Why It’s Always Better to Plan Ahead

Two stories of two people who managed their personal lives very differently illustrate the enormous difference that can happen for those who refuse to prepare themselves and their families for the events that often accompany aging. As an article from Sedona Red Rock News titled “Plan ahead in case of sudden sickness or death” makes clear, the value of advance planning becomes very clear. One man, let’s call him Ben, has been married for 47 years and he’s always overseen the family finances. He has a stroke and can’t walk or talk. His wife Shirley is overwhelmed with worry about her husband’s illness. Making matters worse, she doesn’t know what bills need to be paid or when they are due.

On the other side of town is Louise. At 80, she fell in her own kitchen and broke her hip, a common injury for the elderly. After a week in the hospital, she spent two months in a rehabilitation nursing home. Her son lives on the other side of the country, but he was able to pay her bills and handle all the Medicare issues. Several years ago, Louise and her son had planned what he should do in case she had a health crisis.

More good planning on Louise’s part: all her important papers were organized and put into one place, and she told her son where they could be found. She also shared with him the name of her attorney, a list of people to contact at her bank, primary physician’s office, financial advisor, and insurance agent. She also made sure her son had copies of her Medicare and any other health insurance information. Her son’s name was added to her checking account and to the safe deposit box at the bank. And she made sure to have a legal document prepared so her son could talk with her doctors about her health and any health insurance matters.

And then there’s Ben. He always handled everything and wouldn’t let anyone else get involved. Only Ben knew the whereabouts of his life insurance policy, the title to his car, and the deed to the house. Ben never expected that someone else would need to know these things. Shirley has a tough job ahead of her. There are many steps involved in getting ready for an emergency, but as you can see, this is a necessary task to start and finish.

First, gather up all your important information. That includes your full legal name, Social Security number, birth certificate, marriage certificate, divorce papers, citizenship or adoption papers, information on employers, any military service information, phone numbers for close friends, relatives, doctors, estate planning attorney, financial advisor, CPA, and any other professionals.

Your will, power of attorney, health care power of attorney, living will and any directives should be stored in a secure location. Make sure at least two people know where they are located. Talk with your estate planning attorney to find out if they will store any documents on your behalf.

Financial records should be organized. That includes all your insurance policies, bank accounts, investment accounts, 401(k), or other retirement accounts, copies of the most recent tax returns, and any other information about your financial life.

Advance planning does take time, but not planning will create havoc for your family during a difficult time.

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: Sedona Red Rock News (July 9, 2019) “Plan ahead in case of sudden sickness or death”

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How Power of Attorney Can Help Unravel an Estate Mess

This is the type of estate scenario that demonstrates the importance of having a will, no matter how old you are. The challenge, as described in My San Antonio’s article, “Using power of attorney in daughter’s estate,” is untangling the house title, the mortgage and the taxes. Having a will would have prevented this entire situation from occurring.

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Here’s How You Know You’re an Adult: 10 Documents

Fifty is a little on the late side to start taking care of these important life matters. However, it is better late than never. It’s easy to put these tasks off, since the busyness of our day-to-day lives gives us a good reason to procrastinate on the larger issues, like death and our own mortality. However, according to Charlotte Five’s article “For ultimate adulting status, have these 10 documents by the time you’re 35,” the time to act is now.

Here are the ten documents you need to get locked down.

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Will Helps Avoid Problems and Expenses for Family

Having a will and an estate plan makes passing along assets much easier for the family. Having necessary documents like a power of attorney and a health care power of attorney lets the family make decisions for a loved one, who has become incapacitated. These are estate planning basics, as reported by WKBN 27 in the article “Attorney recommends everyone have a will in place to prevent avoidable issues.”

Think of the will as a way to speak for yourself, when you have passed away. It’s the instructions for what you want to happen to your property, when you die. If there’s a will, the executor is responsible for carrying out your requests. With no will, a court will have to make these decisions.

Many people believe that if they don’t have a will, their spouse will simply inherit everything, automatically. This is not true. There are some states where the surviving spouse receives 50% of a decedent’s assets and the children receive the rest. However, the children could be offspring from outside the marriage. Not having a will, makes your estate and your family vulnerable to unexpected claims.

A will must contain certain elements, which are determined by your state’s laws and must be signed in the presence of two witnesses. Without the correct formalities, the will could be deemed invalid.

Lawyers recommend that everyone have a will and an estate plan, regardless of the size of your estate.

Young parents, in particular, need to have a will, so they can name a person to be guardian of their child or children, if they should both die.

Details matter. In some states, if you make a list and neglect to name specifically who gets what, using the term “children” instead of someone’s name, your stepchildren may not be included. State laws vary, so a local estate planning attorney is your best resource.

