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Entries in Fiduciary Selection (73)

Friday
Jun162017

Helping a Loved One Who Struggles with Addiction—Your Family Trust

Substance addiction is by no means rare, impacting as many as one in seven Americans. Because of its prevalence, navigating a loved one’s addiction is a relatively common topic in everyday life. But you should also consider it when working on your estate planning. Whether the addiction is alcoholism, drug abuse, or behavioral like gambling, we all want our loved ones to be safe and experience a successful recovery.  A properly created estate plan can help.

The idea that money from a trust could end up fueling those addictive behaviors can be a particularly troubling one. Luckily, it’s possible to frame your estate planning efforts in such a way that you’ll ensure your wealth has only a positive impact on your loved one during their difficult moments. 

Funding For Treatment:

One of the ways your trust can have a positive influence on your loved one’s life is by helping fund their addiction treatment. If a loved one is already struggling with addiction issues, you can explicitly designate your trust funds for use in his or her voluntary recovery efforts. In extreme cases where an intervention of some sort is required to keep the family member safe, you can provide your trustee with guidance to help other family members with the beneficiary’s best interest by encouraging involuntary treatment until the problem is stabilized and the loved one begins recovery.

Incentive Trusts:

Incentive features can be included in your estate planning to help improve the behavior of the person in question. For example, the loved one who has an addiction can be required to maintain steady employment or voluntarily seek treatment in order to obtain additional benefits of the trust (such as money for a vacation or new car). Although this might seem controlling, this type of incentive structure can also help with treatment and recovery by giving a loved one something to work towards. This approach is probably best paired with funding for treatment (discussed above), so there are resources to help with treatment and then benefits that can help to motivate a beneficiary.

Lifetime Discretionary Trusts:

Giving your heirs their inheritance as a lump sum could end up enabling addiction or make successful treatment more difficult. Luckily, there’s a better way.  Lifetime discretionary trusts provide structure for an heir’s inheritance. If someone in your life is (or might eventually) struggle with addiction, you can rest easy when you know the inheritance you leave can’t be accessed early or make harmful addiction problem worse. 

Of course, you want to balance this lifetime protection of the money with the ability of your loved one to actually obtain money out of the trust. That’s where the critical consideration of who to appoint as a trustee comes in. Your trustee will have discretion to give money directly to your beneficiary or pay on your loved one’s behalf (such as a payment directly to an inpatient treatment center or payment of an insurance premium). When dealing with addiction, your trustee will need to have a firm grasp of what appropriate usage of the trust’s funds looks like. Appointing a trustee is always an important task, but it’s made even more significant when that person will be responsible for keeping potentially harmful sums of money out of the addicted person’s hands. 

Navigating a loved one’s addiction is more than enough stress already without having to worry about further enablement through assets contained in your trust. Let us take some of the burden off your shoulders by helping you build an estate plan that positively impacts your loved one and doesn’t contribute to the problem at hand. That way, you can go back to focusing your efforts on the solution. Contact our office today to see how we can help.

If you want to ensure that your family is cared for, please click here to schedule your complimentary Estate Planning Strategy Call with San Francisco’s premier estate planning attorney, Matthew J. Tuller. 


Wednesday
Jun142017

Integrating Community Property Trust Into Your Estate Plan

A well-crafted estate plan is comprised of many individual parts, and careful, trust-based estate planning is the best way to ensure the highest possible quality of life for you and your loved ones.

One way couples can make get the most mileage out of their estate plans is through community property trusts. This is a special type of trust that combines a couples jointly acquired assets as community property and can save a significant amount of taxes.

Why Community Property Trusts Are Beneficial:

The essential benefit of a Community Property Trust (“CPT”) is that the basis of community-owned property is stepped up when one member of the couple dies. Not only that—it also steps up the basis for the surviving spouse’s half of the property (rather than only half, which is what happens with “plain” jointly owned property). This means that the capital gains tax will take a much smaller percentage of the surviving spouse’s wealth when the property is sold.

The Limits Of Community Property Trusts:

There are two states in which CPT’s can be formed: Alaska and Tennessee. These trusts must be funded and have ongoing requirements to achieve their tax benefits. So, they are not a panacea and don’t necessarily fit every married couple’s situation.

How CPT’s Fit In With Other Estate Planning Strategies:

If your estate plan is robust and ready for all of life’s potential successes and challenges, it likely includes any number of revocable and irrevocable trusts, powers of attorney, long-term care directives, and miscellaneous probate-avoidance precautions.

Community property trusts can only work for the property you fund into them, meaning that you can and should have other strategies in place such as a revocable trust, will, power of attorney, etc. The same property cannot be managed under multiple trusts at the same time, so it is important for us to figure out which of your assets you’d like to set aside for other types of trusts before settling on the details of your CPT.

Community property trusts are not for everyone. However, if we can determine that setting one up is a realistic fit for you and your family, you can expect to save a large sum by avoiding taxes you would otherwise accrue. Schedule your complimentary Estate Planning Strategy Session with our office, to see whether this solution might be an effective addition to your other estate planning strategies.

If you want to ensure that your family is cared for, please click here to schedule your complimentary Estate Planning Strategy Call with San Francisco’s premier estate planning attorney, Matthew J. Tuller.

Monday
Jun122017

How a Community Property Trust Could Save You From Heavy Taxation

When it comes to your family’s legacy, every dollar you can save from tax collection counts. One way to keep your assets out of the hands of the IRS is the formation of community property trusts.

How Does A Community Property Trust (CPT) Work?

Community Property Trusts (“CPT’s”) save you money on taxes by adjusting or “stepping up” the basis of the entire property after the death of one member of the couple. When you and your spouse invest in property jointly—be it real estate, stocks, or other assets—it becomes what’s called community property if you live within nine applicable states. However, there are two states, Alaska and Tennessee, where community property can be utilized via the creation of a community property trust, even if you do not live in Alaska or Tennessee.

When couples work with their estate planning attorneys to create these trusts, they can take advantage of a double step-up on the property’s basis. The basis of the property is stepped-up to its current value for both members of the couple’s halves. This is different from jointly owned property which only receives the step-up on one-half of the property. That means capital gains taxes are much lower because the taxed amount is reduced thanks to the stepped-up basis. Community property helps couples reduce their income taxes after the death of a spouse.

Getting To Know Your Basic CPT Terminology:

First, let’s start with a few quick definitions of the financial terms you will need to know to get a sense of whether a community property trust is right for you.

1. Community Property

Assets a married couple acquires by joint effort during marriage if they live in one of the nine community property states: Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington, and Wisconsin.

2. Community property trust:

A particular type of joint revocable trust designed for couples who own low-basis assets, enabling them to take advantage of a double step up. Tennessee or Alaska are the two places you can form these trusts.

3. Basics

What you paid for an asset. The value that is used to determine gain or loss for income tax purposes. A higher basis means less capital gains tax.

4. Stepped-up basis:

Assets are given a new basis when transferred by inheritance (through a will or trust) and are revalued as of the date of the owner’s death. The new basis is called a stepped-up basis. A stepped-up basis can save a considerable amount of capital gains tax when an asset is later sold by the new owner.

5. Double step-up:

Because of a tax loophole, community property receives a basis adjustment step-up on the entire property when one of the spouses dies. So, if a surviving spouse sells community property after the death of their spouse, the capital gain is based on the increase in value from the first spouse’s death (where the basis got adjusted on both spouses’ shares) to the value at the date of the sale. This allows the survivor to save money on capital gains tax liability.

