Monday, October 27, 2014

Probate Avoidance Topic #4: Lifetime Gifts

This is topic #4 in this series on how to avoid tying up your estate in probate court after your death.  The previous posts in this series have provided an overview of the much-disliked probate process, explained how to avoid probate by using a living trust, and also discussed how joint ownership and naming death beneficiaries can be part of a probate-avoidance plan.   Today I will discuss the topic of lifetime giving.

Lifetime giving seems so simple that people sometimes overlook it when making an estate plan.  All the term means is giving some of your property away to your family (or anyone else) while you are still alive.  Lifetime giving has some potential benefits and drawbacks:

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Probate Avoidance Series, Topic #3: Joint Ownership and Naming Death Beneficiaries

Picture by Kance
In my last two posts, I discussed the lengthy and much-disliked probate court process for distributing property after death.  The next post covered the popular and very flexible tool known as the living trust, which helps many American families distribute their property quickly while avoiding probate court.  Today I'll discuss a probate avoidance method that is so common, most American adults have probably used it, though they may not have realized they were making an estate planning decision.   In this post, read how this method, known as joint ownership, can sometimes be a good way to pass on property and avoid probate after your death:

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Probate Avoidace Series, Topic #2: Living Trusts

As described in Topic #1 of this series, probate is the traditional court-supervised method of distributing property after the death of a family member.  People dislike probate because the judicial process often drags on for a year or much longer.  It is also frequently expensive, requires trips to the courthouse, and is also highly public.

In this post, I'll briefly discuss a very popular and flexible probate avoidance tool, known as the revocable living trust.  When many people hear the word "trust," they automatically think of other words like "billionaire," "complicated," or "trust fund baby."  However, rest assured that living trusts are relatively simple to understand.  They are widely used by middle class families across the country, and are becoming the most popular estate planning option for American families and their attorneys.  Here are the basic features of living trusts:

Monday, October 20, 2014

Probate Avoidance Series, Topic #1: What is Probate?

Today marks the beginning of National Estate Planning Awareness Week.  A survey earlier this year showed that avoidance of probate is the #1 reason Americans engage in estate planning.  Don't know much about probate?  This article will be the first in a series of posts covering the basics of probate, why people dislike it, and how you can avoid it:

Friday, October 17, 2014

Apple, Facebook Egg-Freezing Employee Benefits Raise Estate Planning Issues

Photo by:
Jeffrey M. Vinocour
As reported in the Los Angeles Times, Apple and Facebook are beginning to cover egg freezing and cryopreservation for female employees as part of their benefits plans.  Given that these procedures can run from $5,000 to $15,000 out-of-pocket, the new corporate policies open up the world of cryopreservation to a much broader potential market.  The growth of assisted reproduction raises novel estate planning questions:

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Your Birthday - an Annual Reminder to Review your Estate Plan

Photo by Ed g2s
Review your estate plan after every major life change, such as a birth, death, or disability in the family, purchase of a home, out-of-state move, or changes to investment accounts.  Unfortunately, many busy parents put their estate plan in the family safe, intending to update it periodically, but never do.  The thought process goes, "Even if our estate plan isn't up to date, at least we have one."  However, imagine dying with a 10 year-old will, and having your children turned over to guardians who seemed like a good choice 10 years ago, but are no longer in good health.  Or, imagine having a special needs child who is not appropriately cared for after your death because you did not update your living trust.  Having an estate plan in your safe that is not up to date is like having meat in your refrigerator past its expiration date--it isn't going to be pleasant when it has to be used. 

Lawyers frequently advise clients to review their estate plans at least annually, to make sure their documents are up to date.  Some will send a reminder post card each anniversary after your last will appointment.  But what if the attorney stops sending post cards?  What if you move?  How can you ensure you periodically review your documents?  Coincidentally, today is my birthday and that helped me come up with a solution to this problem.

