Don’t Have A Will? Arizona Has One For You
Don't have a will? Arizona has one for you.

Don’t Have A Will? Arizona Has One For You

Drafting a will is an essential part of estate planning. Even though it’s vitally important, a recent survey from AARP revealed that two out of five Americans over the age of 45 don’t have one.

The Reflector’s recent article, “Things people should know about creating wills,” says that writing your wishes down on paper helps avoid unnecessary work and stress when you die. Signing a will allows heirs to act with the decedent’s wishes in mind and also will make certain that assets and possessions go to the right people. What might you need in addition to a will? Read more here.

Estate planning can be complicated, and that’s the reason why many folks turn to estate planning attorneys to make sure this important task is done correctly and legally. Here are some of the estate planning topics to discuss with your lawyer:

List of Your Assets. Create a list of your assets and determine the ones covered by the will and those that will have to be passed through joint tenancy on a deed or a living trust. For instance, life insurance policies or retirement plan proceeds will be distributed by the beneficiaries you named in each account. Remember that your will can list other assets, like memorabilia, antiques, cars, and jewelry.

Naming a Guardian. Parents with minor children should definitely designate the person or persons whom they want to become guardians if they were to die unexpectedly. They can also use their will to name a person who will be in charge of the finances for the children.

Remembering Your Pets. It’s common for pet owners to use their will to detail guardianship for their pets and to leave money or property to defray the cost of their care. But remember that pets don’t have the legal capacity to own property, so don’t leave money directly to pets in a will. A pet trust is legal in most states and is the best way to leave money and name a caretaker for your pets.

Stating Your Funeral Instructions. Settling probate won’t occur until after the funeral. As a result, any funeral wishes in a will frequently aren’t read until after the fact.

Designate an Executor. This is a trusted individual who will execute the terms of the will. He or she should be willing to serve and be capable of executing the will.

Those who die without a valid will become intestate. This will result in their estate being settled based on the laws of where that person lived. A court-appointed administrator will have the authority to transfer the assets and property. This administrator is bound by the state’s intestacy laws and may make decisions that go against the decedent’s wishes.  This is incredibly difficult for the heirs and causes families to be torn apart. To avoid this, work with an experienced estate planning attorney to draft a will and other estate planning documents.  Elisabeth can help! Book a call today.

Reference: The Reflector (July 15, 2019) “Things people should know about creating wills”

 

How Transfer on Death Accounts Work
How transfer on death accounts work

How Transfer on Death Accounts Work

Even estates with wills usually do go to probate court. This is not a major issue in some states and an expensive headache in others. Learn more about probate here. By changing some accounts to transfer on death (TOD), you can avoid some assets going through probate, says Yahoo! Finance in the article “Transfer on Death (TOD) Accounts for Estate Planning.”

Here’s how it works:

A TOD account automatically transfers the assets to a named beneficiary, when the account holder dies. Let’s say you have a savings account with $100,000 in it. Your son is the beneficiary for the TOD account. When you die, the account’s assets transfer to him.

A more formal definition: a TOD is a provision of an account that allows the assets to pass directly to an intended beneficiary, the equivalent of a beneficiary designation. Note that the laws that govern estate planning vary from state to state, but most banks, investment accounts and even real estate deeds can become TOD accounts. If you own part of a TOD property, only your ownership share transfers.

TOD account holders can name multiple beneficiaries and split up assets any way they wish. You can open a TOD account to be split between two children, for instance, and they’ll each receive 50% of the holdings, when you pass.

One thing to bear in mind: the beneficiaries have no right or access to the TOD account, while the owner is living. The beneficiaries can change at any time, as long as the TOD account owner is mentally competent. Just as assets in a will can’t be accessed by heirs until you die, beneficiaries on a TOD account have no rights or access to a TOD account, until the original owner dies.

Simplicity is one reason why people like to use the TOD account. When you have a properly prepared will and estate plan, the process is far easier for your family members and beneficiaries. The will includes an executor, who is the person who takes care of distributing your assets and a guardian to take care of any minor children. Absent a will, the probate court will determine who the next of kin is and distribute your property, according to the laws of your state.

A TOD account usually requires only that a death certificate be sent to an agent at the account’s bank or brokerage house. The account is then re-registered in the beneficiary’s name.