One of the best parts of estate planning is that you get out so much more than you put in. In just a short amount of time, we can implement a community property trust that could save your spouse and family tens of thousands of dollars down the road. We are here to help make sure as little of your hard-earned property as possible ends up lost to taxation. Schedule your free consultation with us today, and set yourself up for a better tomorrow.

If you want to ensure that your family is cared for, please click here to schedule your complimentary Estate Planning Strategy Call with San Francisco’s premier estate planning attorney, Matthew J. Tuller.

Wednesday
Jun072017

3 Imprudent Ways to Leave Your Children an Inheritance

Estate planning [creating your Family Legacy Protection Plan] offers many ways to leave your wealth 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 the intestate laws written by the legislature, not you or your desired heirs, to decide who gets what. This is one strategy to not even try.

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 creditors, including your children’s creditors, if they run into financial difficulty. Their debt could even result in a forced sale of your property.

There’s another issue. Choosing this approach exposes you to otherwise avoidable capital gains taxes. Here’s why. When you sell certain assets, the government taxes you. But you can deduct your cost basis—a measure of how much you’ve invested in it—from the selling price. For example, if you and your spouse bought vacant land for $200,000 and later sell it for $315,000, you’d only need to pay capital gains taxes on $115,000 (the increase in value).

However, your heirs can get a break on these taxes. For instance, let’s say you die, and the fair market value of the land at that time was $300,000. Since you used a trust rather than joint tenancy, your spouse’s cost basis is now $300,000 (the basis for the heirs gets “stepped-up” to its value at your death). So, if she then sells the property for $315,000, she only pays capital gains on $15,000, which is the gain that happened after your death! However, with joint tenancy, she does not receive the full step-up in basis, meaning she’ll pay more capital gains taxes.

Giving Away the Inheritance Early:

Some parents choose to give children their inheritance early–either outright or incrementally over time. But 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 more like current expense money than the beginnings of your legacy, so they might spend it rather than invest. Third, if situations change that would have caused you to re-evaluate your allocations, it's too late. You don’t want to be dependent on them giving the cash back if you need it for your own needs. 

Shortcuts and ideas like these may look appealing on the surface, but they can do more harm than good. Consult with an estate planner to find better strategies to prepare for your and your families' future.

If you want to ensure that your family is cared for, please click here to schedule your complimentary Estate Planning Strategy Call with San Francisco’s premier estate planning attorney, Matthew J. Tuller. 

Friday
Jun022017

Safeguarding Your Estate Plan Against Three Worst-Case Scenarios

There is no such uncertainty as a sure thing. 

                                     –Robert Burns

Even with an estate plan, things can always happen that may cause confusion for the estate–or threaten the plan altogether. Below are three examples of worst-case scenarios and ways to demonstrate how a carefully crafted plan can address issues, from the predictable to the total surprise.

Scenario 1: Family Members Battle One Another:

Despite your best intentions, what happens if the people you care about most get into a knockdown, drag-out fight over your estate? Disputes over who should get what assets, how to interpret an unclear instruction from you, or how loved ones should manage your business can open old wounds.

Lawsuits between family members can drain your estate and tarnish your legacy. Family infighting can lead to less obviously dramatic problems as well. For instance, let’s say you name your daughter as the executor, and she holds a deep grudge against your youngest son. Your daughter cannot do something as drastic as rewriting your will to leave him out. However, she could drag her feet with the probate court, interpret the will “poorly” (unfairly privileging herself and your other son over your youngest), or engage in other shenanigans. In each of these cases, your youngest son would have to hire a lawyer and potentially get involved in a protracted 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 likely future conflicts among family members.

Scenario 2: 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, the amount of estate tax paid, 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, as recently discussed in Motley Fool:

· 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 so-called “Titanic” clause that names a final beneficiary in the event all primary beneficiaries die at once.

Scenario 3: Passing Away Overseas:

Expatriates may require specific expertise when creating an estate plan. If a death occurs outside the U.S., foreign laws may conflict with provisions of an American-made estate plan. As such, 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, as discussed in this New York Times article, it may be smart to draw up a second will consistent with those nations' laws, too. However, the starting point is completing your estate planning (will, trust, and other documents) here in the United States first.

If you have concerns as to whether your current estate plan is safeguarded against these three worst-case scenarios or anything else you might be worried about, we are here to help.

If you want to ensure that your family is cared for, please click here to schedule your complimentary Estate Planning Strategy Call with San Francisco’s premier estate planning attorney, Matthew J. Tuller.


 

Wednesday
May312017

5 Essential Legal Documents Required for Incapacity Planning

Comprehensive estate planning is more than your legacy after death, avoiding probate, and saving on taxes. Good estate planning includes a plan in place to manage your affairs if you become incapacitated during your life and can no longer make decisions for yourself. 

What happens without an incapacity plan?

Without a comprehensive incapacity plan in place, your family will have to go to court to get a judge to appoint a guardian or conservator to take control of your assets and health care decisions. This guardian or conservator will make all personal and medical decisions on your behalf as part of a court-supervised guardianship or conservatorship. Until you regain capacity or die, you and your loved ones will be faced with an expensive and time-consuming guardianship or conservatorship proceeding. There are two dimensions to decision making that need to be considered: financial decisions and healthcare decisions.

  •  Finances During Incapacity:

If you are incapacitated, you are legally unable to make financial, investment, or tax decisions for yourself. Of course, bills still need to be paid, tax returns still need to be filed, and investments still need to be managed.

  •  Health Care During Incapacity:

If you become legally incapacitated, you won’t be able to make healthcare decisions for yourself. Because of patient privacy laws, your loved ones may even be denied access to medical information during a crisis and end up in court fighting over what medical treatment you should, or should not, receive (like Terri Schiavo’s husband and parents did, for 15 years).

You must have these five essential legal documents in place before becoming incapacitated so that your family is empowered to make decisions for you:

1. Durable Power of Attorney:

This legal document gives your agent [called your Attorney-in-Fact] the authority to pay bills, make financial decisions, manage investments, file tax returns, mortgage and sell real estate, and address other financial matters that are described in the document.  

Financial Powers of Attorney come in two forms: “durable” and “springing.” A durable power of attorney goes into effect as soon as it is signed, while a springing power of attorney only goes into effect after you have been declared mentally incapacitated. There are advantages and disadvantages to each type, and we can help you decide which is best for your situation.

2. Revocable Family Trust:

This legal document has three parties to it: the person who creates the trust (you might see this written as “trustmaker,” “grantor,” or “settlor” — they all mean the same thing); the person who legally owns and manages the assets transferred into the trust (the “trustee”); and the person who benefits from the assets transferred into the trust (the “beneficiary”). In the typical situation, you will be the trustmaker, the trustee, and the beneficiary of your own revocable living trust. But if you ever become incapacitated, your designated successor trustee will step in to manage the trust assets for your benefit. Since the trust controls how your property is used, you can specify how your assets are to be used if you become incapacitated (for example, you can authorize the trustee to continue to make gifts or pay tuition for your grandchildren).

3. Advance Health Care Directive:

This legal document, also called a medical or Health Care Agent, gives your agent the authority to make healthcare decisions if you become incapacitated.

4. Living Will:

This legal document shares your wishes regarding end of life care if you become incapacitated. Although a living will isn’t necessarily enforceable in all states, it can provide meaningful information about your desires even if it isn’t strictly enforceable.

5. HIPAA authorization:

This legal document gives your doctor authority to disclose medical information to the agents selected by you. This is important because health privacy laws may make it very difficult for your agents or family to learn about your condition without this release. It is crucial that each fiduciary nominated in your estate plan that may need access to your HIPPA-protected health documents is granted such legal authority.