Today I scheduled an appointment with an attorney to review our family estate plan.  By making a habit of using my birthday to reflect on the past year's events, and take a look at my estate planning documents, I have an easy-to-remember annual reminder in place.  In our case, we recently sold a house and have a new relative in our family, so it is time to get new documents.

One caution:  Do not attempt to update your documents by making pen and ink changes, inserting pages, or anything like that.  Typically, marking the pages of a will invalidates the entire document.  Seek legal counsel to properly execute new, legally binding documents.

Published by Ian Holzhauer, Esq. of Nagle Obarski PC in Naperville, IL.  

Note:  The information above is not legal advice and is not the basis of an attorney-client relationship.  If you need assistance, you can hire an attorney to assist you with your individual legal needs. 

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Wine Collectors Face Unique Estate Planning Challenges

Laura Collier, known as "The Spirited Lawyer," runs a boutique law practice in Raleigh, NC, focused on the food and beverage industry, including wine and beer retail and distribution.   She is part of the legal movement toward highly specialized client-centered solo practice.  In her case, it is an appetizing practice area as well! 

I should disclose that I have a personal tie to Laura:  As a first-year law school classmate, I often relied on her excellent memory if I missed something in Constitutional Law class.  And today, she is again helping me!  I asked "The Spirited Lawyer" if there are any unusual estate planning concerns specific to fine wine collectors, and she helped me with the content for this article:

Friday, October 10, 2014

The 23-Word Coolidge Will -- A Blunt Disinheritance

President Calvin Coolidge, a man known for brevity, wrote a total of 23 words of dispositive instructions in his will, which was handwritten on White House Stationary:  "Not unmindful of my son, I give all of my estate, both real and personal, to my wife, Grace Coolidge, in fee simple."  Mr. Coolidge could have shortened the instructions to 18 words by cutting out the phrase, "not unmindful of my son."  However, he might have feared that his son would challenge his disinheritance in court:

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Blended Family Estate Planning

Imagine two separate trees growing feet apart from each other for many years.  These trees have grown numerous intertwined branches, but they still maintain separate trunks.  Like the trees in this image, many blended families today have functioned together for decades, sharing close family bonds and lots of common history, but still maintain separate family trees.
Traditional estate planning assumptions come from a time when blended families were far less common than they are today.  A common estate plan for a non-blended family (where all children have the same parents) is for the spouses to have reciprocal wills, with each spouse leaving all property to the other spouse, and if the other spouse is not alive, then all property to the children.  However, indiscriminately applying this estate plan to a blended family can lead to many difficulties down the road, as the children of the first spouse to die may not inherit if the other spouse changes his or her will.  To avoid future hardship, it is essential that parents in second marriages and/or parents with stepchildren hire a qualified attorney to craft an estate plan appropriate to their family situation.  Blended family estate planning is a very complex subject; this article will briefly touch some of the most common strategies:

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Casey Kasem's Burial Still on Hold as Legal Battle Continues -- Don't Let this Happen to Your Family

Legendary radio personality Casey Kasem passed away this June at the age of 82.  Upon his death, media outlets across the country paid tribute to his illustrious career, including 40 years of hosting "American Top 40."

Photo by Alan Light
Unfortunately, four months after Mr. Kasem's death, his burial is still on hold as relatives argue in court over the proper disposition of his remains.  Sadly, Mr. Kasem's family could not agree on his health care or burial wishes, as he did not express these in writing.  While the level and length of disagreement in his case is unusual, family strife over end-of-life decisions is certainly not unusual.  However, this type of uncertainty about end-of-life wishes is entirely preventable.

As the last two posts on this blog discussed, you can easily clarify your end-of-life wishes in writing.  Work with an attorney to accomplish advance health care directives and documents regarding disposition of remains.  Doing so can allow your family to focus on properly grieving, and moving on after your death, instead of being mired in uncertainty.

Published by the Law Office of Ian Holzhauer in Naperville, IL.  