You should also be sure to talk with your spouse and your children about what your intentions are, before putting your wishes in writing. You may not feel totally comfortable having the discussion. However, if your intention is to preserve the family, especially if it is a blended family, then everyone should have a chance to learn what to expect.

Wills do become binding, but they are not a one-time event. Just as your life changes, your estate plan and your will should change.

Don’t neglect to update your beneficiary designations. Those are the people you named to receive retirement accounts, bank accounts or other assets that can be transferred by beneficiary designations. The instructions in your will do not control the beneficiary designation. This is a big mistake that many people make. If your will says your current spouse should receive the balance of your IRA when you die but your IRA lists your first wife, your ex will receive everything.

Here are the four estate planning documents needed:

  • A will;
  • A living will, if you need to be placed on life support and decisions need to be made;
  • A healthcare power of attorney, if you cannot speak for yourself, when it comes to medical decisions;
  • A durable power of attorney to make financial decisions, if you are incapacitated.

A local estate planning attorney can help you create all of these documents and will also help you clarify your wishes. If you have an estate plan but have not reviewed it in years, you’ll want to do that soon. Laws and lives change, and you may need to make some changes.

Reference: WKBN 27 (March 14, 2019) “Attorney recommends everyone have a will in place to prevent avoidable issues.”

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Wills v. Trusts: What’s Right for You?

It’s a good idea to take the time and make the effort to create an estate plan to take care of your estate — no matter if it’s a condo apartment and a housecat or a big house and lots of money in the bank — just in case something unexpected occurs tomorrow. That’s the advice from AZ Big Media in the article “The pros and cons of wills vs. trusts.”

Estate planning is the area of the law that focuses on the disposition of assets and expenses, when a person dies. The goal is to take care of the “business side” of life while you are living, so your family and loved ones don’t have to pick up the pieces after you are gone. It’s much more expensive, time-consuming and stressful for the survivors to do this after death, than it is if you plan in advance.

You have likely heard the words “trust” and “will” as part of estate planning. What are the differences between the two, and how do you know which one you need?

A will is the most commonly used legal document for leaving instructions about your property after you die. It is also used to name an executor — the person who will be in charge of your assets, their distribution, paying taxes and any estate expenses after you die. The will is very important, if you have minor children. This is how you will name guardians to raise your children, if something unexpected occurs to you and your partner, spouse or co-parent. The will is also the document you use to name the person who you would like to care for your pets, if you have any.

Burial instructions are not included in wills, since the will is not usually read for weeks or sometimes months after a person passes. It’s also not the right way to distribute funds that have been taken care of through the use of beneficiary designations or joint ownership on accounts or assets.

Another document used in estate planning is a trust. There are many different types of trusts, from revocable trusts, which you control as long as you are alive, and irrevocable trusts, which are controlled by trustees. There are too many to name in one article, but if there is something that needs to be accomplished in an estate plan, there’s a good chance there is a special trust designed to do it. An estate planning attorney will be able to tell you if you need a trust, and what purpose it will serve.

Trusts can be used by anyone with assets or property.

A will can be a very simple document. It requires proper formats and formalities to ensure that it is valid. If you try to do this on your own, your heirs will be the ones to find out if you have done it properly.  If it is not done correctly, the court will deem it invalid and your estate will be “intestate,” that is, without a will.

Many people believe that they should put all their assets into a trust to avoid probate. In some cases, this may be useful. However, there are many states where probate is not an onerous process, and this is not the reason for setting up trusts.

A trust won’t eliminate taxes completely, nor will it eliminate the need for any estate administration. However, it may make passing certain assets to another person or another generation easier. Your estate planning attorney will be able to guide you through this process.

Whether you use a will or a trust, or as is most common, a combination of the two, you need an estate plan that includes other documents, including power of attorney and health care power of attorney. These two particular documents are used while you are living, so that someone you name can make financial decisions (power of attorney) and medical health decisions (health care power of attorney) if you should become incapacitated, through illness or injury.

Speak with an estate planning attorney. Every person’s situation is a little different, and an estate planning attorney will create an estate plan that works for you and protects your family.

Reference: AZ Big Media (March 21, 2019) “The pros and cons of wills vs. trusts”

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Where There’s A Will, There’s a Better Future for Family

The plain truth is, everyone needs a will. The value of someone’s personal property has very little to do with the need for a will or estate plan. Without one, the process of settling an estate and having heirs receive their inheritance could be delayed for many months, or even years, says the article “Where there’s a will, there is a plan in place” from The Advertiser. For wills to be legally acceptable, there are certain things that need to be included:

Identification of the person making the will, also known as the testator. The will must contain the person’s name, address, state their intention to create a distribution process for assets and the statement that this will is intended to be their last will and testament and all other wills are revoked. The will must also be dated to be sure to know hold old it is, with regard to other wills.