Whatever is in your will does not impact the TOD account. If your will instructs your executor to give all of your money to your sister, but the TOD account names your brother as a beneficiary, any money in the account is going to your brother. Your sister will get any other assets.

Speak with an estate planning attorney about how a TOD account might be useful for your purposes.

Reference: Yahoo! Finance (June 26, 2019) “Transfer on Death (TOD) Accounts for Estate Planning”

 

How Dads and Moms Can Make Sure Their Families are Protected
Dads can protect their family with proper estate planning.

How Dads and Moms Can Make Sure Their Families are Protected

Forbes’ recent article, “How Fathers Can Make Sure Their Families Are Financially Protected” suggests that fathers consider taking the following steps to ensure their families are protected. The same advice applies to mothers too.

Do you have enough life insurance? Be sure you’re adequately insured, so your family won’t struggle to pay the bills without your income. Many employees only have enough life insurance from work to cover a year’s worth of salary, which may be enough for some families. However, if your spouse can’t make the mortgage payment on their own, and if they would be unwilling or unable to sell the home, you might want to at least make sure you have enough life insurance to pay off the mortgage. Once you know how much you need, buy a low-cost term policy for the maximum length of time you might need the coverage.

Are your beneficiaries updated on retirement accounts, annuities and life insurance policies? This is an often overlooked issue. An outdated beneficiary designation could result in your ex-spouse inheriting most of your assets, your latest child being disinherited, or your family having to pay higher taxes and probate fees than is necessary. Read more here.

Can you add a “payable on death” or a “transfer on death” form on any accounts? You can generally add beneficiaries to bank and investment accounts, saving your family from the time and cost of probate. In some states, you can add beneficiaries to your home and vehicles. Ask your bank for a “payable on death” form and your investment company for a “transfer on death” form.

Is your will drafted?  You need a will to name a guardian for your minor children in most states. It’s a good idea to have a qualified estate planning attorney help you.

Are you organized? Keep a record of where everything and everyone is. You can draft an “In Case of Emergency” folder that has copies of your will, revocable trust, life insurance policy and a summary of brokerage and bank accounts. Let your family know where to find it. You should also share your passwords to your digital accounts.

As a parent, you have an obligation to care for the financial well-being of your family. Part of this is making sure they’ll be protected, even if you’re not around.

Reference: Forbes (June 16, 2019) “How Fathers Can Make Sure Their Families Are Financially Protected”

 

Family Fights over Personal Items or Artwork
How to avoid conflict when leaving personal items

Family Fights over Personal Items or Artwork

A few years after her death in 2014, Joan Rivers’ family put hundreds of her personal items up for auction at Christie’s in New York.

As The Financial Times reported in “Why an art collector’s estate needs tight planning,” a silver Tiffany bowl, engraved with her dog’s name, Spike, made headlines when it sold for thirty times its estimated price.

This shows how an auction house can generate a buzz around the estate of a late collector, creating demand for items that, had they been sold separately, might have failed to attract as much attention.

A problem for some art and collectible owners is that their heirs may feel much less passionately about the works, than the person who collected them.

A collector can either gift, donate or sell in their lifetime. He or she can also wait until they pass away and then gift, donate, or sell posthumously.

The way a collector can make certain his or her wishes are carried out or eliminate family conflicts after their death, is to take the decision out of the hands of the family, by placing an art collection in trust. Read more about trusts here.

The trust will have the collector’s wishes added into the agreement, and the trustees are appointed from the family and from independent advisers with no interest in a transaction taking place.

Many collectors like to seal their legacy, by making a permanent loan or gift of art works to a museum.However, their children can renege on these agreements, if they’re not adequately protected by trusts or other legal safeguards after a collector’s death.

Even with a trust or other legal structure put in place to preserve a legacy, the key to avoiding a fight over personal items after the death of the collector, is to have frank discussions about estate planning with the family well before the reading of the will. This can ensure that their wishes are respected.

Reference: Financial Times (June 20, 2019) “Why an art collector’s estate needs tight planning”

 

Arizona Funeral Homes And Potential Financial Abuse
Arizona Funeral Home

Arizona Funeral Homes And Potential Financial Abuse

U.S. Navy veteran Robert Heiskell was a quiet and reclusive man, whose wife had died years before. A concerned neighbor called the police, who on March 22, 2017, discovered the 80-year-old dead in his home.