Note:  The information above is not legal advice and is not the basis of an attorney-client relationship.  If you need assistance, you can hire an attorney to assist you with your individual legal needs. 

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

"Green" Burials, Scattering Ashes in a Special Place, and Other Advance Funeral Planning

An article in today's Washington Post describes the increasing trend toward "green" burials, which decrease the impact of the burial process on the environment.  This reflects a growing consciousness that we can plan for the handling of our remains even during our lifetimes, in a manner tailored to our personal values and beliefs.  Many of my previous clients have expressed a desire in their estate plans to have their ashes spread over a particular body of water or special place from their past.  In a creative approach, some people are now opting to have their ashes buried in a biodegradable urn, with a seed inside, so that a tree may grow out of their final resting place, as described in the article.

Whatever your wishes for the handling of your remains, an estate planning attorney can help you ensure they are conveyed in the appropriate manner.  In some states, giving a family member a durable power of attorney for the handling of your remains will help smooth the process.  Many estate planners include funeral instructions in a will, but that can be problematic if the will is not read immediately upon your death.  As an Air Force JAG, it was important that my clients' families be instructed to promptly contact the VA National Cemetery Administration for potentially free burial in a national cemetery and/or an official headstone,  flag, and full military honors.  Whatever your plan, it is important that you tell your family about your funeral wishes and where to find the documentation of your wishes.

More information is available at the nonprofit Funeral Consumers Alliance.

Published by the Law Office of Ian Holzhauer in Naperville, IL.  

Note:  The information above is not legal advice and is not the basis of an attorney-client relationship.  If you need assistance, you can hire an attorney to assist you with your individual legal needs. 

Monday, October 6, 2014

Document your Wishes for End-of-Life Care

When a family member becomes permanently incapacitated, it can be one of the most emotional and difficult decision-making periods for a grieving family.  If family members disagree about what a terminally ill and permanently unconscious patient would have wanted, the result can be years of gut-wrenching intra-family fighting.

Terri Schiavo entered a persistent vegetative state in 1990, when she was age 26.  Her family could not agree on whether she would have wanted to be kept alive artificially by machines.  It took 15 years and many public legal battles before she passed away.  Fortunately, some basic advanced planning can remove uncertainty about your end-of-life wishes and prevent this type of family strife. 

Thursday, October 2, 2014

A Royal Estate Plan

Diana, Princess of Wales was known for her kindness, decency, substantial charitable work, and her devotion to her children.  Her untimely death was a reminder to us all that life can be fragile, but her legacy of good works lives on.

Even royals have to worry about estate planning issues.  Fortunately, Princess Diana established a very well-tailored estate plan to care for her children in the event of her death.  This article shows how, through the use of basic testamentary trusts, she provided income for her children until their 30th birthdays, and then turned over full control of the property to them. 

Testamentary trusts for children are a standard part of many American estate plans as well, and are typically not overly difficult to administer.  If you read the article about Princess Diana's estate plan, you may notice the reference to owing Capital Gains Tax, which can be avoided in the United States under the IRS loophole known as the automatic step-up in basis, covered by a prior blog post.

Consider how Princess Diana's careful estate planning provided for her children after her death, and ensure your family is also protected in the event of a tragedy.

Published by the Law Office of Ian Holzhauer in Naperville, IL.  

Note:  The information above is not legal advice and is not the basis of an attorney-client relationship.  If you need assistance, you can hire an attorney to assist you with your individual legal needs. 

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Storing Your Estate Planning Documents

As a society, we have grown accustomed to electronically filing and accessing important documents, including bank statements, health records, and tax returns.  In my years of litigation as an Air Force JAG (a worldwide practice), we relied almost exclusively on digitally-submitted court documents.  Indeed, in most areas of the law, a digital (or paper) copy will now be a sufficient substitute for an original document.  However, when it comes to your estate plan, it is crucial that you preserve your original, signed will in order to ensure a smooth probate process.  The following are some basic tips: