So you have done the hard work of establishing an estate plan. Good for you! However, you still have serious work to do to ensure that the strategy you have selected will maximize your peace of mind and protect your legacy.
Estate plans should be like living, breathing creations that reflect the changes in your life. Your life can and will change due to new births, children getting older, and other shifts in the family; changes to your investment portfolio, career and business; and changes to your health, where you live, and your core values. Likewise, external events, such as new tax legislation passed in your state or the development of a novel financial instrument, can throw your plan off track or open the door to new opportunities.
Obviously, you should do due diligence without spending inordinate amounts of time noodling over your plan. To that end, ask yourself the following “stress test” questions to assess whether you need to meet with an estate planning attorney to update your approach:
- When was the last time you updated your will or living trust? Since then, have you had new children or gotten divorced? Have you moved to a new state, opened or sold a business, or just changed your mind about the type of legacy you want to leave behind? Especially if big, tangible life events have occurred, strongly consider updating your documents as soon as possible. Also keep in mind that there may have been changes in the law since your last update that could significantly affect the viability of your plan.
- Who have you named as executor and trustee? If you had to start your planning over from scratch today, would you still name the same people? If not, why not? Did you choose the best person for the job or was your choice based on less relevant factors? Is the person you chose still available to serve in that role?
- Do you have adequate insurance? Many people do not have enough insurance for themselves or their businesses. They also fail to name contingent beneficiaries. Get your insurance policies in order, and make sure your designations match your estate plan.
- How much of your property is jointly owned with someone other than your spouse? Jointly owned property has the potential to be double taxed. Take a look at your real property and seek advice on the proper adjustments to make in order to save on taxes when it's really necessary to save on taxes.
- How's your record keeping? Nothing drives an executor crazy like sloppy record keeping.
- When was the last time you gave your plan a thorough once-over? Even if nothing “huge” has happened in your life recently, if it’s been over five years since a qualified estate planning attorney has assessed your strategy, schedule a time to meet. Identify any issues, and iron out the kinks one at a time.
After going through the “stress test,” if you have any questions, please feel free to give us a call. Estate planning is an ongoing process, and we want to make sure your wishes withstand the test of time.
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Sometimes giving assets outright to a beneficiary –such a child, a grandchild or a special needs loved one –is not the ideal method of distributing assets in an estate plan. In such a scenario, a discretionary trust can be a good estate planning tool. Below is some basic information on discretionary trusts and how they may be beneficial to your particular family’s needs.
Discretionary Trusts Explained
A discretionary trust is a type of trust that is set up for the benefit of one or more beneficiaries. In this particular type of trust, however, the trustee is given full discretionary authority to decide when and what funds –such as principal or income -are given to which beneficiaries. In fact, the beneficiaries of a discretionary trust have no rights to its funds and these funds are not considered part of the beneficiaries’ estates. The only way the funds become subject to a creditor is once the funds are distributed to the beneficiary. So long as they stay in the trust and the trustee is not required to distribute them to the beneficiary, they will remain safe.
Within a discretionary trust, you can provide specific guidance to the appointed trustee regarding when distributions may be made. You can choose distributions to be used toward particular uses. This can include health, education, maintenance and support (HEMS). Similarly a trustee can be directed to distribute funds upon a beneficiary’s completion of certain milestones –such as college graduation or completion of rehabilitation.
The Purpose of Discretionary Trusts
A discretionary trust can benefit several types of individuals. Aside from minors and those with special needs, others who may benefit from this type of trust includes those: with creditor issues as a result of debt; with drug or alcohol abuse problems; who need or may need governmental assistance in the future; who could be facing or are going through a divorce. Simply put, discretionary trusts are a good estate planning tool for those beneficiaries who may need extra assistance managing large sums of money.
Estate Planning Advice
If you or someone you know has questions about discretionary trusts –or any other estate planning issue –contact us to learn about your options.
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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), someone in the U.S. has a heart attack every 40 seconds. That means approximately 790,000 people have a heart attack each year. If you have recently been hospitalized for a cardiac condition or other near-miss medical event, then you may be feeling a strong sense of urgency to get your estate planning done to protect your family, your business, and your legacy. Act on that feeling before you go back to your routine. Here’s how.
1. Draft a Will and Trust
Dying without a will can leave behind quite the mess for your family and will require a lengthy process involving the courts to administer your estate. Having a properly executed will cannot only simplify the process but will ensure that you have control over where your assets go. Some people wrongly believe that wills and trusts are just for wealthy individuals. We all have things that are valuable to ourselves and others. In addition to distributing assets, wills are also necessary to appoint a legal guardian for minor children.
Depending on your circumstances, you may also benefit from a trust. A trust allows you to dictate who receives your assets and when. It also has the added benefit of allowing someone else to manage your assets during your lifetime if you are unable to, without court intervention. Since a trust can take many different forms, it is best to consult with your estate planning attorney to determine how best to structure your trust.
2. Complete Advance Directives
A complete advance directives package gives you control over your end-of-life care. Designate a healthcare power of attorney to make medical decisions if you are unable. Complete a living will to address specific end-of-life decisions like life-sustaining measures. Lastly, appoint a financial power of attorney to handle financial matters in the event you are unable. Without these important documents, your family may be forced to go to court in order to have someone appointed to make these decisions for you.
3. Get Organized
Collect and organize important documents and account information by making copies of all essential documents and identifying any account information. Having all of this information in one centralized place will not only help you to get organized, but will also ensure you have all pertinent information easily accessible the people handling your affairs. Suggested information may include:?
- Social Security card
- Birth certificate
- Marriage certificate
- Titles or deed to real estate
- Car titles
- Insurance policy information (health, life, disability)
- Pension or retirement accounts
- Utility accounts
- Digital accounts (email, social media, online investments, Amazon, PayPal, eBay)
Do not let that sense of urgency fade away. Before that moment passes, take the time to get your estate planning in order and save yourself and loved ones the stress that comes from being unprepared. If you have any questions, please feel free to give us a call.
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