Estate Planning That Expresses Who You Are – 5 Things to Talk About with Your Family

Money Isn’t Everything in Estate Planning

How to Pass Your Stories and Values to the Future Generations

Money may be the most talked about wealth contained within a person’s estate, but the riches of their experience and wisdom can mean even more to family members over time. Reinforcement of family traditions can be built into your estate plan alongside your wishes regarding your money, property, and belongings. After all, what really makes a family a family is its values and traditions — not the way its finances read on paper.

It’s an excellent idea to hold a family meeting in which you discuss the sorts of things that matter to you most. In addition to the value of sharing your wisdom, you can also make it more likely that your heirs will handle their inheritance correctly if they understand the reasons behind your choices. This is just one of the many reasons to have a family discussion about your legacy and your estate plan.

How to tell your story through your estate plan

It’s a delight to get to hear your elders’ stories of their fondest memories and wildest adventures, as well as the struggles they overcame to get the family where it is today. This wisdom provides meaning for a financial legacy that otherwise might just be viewed as a windfall. As part of your estate and legacy planning, you can decide to record your own personal history. Here are a few ways:

  • Audio files: With the broad range of audio formats available today, you can record in the way that’s easiest for you – anything from a handheld cassette recorder to the Voice Memos app on your iPhone. There are some easy-to-use digitizing services that can compile your stories into audio files to make available to your family and descendants.
  • Video files: The same goes for home movies and other video recordings. Older film formats can be easily digitized and organized along with the videos from your phone. Today’s technology also makes it easier than ever to add narration (and context) to a video, making the story all the richer.
  • Photo albums: Many families have prized photo collections that catalog generations. It’s a tragedy when something like this is lost in a fire or extreme weather event, or even misplaced in a move. Creating a digital database is a favor to your family in more ways than one: Not only will they have access to these memories at any time, they can also feel secure knowing that these family treasures won’t be lost anytime soon and that multiple copies can be made for the different branches of the family.
  • Letters and other writings: If you enjoy writing, you can also include handwritten or typed letters or stories to your family members in your legacy plan to be received and read at the time of your choosing. You can also include past letters and postcards that might be tucked away in the attic. It’s not only a personal delight to relive the memories of the past by reviewing your old letters and postcards, but it’s also a great way for younger generations to get to know and sincerely appreciate your life journey and legacy.

Passing your values to the next generation

Some estate planning strategies blend your finances and personal values. For example, we might have a discussion on some of your core values in life. Whether you feel most passionate about the need for your beneficiaries to travel and gain worldly experience, continue a unique family tradition like sailing or astronomy, or support meaningful charitable or spiritual work, we can draft trusts that contain funds specifically set aside for these endeavors.

  • Educational trusts: If you value education, you might want to set up a trust to fund undergraduate and graduate degrees, med school, study abroad, or even community classes for your family’s future generations. Because of sharp increases in educational costs within the U.S., your grandchildren will likely stand to benefit immensely from an educational trust.
  • Incentive trusts: Similar to the way educational trusts set aside wealth for the purpose of funding a beneficiary’s schooling, incentive trusts can also help steer the course of your descendants’ lives be encouraging some paths while discouraging others. For example, an incentive trust could contain instructions for disbursements to be released when the beneficiary is working a part or full-time job. Or if family vacations were an important part of your upbringing, you could set aside funds specifically for your grandchildren to experience the same wonderful tradition you enjoyed.
  • Charitable trusts or foundations: Charitable trusts or foundations establish a family legacy of supporting a particular cause, but they also have the added financial benefit of reducing income and estate taxes. They are an excellent way to help a charitable organization that’s central to your core values and make your name associated with that philanthropic effort for generations to come.

Are you curious about exploring a few of these options in your estate and legacy plan? Give us a call today, and we can schedule an appointment to go over your many options for showcasing your memories and values in a long-lasting way that truly benefits your heirs.

How to Protect Your Child’s Inheritance from His or Her Untrustworthy Spouse

Estate Planning for Military Families

Military families need to consider special estate-planning issues that others do not. This is particularly true when one or more family members are deployed overseas. Beyond this, members of the military have access to special benefits and resources. This can become complicated and, for this reason, it is important that you seek special help if you are a military family.

