How Do I Contest a Will?
Will contest

How Do I Contest a Will?

The ways that children of a first marriage can contest a will fall into several scenarios. However, in order to do so, a person must have “standing.” Typically, a person has standing in two situations, explains nj.com in its recent article, “Can children from a first marriage contest a will?”

One way is when the individual is the decedent’s heir at law and would inherit under the laws of intestacy if the will were declared invalid. Another way a person could have standing, is if there were a prior will in which the person is a named beneficiary, and the prior will would be reinstated, if the subsequent will were set aside.

For example, in Mississippi, probate laws take blended families into consideration. If a person dies without a will and has descendants, like children or grandchildren who are not descendants of the surviving spouse, then several things would happen. The surviving spouse would inherit a child’s share of the estate. The descendants from outside the marriage would then inherit the remainder of the estate in equal shares.

Let’s say George and Gracie were married and had baby Benny. After George and Gracie divorce, George marries Phyllis. If George dies intestate—without a will—then Benny would inherit one-half of his estate. If George dies with a will, Benny has standing to challenge the validity of the will.

As a practical matter, Benny should only challenge the will, if he’d stand to inherit more under intestacy than under the will, and he has a valid challenge justifying that the will be set aside.

The four most common challenges to a will are lack of capacity, improper execution, fraud and undue influence/duress.

It’s not uncommon for will contests to be successful. However, it really depends on the facts and circumstances of each specific case. For example, Benny would have a much tougher time proving undue influence, if John and Phyllis were similar in age and married for 30 years prior to George’s death, than if Phyllis was 50 years younger than George, and he had some level of dementia.

Reference: nj.com (December 11, 2018) “Can children from a first marriage contest a will?”

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Why are Heirlooms the Source of Family Conflict in Probate?
Family jewelry and guns are often the source of controversy after a parent dies.

Why are Heirlooms the Source of Family Conflict in Probate?

When a family member dies, personal items and heirlooms can be the cause of significant conflict among family members, The Guardian says in its recent article, “When It Comes To Heirlooms, It’s Personal.” Many of these hotly-disputed items may have little to no monetary value. However, that doesn’t make them any less important to those family members who treasure their “priceless” emotional value.

A person can typically leave his estate to whomever he wants, provided that it satisfies the obligations to a spouse and dependents. There are several ways to ensure that an estate is equitably distributed, according to the wishes of the deceased. However, making decisions on personal effects and family heirlooms is often one of the hardest parts of the estate planning process.

Here’s what can you do to make sure the cherished personal property you wish to leave to your heirs doesn’t become the focal point for future disputes:

  • Avoid any surprises. Avoid potential conflicts by sharing with your family the contents of your will and your reasons for the way that you’ve decided to distribute your assets, so there are no surprises after you are gone.
  • Know what “fairness” means. Fairness doesn’t always mean “equal.” That is especially true when it comes to your personal items and heirlooms. Decide what “fairness” means to each of your family members, and if you agree, distribute your items accordingly.
  • Talk about your special assets. Create a list of the items you want to bequeath and ask your family who should get what.
  • Get appraisals and consultations. Have your personal property appraised and consult with your heirs to be certain that the items you bequeath are appropriately valued–both monetarily and emotionally.
  • Create a list. Attach to your will a letter that lists your personal property items and the heirs you want to receive them. The letter won’t be enforceable as part of your will, unless you incorporate it into the terms of the will.
  • Make choice now. While you’re still alive, list your personal items and have your heirs take turns choosing what they want.
  • Choose later. If you don’t want your heirs to select your personal items in advance but still prefer they are the ones who chose, leave a direction in your will that your heirs are to take turns, until all of the items have been chosen.

Reference: The Guardian (December 23, 2018) “When It Comes To Heirlooms, It’s Personal”

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What Do I Need to Do To Get Financially Fit in My 30s?

Whether you’re 30 or 39, retirement will come up fast. Many people are surprised when they see how much they need to put away to keep their current standard of living in retirement.

Once you decide when you want to retire, you need to calculate how much money you’ll need and how you’ll get there. Of course, you should take advantage of company matching and various tax deductions, when saving for retirement. Don’t wait until your 40s or 50s to try to catch up. That will be painful, or worse, impossible.

