Beginning Estate Planning

When beginning estate planning, it is helpful to clarify what the essential elements of a proper estate plan are. AARP’s recent article entitled “Sign These Papers” suggests that the following documents will give you and your family financial protection, as well as peace of mind. Beginning estate planning can be intimidating, but with appropriate guidance, you will reap the benefits for years to come.

Advance Directive. This document gives your family, loved ones and medical professionals your instructions for your health care. A living will, which is a kind of advance directive, details the treatment you’d like to have in the event you’re unable to speak. It covers things like when you would want doctors to stop treatment, pain relief and life support. Providing these instructions helps your family deal with these issues later.

Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care. This document, regularly included in an advance directive, lets you name a trusted person (plus a backup or two) to make medical decisions on your behalf, when you’re unable to do so.

Revocable Living Trust. Drawn up correctly by an experienced estate planning attorney, this makes it easy to keep track of your finances now, allow a trusted person step in, if necessary, and make certain that there are fewer problems for your heirs when you pass away. A revocable living trust is a powerful document that allows you to stay in control of all your finances as long as you want. You can also make changes to your trust as often as you like.

When you pass away, your family will have a much easiest task of distributing the assets in the trust to your beneficiaries. Without this, they’ll have to go through the probate process.  It can be a long and possibly costly process, if you die with only a will or intestate (i.e., without a will).

Will. Drafting a will with the guidance of an experienced estate planning attorney lets you avoid potential family fighting over what you’ve left behind. Your will can describe in succinct language whom you want to inherit items that might not be in your trust — your home or car, or specific keepsakes, such as your baseball card collection and your Hummel Figurines.

Durable Financial Power of Attorney. If you’re alive but incapacitated, the only way a trusted person, acting on your behalf, can access an IRA, pension or other financial account in your name is with a durable financial power of attorney. Many brokerages and other financial institutions have their own power of attorney forms, so make sure you ask about this.

Beginning estate planning is not complete without these five documents (sometimes four, if your advance directive and health care power of attorney are combined). Drafting a proper estate plan will allow you to enjoy a happier, less stressful life.

In drafting these documents, you know that you’ve taken the steps to make navigating the future as smooth as possible. By making your intentions clear and easing the inheritance process as much as you possibly can, you’re taking care of your family. The benefits of beginning estate planning today will be enjoyed for years to come. Your family will be grateful that you did.

Reference: AARP (August/September 2018) “Sign These Papers”

How Does My Estate Plan Change After Divorce?

Estate planning after a divorce involves adopting a different type of arithmetic. Without a spouse to anchor an estate plan, the trustees, guardians or health care proxies will have to be chosen from a wider pool of those that are connected to you. As with all significant life changes, a recent divorce requires immediate changes to your estate plan.

Wealth Advisor’s recent article entitled “How to Revise Your Estate Plan After Divorce” explains that beneficiary forms tied to an IRA, 401(k), 403(b) and life insurance are just some of the key documents that will need to change, reflecting the dissolution of the marriage.

It is important to note that there are usually estate planning terms that are included in agreements created during separation and divorce. These may call for the removal of both spouses from each other’s estate planning documents and retirement accounts. For example, in New York, bequests to an ex-spouse in a will prepared during the marriage are voided after the divorce. Even though the old will is still valid, a new will has the benefit of realigning the estate assets with the intended recipients.

However, any trust created while married is treated differently. Revocable trusts can be revoked, and the assets held by those trusts can be part of the divorce. Irrevocable trusts involving marital property are less likely to be dissolved, and after the death of the grantor, distributions may be made to an ex-spouse as directed by the trust.

A big task in the post-divorce estate planning process is changing beneficiaries. Ask for a change of beneficiary forms for all retirement accounts. Without a stipulation in the divorce decree ending their interest, an ex-spouse still listed as beneficiary of an IRA or life insurance policy may still receive the proceeds at your death.

Divorce presents changes to your children in terms of planning your estate. For one, divorce makes children assume responsibility at an earlier age. Adult children in their 20s or early 30s typically assume the place of the ex-spouse as fiduciaries and health care proxies, as well as agents under powers of attorney, executors and trustees. Further, if the divorcing parents have minor children, they must choose a guardian in their wills to care for the children, in the event that both parents pass away.

Ask an experienced estate planning attorney to help you with the issues that are involved in estate planning after a divorce.

Reference: Wealth Advisor (July 7, 2020) “How to Revise Your Estate Plan After Divorce”

Why Is a Revocable Trust So Valuable in Estate Planning?