Whether you are just starting in the military or you are a seasoned veteran, below are some common factors to consider for your estate planning needs.

Factors to Consider

Everyone’s estate plan should be customized to the person’s particular circumstances. Some factors that should be considered include whether:

  • You own real property and, if so, if the real estate is located in different states;
  • You are married;
  • You have minor children, or children with special needs;
  • You have money set aside in 401(k), IRAs, or thrift savings plans;
  • You plan to give to charity; and
  • You are moving multiple times across states or to different countries.

Estate Planning Necessities

There are many benefits offered to military families that can help with estate planning. These include:

Life insurance – an important part of an estate plan and intended for those who are financially dependent upon you, life insurance is especially important if a member of the military is heading out to a combat zone. Active-duty members have access to low-cost life insurance for themselves and loved ones from Service Members’ Life Insurance Group. More information can be found on the Department of Veterans Affairs website. When examining your life insurance, work with us to make sure that the beneficiary designation works the way you expect it to.

Wills and Trusts – a last will and testament to whom and how you want your property distributed, names who will administer your estate and specifies who will care for a minor or special needs child. A trust, on the other hand, is a separate legal entity that can hold property and assets for the benefit of one or more people or entities. For many families, a trust-centered estate plan is a better fit, but a will can work for some families.

Other benefits for survivors – survivor benefit plans (SBP) are pension-type plans in the form of an annuity that will pay your surviving spouse and children a monthly benefit. Likewise, dependency and indemnity compensation (D&IC) provides a monthly benefit to eligible survivors of servicemembers or veterans (1) who die while on active duty, (2) whose death is due to a service-related disease or injury or (3) who are receiving or entitled to receive VA compensation for service-related disability and are totally disabled. When you are examining any financial services or insurance product, it’s a good idea to work with us to make sure any beneficiary designations work the way you expect and provide the maximum benefit to your family.

You Need Special Help

Members of the military often experience frequent moves, have access to lots of government benefits after service, and can be subject to some unusual tax rules. For these reasons, estate planning for military families is more complicated than most.

You can expect an estate planning professional to assist you with setting up the following:

  • Powers of attorney for limited and general financial matters, as well as health care decisions (there are very helpful when a spouse is deployed);
  • Funeral and burial arrangements;
  • Wills and living wills;
  • Organ donation;
  • Family care plans;
  • Life insurance;
  • Trusts;
  • Estate taxes;
  • Survivor benefits; and
  • Estate administration and/or probate.

An estate plan has multiple objectives: to provide for your family’s financial security, ensure your property is preserved and passed on to your beneficiaries, and determine who will manage your assets upon your death, among others. We are here to guide you through the best options available to you and your family. Give us a call today.

3 Ways Your Trust Can Help a Loved One With Mental Illness

When a loved one suffers from a mental illness, one small comfort can be knowing that your trust can take care of them through thick and thin. There are some ways this can happen, ranging from the funding of various types of treatment to providing structure and support during his or her times of greatest need.

Let’s explore a few ways you can help take care of a loved one struggling with mental illness with the help of your estate planning attorney:

      1. It can contribute to voluntary treatment

Trusts can be disbursed in many ways. If your loved one is involved in an inpatient care facility or an ongoing outpatient program, you can structure your trust so that its disbursements cover the costs of that treatment as time goes on. This also helps your loved one because it relieves them of the responsibility of managing large sums of money on their own. They can rest easier knowing that their care is covered without having to set up a complicated payment plan on their own.

In some cases, the person suffering from mental illness doesn’t have the capacity to enroll themselves in the right type of care. If an intervention of care is needed, your trust can also help encourage involuntary treatment that ultimately serves your loved one’s best interests in the long run.

      2. Trustees can help watch over them

Selecting a trustee isn’t always an easy feat. That’s one of many decision-making areas where we’re more than happy to step in and walk you through the process. When you have a loved one battling mental illness, your choice of a trustee becomes even more of a nuanced decision.

