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Estate Planning

Monday, July 24, 2017

Why New Parents Need an Estate Plan

Becoming a new parent is a life changing experience, and caring for a child is an awesome responsibility as well as a joy. This is also the time to think about your child's future by asking an important question: who will care for your child if you become disabled or die? The best way to put your mind at ease is by having an estate plan.

The most basic estate planning tool is a will, which enables a person to determine how his or her assets will be distributed after death. Without this important estate planning tool, the state's intestacy laws will govern how these assets will be distributed. In addition, decisions about who will care for any minor children will be made by the court. For this reason, it is crucial for new parents to have a will as this is the only way to name guardians for minor children.

In this regard, selecting guardians involves a number of important considerations. Obviously, it is important to name individuals who are emotionally and financially capable of raising a child. At the same time, a will can also establish a trust that provides funds to be used to provide for the child's needs. Ultimately, guardians should share the same moral and spiritual values, and childrearing philosophy of the parents.

In addition to naming guardians in a will, it is also critical to plan for the possibility of incapacity by creating powers of attorney and advance medical directives. A durable power of attorney allows a new parent to name a spouse, or other trusted relative or friend, to handle personal and financial affairs. Further, a power of attorney for healthcare, or healthcare proxy, designates a trusted person to make medical decisions in accordance with the parent's preferences.

Finally, new parents should also obtain adequate life insurance to protect the family. The proceeds from an insurance policy can replace lost income, pay household and living expenses, as well as any debts that may have been owed by the deceased parent. It is also important to ensure that beneficiary designations on any retirement accounts are up to date so that these assets can be transferred expediently.

In the end, having a child is a time of joy, but also one that requires careful planning. The best way to protect your family is by consulting with an experienced estate planning attorney who can help you navigate the process.

 


Monday, July 10, 2017

A Primer on Irrevocable Trusts

Many individuals are aware that a will is one way to plan for the distribution of their assets after death. However, a comprehensive estate plan also considers other objectives such as planning for long-term care and asset protection. For this reason, it is essential to consider utilizing an irrevocable trust.

This estate planning tool becomes effective during a person's lifetime, but it cannot be amended or modified. The person making the trust, the grantor, transfers property into the trust permanently. In so doing, the grantor no longer owns property, and a designated trustee owns and manages the assets for the benefit of the beneficiaries.

In short, irrevocable trust provide a number of advantages. First, the property is not subject to estate taxes because the grantor no longer owns it. Moreover, unlike a will, an irrevocable trust is not probated in court. Finally, assets are protected from creditors.

Common Irrevocable Trusts

There are a variety of irrevocable trusts, including:

  • Bypass Trusts -  utilized by married couples to reduce estate taxes when the second spouse dies. In this arrangement, the property of the spouse who dies first is transferred into the trust for the benefit of the surviving spouse. Because he or she does not own it, the property does not become part of this spouse's estate when he or she dies.

  • Charitable Trusts - created to reduce income and estate taxes through a combination of gifting and charitable donations.  For example, charitable remainder trust transfers property into a trust and names a charity as the final beneficiary, but another individual receives income before,  for a certain time period.

  • Life Insurance Trusts - proceeds of life insurance are removed from the estate and ownership of the policy is transferred into the trust. While insurance passes outside of the estate, it is factored into the value of the estate for tax purposes, so this vehicle is designed to minimize estate taxes.

  • Spendthrift Trusts – designed to protect those who may not be able to manage finances on their own. A trustee is named to manage and distribute the funds to the beneficiary or directly to creditors, depending on the terms of the trust.

  • Special needs trusts - designed to protect the public benefits that many special needs individuals receive. Since an inheritance could disqualify a beneficiary from Medicaid, for example, this estate planning tool provides money for additional day to day expenses while preserving the government benefits.

The Takeaway

Irrevocable trusts are essential estate planning tools that can protect an individual's assets, minimize taxes and provide for loved ones. In the end, these objectives can be accomplished with the advice and counsel of an experienced estate planning attorney.

 


Monday, June 26, 2017

Responsibilities and Obligations of the Executor/ Administrator

When a person dies with a will in place, an executor is named as the responsible individual for winding down the decedent's affairs. In situations in which a will has not been prepared, the probate court will appoint an administrator. Whether you have been named  as an executor or administrator, the role comes with certain responsibilities including taking charge of the decedent's assets, notifying beneficiaries and creditors, paying the estate's debts and distributing the property to the beneficiaries.