Outstanding debt payment. The will needs to explain how any outstanding bills will be paid, including funeral costs, medical costs, taxes owed, and any other expenses that a person may have at the time of their death. This may vary by state, so speak with a local estate planning attorney to find out what your state’s laws are.

Name any heirs and what they are being given. You may give your property to whomever you want, or to a charity. The bequest needs to be carefully written, so it is very specific and there are no misunderstandings. Since it may be hard to know what will be left after final expenses are paid, it may be wise to give percentages of assets, rather than specific figures. An estate planning attorney will know how to best handle this aspect of a will.

Chose an executor and name them in the will. The executor is responsible for carrying out the wishes of the testator and is in charge of paying debts, taxes, distributing assets and any tasks assigned in the will. Choosing the right person for this task is very important. They need to be able to handle the responsibility and be able to execute your wishes, without being bullied by family members or friends. Always name a secondary executor, in case the first predeceases you, or if the person is unable or unwilling to serve.

Name a guardian for minor children. This is why parents of young children must have a will. If there is no will, the court will determine who should raise the children, following the laws of kinship of your state. You may not agree with the court’s decision. Select a person (or couple) you believe will raise the children, as close as possible to how you would raise the children.

Plan for your funeral. This is a kindness to your loved ones. If you don’t plan in advance, your loved ones may spend more than you would wish on an elaborate funeral. The opposite may also happen. A simple paragraph may do the job, or you could visit the local funeral home and prepay, selecting everything so that it will be done according to your own wishes.

In addition to a will, you’ll want a power of attorney and health care power of attorney in place to protect you, in case of incapacity. This way, someone will be able to take care of your finances and someone else will be able to make health care decisions, if you can’t.

An estate planning attorney can work with you to make sure that all these documents are properly prepared according to your state’s laws.  They have worked with many others, know what kind of issues crop up and how to prepare for them. This is especially important with blended families or families where there are complicated histories. Think of the estate plan as a gift to your heirs, a chance to express your wishes and a way to create a legacy for your loved ones.

Reference: The Advertiser (March 10, 2019) “Where there’s a will, there is a plan in place” 

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Plan Before a Health Crisis Strikes

A woman wakes up to hear her husband gasping for breath, unresponsive and in full cardiac arrest. He was only 55, he biked 25 to 50 miles every day, he ate right and was one of the healthiest people she knew. Yet, he was having a heart attack. He did not have a health care directive in place, and she did not know what his wishes were in the case of a health emergency.

The story, as related in “START WITH A PLAN (not a heart attack)” from OakPark.com, is not as unusual as one would think. What does make it unusual, was that both of these individuals are attorneys. They had never had an estate plan created or drafted documents.

As the woman sat by his hospital bed in the critical care unit after his surgery, she started thinking about the practical realities. If he remained unconscious for some time, how would she access his individual finances, his paycheck or pay the monthly bills? She would need to hire an attorney and seek guardianship from the court to handle his financial affairs. If he died, she’d have to hire an attorney and open a probate case.

Without a will in place, her husband’s estate would be deemed intestate, and the laws of the state, in her case, Illinois, would be applied to distribute his property. Half of his property would be distributed to his children and the other half to her.

That might mean she would have to borrow money from her own children to pay bills and cover their college tuition.

Her husband responded well to the surgery, but at one point he needed to be transferred to another hospital. As they travelled by ambulance to another hospital, a terrible thought occurred to her: what if the ambulance were in an accident and they were both killed? Who would rear their children? How long would it take to settle the estate, with no will?

Thankfully, the ambulance arrived safely at the hospital, her husband recovered from his heart attack and the first thing they attended to when he recovered was their estate plan.

It’s a dramatic story, but a telling one: everyone, no matter how healthy, needs to have an estate plan in place. That means a will, power of attorney, healthcare proxy, HIPAA release form and any other planning tools that each family’s situation may need.

Make an appointment to meet with an estate planning attorney to put your plan in place. Don’t wait until you have time, because you never know when you may run out of time.

Reference: Oak Park.com (Feb. 27, 2019) “START WITH A PLAN (not a heart attack)”

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Do I Need a Living Trust or a Will? Or Both?

This is just one of the reasons people think they want a trust: to ensure that the value of their overall estate will not decrease, because of the cost of probate. The most common way to do that is with a trust, says The Houston Chronicle in the article “Elder Law: Which should I have—A Living trust or a will?”