We’ll help you deduce the perfect person to not only manage the wealth contained within the trust but also keep a compassionate watchful eye on your loved one benefitting from the trust. An astute trustee can look for early warning signs surrounding your loved one’s mental health issue and make sure to get them connected to the care and services they need in no time.

      3. Lifetime trusts provide structure and support

Most people don’t think of large inheritances as a burden. But this can be the case when an individual is dealing with depression, anxiety, hoarding, or diseases like schizophrenia. Lifetime trusts are an excellent way to take care of your loved one without saddling them with a challenge on top of what they are already experiencing.

A discretionary lifetime trust can be drafted in such a way that its funds can only be used to go toward certain goods and services — such as outpatient mental health care, housing, or other “necessaries” of life. Likewise, it can also prohibit spending in areas that would cause more harm than good — gambling or compulsive shopping, for example. The discretionary nature of these types of trusts makes it so your loved one doesn’t have to worry about their own potential missteps when it comes to using the wealth contained within the trust.

Do you have a family member or other loved one who could use the financial flexibility and structural support of a trust? Give us a call today, and together we’ll figure out the best ways to enhance your loved one’s life by finding the right estate planning tools to offer the most help.

Tools You Can Use to Leave Words of Wisdom to the Next Generation

You come into the world a blank slate, and as you grow, you gain wisdom. You’ve planned your estate to leave physical assets to beneficiaries, so now think about leaving them something that’s just as important but less tangible: the hard-won wisdom you’ve accumulated over your life. Let your family and friends learn from your mistakes, and profit from your successes.

Living and Other Trusts

You probably know that a fully-funded living trust avoids probate. If you have concerns about some of your beneficiaries’ ability to handle a windfall, speak to an estate planning lawyer about some options you can include in your trust. For example, one option is an incentive trust, which pays out money when the beneficiary meets certain conditions, such as finishing college or staying clean and sober. An incentive trust combined with a personal statement or video explaining why you’ve put conditions on the beneficiary’s inheritance helps to pass along your wisdom to the next generation. You can let your heirs know that you love and care about them, and that’s why you took the actions you did with the trust. While an heir may resent the limitation at the time, he or she may look back and realize you did a wise thing, especially after they’ve lived and incorporated your wisdom into their life.

Video Wills

Video wills aren’t legally binding since the law requires that a will be a written document, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make a video regarding your will as an adjunct to the written will. For example, suppose you left art, jewelry or other valuables to specific family members or friends. You might want to explain why you chose to leave that particular item to that person and perhaps share the article’s meaning to you on the video. (Hint: If you think one child might resent the giving of an item to a sibling, this can be a good way to explain your intentions.)

And of course, you can (and should!) create a personal video that has nothing to do with a will. If you have a family video collection, consider making a new video including favorite snippets and commenting on the earlier days. Time gives you perspective and appreciation, and those gifts are priceless. The memories and meaning that these videos have can be memorialized for generations to come.

The Old-Fashioned Way

Scrapbooking is a time-honored pastime that’s recently experienced a renaissance. Pass on journals, photos, newspaper clippings and other ephemera via scrapbooks or albums. You can leave specially constructed letters inside for your family and loved ones. While only one family member can have the physical scrapbook at any one time, digital scrapbooking tools are fast-evolving and now allow you to create either a digital version or multiple print copies so that all your loved ones can share your life and thoughts.

Charitable Planning

Many of us have a favorite charity and cause we supported during life. Estate planning offers many opportunities to continue to support these organizations via planned charitable giving, both during your lifetime and after your death. An estate planning attorney can discuss charitable planning options best suiting your situation. Two examples are the Charitable Lead Trusts which can provide an immediate charitable gift and Charitable Remainder Trusts which can support a loved one (or you) for a period of time with money eventually going to your chosen charity.  Leaving some of your estate to charity shows the next generation what mattered to you, and it encourages them to follow in your footsteps. While your heirs may not choose to fund the same organizations, you are setting an example of the importance of financially supporting charities close to your heart.

Business Succession Planning

If you own your company, business succession planning is crucial. Formal business succession planning, however, is just as important as your personal estate planning. It can make the difference in whether the company succeeds or fails, and the financial future of your family. But along with proper succession planning, a written statement or video to your board or employees helps enshrine your business’ mission, values, and tradition.