There’s quite a bit that a trust can do to solve big estate planning and tax problems for many families.

As Forbes explains in its recent article, “Revocable Trusts: The Swiss Army Knife Of Financial Planning,” trusts are a critical component of a proper estate plan. There are three parties to a trust: the owner of some property (settler or grantor) turns it over to a trusted person or organization (trustee) under a trust arrangement to hold and manage for the benefit of someone (the beneficiary). A written trust document will spell out the terms of the arrangement.

One of the most useful trusts is a revocable trust (inter vivos) where the grantor creates a trust, funds it, manages it, and has unrestricted rights to the trust assets (corpus). The grantor has the right at any point to revoke the trust, by simply tearing up the document and reclaiming the assets, or perhaps modifying the trust to accomplish other estate planning goals.

After discussing trusts with your attorney, he or she will draft the trust document and re-title property to the trust. The assets transferred to a revocable trust can be reclaimed at any time. The grantor has unrestricted rights to the property. During the life of the grantor, the trust provides protection and management, if and when it’s needed.

Let’s examine the potential lifetime and estate planning benefits that can be incorporated into the trust:

  • Lifetime Benefits. If the grantor is unable or uninterested in managing the trust, the grantor can hire an investment advisor to manage the account or a spouse, child, trusted friend or a trust company to act for the grantor.
  • Incapacity. A spouse, child, trusted friend or trust company can be named to care for and represent the needs of the grantor/beneficiary. The spouse, child, trusted friend or trust company will manage the assets during incapacity, without having to declare the grantor incompetent and petitioning the Court for a guardianship. After the grantor has recovered, he or she can resume the duties as trustee.

A properly funded revocable trust is a great tool for estate planning because it bypasses probate, which can mean considerably less expense, stress and time.

In addition to a trust, please ask the attorneys of Michael T. Huguelet, P.C. about the rest of your estate plan: a will, powers of attorney, medical directives and other considerations.

The law office of Michael T. Huguelet, P.C. would be honored to sit down with you to discuss your needs and develop an estate plan to help you achieve what you want to accomplish.

Reference: Forbes (February 20, 2019) “Revocable Trusts: The Swiss Army Knife Of Financial Planning”

Why Do I Need a Will?

Estate planning is a very personal process. It is not a one-size-fits-all task. When a person has no close relatives (other than perhaps a spouse), the decisions needed to create an estate plan can be overwhelming. Kiplinger’s recent article, “No Children? Why You Still Need an Estate Plan,” provides some ideas, if you find yourself struggling:

Incapacity. Everyone should have an advanced directive for health care and a durable power of attorney for legal and financial decisions. These let you decide who will be in charge of your medical and legal affairs, in the event you are no longer able to make these decisions for yourself. If you become incapacitated without these documents, your relatives will be involved in a guardianship or conservatorship proceeding to appoint someone (who you may not know) to make these decisions for you.

Trusts. This is a legal document that can be used to manage many of your assets during your life, and facilitate the distribution of your assets when you pass away. A trust has two big advantages: it often helps avoid probate at your death and allows you to distribute your assets privately. Without at least a will, your family (as determined by the state intestacy laws) could inherit your assets. The best way to avoid these issues is to create a trust.

Deciding What to Do with Your Assets. This can be a tough decision.  Children often want to make sure that their parents are cared for. However, since many of us will survive our parents, successor beneficiaries must be named. Nieces and nephews are typically beneficiaries, when there are no children. However, you may want to consider friends, pets and charities. Talk to the estate planning attorneys at Michael T. Huguelet, P.C. to review the best way to leave your assets.

Charities. These can also be included in your estate plan. Charitable bequests can be either a specific bequest for a general or specific purpose. If the charitable gift is sizable, contact the charity beforehand to be certain your gift is used, and recognized, in the way that makes you most comfortable.

Pets. Your estate plan can also help establish who will take care of your pets, when you’re no longer here. You can leave the pet and some money to a trusted friend or family member, or you can create a formal pet trust to provide for your pet. Either way, create a plan so your pet can be properly cared for, if you are no longer able to do so.

When it comes to estate planning, you can decide who will inherit your assets. To be certain your wishes are executed as you intended, it is important to have the proper planning in place to avoid probate and allow for an efficient transfer. The attorneys at Michael T. Huguelet, P.C. would be happy to sit down with you, and assist with the decision making process so you have piece of mind that your assets are left to those who mean the most to you.

Reference: Kiplinger (February 11, 2019) “No Children? Why You Still Need an Estate Plan”