Is your incapacity plan up to date?

Once you get all of these legal documents for your incapacity plan in place, you cannot simply stick them in a drawer and forget about them. Instead, your incapacity plan must be reviewed and updated periodically and when certain life events occur such as moving to a new state or going through a divorce. If you keep your incapacity plan up to date and make the documents available to your loved ones and trusted helpers, it should work the way you expect it to if needed.

If you want to ensure that your family is cared for, please click here to schedule your complimentary Estate Planning Strategy Call with San Francisco’s premier estate planning attorney, Matthew J. Tuller.

Sunday
May282017

Life Insurance and Estate Planning: Protecting Your Beneficiaries’ Interests

One misconception people have about life insurance is that naming beneficiaries is all you should do to ensure the benefits of life insurance will be available for a surviving spouse, children, or other intended beneficiary. Life insurance is an important estate planning tool, but without certain protections in place, there's no guarantee that your spouse or children will receive the benefit of your purchase of life insurance. Consider the following examples:

Example 1: David identifies his wife Betsy as the beneficiary on a life insurance policy. Betsy does receive the death benefit from the insurance policy, but when Betsy remarries, she adds her new husband’s name to the bank account where she deposited the death benefit. In so doing, she leaves the death benefit from David’s life insurance to her new husband, rather than to her children as she and David discussed before his death and which is what she indicates in her will.

Example 2: Dawn, a single mother, names her 10-year-old son Mark as a beneficiary on her life insurance. She passes away when he is twelve. The court names a relative as a guardian or conservator for Mark until he is of age. When Mark reaches his 18th birthday, his inheritance has been partially spent down on court costs, attorney’s fees, and guardian or conservator fees. Additionally, it hasn’t kept pace with inflation because of the restrictive investment options available to guardians or conservators. Dawn hoped the life insurance proceeds would be there for Mark’s college, but the costs and lack of investment flexibility mean there may not be as much as Dawn hoped.

Solution: Use a Trust as the Beneficiary on Your Life Insurance:

When estate planning, a common method for passing assets is by placing them in a trust, with a spouse or children as beneficiaries. The same approach may also be used for life insurance policy proceeds. You can designate the trust as the life insurance policy's beneficiary, so the death benefits flow directly into the trust. Two popular ways to accomplish this:

  1. Revocable Living Trust (RLT) Is the named beneficiary:

This option works well for those who have a modest-sized estate or who have already set up a trust. Naming your RLT as a life insurance beneficiary simply adds those death benefits to what you already have in trust, payable only to beneficiaries of the trust itself. The benefit of this approach is that it instantly coordinates your life insurance proceeds with the rest of your estate plan.

       2. Set up an Irrevocable Life Insurance Trust (ILIT):

For an added layer of protection, an ILIT can both own the life insurance policy and be named as the beneficiary. As The Balance explains, this not only protects the death benefits from potential creditors and predators, but from estate taxes as well.

With the estate tax exemption at $5.49 million per person in 2017, and a potential repeal on the legislative agenda of President Trump and the Republican Congress, you may not need estate tax planning. But everyone who’s purchased life insurance needs to take an extra step to ensure your loved ones' financial future. To discuss your best options for structuring your life insurance estate plan, schedule your complimentary Estate Planning Strategy Session with our office.

If you want to ensure that your family is cared for, please click here to schedule your complimentary Estate Planning Strategy Call with San Francisco’s premier estate planning attorney, Matthew J. Tuller.

Friday
May262017

Building Asset Protection Into Your Estate Plan

Much of estate planning relates to the way a person’s assets will be distributed upon their death. But that’s only the tip of the iceberg. From smart incapacity planning to diligent probate avoidance, there is a lot that goes into crafting a comprehensive estate plan. One crucial factor to consider is asset protection.

One of the most important things to understand about asset protection is that not much good can come from trying to protect your assets reactively when surprised by situations like bankruptcy or divorce. The best way to take full advantage of estate planning concerning asset protection is to prepare proactively long before these things ever come to pass—and hopefully many of them won’t. First, let’s cover the two main types of asset protection:

Asset Protection For Yourself:

This is the kind that must be done long in advance of any proceedings that might threaten your assets, such as bankruptcy, divorce, or judgement. As there are many highly-detailed rules and regulations surrounding this type of asset protection, it’s important to lean on your estate planning attorney’s expertise.

Asset Protection For Your Heirs:

This type of asset protection involves setting up discretionary lifetime trusts rather than outright inheritance, staggered distributions, mandatory income trusts, or other less protective forms of inheritance. There are varying grades of protection offered by different strategies. For example, a trust that has an independent distribution trustee who is the only person empowered to make discretionary distributions offers much better protection than a trust that allows for so-called ascertainable standards distributions. Don’t worry about the complexity - we are here to help you best protect your heirs and their inheritance.

This complex area of estate planning is full of potential miscalculation, so it's crucial to obtain qualified advice and not solely rely on common knowledge about what's possible and what isn't. But as a general outline, let’s look at three critical junctures when asset protection can help, along with the estate planning strategies we can build together that can set you up for success.

  1. Bankruptcy:

It’s entirely possible that you’ll never need asset protection, but it’s much better to be ready for whatever life throws your way. You’ve worked hard to get where you are in life, and just a little strategic planning will help you hold onto what you have so you can live well and eventually pass your estate’s assets on to future beneficiaries. But experiencing an unexpected illness or even a large-scale economic recession could mean you wind up bankrupt.

Bankruptcy asset protection strategy: Asset protection trusts:

Asset protection trusts hold on to more than just liquid cash. You can fund this type of trust with real estate, investments, personal belongings, and more. Due to the nature of trusts, the person controlling those assets will be a trustee of your choosing. Now that the assets within the trust aren’t technically in your possession, they can stay out of creditors’ reach — so long as the trust is irrevocable, properly funded, and operated in accordance with all the asset protection law’s requirements. In fact, asset protections trusts must be formed and funded well in advance of any potential bankruptcy and have numerous initial and ongoing requirements. They are not for everyone, but can be a great fit for the right type of person.

       2. Divorce

One of the last things you want to have happen to the nest egg you’ve saved is for your children to lose it in a divorce. To make sure your beneficiaries get the parts of your estate that you want to pass onto them—regardless of how their marriage develops—is a discretionary trust.

 Divorce asset protection strategy: Discretionary trusts:

When you create a trust, the property it holds doesn’t officially belong to the beneficiary, making trusts a great way to protect your assets in a divorce. Discretionary trusts allow for distribution to the beneficiary but do not mandate any distributions. As a result, they can provide access to assets but reduce (or even eliminate) the risk that your child’s inheritance could be seized by a divorcing spouse. There are several ways to designate your trustee and beneficiaries, who may be the same person, and, like with many legal issues, there are some other decisions that need to be made. Discretionary trusts, rather than outright distributions, are one of the best ways you can provide robust asset protection for your children.

Family LLCs or partnerships are another way to keep your assets safe in divorce proceedings. Although discretionary trusts are advisable for people across a wide spectrum of financial means, family LLCs or partnership are typically only a good fit for very well-off people.

Judgment:

When an upset customer or employee sues a company, the business owner’s personal assets can be threatened by the lawsuit. Even for non-business owners, injury from something as small as a stranger tripping on the sidewalk outside your house can end up draining the wealth you’ve worked so hard for. Although insurance is often the first line of defense, it is often worth exploring other strategies to comprehensively protect against this risk.