Leave a History

When you’re bequeathing antiques, art, jewelry and the like, leave the beneficiary a history of the piece and why it was important to you. If it’s a family heirloom, write down whom it has passed to, from generation to generation. It’s possible the family ties outweigh the actual value of the item. Sharing these stories will make a family heirloom cherished all the more.

Regardless of how you’re leaving your memories and the meaning behind them to the next generation, you want to make sure that your family avoids unnecessary hassle and expense. Contact us today to discuss how we can implement a plan to leave the wisdom and wealth you’ve accumulated to your loved ones.

How Your Trust Can Help a Loved One Who Struggles with Addiction

Which life events that require an immediate estate plan update?

Estate planning is the process of developing a strategy for the care and management of your estate if you become incapacitated or upon your death. One commonly known purpose of estate planning is to minimize taxes and costs, including taxes imposed on gifts, estates, generation skipping transfer and probate court costs. However, your plan must also name someone who will make medical and financial decisions for you if you cannot make decisions for yourself.  You also need to consider how to leave your property and assets while considering your family’s circumstances and needs.

Since your family’s needs and circumstances are constantly changing, so too must your estate plan. Your plan must be updated when certain life changes occur. These include, but are not limited to: marriage, the birth or adoption of a new family member, divorce, the death of a loved one, a significant change in assets, and a move to a new state or country.

Marriage: it is not uncommon for estate planning to be the last item on the list when a couple is about to be married – whether for the first time or not. On the contrary, marriage is an essential time to update an estate plan. You probably have already thought about updating emergency contacts and adding your spouse to existing health and insurance policies. There is another important reason to update an estate plan upon marriage. In the event of death, your money and assets may not automatically go to your spouse, especially if you have children of a prior marriage, a prenuptial agreement, or if your assets are jointly owned with someone else (like a sibling, parent, or other family member). A comprehensive estate review can ensure you and your new spouse can rest easy.

Birth or adoption of children or grandchildren: when a new baby arrives it seems like everything changes – and so should your estate plan. For example, your trust may not “automatically” include your new child, depending on how it is written. So, it is always a good idea to check and add the new child as a beneficiary. As the children (or grandchildren) grow in age, your estate plan should adjust to ensure assets are distributed in a way that you deem proper. What seems like a good idea when your son or granddaughter is a four-year-old may no longer look like a good idea once their personality has developed and you know them as a 25-year-old college graduate, for example.

Divorce: some state and federal laws may remove a former spouse from an inheritance after the couple splits, however, this is not always the case, and it certainly should not be relied on as the foundation of your plan. After a divorce, you should immediately update beneficiary designations for all insurance policies and retirement accounts, any powers of attorney, and any existing health care proxy and HIPAA authorizations. It is also a good time to revamp your will and trust to make sure it does what you want (and likely leaves out your former spouse).

The death of a loved one: sometimes those who are named in your estate plan pass away. If an appointed guardian of your children dies, it is imperative to designate a new person. Likewise, if your chosen executor, health care proxy or designated power of attorney dies, new ones should be named right away.

Significant change in assets: whether it is a sudden salary increase, inheritance, or the purchase of a large asset these scenarios should prompt an adjustment an existing estate plan. The bigger the estate, the more likely there will be issues over the disposition of the assets after you are gone. For this reason, it is best to see what changes, if any, are needed after a significant increase (or decrease) in your assets.

A move to a new state or country: for most individuals, it is a good idea to obtain a new set of estate planning documents that clearly meet the new state’s legal requirements. Estate planning for Americans living abroad or those who have assets located in numerous countries is even more complicated and requires professional assistance. It is always a good idea to learn what you need to do to completely protect yourself and your family when you move to a new state or country. We are here to help you get fully settled in and build a plan to protect you and your family.

3 Decidedly Dumb Ways to Leave an Inheritance for Your Children

Estate planning offers many ways to leave your assets to your children, but it’s just as important to know what not to do. Here are some things that are all too common, but textbook examples of what not to do or try….