Forbes’s recent article, “3 Steps To Financial Fitness In Your Thirties,” advises that when you start to accumulate wealth, be sure someone is watching your investments and that those investments are suitable for your time frames and financial goals.

Work with a financial advisor you think can help improve your situation. This should be someone you trust, and most important of all, who you feel has your best interests at heart.

If you are accumulating assets, make sure they’re protected. Be certain you and your family are covered by having the correct insurance policies. Of course, in a perfect world nothing would happen. For instance, most people on disability would much rather be healthy. They’d love to be able to joke and say that having that disability insurance was a “bad investment”. However, those who are disabled and aren’t covered with a disability insurance policy, most likely wish they’d made sure they had this income protection in place.

Another form of protection is an emergency fund. If you don’t have one, start by regularly putting some amount of money into a non-retirement account. Even if it’s a small amount, something is better than nothing. If you were to be laid off, chances are that your unemployment benefits would not be enough to pay the rent or make a mortgage payment.

If you’re single, you should protect yourself—even more so than someone who has a partner to rely on. Many life insurance policies have living benefits that can protect you, if an emergency happens.  You may also be able to use cash value life insurance to partially fund your retirement.

Finally, it’s critical that you think about estate planning. You should have an estate plan, including a will, Powers of Attorney, health care power of attorney and, if you have minor children, a guardian should be named in your will.

Let’s say you’re living with someone. If something happens to either of you, the living partner will most likely will be treated as a roommate—and have no legal rights to your property. An estate plan can be prepared to provide your partner with legal protection.

Reference: Forbes (December 17, 2018) “3 Steps To Financial Fitness In Your Thirties”

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How To Keep Your Financial Resolutions in 2019

New Year’s Resolutions: we all make them but keeping them is another story. About 30% of all Americans plan on making financial resolutions for the year ahead, reports CNBC in the article “The secret to keeping next year’s financial resolutions.”

Getting more specific, most of the 2,000 people surveyed by Fidelity said they were going to save an extra $200 a month for their long-term 2019 goals, like retirement, college costs and health care. Half said they were going to boost contributions to their retirement savings plans, usually a 401(k) or their IRA. Higher limits for contributions to both are expected to increase the savings rate.

The unexpected ups and downs of life could stand in the way of your resolutions. Rising costs of health care, the volatile stock market and concerns about the trade wars are on most people’s minds. Try to focus on what you can do, rather than what you cannot control.

Like most of us, the people surveyed also admitted to making some spending mistakes they know made their savings less than they wanted. Chief among them: eating out too often and splurging on things that are way out of their budget.

How can you be sure to make and keep your financial New Year’s resolutions in 2019?

Try a budgeting app. There are several well-known, tried and tested budgeting apps that make keeping an eye on your spending and finding costs to cut easier. Once you’ve identified places you can cut spending and created a surplus, put that money into your savings account. Or, increase your retirement plan contribution. Even a little bit, can make a big difference over time.

Can you do better with your savings interest rate? Rising interest rates may make it possible to get a better return in 2019. As the Fed has raised its benchmark rate, yields on savings accounts are on the rise. While many savings accounts are only averaging 0.2%, some high-yield accounts are at 2.25%. Consider switching to a bank that offers at least a 2% return.

Note that the opposite goes for your credit cards: rising interest rates mean you’ll want to pay those off as soon as you can. Today’s average credit card interest rate is more than 17%. Try to pay the balance in full every month to avoid paying any more in fees than necessary.

Take control of your health care costs. If your Health Savings Account permits, increase the amount of money you contribute to your plan. If you didn’t use up all your funds in 2018, make an appointment for mid-year 2019 to schedule appointments or procedures you know you’ll need before the year is out. Make a resolution not to throw away health care dollars in 2019, especially if you have a “use-it-or-lose-it” flexible spending account.

Reference: CNBC (Dec. 15, 2018) “The secret to keeping next year’s financial resolutions”

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What Should I Be Doing 10 Years Before Retirement?