AZ Central’s recent article, “Phoenix funeral home took control of dead people’s estates, then charged them excessive fees, complaints say,” reports that Heiskell didn’t have will, and no one claimed his body. A Phoenix area funeral home, Abel Funeral Services—under a contract with Maricopa County for indigent burial—retrieved his body and placed it in refrigeration, while they looked for the next of kin. That meant a meter began running on Heiskell’s funeral expenses.

When the county saw that Heiskell had too much money to qualify for indigent burial, funeral home owner Spencer McBride got court approval to become the personal representative of Heiskell’s estate and settle Heiskell’s financial affairs. The funeral home owner had done this many times for other estates.

By the time he was finished, McBride had racked up costs of more than $30,000 from Heiskell’s estate to his funeral home, according to court records. Compare that to the average cost of a funeral and burial of $7,360, according to the National Funeral Directors Association.

While state law permits funeral home owners to act as both executors and creditors of an estate, many don’t care for the headaches. Now the Arizona Board of Funeral Directors and Embalmers, which regulates the profession, is looking into several other complaints that McBride assumed control of estates and charged excessive fees for funeral services.

Three complaints in the past year claim that McBride did not exert a sufficient effort in locating the next of kin, while his funeral home charged estates excessive fees for funeral services. Another complaint didn’t dispute fees, but the family of an Air Force veteran was upset over a delay in burial.

Heiskell’s closest living relative, a cousin, questioned the bill and alleged that all but about $8,000 of the charges were “excessive.” This included fees to refrigerate Heiskell’s body for 115 days. The matter was settled out of court for an undisclosed sum. In statements to the funeral board, McBride has denied using his position as personal representative for profit.

Even if you believe you have no heirs, it is important that you speak with a qualified estate planning attorney to create a mindful plan that tells people what you want to happen to your assets and personal belongings. Book a call today. 

Reference: AZ Central (June 21, 2019) “Phoenix funeral home took control of dead people’s estates, then charged them excessive fees, complaints say”

 

Legal Documents For Graduates

It is wonderful to bring up the children, make sure they are educated and see that 18th birthday come along. However, it is important to recognize that many things change from a legal standpoint, according to grbj.com in “Give your graduate the gift of legal documents.”

Here are recommended steps to take so parents can still be involved in their children’s lives when they are needed:

Health care proxy/medical power of attorney. Even if you are the person paying for health insurance, you are not legally permitted to make decisions on their behalf. Have your child sign a proxy/POA form designating who has the primary authority to make health decisions, if he or she is unable to do so. This is especially important when parents are divorced: both parents need to have the proper forms. Your estate planning attorney will be able to prepare these for you.

Durable power of attorney. If your child has signed a durable POA, you will be able to handle their financial matters, especially if your child becomes incapacitated.

HIPAA authorization. Medical providers may not disclose a patient’s medical status, unless they have legal permission. Your child should sign a HIPAA authorization with each of their providers, giving the parent access to all their information. This is especially necessary for a child with health or mental issues.

FERPA waivers. This one takes many parents by surprise. Even if you are the one paying for tuition and all college expenses, the college will not provide academic records, including grades and tuition bills, due to the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act. Contact the college and find out exactly what forms they need to be sure you have access to all of your children’s information, including any health and mental health treatment.

Wills and trusts. If a child has assets and no descendants, they need a will or revocable trust to protect the parent’s taxable estate and allow someone to manage these assets, if they die prematurely.

Medical records. Make sure the child has access to their medical records, including medications, allergies, immunizations, etc.

Insurance. See if the family’s medical, homeowner’s and auto insurance coverage extend to a child living away at school and in another state. If the child is renting a house or apartment, make sure they have renter’s insurance.

Proof of identity. Make sure the child has access to their passport, birth certificate or Social Security card so they can get an internship or a job.

Bank accounts and credit cards. If the family’s regular bank does not have a branch where the child is attending school, the parents should consider opening a basic checking account at a local branch. Both parents and child should be on the account.

Registration. It’s time to register to vote and sons will need to register with Selective Service.

An estate planning attorney can advise you on the proper documents needed for your family.