“Oral Wills”

If you feel you have a good rapport with your family or don’t have many assets, you might be tempted simply to tell your children or loved ones how to handle your estate when you’re gone. However, even if your family members wanted to follow your directions, it may not be entirely up to them. Without a written document, any assets you own individually must go through probate, and “oral wills” have no weight in court. It would most likely be up to a judge and New York State Law to determine who gets what.

Joint Tenancy

In lieu of setting up a trust, some people name their children as joint tenants on their properties. The appeal is that children should be able to assume full ownership when parents pass on, while keeping the property out of probate. However, this does not mean that the property is safe.  It doesn’t insulate the property from taxes or the unexpected, including nursing home expenses and your children’s debts, divorce or other liabilities.

There’s another issue. By choosing this approach, you may lose STAR and other property tax exemptions as well as potential capital gains tax exemptions on sale of the property.   These important tax issues can be better managed through a trust which will also allow you greater control as situations change.

Giving Away the Inheritance Early

Some parents choose to give children their inheritance early–either outright or incrementally over time.  This strategy comes with several pitfalls. First, if you want to avoid hefty gift taxes, you are limited to giving each child $14,000 per year. You can give more, but you start to use up your gift tax exemption and must file a gift tax return. Second, a smaller yearly amount might seem less like the beginnings of a legacy to be invested for the future and more like current expense money for immediate spending. Third, if situations change that cause you to re-evaluate your giving, it’s too late. You don’t want to be dependent on children having to give the cash back. Finally, if you end up needing public assistance to pay for extraordinary medical expenses such as nursing home costs, the government will “look back” at what you have done with your assets over the five years prior to application, and penalise by refusing to pay for otherwise eligible care costs for a period of months leaving you in a medical and financial crisis.

Shortcuts and ideas like these may look appealing on the surface, but they can actually do more harm than good. Consult with an estate planner to find better strategies to prepare for your and your families’ future. Give us a call to see how we can help.

Safeguarding Your Estate Plan Against Three Worst-Case Scenarios

Here are three examples of worst-case scenarios with a descriptive demonstration of how a carefully crafted plan can address issues, from the predictable to the total surprise.

Scenario One: Family Members Battle One Another

You don’t want the people you care about most to get into a fight over your estate. Disputes over who should get what, how to interpret unclear or inconsistent instructions from you, or how loved ones should manage your affairs are common.

Lawsuits between family members can drain your estate and cause a permanent break in family relations. Infighting can lead to less obvious problems as well. For example, your daughter is named as executor, but she holds a grudge against your son. Your daughter cannot rewrite your will to leave him out. However, she could drag her feet with the administration, interpret the will unfairly, privileging herself over your son, or engage in other manoeuvres. Your son would have to hire a lawyer and potentially get involved in a legal battle. This is a bad outcome for everyone.

To prevent such scenarios, consider using an impartial (e.g. third party) trustee or executor. Moreover, speak with a qualified estate planning attorney to prepare for potential future conflicts among family members.

Scenario Two: Both Spouses Die Simultaneously

Many estate plans transfer assets to a surviving spouse, but what happens if both spouses die at or near the same time? This situation may be even more complicated if both spouses have separately owned assets or if the size of the estate is significant. In that case, asset distribution may depend on who predeceased whom and other factors. There are, however, ways to address this in an estate plan making it easier for your family to understand your intent, including:

  •  A simultaneous death clause that automatically names one spouse as the first to die;
  • A survivorship deferral provision, delaying transfer of assets to a surviving spouse, thus preventing double probate and estate taxes; and
  • A common disaster clause that names a final beneficiary in the event all primary beneficiaries die at once.

Scenario Three: Passing Away Overseas

Expatriates may need particular care in estate planning. If a death occurs outside the U.S., foreign laws may conflict with provisions of an American-made estate plan. Thus a plan may need to be reviewed both for the US and other nations’ laws. If you intend to live abroad for an extended period or own property in another country, it may be smart to draw up a second will consistent with that country’s laws, too. The starting point is completing your estate planning (will, trust, and other documents) here in the United States.

If you have concerns as to whether your current estate plan provides adequate safeguards against the unexpected or anything else you might be worried about, we are here to help. Contact our office for an appointment.