Investopedia’s recent article, “5 Things to Do 10 Years from Retirement,” explains that there’s a red zone both in football and retirement planning. In many instances, that zone is where the game is won or lost. In football, the red zone is 20 yards from the goal line. For retirement, it’s 10 years from your target retirement date. As you move towards your goal, you may need to “huddle up” and look at your game plan.

  1. Figure Out What Retirement Means to You. Before you start making financial plans, be clear on what retirement means to you. It may mean working 40 hours instead of 60 or never working another day for the rest of your life. Whatever you like, it’s important to have some idea of what you want to do every day. From there, you can start to shape a financial plan to support your retirement vision.
  2. Determine How Much Money You’ll Spend Every Month. Once you’ve defined what your retirement will look like, you can begin planning for it financially. First, determine how much you’ll be spending every month on your retirement budget. Many pre-retirees just don’t know how much they need to live on a monthly basis. An accurate retirement plan will be based on your monthly household expenses.
  3. Examine Your Sources of Income in Retirement. While looking at your spending, be aware of all the types of income you’ll have during retirement, such as Social Security, a pension, a 401(k) or an IRA. There are choices that will have to be made, if you have a pension. The timing for collecting Social Security payments is also important.
  4. Rework Your Investment Strategy. The way you’ve been investing for the past 30 years, is not how you should invest for the next 30. Younger people focus on accumulation, but when you’re in or nearing retirement, you need to concentrate on income and keeping pace with inflation. Diversification is important, but what’s more powerful than diversification is asset allocation.
  5. Consider Hiring a Financial Professional. You can do-it-yourself, since there are many inexpensive funds and research information available. However, there’s much more that goes into creating a comprehensive retirement plan than just investments. Your retirement plan should address your need for income, estate planning, survivorship planning, insurance needs, business continuation, inflation, and other points.

As in football, the team that wins the game, is often the team who played well in the red zone. Don’t fumble the ball at the goal line or settle for a field goal. Score a touchdown with smart retirement planning.

Reference: Investopedia (September 7, 2018) “5 Things to Do 10 Years from Retirement”

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Proper Estate Planning Can Prevent Family Fights

Research shows that about 60% of U.S. adults don’t have a will.

However, not all of your possessions pass through a will. 401(k)s, life insurance proceeds, pensions, and annuities pass by beneficiary designation.

The (Washington, PA) Observer-Reporter’s recent article, “Improper estate planning can lead to familial conflict” explains that some of your possessions will pass through probate. If you own property in several states, the process could become more difficult for your loved ones. A way to simplify the process for them, is by having an updated will.

For instance, even if your will states that all of your possessions are to be split equally between your two children, this may not be what actually occurs. If your life insurance lists only Bob as the beneficiary, he’ll walk off with 100% of the death benefit. Your younger son Doug will receive only half of the assets that don’t have a beneficiary designation. Assets that pass by designation are not controlled by the will. That is why Bob gets all the money from the insurance. As you can see, it’s vital that you review your accounts’ beneficiary designations regularly, to make certain they’re up to date. Check on them every few years or when there’s a family divorce, birth, or death. Once you’re gone, they can’t be changed.

In addition, your estate plan should include two powers of attorney (POA). The first POA is to make health decisions. The second POA is to make financial decisions, if you don’t have the capacity to do so. Your POA agent has your authority to make decisions, only when you do not have capacity and she can only exercise it for your own benefit. POAs end at the drafter’s death.

It’s common today for families to have blended elements. Many people were married before and may have had children. Here’s an example of a famous father who made his third wife executor of his estate, giving her control of his business. In this case, his equally famous son was the principal player in the father’s business. The son didn’t understand the implications of his father’s estate plan. When the father died, there was a long and expensive legal battle between the son and the third wife.

Who was it? It was Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Work with an experienced attorney and don’t let this happen to your family.

Reference: The (Washington, PA) Observer-Reporter (December 7, 2018) “Improper estate planning can lead to familial conflict”

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How Do I Add Livestock to my Estate Plan?

Ranchers may think estate planning involves only assets like the house and the land. We think a lot about how these assets will be divided between children. Consequently, many farming and ranching families use language in their estate plans to give the on-farm child the first chance to buy farm assets, if the other siblings want to sell.