  Judgment asset protection strategy: Incorporation:

Operating your small business as a limited liability company (commonly referred to as an LLC) can help protect your personal assets from business-related lawsuits. As mentioned above, malpractice and other types of liability insurance can also protect you from damaging suits. Risk management using insurance and business entities is a complex discipline, even for small businesses, so don’t only rely on what you’ve heard online or “common sense.” You owe it to your family to work with a group of qualified professionals, such as us as your estate planning attorney and an insurance advisor, to develop a comprehensive asset protection strategy for your business.

These are just a few ways we can optimize your estate plan to keep your assets protected, but every plan should be tailored to an individual’s exact circumstances. Contact our office so we can determine the best asset protection strategies for your estate plan.

If you want to ensure that your family is cared for, please click here to schedule your complimentary Estate Planning Strategy Call with San Francisco’s premier estate planning attorney, Matthew J. Tuller.

 

Monday
May222017

How to Build Freedom From Court Interference Into Your Estate Plan

It’s clear why you might want to avoid court involvement in your estate for financial reasons, knowing that probate can quickly get costly and time consuming for those involved. But there is an emotional component to it as well. Your assets are just that: yours. And the idea of them being discussed and deliberated on in a public forum might not be such an appealing one.

If you feel that the matters of your estate should be kept private and that your assets should be distributed to your loved ones rather than eroded by court fees, you’re not alone. And luckily, all it takes to get there is a proactive attitude toward planning your estate. Let’s dive in:

A. Court Interference 101

Two of the most common situations in which the court becomes involved in your estate are guardianship and probate: 

B.  Guardianship and Conservatorship

When someone experiences mental incapacity, documents in their estate plan can direct a trusted person to carry out that individual’s wishes for the situation. But what if no such documents have been drafted? Then their business becomes the government’s business, too. A court proceeding called guardianship or conservatorship (also known as “living probate”) will be held to appoint guardians and conservators to manage the affairs of the incapacitated person.

C. Probate:

When an estate goes through probate, the court oversees the gathering of the probate assets, payment of any outstanding debts, determining whether a will is valid, and who the deceased’s heirs are. The proceedings ultimately determine who should receive the assets that are left after payment of debts, taxes, and costs.

D. Free Your Estate From Interference:

To avoid guardianship, conservatorship, and probate, you can work with us to keep your affairs out of court entirely.

  1.  Powers Of Attorney:

Agents or attorneys-in-fact are the individuals or entities you appoint to make decisions for you, be they medical or financial. You designate agents or attorneys-in-fact in a document known as a power of attorney. Durable powers of attorney are documents that continue in validity after the incapacity of the maker of the document (i.e. “durable” against incapacity). Since a durable power of attorney continues in validity, a durable power of attorney can help bypass the need for court-appointed guardianship or conservatorship.

       2. Trusts:

Trusts are agreements that hold some or all your assets, and trustees can be either individuals or corporate entities. Unlike wills, trusts do not go through probate. There are several types of trusts, and we can help you decide exactly which kind is best suited to your estate. By setting up and completely funding a revocable living trust, you can accomplish two important things. First, you can rest assured that your assets will be distributed to your chosen beneficiaries and won’t go through probate upon your death. Second, you also retain the ability to change or cancel the arrangement during your lifetime enabling you to adjust your plan as your financial or family circumstances change.

Ensure That Your Estate Plan Is Air-Tight:

Deciding on appropriate powers of attorney and drafting revocable living trusts are just two of the many steps we can take together to keep your affairs free from court involvement. With a solid estate plan put into place with the help of a trusted attorney, you can take comfort knowing that everything you’ve worked so hard to build and maintain will be passed along to only the people who matter most. Contact our office today to learn more about interference-proofing your estate plan.

If you want to ensure that your family is cared for, please click here to schedule your complimentary Estate Planning Strategy Call with San Francisco’s premier estate planning attorney, Matthew J. Tuller.


 

Friday
May192017

Avoid Living Probate: How to Keep Guardians and Conservators Out of Your Estate

While most proactive individuals know the importance of having a well-rounded estate plan, it is typically considered as something that will take effect after they have passed away. But in fact, there are many ways in which comprehensive estate planning can have a positive impact on your life while you are still around to reap the benefits.

Planning for Incapacity:

Most people who reach old age come to a point at which they are no longer able to handle all their affairs on their own. In many cases this incapacity is due to dementia or other cognitive impairments associated with the elderly. At that point, the decisions they’ve made with their estate planning attorney can have major repercussions on their lifestyle and the handling of their wealth.

Take Alex for example. Long before Alex retired from his long and successful career as an IT manager at a large corporation, he put a cursory estate plan in place with a will detailing who would get which of his assets upon his death. But, Alex didn’t update his plan as he aged. In his late seventies, he developed Alzheimer's and it became unclear to his family how to proceed with his medical care and wealth management. Since Alex did not formally choose an individual to be in control of his affairs in the event of incapacity, it falls upon the court to appoint a guardian or conservator. Unfortunately, that’s where things get complicated.

What is guardianship?

Guardianship goes by a few other names, so it’s important to get familiar with various terms used to indicate similar and somewhat overlapping concepts. The other terms you may hear include “conservatorship,” “plenary guardianship,” and “living probate.”

It’s important to note that these terms are used in slightly different manners from state-to-state, with some states using “guardian” and “conservator” interchangeably. Others maintain the distinction of a guardian being a person who makes decisions about medical care and living arrangements, whereas a conservator makes decisions about property and assets. In either case, the guardian or conservator is essentially a substitute decision maker that’s authorized by the court to make decisions on behalf of the incapacitated person.

3 Reasons You Should Avoid It:

In the process of living probate, the court tries to settle on solutions that will fit the incapacitated individual’s best interests. However, there is a much better way. Here are just a few of the reasons guardianship and conservatorship are not ideal fallbacks:

    1. Cost To put it simply, living probate is expensive. The legal fees associated with court-appointed attorneys representing incapacitated individuals can chip away at their estates very quickly. Living probate also brings your affairs into the public sector.

    2. Privacy Alex may not have wanted his family to have to experience the financial and emotional costs of his living probate court proceedings, but he may also have felt less than enthusiastic about his personal affairs being discussed in a public forum.

    3. Clarity In addition to being costly and a compromise of privacy, living probate is also full of guesswork. If Alex had assigned powers of attorney and established long-term care provisions in his estate plan, his affairs would be handled exactly as he wished in the event of his incapacity. When the court is involved, they usually apply default rules of state law, which means the legislature is essentially making some choices for you and your family.

    How to Structure Your Estate Plan:

    What does an individual like Alex need to do to avoid the chance of his family having to go through living probate? There are a few specific steps we can take to make in planning your estate to ensure your affairs never end up in a court-appointed guardian’s hands:

    1. Powers of Attorney:

    A complete estate plan includes named powers of attorney who will fulfill the roles of guardians and conservators in the event of your incapacity. The difference is that these individuals will be chosen by you rather than by the court. There are several different types of powers of attorney for specific purposes, such as a healthcare power of attorney or a general durable power of attorney, the latter of which controls the management of your finances.

           2. Long Term Care Planning

    Although you may never need long-term care, building a strategy for it into your estate plan will allow you to relax knowing that you’ll receive long-term care according to your wishes if that becomes necessary. This type of planning also helps protect the assets in your estate plan from being used up on medical expenses before going to your beneficiaries.

    Avoiding guardianship and conservatorship through living probate is a relatively pain-free process if handled well ahead of time. Get in touch with us today to go over the parts of your estate plan that may need amending to give you and your family the best possible outcomes. We are here to help and can quickly get your estate plan in optimal shape.

