Mark Twain’s Estate Plan Went South, Despite His Efforts

Mark Twain was right. He passed away one day after the comet’s closest approach to earth. A month later, his last will and testament was admitted by a Connecticut probate court appointing three friends as executor trustees to administer his estate. According to the article “Who will advocate for your estate?” appearing in 83 degrees, his estate plan choices turned out to be a terrible mistake.

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When are You Done with Estate Planning?

A family has set up their estate plan. Two sons are already in the farming business and are thriving. Their daughter will receive the proceeds from a second-to-die life insurance policy and their considerable savings. The amounts are not equal in amount, but they are an equitable inheritance, and it seems like the couple has done its homework.

However, asks an article in The Courier, “The will is done, you’re sitting pretty—but are you?”

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Don’t Forget to Update Your Estate Plan

There are some people who sign their will once in their life and never change it. They may have executed their estate plan late in life, or after they were diagnosed with a serious disease. However, even if your family life and finances are pretty basic, there are still changes in the law that you may need to incorporate into your estate plan.  Some of the people that you named in your will could also have died or moved away.

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When Does a No Contest Clause Make Sense?

It’s an emotionally charged decision. Parents who sit down with an estate planning attorney would much rather talk about their grandchildren and how much they are looking forward to retirement.

However, then the discussion turns to how they want to distribute their assets, as reported in the article “Why is it called a ‘No Contest’ clause?” from The Daily Sentinel, and a problem is revealed.

The parents share that there is a family member, an adult child, who has never been part of the family. Usually they have had a troubled past, pushed others in the family out of their lives and it’s heartbreaking for all concerned.

The discussion then moves to determining how to handle that individual with respect to their estate plan. “Do you want her to be part of your estate plan?” is the least judgmental question the attorney can ask. In many cases, the parents say yes and say they’ll keep trying to foster some kind of relationship, no matter how limited. In other cases, the answer is no.

In both cases, however, the concern is that the difficult child will fight with their siblings and take the battle to court. That’s one of the reasons to include a no contest clause.

As long as estate planning documents are prepared correctly and signed, they will survive a legal contest. However, putting in a no contest clause creates another barrier to an estate battle.

The no contest clause is intended to act as a strong deterrent for those individuals who believe they are entitled to more of the estate. It makes it clear that any challenges will result in a smaller portion of the estate, and possibly no inheritance at all, depending upon how it is written.

Both parents need to have a no contest provision included in their wills. The message is clear and consistent: these are the estate plans that we decided to create. Don’t try to change them.

For families with litigious family members or spouses who married into the family and feel that they are not being treated fairly, a no contest clause makes sense to protect the wishes of the parents.

Speak with an experienced estate planning attorney about how a no contest provision might work in your situation. If your family doesn’t need such a clause, count your blessings!

Reference: The Daily Sentinel (Aug. 10, 2019) “Why is it called a ‘No Contest’ clause?”

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Dissolving the Mystery of Probate

Probate can be avoided with proper estate planning, or certain assets can be placed outside of the probate process.

The Street’s recent article on this subject asks “What Is Probate and How Can You Avoid It?” The article looks at the probate process and tries to put it in real-life terms.

Probate is an estate planning process that works within a probate court with a probate judge presiding over the proceedings. Usually, surviving families and other interested parties initiate a probate process, to address issues relating to the deceased individual’s estate settlement. These include:

  • The handling of the deceased’s valid will;
  • Properly citing and categorizing the deceased’s assets;
  • Appraising the deceased’s estate and property;
  • Paying off any of the deceased’s existing debts; and
  • Distributing the deceased’s property to those directed by the will (or, if there’s no will, the probate court will direct the distribution of estate assets, according to the laws of intestacy).

The executor handling the deceased’s estate will typically start the process. Here are the basic steps:

File a Petition. The estate’s executor will file a request for probate in the county where the deceased resided.  The court will then assign a date to confirm the executor and, once that is done, the probate judge will officially open the probate case.

Notice. The executor must send a notice that the deceased’s estate is officially in probate to all applicable beneficiaries, heirs, debtors and creditors.