In some cases, an executor may also be a beneficiary of the will, however he or she must act fairly and in accordance with the provisions of the will. An executor is specifically responsible for:

  • Finding a copy of the will and filing it with the appropriate state court

  • Informing third parties, such as banks and other account holders, of the person’s death

  • Locating assets and identifying debts

  • Providing the court with an inventory of these assets and debts

  • Maintaining any assets until they are disposed of

  • Disposing of assets either through distribution or sale

  • Satisfying any debts

  • Appearing in court on behalf of the estate

Depending on the size of the estate and the way in which the decedent's assets were titled, the will may need to be probated. If the estate must go through s probate proceeding, the executor must file with the court to probate the will and be appointed as the estate's legal representative.

By doing so, the executor can then pay all of the decedent's outstanding debts and distribute the property to the beneficiaries according to the terms of the will. The executor is also is also responsible for filing all federal and state tax returns for the deceased person as well as estate taxes, if any. Lastly, an executor may be entitled to compensation for the time he or she served the estate. If the court names an administrator, this individual will have similar responsibilities.

In the end, being name an executor or appointed as an administrator ultimately means supporting the overall goal of distributing the estate assets according to wishes of the deceased or state law. In either case, an experienced probate or estate planning attorney can help you carry out these duties.


Monday, June 12, 2017

Common Types of Will Contests

The most basic estate planning tool is a will which establishes how an individual's property will be distributed and names beneficiaries to receive those assets. Unfortunately, there are circumstances when disputes arise among surviving family members that can lead to a will contest. This is a court proceeding in which the validity of the will is challenged.

In order to have standing to bring a will contest, a party must have a legitimate interest in the estate. Although the law in this regard varies from state to state, the proceeding can be brought by heirs, beneficiaries, and others who stand to inherit. While these disputes are often the result of changes to the distribution plan from a prior will, some common types of will contests are as follows.

Lack of testamentary capacity

The testator, that is the person making the will, must have the mental capacity and be of sound mind at the time the will is executed , modified or revoked. Further, being of sound mind means that the testator knows what property he or she owns and understands the effect of executing the will. Although these are considered to be low standards, claims that the deceased lacked the mental capacity when the will was executed are common.

Undue influence

If the deceased was coerced into executing the will, it may be considered invalid. In order to ensure that the testator is not subjected to undue influence, the will should be prepared by an attorney. Moreover, heirs and beneficiaries should not take part in meetings and discussions between the testator and his or her attorney.

Will improperly executed

There are certain formalities that must be followed in order for a will to be considered validly executed. While some states require a notarized signature, others insist on a certain number of witnesses being present when the will is executed. If these formalities are not strictly followed, the will may be found to be improperly executed.

Fraud

A will can also be considered invalid if a person is intentionally deceived when preparing and executing the document.

The Takeaway

If a will is successfully contested, it can be declared invalid by the court. This means that the assets will be distributed either according to the terms of a prior will or if no such will exists, the state's intestacy rules. Ultimately, engaging the services of an experienced estate planning an attorney can minimize the risk of a will contest.


Monday, May 15, 2017

Should a Power of Attorney be a part of my Estate Plan?

A durable power of attorney is an important part of an estate plan. It provides that, in the event of disability or incapacitation, a preselected agent can be granted power over the affairs of the individual signing the document. This power can be limited to specific decisions, like the decision to continue life sustaining treatment, or it can be much broader in scope to allow the agent power over the individual’s financial dealings.

Estate planning is meant to prepare for contingencies beyond an individual’s control. A traumatic accident could leave an individual without the ability to manage his or her own financial affairs. Debilitating diseases, like Alzheimer’s, can affect a person’s ability to make sound decisions for him or herself. In these scenarios, someone must be appointed to do make decisions on behalf of the incapacitated individual. Preparing a durable power of attorney as a part of an estate plan accomplishes three things. First, it gives the power of appointment to the individual, instead of to a judge. Second, it avoids the need for a potentially expensive court proceeding necessary to make that appointment. Finally, a power of attorney may be used to respond to time sensitive issues without waiting for a court hearing to grant an agent the power to act.

A power of attorney provides much flexibility for the individual signing it. It can take effect only upon disability, or right away, regardless of disability. It can specify what funds may or may not be used for. If a person does not want to live in an assisted living facility, he or she can make sure that money from his or her own bank accounts is not used for those purposes. Different assets can be managed by different agents. The power of attorney can give an agent power to distribute assets as gifts on a specific schedule to collaborate with an existing estate plan. The level of detail and amount of instruction that is possible as a part of the document is unlimited. It will always be quicker and more economical than a guardianship or conservatorship proceeding, and it will always serve the disabled person’s interests better than the broad powers granted to an individual by a court.


Monday, April 24, 2017

Making Decisions About End of Life Medical Treatment

While advances in medicine allow people to live longer, questions are often raised about life-sustaining treatment terminally ill patients may or may not want to receive. Those who fail to formally declare these wishes in writing to family members and medical professionals run the risk of having the courts make these decisions.