    If you want to ensure that your family is cared for, please click here to schedule your complimentary Estate Planning Strategy Call with San Francisco’s premier estate planning attorney, Matthew J. Tuller.

    Thursday
    May182017

    Do It Now: Name a Guardian for Your Minor Child

    We know it’s hard. Thinking about someone else raising your children stops us all in our tracks. It feels crushing and too horrific to consider. But you must. If you don’t, a stranger will determine who raises your children if something happens to you—your child’s guardian could be a relative you despise or even a stranger you’ve never met.

    Due to the importance of choosing an appropriate Guardian, and our experience seeing firsthand the difficulties people go through determining who to name—we have created a step-by-step Guide: How To Choose Your Child’s Guardian. To obtain your free copy, click here.

    No one will ever be you or parent exactly like you, but there is someone who could muddle through and provide for your children’s general welfare, education, and medical needs. Parents with minor children need to name someone to raise them (a guardian) in the event both parents should die before the child becomes an adult. While the likelihood of that happening is slim, the consequences of not naming a guardian are more than intense.

    If no guardian is named in your will, a judge—a stranger who does not know you, your child, or your relatives and friends - will decide who will raise your child. Anyone can ask to be considered, and the judge will select the person she deems most appropriate. Families tend to fight over children, especially if there’s money involved - and worse - no one may be willing to take your child; if that happens, the judge will place your child in foster care. On the other hand, if you name a guardian, the judge will likely support your choice.

    How to Choose a Guardian:

    Your child’s guardian can be a relative or friend. Here are factors our clients have considered when selecting guardians (and back up guardians).

    1. How well the child and potential guardian know and enjoy each other
    2. Parenting style, moral values, educational level, health practices, religious/spiritual beliefs
    3. Location - if the guardian lives far away, your child would have to move from a familiar school, friends, and neighborhood
    4. The child’s age and the age and health of the guardian-candidates:
    •  Grandparents may have the time, and they may or may not have the energy to keep up with a toddler or teenager
    •  An older guardian may become ill and/or even die before the child is grown, so there would be a double loss
    • A younger guardian, especially a sibling, may be concentrating on finishing college or starting a career.

          5. Emotional Preparedness:

             a. Someone who is single or who doesn't want children may resent having to care for your   children.

             b. Someone with a houseful of their own children may or may not want more around.

     

    WARNING:

    Serving as guardian and raising your child is a big deal; don’t spring such a responsibility on anyone. Ask your top candidates if they would be willing to serve, and name at least one alternate in case the first choice becomes unable to serve.

    Who’s in Charge of the Money?

    Raising your child should not be a financial burden for the guardian, and a candidate’s lack of finances should not be the deciding factor. You will need to provide enough money (from assets and/or life insurance) to provide for your child. Some parents also earmark funds to help the guardian buy a larger car or add onto their existing home, so there’s plenty of room for extra children.

    Factors to consider:

           1. Naming a seperate person to handle this money can be a good idea. That person would be a guardian of the estate or a trustee, but not guardian of the children.

           2. However, having the same person raise the child and handle the money can make things simpler because the guardian would not have to ask someone for the money.

           3. But the best person to raise the child may not be the best person to handle the money and it may be tempting for them to use this money for their own purposes.

     Compromise Will Likely be Necessary:

    Naming a guardian is a difficult decision for most parents. Keep in mind that this person will probably not raise your child because odds are that at least one parent will survive until the child is grown. By naming a guardian, however, you are being responsible and planning for a bad—but avoidable—situation arises. It’s important to realize that no one besides you will be the perfect parent for your child, so typically this means making compromises in some areas. Select the person you think will muddle through the best.

     Let’s Continue this Conversation:

    We know it’s not easy, but don’t let that stop you. We’re happy to talk this through with you and legally document your wishes. Know that you can change your mind and select a different guardian anytime you’d like. You are a parent and your job is to provide for and protect your children, so let’s do this—together. To get started, download your free copy of our Guide: Choosing Your Child’s Guardian. Next, contact our office to schedule your free consultation and we’ll get your children protected.

     

    If you want to ensure that your family is cared for, please click here to schedule your complimentary Estate Planning Strategy Call with San Francisco’s premier estate planning attorney, Matthew J. Tuller.

    Wednesday
    Mar012017

    How to Choose Your Trustee

    While the term fiduciary is a legal term with a long history, it very generally means someone who is legally obligated to act in another person’s best interests. Trustees, executors, and agents are all examples of fiduciaries. When you pick trustees, executors, and agents in your estate plan, you’re picking one or more people to make decisions in your and your beneficiaries’ best interests and in accordance with the instructions you leave. Luckily, understanding the basics of what each of these terms means and what to consider when making your choices can make your estate plan work far better.

     Trustee:

    A revocable living trust is often the center of a well-designed estate plan because it is simply the best strategy for achieving most individuals’ goals. In a revocable living trust, your successor trustee will be responsible for making sure your wealth is passed on and managed in accordance with your wishes after your death or incapacity. Like each of the following individuals involved in your estate planning, it’s best to have a trusted person or financial institution carry out this vitally important role.

     It’s important to make the language in your trusts as clear as possible so that your trustee knows exactly how to handle various situations that can arise is asset distribution. Lastly, your trustee will only control the assets contained within the trust — not the rest of your estate, another reason that completely funding yourliving trust is incredibly important.

     Powers of Attorney:

    Your power of attorney is the document in your estate plan that appoints individuals to make decisions on your behalf if you become unable to do so yourself. There are a few different types of powers of attorney, each with their own specific provisions. There is quite a wide range of situations covered by various powers of attorney, and we can help you decide which types you’ll need based on your current situation and future goals. Here are two common types to cover in your estate plan:

    ●      Financial Powers of Attorney :

    Financial powers of attorney grant individuals the ability to take financial actions on your behalf such as purchasing life insurance or withdrawing money from your accounts to cover your costs. In most cases, powers of attorney are granted to individuals appointed as agents. However, especially regarding financial decisions, an institution like a trust company can also be named.

     ●     Advance Health Care Directive:

    Your Advance Health Care Directive, also referred to as your Health Care Power of Attorney, covers a wide range of specific actions that can be taken regarding an individual’s medical needs such as making decisions about the types of care you receive. For example, a health care power of attorney can be the doctor you most trust to gauge your mental competency.

     Executor:

    Your executor is the person who will see your assets through probate if necessary and carry out your wishes based on your last will and testament. Depending on your preferences, this may be the same person or institution as your trustee. You might also see this position designated as personal representative, but it means the same thing.

    Many individuals chose to go with a paid executor. This is someone who doesn’t stand to gain anything from your will, and is often the best choice if your estate is large and will be divided among many beneficiaries. Of course, family or friends can also serve, but it’s important to consider the amount of work involved before placing this burden on your family or friends. 

    Being an executor can be hard work and may have court-ordered deadlines, so it’s crucial to pick someone you know will be up for the job. They may need to hire a CPA to help sort out your taxes or a lawyer to assist in the process or to aid in dispute resolution. Therefore, choosing a spouse or someone else intimately involved in your life may not always be the wisest option, as they may not be up to the task at the time.

     Get in touch with us today:

    Let us help you make the process of picking your trustee, powers of attorney, and executor as smooth and headache-free as possible. Once you have these choices in place, you’ll be able to rest easy knowing that your estate plan is in good hands no matter what life brings. To ensure that your family is cared for, please click here to schedule your complimentary Estate Planning Strategy Call with San Francisco’s premier estate planning attorney, Matthew J. Tuller.