In some states, probate is not an expensive or overly time-consuming issue. Texas, for example, has what is called an independent administration. Executors handle the tasks involved in settling an estate and distributing assets to beneficiaries. As a result, there’s very little court involvement. However, that’s not the case everywhere. An estate planning attorney in your area will be able to explain the details of your state’s procedures and discuss whether a trust is right for your estate. They’ll also explain the difference between different types of trusts.

The trust most frequently used to avoid probate, is known as a revocable management trust, living trust or an “inter vivos” trust.

Selecting the best type of trust for each situation is different. Here are some advantages of living trusts:

Avoiding probate. The cost of probate alone is not reason enough to use a trust. However, if your assets are in trusts, you may not need to file an inventory listing your assets with the court. That’s not always required in every jurisdiction, but if it is required where you live, a trust can help keep your asset list private, by ensuring that it is only seen by beneficiaries.

Asset management for incapacity. A living trust goes into effect, while you are alive. If you become incapacitated, an alternate trustee can step in to manage assets, pay bills and ensure that finances are taken care of.

Avoiding probate in another state. If you own out-of-state property, your estate may need to be probated in your home state and in the other state. If you have a living trust, out-of-state parcels of land can be deeded into the trust during your lifetime, thus avoiding the need for probate in another state. After your passing, your trustee can handle the out-of-state property in the living trust.

Administrative ease. There are, unfortunately, instances when Power of Attorney can be challenged by financial institutions. The authority of a trustee is more likely to be recognized, by banks, investment companies, etc.

There are some questions about whether it’s better to have a living trust or a will. The most complex part of having a living trust, is the process of funding the trust. It is imperative for the trust to work, that every asset you own is either transferred into the trust or retitled into the name of the trust. If assets are left out or incorrectly funded, then probate will probably be necessary. This can occur, even if only one single asset is left out.

If an asset is controlled by beneficiary designation, then the trust may not need to be named a beneficiary, should you want it to pass directly to one or more beneficiaries.

Funding the trust becomes complicated, when retirement accounts are involved. Consult with an experienced estate planning attorney, if you want to make the trust a designated beneficiary of a retirement account. This is because very specific and complex rules may limit the ability to “stretch” the distributions form the account.

Using a trust instead of a will-based plan is growing in popularity, but it should never be an automatic decision. An estate planning attorney will be able to explain the pros and cons of each strategy and help you and your family decide which is better for you.

Reference: The Houston Chronicle (Feb. 15, 2019) “Elder Law: Which should I have—A Living trust or a will?”

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When Should You Have Your Estate Plan Done?

But don’t pat yourself too much — you’re not done yet. A will is not a static instrument, says The Item in its recent article “Don’t wait until high noon.” If laws change, which happens regularly, or your life changes, you need to review your will and be aware of any significant changes that may have an impact on your will and its goals.

Marriage, divorce, birth, adoption and death are some of the key trigger events in life that call for a review of your will. Some of these events seem very obvious, but others aren’t. That is when problems can arise. For instance, if a widow or widower remarries, the will needs to be updated to clarify how the new spouse and the children from prior marriages are to be provided for.

Welcoming a new child into the family is an event to celebrate, whether by birth or adoption. The will needs to add the new child. However, there’s another step that may be even more important. A will is used to name a guardian for the child, so the parents may name a person to rear their child in their absence. If a guardian is not named, then the court will select someone who might have not been the parent’s first (or even second) choice.

The death of an executor, beneficiary, guardian or trustee named in the will also means that the will needs to be updated. If the person who has died is a beneficiary, their name needs to be removed.  You may want to reconsider how assets are distributed. For executors, guardians or trustees, remember to add a secondary person for each role.

What if you inherit an unexpected fortune? You’ll definitely need to review your will, since your estate tax liability may have changed. Even if you don’t owe federal estate taxes, there may be state estate taxes to plan for. If you suffer a large financial loss, you’ll need to review your will, since the generous gift you had planned on leaving to a nonprofit. may no longer be available.

Some changes to wills occur because people change their minds about how they want to distribute their assets, or who they want to handle their post-mortem responsibilities. If you have a falling out with an executor, for instance, that change needs to be made in a timely manner.

If you have not reviewed the beneficiaries who are named on your life insurance policies and retirement accounts, and any other accounts where beneficiaries are named, you’ll want to do that too. If your will says cousin Andrew gets your life insurance policy proceeds, but his sister Stella is the one named as the beneficiary, then only Stella receives the proceeds. The named beneficiary is a contract that cannot be challenged or changed, regardless of what your will says.

If you don’t yet have a will, now is the time to make an appointment to meet with an estate planning attorney in your community. Remember that estate laws are set by the state of your residence, so an experienced estate planning attorney in your area is your best source.

Reference: The Item (Feb. 15, 2019) “Don’t wait until high noon”

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