For this reason, it is essential to put in place advance medical directives to ensure that an individual's preferences for end of life medical care are respected. There are two documents designed for these purposes, a Do Not Resuscitate Order (DNR) and a Physician Order for Life Sustaining Treatment (POLST).

What is a DNR?

A Do Not Resuscitate Oder alerts doctors, nurses and emergency personnel that cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) should not be used to keep a person alive in case of a medical emergency. A DNR is frequently used along with other advance medical directives by those who are critically ill and prefer not to receive life sustaining treatment.

What is a Physician Order for Life Sustaining Treatment (POLST)?

A Physician Order for Life Sustaining Treatment is similar to a DNR,  however a POLST is prepared by a patient's doctor after discussing end of life treatment options. This is not a legal document prepared by an attorney, but rather a binding doctor's order that is kept with a patient's medical records. A POLST declares a patient's preference for receiving certain life sustaining treatments, as well as treatment options the patient does not want to receive or to be continued.

Examples of these treatments include, but are not limited to, artificial nutrition and hydration, intubation and antibiotic use. These decisions should be made when there is no medical crisis that can affect an individual's decision making, after various treatment options have been discussed with his or her doctor. In short, a POLST ensures that a patient will receive appropriate treatments, but not be subjected to life sustaining measures the patient does not want.

By having these advance medical directives in place, a person can have peace of mind knowing that he or she will receive end of life treatment according to his or her wishes, and loved ones will not be forced to go to court to obtain the right make these decisions.

 


Monday, April 10, 2017

Top Five Estate Planning Mistakes

In spite of the vast amount of financial information that is currently available in the media and via the internet, many people either do not understand estate planning or underestimate its importance. Here's a look at the top five estate planning mistakes that need to be avoided.

1. Not Having an Estate Plan

The most common mistake is not having an estate plan, particularly not creating a will - as many as 64 percent of Americans don't have a will. This basic estate planning tool establishes how an individual's assets will be distributed upon death, and who will receive them. A will is especially important for parents with minor children in that it allows a guardian to be named to care for them if both parents were to die unexpectedly. Without a will, the courts will make decisions according to the state's probate laws, which may not agree with a person's wishes.

2. Failing to Update a Will

For those who have a will in place, a common mistake is to tuck it away in a drawer and be done with it. Creating a will is not a "once and done" matter as it needs to updated periodically, however. There are changes that occur during a person's lifetime, such as buying a home, getting married, having children, getting divorced - and remarried, that need to be accurately reflected in an updated will. Depending on the circumstances, a will should be reviewed every two years.

3. Not Planning for Disability

While no one likes to think about becoming ill or getting injured, an unexpected long-term disability can have devastating consequences on an individual's financial and personal affairs. It is essential to create a durable power of attorney to designate an individual to manage your finances if you are unable to do so. In addition, a power of attorney for healthcare  - or healthcare proxy, allows you to name a trusted relative or friend to make decisions about the type of care you prefer to receive when you cannot speak for yourself.

4. Naming Incapable Heirs

People often take for granted that their loved ones are capable of managing an inheritance. There are cases, however, when a beneficiary may not understand financial matters or be irresponsible with money. In these situations, a will can appoint an professional to supervise these assets, or in the alternative a "spendthrift trust" can be put in place.

5. Choosing the Wrong Executor

Many individuals designate a close relative or trusted friend to act as executor, but fail to consider whether he or she has the capacity and integrity to take on this role. By choosing the wrong executor, your will could be contested, leading to unnecessary delays, costs and lingering acrimony among surviving family members.

The Takeaway

In the end, estate planning is really about getting your affairs in order. By engaging the services of an experienced trusts and estates attorney, you can avoid these common mistakes, protect your assets and provide for your loved ones.

 


Monday, March 20, 2017

Testamentary Substitutes

In states that have “elective share statutes,” a surviving spouse is legally entitled to a certain percentage of the deceased's estate, even if that spouse has attempted to disinherit or to provide a lesser bequest, or gift, under the will.  In “separate property” states, an elective share statute is likely to be in effect.  If the estate in question is valued at $50,000 or less, the elective share is likely to be the actual amount of the net estate.  

“Testamentary substitutes” are removed from particular assets that would otherwise pass to the surviving spouse.  Assets passing by will or through intestacy could cause a reduction in the elective share amount as well.  Totten trusts, such as Payable-On-Death Bank Accounts (PODs), Retirement or joint bank accounts, gifts causa mortis ("gifts made by the decedent in contemplation of death,”) U.S. savings bonds, jointly held property, and gifts or transfers that were made approximately one year prior to death, are some examples of testamentary substitutes. 

If a gift was made about one year prior to death, yet involves medical or educational expenses, then the gift may not qualify as a true testamentary substitute.  With regard to PODs, the spouse, offspring, or grandchildren will be named as beneficiaries.  The funds of a POD are only distributed upon the decedent’s death.   Testamentary Trusts are listed in the will until the designated property passes to the trust upon the testator’s death.  

Generally, a gift causa mortis is only active upon the decedent’s expected death and is typically revocable.  Moreover, certain elements must exist to create a valid gift causa mortis.  These include an intent to create “an immediate transfer of ownership,” valid delivery, acceptance of the gift by the donee, and the donor’s “anticipation of imminent death.”  There are also certain circumstances by which gifts causa mortis are not valid.  For example, if the donee passes away before the donor, it is unlikely that a property interest was transferred.  Gifts causa mortis are also taxed as if the testator had listed the gifts in his or her will. 

In such cases, testamentary substitutes are generally put back into the net estate total to determine the elective share amount that the surviving spouse will collect.  The aforementioned may vary if property is held jointly, as joint tenants or otherwise, because the spouse may have a right of survivorship in the property.  Estate planning attorneys are aware of all the ins and outs of testamentary substitutes and how they may affect the distribution of your assets.  It is useful, if not essential, to consult with a knowledgeable attorney when making arrangements regarding testamentary substitutes.


Monday, February 27, 2017

How does life insurance fit into my estate plan?

Life insurance can be an integral part of an estate plan. Policies can be set up to be paid directly to the beneficiary, without the need to pass through the estate, and without the need for any taxes to be paid. Having a life insurance policy ensures that some assets will be liquid, so that debts and expenses can be paid quickly and easily without the need to dispose of assets. Beneficiaries can be changed at any time as can the benefit amount. The policy can be used to accumulate savings if the plan is surrendered before death. Life insurance policies, especially those purchased later in life, can pay out significantly more than what was invested into them. There are many benefits to purchasing a life insurance policy as part of an estate plan.

An attorney can set up a life insurance trust to help avoid estate taxes. A life insurance trust must be irrevocable, cannot be managed by the policy holder, and must be in place at least three years before the death of the policy holder. Any money received from the life insurance trust is not a part of the taxable estate. The need for this is rare as the exemption for estate taxes is currently almost five and a half million dollars, but it is a useful tool for some nonetheless.

There is a limit to how much life insurance an individual is permitted to purchase. A person may carry a multiple of his or her gross income which reduces with age. A twenty five year old can buy a policy worth thirty times his or her annual income. A sixty five year old may only purchase ten times his or her annual income worth of life insurance. This is an important factor to consider when deciding whether life insurance should be a part of your estate plan.

Life insurance as a part of estate planning is a complicated issue. It makes sense to consult with an estate attorney and a tax professional before meeting with an insurance broker. Both can help an individual understand the benefits of insurance over other means of transferring assets.


Monday, February 6, 2017

Disinheritance

Inheritance laws involve legal rights to property after a death and such laws differ from state-to-state.   Heirs usually consist of close family members and exclude estranged relatives.  Depending on the wording of a will, an individual can be intentionally, or even unintentionally, disinherited.

In most cases, spouses may not be legally disinherited.  Certain contracts, however, allow for a legitimate disinheritance, such as prenuptial agreements or postnuptial agreements.  These contracts are typically valid methods of disinheritance because the presumed-to-be inheriting spouse has agreed to the arrangement by signing the document.  

If there is no prenuptial arrangement, then the state’s elective share statute or “equitable distribution” laws protect the surviving spouse.  Pursuant to the elective share statute, he or she may collect a certain percentage of the estate. 

In states that follow “community property” or “common law” rules, however, the outcome may be different.   An attorney should be consulted for clarification of the differences in the law.  Divorces affect spousal inheritance rights.  Post-divorce, it is prudent to consult an attorney to draft a fresh will, in order to prevent confusion and unintentional dissemination of assets.

If the will is unambiguous, it is usually possible for a child to be disinherited.   It should be noted, however, that it is highly likely that close relatives will challenge or contest a will in which they have been disinherited.  Fighting such a lawsuit may put a great financial strain on the estate's assets.  Depending on how time-consuming and expensive it is to defend the will, less money may be available for distribution to the intended beneficiaries. 

There are ways to protect estate assets from such problems, for example through trusts.  It is essential for an individual to receive the counsel of a licensed lawyer in order to effectively protect his or her estate as inexpensively as possible.


Monday, January 16, 2017

What is a tax basis and how will it affect my estate plan?


A tax basis is essentially the purchase price of a piece of property. Whenever that property is sold, the seller must pay taxes on the difference between the sale price and the original purchase price. This concept applies to all property, including stocks, bonds, vehicles, mechanical equipment, and real estate. If debts are assumed along with the purchase price, the principal amount of the debt will be included in the basis. The basis can be adjusted downwards when a person deducts depreciation costs on his or her income tax returns, and may be increased for capital investments towards improving the property that are not deducted for income tax purposes.
Read more . . .


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