     


     

    Sunday
    Feb262017

    Better to Play it Safe: Proactive Estate Planning & Cognitive Impairment

    Most financially savvy individuals begin planning their estate when they’re in peak mental shape. The idea that this might change at some point in the distant future is an unpleasant one, and they would rather go about their estate planning as if they’ll be as sharp as a tack late into their golden years. Unfortunately, this common approach of ignoring a potential problem and hoping it simply won’t happen can leave a giant hole in your estate plan. Read on to find out that this common hole can be more easily filled than you might think. 

    Expect The Best, But Plan for The Worst:

    The reality is that an individual’s chances of experiencing some form of cognitive impairment rise with age. While it’s never certain whether cognitive impairment will occur, smart estate planning means factoring it in as a very real possibility.

    As the huge baby boomer generation transitions from the workforce and begins to make their way into retirement, cases of Alzheimer's are expected to spike from the current 5.1 million to 13.2 million as soon as 2050. Alzheimer’s is just one of several cognitive impairment conditions along with dementia and the much more common mild cognitive impairment, or MCI, which is often a precursor to those more serious ailments.

    As U.S. life expectancies increase, the chances of living with cognitive impairment increase as well — with at least 9.5 percent of Americans over 70 experiencing it in one form or another.

    No matter your age or family history, cognitive impairment can affect anyone although it’s widely acceptedto affect mostly older adults. As you implement or revise your estate plan, it is well worth the effort to plan for this potential. Luckily, estate planning attorneys have developed good solutions to handle this circumstance and can help guide you on the best way to protect yourself and your family.

     An Easily-Avoidable Estate Planning Mistake:

    Consider Ashley’s story. A successful real estate agent with a stellar career in her hometown of Kalamazoo, MI, Ashley begins planning her estate in her mid-thirties.

    She partners with an estate planning attorney, and together they draft a revocable living trust with Ashley’s preferred beneficiaries and charities in mind, figure out guardianship for her two sons in case she and her husband pass suddenly, and settle on an appropriate beneficiary for her life insurance policy. Now that she knows where her assets will go after her death, Ashley rests easy assuming there’s nothing more that needs doing in her estate plan.

    Save Your Family From Obstacles and Conundrums:

    But forty years down the road, Ashley’s children realize her MCI is developing into Alzheimer’s. Although she’s occasionally visited with her attorney to adjust her plan, she never added any provisions for how she wanted her children and other guardians to handle a situation like this. Here’s where things get complicated.

    Ashley did not work with her estate planning attorney to put disability provisions into her trust and never worked with an insurance professional to purchase adequate income insurance or long-term care insurance. The care she requires to live her best life possible with cognitive impairment doesn’t come cheap. Those mounting care costs will likely quickly erode Ashley’s estate. As a result, her estate plan may no longer work as intended, since it no longer lines up with her actual asset portfolio.

    But since Ashley does not have the ability to rework her estate plan in her current mental state, her family is left with the burden of figuring out what to do while navigating a complex and bureaucratic legal system in the guardianship or conservatorship court. No one in the family really knows what Ashley’s wishes are regarding both serious medical decisions and financial changes. All Ashley’s family wants is to see her enjoying her remaining years in peace and security, but they are now tasked with using guesswork to make difficult choices on her behalf while a guardianship or conservatorship court watches every move.

    Give Us a Call Today:

    Factoring the potential for cognitive impairment into your estate plan doesn’t have to be a headache. In fact, a little effort now by legally designating who you want to be in charge and what you want them to do can have a wonderful impact on you and your family later on. We can work together to ensure your estate plan is ready for whatever life throws your way. If you want to ensure that your family is cared for, please click here to schedule your complimentary Estate Planning Strategy Call with San Francisco’s premier estate planning attorney, Matthew J. Tuller.

    Wednesday
    Feb222017

    Got Stuff? George Carlin Says You Need An Estate Plan!

    George Carlin would have been a great pitchman for estate planning. You may remember his stand-up routine on “stuff.” We all have stuff, and we're quite particular about our stuff. We move it around with us, it's hard for some of us to get rid of it, and some of us don't like our stuff mixed up with other people's stuff.

    During your lifetime, you collect a lot of stuff, some of it valuable and some of it not. But because it's your stuff, it means something to you. You already know you can't take it with you when you die, so there must be some way of distributing your stuff to other people.

    Normally, you want your stuff to go to people you care about—your family and special friends, sometimes a worthwhile cause. And you may want certain people to have certain things to remember you by.

    Document Instructions for Your Stuff:

    When you die, all your stuff, no matter how valuable or invaluable it is, is called your "estate." In the simplest terms, an “estate plan” is your instructions for getting your stuff to the people you want to have it after you die.

    Important Legal Mumbo Jumbo: 

    An estate plan must meet certain legal requirements, including that it must be written down, it must be signed by you, and it must be witnessed by other people who see you sign it. Your estate plan may be very simple, or it may be more complex, depending on how much stuff you have, how long you want your stuff to provide for the people you care about, and when you want them to receive your stuff. For example, you'd probably want to wait a few years before that cute two-year-old receives grandpa's antique pocket watch.

    How Do You Get an Estate Plan? 

    You decide who you want to get your stuff and when you want them to get it. Your attorney then puts your instructions into a legal document called a will or trust. (There are distinct advantages to using a trust, but we'll save that discussion for another time.) Also, while you can legally write your own, you have a much better chance of your estate plan working if you have an experienced attorney do it for you. To be frank, laypersons mess it up all the time.

    What Happens if I Just Don’t Get Around to It?

    What if you die and you don't have an estate plan? Well, there still must be a way to get your stuff to other people, so the state in which you live has a plan waiting if you don't have one. The only problem is that you won't have any say in who gets your stuff, and someone might get left out, and, your stuff may go to a stranger—some “heir at law”—that you don’t even know.

    Example 1: If more than one of your relatives want the same part of your stuff, that can get messy and expensive… and a lot of your stuff will be used to pay the courts and attorneys to sort it all out. (Happens all the time.) 

    Example 2: If you're not married and you want your significant other to get some of your stuff when you die, you'd better get your plan in place, or it just won't happen. Under the state's plan, your stuff will go to your blood relatives. Period.

     Example 3: If you're married and you've got kids, don't be too sure that your spouse is going to get all your stuff. Your kids will probably get their share of your stuff, which means your spouse may not get enough of your stuff to live on.

    By the way, if your stuff includes kids, then you've got to have a plan. Otherwise, the court will decide wh will raise them if something happens to both parents.

    Scary thoughts? You bet!

    The Bottom Line:

    If you're responsible enough to have your own stuff, you need to be responsible for making sure what will happen to it after you're gone. Let’s make sure you do it right; call the office now and we’ll help you translate your plans for your stuff into a legally binding document. To ensure that your family is cared for, please click here to schedule your complimentary Estate Planning Strategy Call with San Francisco’s premier estate planning attorney, Matthew J. Tuller.

    Friday
    Feb172017

    Why Factoring Long-Term Care Into Your Estate Plan Pays Off

    For most people, thinking about estate planning means focusing on what will happen to their money after they pass away. But that misses one pretty significant consideration: the need to plan for long-term care.

    The last thing any of us want to contend with when a health issue arises later in life is having to throw together a hasty estate planning solution in the face of mounting medical costs. Your best defense is careful planning with the help of a trusted expert.

    Why it’s so important to plan for long-term care:

    While only about 19 percent of current U.S. residents will need to reside under long-term care for a period of over three years, that number sharply increases when factoring in nursing home stays of a shorter duration — which will still have a substantial impact on your estate.