Inventory Assets. The executor will then collect, list and present a value for all of the deceased’s assets and supply this to the probate court.

Pay the Bills. The executor will need to pay all outstanding debts owed by the estate after receiving Court approval.

Complete Any Tax Returns. The estate may also have existing tax returns that need to be filed. An accountant can be hired by the estate to work on this, or the executor may choose to file the taxes on his or her own.

Pay the Heirs. The executor can now distribute the remainder of the estate to any heirs, according to the will’s instructions.

Close the Estate. Finally, the executor will file paperwork with the court and file to close the estate.

An experienced estate planning attorney licensed to practice in your state will be able to explain what strategies are used to avoid probate, how to remove certain assets from the process, or whether it needs to be avoided at all. In some cases, probate is swift, but often it is long and tiresome. A local estate planning attorney is your best resource.

Call us (228) 460-5243 or email us at info@perklawgroup.com to find our how your probate attorney can help you.

Legal disclaimer: The information in this article is provided for information purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. Your should not act or refrain from acting on the basis of any content included in this article or on our website (www.perklawgroup.com) without seeking legal or professional advice.

Reference: The Street (July 29, 2019) “What Is Probate and How Can You Avoid It?”

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What Do I Need to Know Before Becoming an Estate Executor?

An executor steps in for the person who wrote the will and makes sure that all the final arrangements are carried out. When you agree to be named the executor or personal representative of an estate, it’s a big decision. It is far more significant than most people realize. There are many responsibilities to think about, before agreeing to take on the role. Investopedia’s recent article, “5 Things to Consider Before Becoming an Estate Executor” lists five things to consider before saying yes.

  1. Complexity of the Estate. Typically, the larger the estate—which can be in terms of property, possessions, assets or the number of beneficiaries—the harder and more time consuming it will be. The best way to see how difficult the job will be, is to request to see a copy of the current will. If there are obvious red flags, like unequal distributions to children or trusts or annuities, it may be best to say no.
  2. Time Commitment. This job takes time and energy, and requires a lot of attention to detail. Truth be told, almost all has to do with the details. Before you agree to execute a will, you should be sure that you have the time to do the job. It’s also important to review your decision to serve as an executor every time your situation changes, like when you get married, have children or change locations. It’s not unusual for a testator to change executors throughout a lifetime.
  3. Immediate Responsibilities. You may agree to be an executor, thinking that it’ll be years before you have to do any work. However, that’s not always the case. You should be sure the testator is keeping a list of assets and debts and knows where the original will, and the asset list are being held and how to access them. You should also have a list of the contact info for attorneys or agents named by the testator. You can also discuss the testator’s wishes for a funeral or memorial service, including instructions for burial or cremation.
  4. Duties After the Testator Dies. This is when the executor must make funeral arrangements, locate the will, initiate probate, manage assets, pay all debts, submit tax returns and more. This can be a snap, if you’re organized and detail oriented.
  5. How You’ll Be Paid. Each state has laws on how an executor is paid. An executor is also entitled to be compensated for expenses incurred, as they carry out their responsibilities. Executors can also refuse compensation, which is common if you’re doing this for a member of your family.

It’s an honor to be asked to be an executor. It means the testator trusts you to carry out their final wishes and to see to their legacy. However, be sure that you’re up to the task.

Call us (228) 460-5243 or email us at info@perklawgroup.com to find our how your estate planning attorney can help you.

Legal disclaimer: The information in this article is provided for information purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. Your should not act or refrain from acting on the basis of any content included in this article or on our website (www.perklawgroup.com) without seeking legal or professional advice.

Reference: Investopedia (June 25, 2019) “5 Things to Consider Before Becoming an Estate Executor”

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What Are the Biggest Estate Planning Questions I Need to Answer?

If you have a family, you can probably benefit from estate planning, regardless of your asset level. The Montrose Press published an article, “Estate plans can help you answer questions about the future,” that answers some of the big questions:

What will happen to my children? As part of your estate planning, you should name a guardian to take care of your children, if you pass away. You can also name a conservator–sometimes called a “guardian of the estate”–to manage the assets that your minor children inherit.