A recent Beef Magazine article asks, “Are your livestock covered in your estate plan?” The article notes that this “first chance” needs to cover a wide range of assets like equipment, vehicles, personal items and livestock.

Maintaining an itemized list of these assets can help your family recognize their true value. This is especially important, when you consider the value of livestock. When you take the herd to the sale barn, they’ll all bring commercial price. However, do your heirs understand how much you paid for that purebred herd sire five years ago? How about the semen in the tank? Seedstock producers or commercial producers who paid premiums for specific animals, know that the value of these animals isn’t as obvious as the current market price at the auction barn. Therefore, the way in which these cattle should be handled after the current operator dies, needs to be included in the estate plan.

Many ranchers and farmers are looking at livestock trusts. These are written declarations of how the farm owner would like livestock to be cared for after the owner’s death, along with resources and instructions for handling such livestock. A livestock trust can help put aside money and/or resources, so an owner can still protect prized animals, long after the owner’s death.

Livestock trusts are particularly important, if a rancher’s heirs aren’t involved in the ranch operations. The trust can detail the cattle’s veterinarian and nutritionist contact info, as well as preparations for who will feed the livestock and for how long, if the rancher dies. It can also discuss what happens, if the death is during or immediately prior to calving season or at weaning, as well as how the hired hand is paid.

In addition, if the heirs elect to sell the livestock, the trust can instruct them on the best way to market these valuable cattle to ensure the best price, along with information about a trucking company to haul the livestock and a breed representative who could work with perspective buyers. The sale of semen and embryos must also be addressed.

With all of these questions, it’s best to get answers while the owner is still alive. Ask your estate planning attorney about a livestock trust for your estate plan to protect your valuable cattle.

Reference: Beef Magazine (December 14, 2018) “Are your livestock covered in your estate plan?”

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What Does George H.W. Bush’s Estate Look Like?

For a guy who was often derided as living in a bubble of “old money,” George H.W. Bush didn’t accumulate a whole lot of cash. However, he really didn’t need to. The whole point of dynastic wealth is that it creates a seamless support system from cradle to grave, says Wealth Advisor’s recent article, “American Dynasty: What G.H.W. Bush Leaves Behind (And Who Steps Up To Inherit).”

Bush begins near zero on paper, sells his oil company and lets the interest accumulate. When his father dies, he doesn’t record more than a $1 million windfall. At that time, these were still impressive numbers, but it wasn’t exactly dynastic money. For a Bush of his era, it’s just money. The real non-negotiable asset is the Maine summer home. He paid $800,000 cash for it when he joined the Reagan White House and sold his Texas place to raise the money. However, his 1031 exchange switching houses backfired, because he still claimed Texas residency and so got no tax break on the capital gain.

Interestingly, the Kennebunkport house hasn’t been passed on through inheritance for generations and has never been put into a trust. The relative willing to take on the house would buy it from the previous owner’s estate, but it’s currently assessed at $13 million. Purchasing it would trigger roughly a $12 million capital gain today and wipe out the entire estate tax exemption for he and Barbara.

However, President Bush had world-class tax planning, and the family lawyer in Houston has been with him since the 1980s. The house isn’t in a trust yet, but it’s owned by a shell partnership that plays a similar function.

Bush owned the partnership, and now that both George and Barbara are gone,  the partnership might roll into a trust to distribute shares in the house to the children. If that’s the case, provided the kids see value in keeping the house, the trust pays the bills. Otherwise, they will sell it one day and distribute the proceeds.

Presidential memorabilia is very valuable. Most of the President’s collection went to his library. Otherwise, there might not be a lot of cash because George didn’t live very lavishly. His government pension probably was used for his everyday expenses. Any cash left in that trust, might well have accumulated for the beneficiaries. However, interestingly, much of the income was given to the kids years ago. This may have made a big difference establishing them in lives of business and philanthropy.

Reference: Wealth Advisor (December 3, 2018) “American Dynasty: What G.H.W. Bush Leaves Behind (And Who Steps Up To Inherit)”

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