    Whether the care you need takes place in a nursing home, assisted living facility, or with an in-home provider, the costs can mount with alarming speed. For example, national average rates for assisted living hover around $3,500 per month. As those costs add up, you could see your assets dwindle much sooner than you’d hoped. Luckily, estate planning attorneys can help in several ways.

    What to go over with your estate attorney:

    If long-term care isn’t factored into your estate plan, you are probably not looking at a truly realistic and accurate representation of your assets. Talk to your estate planning attorney about the following factors in order to get on the right track:

    1. Set reasonable expectations for long-term care:

    It’s impossible to know what life will bring, but we can certainly make educated guesses. For example, are there any major diseases that run in your family? There is a chance you will have the good fortune of staying healthy well into your golden years, but estate planning is an aspect of your financial life in which it’s helpful to protect yourself against worst-case scenarios.

    In the estimated likelihood that you will require such care, at what age could you reasonably predict you’ll need it? Do you have any current health conditions to consider? Exploring these possibilities may not be the most enjoyable exercise, but it’s far better than facing the reality of long-term care with no plans in place.

    2. Consider a long-term care insurance policy:

    As Medicare or standard health insurance may not cover your costs, a long-term care insurance policy is one way to protect yourself against draining your financial assets. Ask for resources for finding an affordable premium that isn’t likely to increase prohibitively over time. Begin this process as soon as possible, as your premium will be lower the younger you are when you apply.

    Another potential oversight is assuming your long-term care will be covered by Medicaid. Discuss it as an option to determine your qualifications and get authoritative insights about the specificities of your unique financial situation in terms of Medicaid benefits.

    3. Get Smart About Living Wills and Trusts:

    To best prepare your loved ones for complex medical decisions, go over advance directives. In addition, discuss options for setting a revocable living trust, and possibly one or more irrevocable trusts, like a life insurance trust or a charitable remainder trust, as part of your long-term care planning.

    It’s also important to create a plan that allows someone you trust to access and utilize your financial resources for your benefit in the event of unforeseen medical circumstances. One common mistake is tying up assets in investments that lack liquidity when you need them most. For example, money locked into annuities can result in a fee for early withdrawal. Working with a team of that includes an estate planning attorney, financial advisor, and insurance professional can provide you and your family with the best overall solution.

    Take the time now to talk to an estate planning attorney about the best ways to maintain financial security in tandem with the demands of long-term care. Even if you don’t end up needing long-term care in you lifetime, you can enjoy the peace of mind knowing you’ll be covered.

    The process of completing a long-term care plan may sound daunting, but we’re here to help you by making it a streamlined experience—simply get in touch with us today and let us put you in a more secure position for the future. If you want to ensure that your family is cared for, please click here to schedule your complimentary Estate Planning Strategy Call with San Francisco’s premier estate planning attorney, Matthew J. Tuller.

    Thursday
    Feb092017

    3 Famous Pet Trust Cases—Lessons Learned

    Things don’t always go according to plan. Sometimes, pet owners can get a bit creative when providing for their pets. Let’s look now at 3 famous cases involving pet trusts and distill important lessons from them.

    David Harper and Red:

    David Harper, a wealthy, reclusive bachelor in Ottawa, Canada, wasn’t exactly famous during his life. In his death, however, he made headlines by reportedly leaving his entire $1.1 million-dollar estate to his tabby cat, Red. Just to make sure his wishes were carried out, Harper bequeathed the fortune to the United Church of Canada under the stipulation that they take care of Red for him! The ploy worked.

    Lesson learned: You can be as creative as you desire in your approach to making sure your pets receive proper care after you’re gone.

    Maria Assunta and Tommaso:

    In a four-legged and furry version of the classic rags-to-riches story, wealthy Italian widow Maria Assunta rescued a stray cat from the streets of Rome and gave him a proper home and name: Tommaso. As Assunta’s health failed, she tried for several years to find an animal organization to entrust Tommaso. When no suitable organization was found, Assunta left the estate valued at $13 million directly to the cat in her will and named her own nurse as caretaker. She passed away in 2011 at the ripe old age of 94, knowing her beloved Tommaso would be well taken care of.

    Lesson learned: The best way to ensure the care of your pet is in writing, with a proper estate plan.

     

    Patricia O’Neill and Kalu:

    Patricia O’Neill, daughter of British nobility and ex-spouse of Olympian Frank O’Neill, had designated a fortune worth $70 million to her chimpanzee, Kalu and other pets, in her will - or so she thought. It was discovered in 2010 that the heiress herself was virtually broke, thanks to the shady dealings of a dishonest financial advisor. This story provides perhaps the most famous example of a pet trust gone dry while the owner is still living.

    Lessons learned: You can only give away what you have. If caring for your pets after your death is important to you, make sure your financial plan is in line with your estate plan and that you’ve taken appropriate steps to oversee your advisors.

     To summarize, establishing a pet trust is the best way to ensure that your beloved pets receive the care they deserve after you pass on. If you want to ensure that your family—including your pet animals—are cared for, please click here to schedule your complimentary Estate Planning Strategy Call with San Francisco’s premier estate planning attorney, Matthew J. Tuller.

    Tuesday
    Feb072017

    Trump’s Presidency—Synopsis of Impacts On Estate Planning

    It's official—the Electoral College voted on December 19, 2016, essentially completing the 2016 presidential election cycle. With that bit of uncertainty behind us and a fresh year starting out, here's what you need to know about planning your estate under the incoming Trump administration and Republican-controlled Congress. Regardless of how you feel about the election results, it is now the reality in which we currently live.

    President Trump’s Tax Plan:

    A new president usually means major shakeups in fiscal and tax policy, and Trump’s tax plan is no exception. Here are several of the proposed changes we will potentially see rolling out during his administration.

    1. The repeal of the estate tax;
    2.  Lower income tax rates;
    3. The introduction of a tax deduction for childcare costs;
    4. Dependent care savings accounts (DCSAs) with conditional matching;
    5. The switch from seven to three tax brackets;
    6. Increased standard joint deduction from $12,600 to $30,000;
    7. Increased itemized deductions cap from $100,000 to $200,000; and
    8. Decrease in business tax from 35 percent to 15 percent.

    Of these proposed changes, the repeal of the estate tax, also known as the “death tax,” means your assets would not be taxed by the government upon your death and would transfer in full to your beneficiaries. It is also predicted that the gift and generation-skipping taxes may be repealed as well. These actions could result in a greater ability to keep wealth within your family, but we must wait until we see the final legislation to know the exact mechanics. Additionally, the proposed changes would also negatively impact taxation on charitable gifts and other philanthropic gestures contained in your estate plan.

    Estate taxes differ from state to state, so the wisest move in your playbook is to go over your estate plan with an experienced estate planning attorney to discover how these changes may impact its other components.

    Of course, proposed policy changes must go through Congress, which has its own agendas and ideas about fiscal and tax policy. So, staying on top of new developments and in close contact with your team means you’ll be prepared for whatever unfolds over the coming years.

    More Benefits to Revocable Trust-based Planning:

    There are also many non-tax-related benefits to trust-based planning that you can take advantage of regardless of which proposed changes take place under the new administration and Congress. Just a few key benefits of trust-based planning include:

    1. Greater privacy for your family and avoidance of probate;
    2. Incapacity protection and avoidance of conservatorship or guardianship;
    3. The creation of lifetime beneficiary directed trusts providing long-term asset protection benefits to your heirs;
    4. Ensuring the protection of your asserts during your lifetime; and
    5. Ensuring that your desires for taking care of your loved one’s after you pass away are effectuated.