Reference: grb.com (June 7, 2019) “Give your graduate the gift of legal documents.”

Power of Attorney: Which Type Do I Need?
What type of power of attorney do I need?

Power of Attorney: Which Type Do I Need?

A power of attorney is a document that grants a person the legal authority to make decisions about certain aspects of another person’s life. It gives a trusted person of your choosing the right to act as your agent in either highly specific or general decisions, depending on the type of power of attorney. As reported in Wicked Local’s article “Investors, Plans & Money: Power of attorney,” the person you name does not have to be an attorney, nor does it have to be a spouse.

Each type of power of attorney works to achieve a slightly different goal. As you work with your estate planning attorney on developing your overall estate plan, you will want to know which type you need and what your state’s requirements are. You will have to be of sound mind, with awareness of what you are signing, when the documents are prepared and signed.

Here’s a look at the basic powers of attorney:

A General Power of Attorney gives the named agent the broadest scope and authority to act and make decisions for another person. The document ideally lists the actions the person wishes them to take. This requires absolute trust, because it gives the agent complete control.

A Limited, Specific or Special Power of Attorney is a document that gives an agent the authority to act on your behalf in a very specific area of your life, task, or within a specified time frame. An example would be if you wanted someone to sell, maintain, or manage property for you. The State of Arizona requires a separate “Mental Health Power of Attorney” to make mental health care decisions for another person when that person is incapable. This is a serious consideration and should be discussed and drafted by your attorney. Contact Elisabeth Pickle Law for more information.

The Springing Power of Attorney is “triggered” (hence the name) when, and only when, certain conditions are met. That might be a loss of mental capacity, for example. This document also must be very carefully defined, and proof of the condition being met may need to be presented.

A Healthcare Power of Attorney goes by different names depending upon the state. However it is named, this is the legal document that gives the authority to make healthcare decisions, if the person is incapacitated through illness or accident. The person named as your healthcare agent should have a clear understanding of your wishes regarding extreme life-sustaining measures, as well as critical care procedures, like blood transfusions or organ transplants.

There can be problems with powers of attorney. The person named to act as an agent must be entirely trustworthy and reliable. Other issues arise, if the documents are not prepared properly. This is why an experienced estate planning attorney is the best source. Here are some examples of what can go wrong:

  • Details are lacking, so the document is declared invalid;
  • The wrong type of power of attorney is created;
  • The state requirements are not met;
  • An agent is named who the attorney would immediately know is a bad choice; and/or
  • A generic document does not contain the correct language.

Properly prepared, a power of attorney can save a tremendous amount of stress, provide the ability to make time-sensitive decisions and allow your wishes to be followed. Speak with your estate planning attorney to determine the type of power of attorney your estate plan needs.

Reference: Wicked Local (April 24, 2019) “Investors, Plans & Money: Power of attorney”

What are the Most Common Beneficiary Designations Mistakes?
Common mistakes on beneficiary designation forms.

What are the Most Common Beneficiary Designations Mistakes?

Many people don’t understand that their will doesn’t control who inherits all of their assets when they pass away. Some of a person’s assets pass by beneficiary designation. That’s accomplished by completing a form with the company that holds the asset and naming who will inherit the asset, upon your death.

Kiplinger’s recent article, “Beneficiary Designations: 5 Critical Mistakes to Avoid,” explains that assets including life insurance, annuities and retirement accounts (think 401(k)s, IRAs, 403bs and similar accounts) all pass by beneficiary designation. Many financial companies also let you name beneficiaries on non-retirement accounts, known as TOD (transfer on death) or POD (pay on death) accounts.

Naming a beneficiary can be a good way to make certain your family will get assets directly. However, these beneficiary designations can also cause a host of problems. Make sure that your beneficiary designations are properly completed and given to the financial company, because mistakes can be costly. The article looks at five critical mistakes to avoid when dealing with your beneficiary designations:

  1. Failing to name a beneficiary. Many people never name a beneficiary for retirement accounts or life insurance. If you don’t name a beneficiary for life insurance or retirement accounts, the financial company has it owns rules about where the assets will go after you die. For life insurance, the proceeds will usually be paid to your estate. For retirement benefits, if you’re married, your spouse will most likely get the assets. If you’re single, the retirement account will likely be paid to your estate, which has negative tax ramifications. When an estate is the beneficiary of a retirement account, the assets must be paid out of the retirement account within five years of death. This means an acceleration of the deferred income tax—which must be paid earlier, than would have otherwise been necessary.
  2. Failing to consider special circumstances. Not every person should receive an asset directly. These are people like minors, those with specials needs, or people who can’t manage assets or who have creditor issues. Minor children aren’t legally competent, so they can’t claim the assets. A court-appointed conservator will claim and manage the money, until the minor turns 18. Those with special needs who get assets directly, will lose government benefits because once they receive the inheritance directly, they’ll own too many assets to qualify. People with financial issues or creditor problems can lose the asset through mismanagement or debts. Ask your attorney about creating a trust to be named as the beneficiary.
  3. Designating the wrong beneficiary. Sometimes a person will complete beneficiary designation forms incorrectly. For example, there can be multiple people in a family with similar names, and the beneficiary designation form may not be specific. People also change their names in marriage or divorce. Assets owners can also assume a person’s legal name that can later be incorrect. These mistakes can result in delays in payouts, and in a worst-case scenario of two people with similar names, can mean litigation.
  4. Failing to update your beneficiaries. Since there are life changes, make sure your beneficiary designations are updated on a regular basis.
  5. Failing to review beneficiary designations with your attorney. Beneficiary designations are part of your overall financial and estate plan. Speak with your estate planning attorney to determine the best approach for your specific situation.

Beneficiary designations are designed to make certain that you have the final say over who will get your assets when you die. Take the time to carefully and correctly choose your beneficiaries and periodically review those choices and make the necessary updates to stay in control of your money.

Reference: Kiplinger (April 5, 2019) “Beneficiary Designations: 5 Critical Mistakes to Avoid”

 

What Are the Five “Must Have” Legal Documents?
Five must have estate planning docuuments

What Are the Five “Must Have” Legal Documents?

WTHR 13’s recent article, “The 5 legal documents every adult should have” lists the five key legal documents involved in estate planning.

  1. General Durable Power of Attorney. This document states who you want to make decisions, if you’re unable to do so for yourself. Without it, your family may have to petition the courts to become your legal guardian, which can be time consuming and expensive. A power of attorney allows the person whom you select, to pay your mortgage or rent and your bills.
  2. Health Care Power of Attorney. This document plans for the situation, if you are unable to make your own health care decisions. You name someone you trust, like family members or friends, to do this on your behalf.
  3. Will. This says that when you pass away, here’s what I want to happen. A will states who will get your assets after your death. If you don’t have a valid will in place, the state laws of intestacy will govern what will happen to your estate—which may not be what you want.
  4. Living Will. This is the document in which you state your instructions for end-of-life care, such as life support. This legal document is used to make certain that your family and physicians know what you want your end-of-life care to be. A living will is much different than a will.
  5. Revocable Living Trust. This document can be important, if you’re a parent with young children and would like your assets passed down properly to your children, if you die. Typically, if children are under 18 or 21, they’re legally minors and can’t receive assets. A trust can help coordinate their receiving your property.

An experienced estate planning attorney can help you with the creation of these legal documents, while creating an overall plan so that your wishes are followed, your legacy is protected and your family is secure.

Reference: WTHR 13 (April 17, 2019) “The 5 legal documents every adult should have”

 

Why Is a Revocable Trust So Valuable in Estate Planning?
Five must have estate planning docuuments

Why Is a Revocable Trust So Valuable in Estate Planning?

There’s quite a bit that a revocable 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 by herself, 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 in one of the major discount brokerages, or he can appoint a trust company to act for him.
  • Incapacity. A trusted spouse, child, or friend can be named to care for and represent the needs of the grantor/beneficiary. She will manage the assets during incapacity, without having to declare the grantor incompetent and petitioning for a guardianship. After the grantor has recovered, she can resume the duties as trustee.
  • This can be a stressful legal proceeding that makes the grantor a ward of the state. This proceeding can be expensive, public, humiliating, restrictive and burdensome. However, a well-drafted trust (along with powers of attorney) avoids this.

The 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, ask your attorney about the rest of your estate plan: a will, powers of attorney, medical directives and other considerations.

Any trust should be created by a very competent trust attorney, after a discussion about what you want to accomplish.

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