Will there be a battle over my assets? If you fail to put a solid estate plan in place, your assets could be subject to the time-consuming, expensive and public probate process. During probate, your relatives and creditors can get access to your records. They may even challenge your will. However, with proper planning, you can maintain your privacy.

Who will control my finances and my living situation, if I’m incapacitated? You can sign a durable power of attorney. This permits you to name someone to manage your financial affairs, if you’re incapacitated. A medical power of attorney lets the person you choose handle health care decisions for you, if you’re not able to do so yourself.

Will my family feel cheated if I leave significant assets to charities? As part of your estate plan, you have options. You could establish a charitable lead trust. This will provide financial support to your chosen charities for a set period. The remaining assets will then go to your family members. On the other hand, a charitable remainder trust will provide a stream of income for family members for the term of the trust. The remaining assets will then be transferred to one or more charitable organizations.

Careful estate planning with the help of an experienced estate planning attorney can answer many of the questions that may concern you.

Once you have your plans in place, you can face the future with greater clarity, peace of mind and confidence.

Call us (228) 460-5243 or email us at info@perklawgroup.com to find our how your estate planning attorney can help you.

Legal disclaimer: The information in this article is provided for information purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. Your should not act or refrain from acting on the basis of any content included in this article or on our website (www.perklawgroup.com) without seeking legal or professional advice.

Reference: Montrose Press (July 7, 2019) “Estate plans can help you answer questions about the future”

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How Does a Life Estate Work?

Life estates are used for a number of estate planning purposes. However, the most frequent strategy is to use a life estate where a parent transfers a home to a child and retains a life estate for themselves.

nj.com’s recent article, “How does a life estate work to transfer a home to a child?” explains that as a result of the transfer, the child becomes the owner of the home but the parent has certain rights and responsibilities.

The most critical right retained with a life estate is the exclusive right to reside in the property. A child cannot force the parent to move out, and likewise, the child doesn’t have any right to live there. The child can live with their parent, but the deed doesn’t give the child the legal right to live there.

With a life estate, the parent must pay the property taxes and all the regular maintenance connected to the property. Typically, the life tenant is responsible for repairs—but not improvements.

This can be hard to determine, but usually the life tenant must maintain the property in the same condition as when the life estate deed was signed. So, if the parent moves out, and the property is rented, the parent has the right to receive all of the rents.

When the parent passes away, the life estate automatically ceases, and the child now has all of the rights associated with the property.

As far as income tax, when the parent dies, the property receives a “step up” in basis to the date of death value. If the property is sold after the parent dies, the capital gain or loss is calculated by deducting the date of death value from the sales price. It’s a very important tax advantage if the parent has owned the home for a long time, and the property has a low basis.

Retaining the life estate can help the child avoid the capital gains tax more effectively than just transferring the property outright to the child.

However, in contrast, if the property is sold while the parent is still alive, part of the proceeds will be allocated to the parent and part will be allocated to the child.

Only the percentage that’s allocated to the parent will be excluded from income under the federal tax laws. The part that’s allocated to the child may be subject to capital gains taxation.

Every family’s situation is different, so it would be wise to speak with an estate planning attorney to explore whether or not a life estate would be the best situation for you and your family.

Call us (228) 460-5243 or email us at info@perklawgroup.com to find our how your estate planning attorney can help you.

Legal disclaimer: The information in this article is provided for information purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. Your should not act or refrain from acting on the basis of any content included in this article or on our website (www.perklwagroup.com) without seeking legal or professional advice.

Reference: nj.com (July 12, 2019) “How does a life estate work to transfer a home to a child?”

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Why We All Need to Have an Estate Plan

Putting off estate planning is never a good idea. Life happens, and before you know it, “someday” arrives. Having an estate plan is advisable for everyone, says the South Florida Reporter in the article “Why Estate Planning is so Important.” It doesn’t matter if you are rich or poor—you need an estate plan. People with families who depend upon them, as well as singles who don’t, need an estate plan.

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