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.