex topics.  You never want to slip into insider jargon.  And you never want to put your audience on the spot regarding religion or politics.

Many of our friends and acquaintances could be more effective using these 10 icebreakers, so I encourage you to forward this link to them.  Let’s all communicate more effectively.  And you are invited to contact me, so we can get better acquainted.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

ESTATE PLANNING: Planning for your children's education

Recently a fellow attorney in Indiana penned a thought provoking post on planning for your children’s education.  I enjoyed it, and I share it below with you.  The author is Chris Yugo writing a column for The Times in northwestern Indiana.

I just finished reading a book by Michael Schumacher called the "Mighty Fitz: The Sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald."

As the title implies, the book chronicles the story of the Edmund Fitzgerald, a huge ore caring vessel that sank in Lake Superior in 1975. Except for what I learned from the Gordon Lightfoot song, "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald," I really knew very little about the ship and its sinking.

Although you might imagine that book about a shipwreck would end with the ship's sinking, the book actually picked up from there to discuss the investigation and how the families of the men who were lost came to terms with the tragedy.

One thing that caught my attention was a section dealing with the children of the sailors. In particular, it discussed how Eugene "Red" O'Brien, a wheelsman, encouraged his son to attend college and get an education by establishing a trust for his education. According to his son John, "It made me stay in college because it was my job. I was getting paid. Here was my dad, a guy with limited education, working on the lakes. Yet he had the insight to do these things"

The book didn't go into too much detail about the terms but according to John, he received a monthly stipend as long as he remained in school.

The great thing is each of you can do the same thing to encourage your children and grandchildren to attend school. Now some of you might be saying, "I'm having trouble just keeping the mortgage current. There is no way for me to establish a trust fund."

In today's economic environment, I certainly understand that. However, you can still plan now without actually setting anything aside. You can set up a trust for your loved one's education within your will. A trust established within a will is a testamentary trust.

By using a testamentary trust, you don't have to fund it until your death. At that time, it can be funded with the savings account or the proceeds from the sale of the home or from life insurance or retirement accounts. If the funds are available at your death, the trust will fund. If the funds aren't available at your death, then the trust won't fund and you haven't lost anything.

Since you create the trust, you can choose the terms. For example, you can restrict the funds to only be used to pay for tuition, fees and books or it can pay any legitimate educational expense including room and board and perhaps a living allowance. You can make the terms as restrictive or unrestrictive as you please. So be creative.

I'm pretty sure Red didn't plan on being lost at sea. However, he did have the foresight to plan, which enabled his son to get an education. Even if you don't work the ore carriers on the Great Lakes, you should still have a plan.

Please note:   Opinions are solely the columnist's, and his information is meant to be general in nature. Specific legal, tax, or insurance questions should be referred to your attorney, accountant or estate-planning specialist.

Remember, I am the attorney who is available to address specific issues related to planning for your children’s education and other estate planning matters.  Please call me or post a request to meet in the COMMENT section of this blog post. 


Tuesday, June 7, 2011

It doesn't have to have monetary value to be important to your estate

SmartBusiness recently highlighted the fundamentals of a “well-thought-out estate plan,” with topics that everyone should consider – whether prince or pauper.

One of their interesting points was that if you are working with an estate planning attorney, most likely the important areas are going to be properly addressed, including the impact of pending changes in estate taxes. However, I’ve found that many people overlook making arrangements for their personal effects, including jewelry, art work and collectibles. They simply assume that their loved ones will be able to agree on how to divide it all up. In my experience, these things are what people argue over the most.

Not long ago, there was a case involving two brothers who litigated for three years over the ‘stuff’ left in their mom’s house. They ended up spending over $50,000 on attorney’s fees fighting over items that were appraised for only $5,000. To avoid this happening in your family, draft a Memorandum of Understanding and attach it to your will. The Memorandum can be very simple, but it should also be very specific in detailing your wishes. Hold a family meeting to identify what your children want, and incorporate that into the memo.

As your circumstances change and evolve over the years, your plans need to be kept current. Don’t forget about external factors such as tax law changes and fluctuations in the value of real estate.

Few people sit down, annually, and take stock of their estates. But if you do, millions of dollars can be saved and much heartache can be avoided.

If you have questions, let’s meet and talk.  My goal is to provide you with helpful information for creating, implementing, and updating your estate plan to serve your wishes.  And our mutual goal will be creating an estate plan that will succeed when it is called upon to take you and your loved ones through life’s inevitable transitions.