    Schedule a Call with Us:

    Not even the nation’s top financial experts know exactly how Trump’s presidency and the Republican-run Congress will impact estate planning best practices for every citizen, but a skilled estate planning attorney can guide your estate planning in a smart, careful, and decisive manner.

    We’re here to help you navigate policy changes to ensure your estate is managed as beneficially as possible for you and your family for generations to come. If you want to ensure that your family is cared for, please click here to schedule your complimentary Estate Planning Strategy Call with San Francisco’s premier estate planning attorney, Matthew J. Tuller.


     

    Wednesday
    Dec282016

    3 Reasons You Want to Avoid Probate

    When you pass away, your family may need to visit a probate court in order to claim their inheritance. This can happen if you own property (such as a house, car, bank account, investment account, or another similar asset), which is solely in your name. Although having a Will is a good basic form of planning, a Will does not avoid probate. Instead, a Will simply allow you inform the probate court of your wishes—your family still must go through the probate process to make those wishes legal.

    Now that you have an idea of why probate might be necessary, here are 3 key reasons why you want to avoid probate at all costs possible.

    1. It’s all public record:

    Almost everything that goes through the courts, including probate, becomes a matter of public record. This means when your estate goes through probate, all associated family and financial information becomes accessible to anyone who wants to see it. This doesn’t necessarily mean account numbers and social security numbers, since the courts have at least taken some steps to reduce the risk of identity theft. But, what it does mean is that the value of your assets, creditor claims, the identities of your beneficiaries, and even any family disagreements that affect the distribution of your estate will be available, often only a click away because many courts have moved to online systems. Most people prefer to keep this type of information private, and the best way to ensure discreteness is to keep your estate out of probate.

    2. It can be expensive:

    Thanks to court costs, attorney fees, executor fees, and other related expenses, the price tag for probate can easily reach into the thousands of dollars, even for small or “simple” estates. These costs can easily skyrocket into the tens of thousands or more if family disputes or creditor claims arise during the process. This money from your estate should be going to your beneficiaries, but if it goes through probate, a significant portion could go to the courts, creditors, and legal fees, instead.

    3. It is a long process:

    While the time frame for probating an estate can vary widely from state to state and by the size of the estate itself, probate is not generally a quick process. It’s not unusual for estates, even seemingly simple or small ones, to be held up in probate for 6 months to a year or more, during which time your beneficiaries may not have easy access to funds or assets. This delay can be especially difficult on family members going through a hardship who might benefit from a faster, simpler process, such as the living trust administration process. Bypassing probate can significantly speed the disbursement of assets, so beneficiaries can benefit sooner from their inheritance.

    If your assets are in multiple states, the probate process must be repeated in each state in which you hold property. This repetition can cost your family even more time and money. The good news is that with proper trust-centered estate planning, you can avoid probate for your estate, simplify the transfer of your financial legacy, and provide lifelong asset and tax protection to your family. If you want to ensure that your family is cared for, please click here to schedule your complimentary Estate Planning Strategy Call with San Francisco’s premier estate planning attorney, Matthew J. Tuller.

    Friday
    Dec232016

    5 Mistakes Made by Successor Trustees—How to Prevent Them

    When establishing a trust, you need to give serious thought to choosing your successor trustee—the person who will administer your trust once you’re no longer able to do so. This individual ideally should be:

    1. Someone you trust implicitly.

    2. Someone who is organized, responsible and meticulous.

    3. Someone who can remain steadfast to your wishes in the face of family disagreements and other disputes regarding the trust.

    That said, even the most capable, well-intentioned successor trustees can make mistakes when managing affairs. Here are five surprisingly common mistakes along with steps to take to prevent them from happening.

    1. Faulty Record-keeping:

    To ensure that a trust fulfills its purpose without being contested, the trustee must keep accurate, detailed records of income and distributions. Your trustee must also be prepared to report these figures regularly to the beneficiaries and heirs. If these records are incomplete or inaccurate, the door is opened for someone to challenge the trust, potentially leading to lengthy and costly court battles.

    To prevent this mistake: Hire an accountant to assist the successor trustee in record-keeping, and make sure the trustee and the accountant make a connection before the trustee takes over.

    2. Misunderstanding the Fiduciary Role:

    Many trustees mistakenly assume their job involves acting in the best interests of the person setting up the trust. In reality, his or her job is to act in the interests of the beneficiaries of the trust. Furthermore, the trustee may be legally liable for any failure to protect the beneficiaries against bad investment advice concerning the trust.

    To prevent this mistake: Detail the fiduciary role of the successor trustee in the trust documentation itself, and be certain that the trustee understands his/her role.

    3. Not Collaborating Effectively with Your Established Financial Team:

    The successor trustee’s failure to communicate with key members of your team while administering your trust can lead to inaccuracies, misunderstandings and significant, preventable financial losses.

    To prevent this mistake: Make sure your trustee is properly introduced to, and connected with, your attorney, CPA, financial planner and anyone else involved with your estate planning.

    4. Failing to Discuss Compensation:

    If your appointed trustee is a close friend or family member, the topic of compensating the trustee may be glossed over or forgotten. This oversight can result in a lack of morale or even resentment if managing the trust becomes difficult or time consuming.

    To prevent this mistake: Bring up the topic of compensation yourself when you establish the arrangement; be as generous as you deem necessary; and put the compensation terms in writing.

    5. Failing to Remain Objective:

    Many people choose a close family member as a trustee. This strategy can be appropriate, especially when privacy matters. However, disputes about money can happen even in the tightest-knit families, and it can be difficult to near-impossible for a relative to remain neutral when resolving those fights. The end-result could be decisions that family members perceive to be unfair or that wind up being inconsistent with your intentions.

     To prevent this mistake: Make certain the person you choose can remain neutral and faithful to the terms of the trust, even under duress. If there is any doubt, consider hiring a corporate trustee with no emotional connection to the family or estate.

    Selecting a successor trustee is one of the most important decisions you will make during your estate planning process. If you want to ensure that your family is cared for, please click here to schedule your complimentary Estate Planning Strategy Call with San Francisco’s premier estate planning attorney, Matthew J. Tuller.

    Wednesday
    Dec212016

    5 Tragic Mistakes People Make When Leaving Assets to Their Pets

    A pet trust is an excellent way to make sure your beloved pet will receive proper care after you pass on. The problem, of course, is that you won’t be there to see that your wishes are carried out. It’s critical to set up a pet trust correctly to ensure there are no loopholes or unforeseen situations that could make your plans go awry. Here are 5 tragic mistakes people often make when leaving their assets to their pets.

    1. Appropriating more than the pet could ever need:

    The gossip stories about such-and-such celebrity who left his or her entire fortune to a pet are the exception rather than the rule. Leaving millions of dollars, houses, and cars to your pet is not only unreasonable, but it’s more likely to be contested in court by family members who might feel neglected. To avoid this pitfall, leave a reasonable sum of money that will give your pet the same quality of life that she enjoys now.

    2. Providing vague or unenforceable instructions:

    Too many pets don’t receive the care their owners intended because they weren’t specific enough in their instructions or because they did not use a trust to make the instructions legally binding. Luckily, a pet trust can clarify your instructions and make them legally valid.

    If you leave money to a caretaker without a pet trust in place, hoping it will be used for the pet’s care for example, nothing stops the caretaker from living very well on the pet’s money. But when you use a pet trust to designate how much the caretaker receives and how much goes for the pet’s care, you’ve provided a legal structure to protect your furry family member. You can be as specific about your wishes as you’d like, from how much is to be spent on food, veterinary care, and grooming. You can even include detailed care instructions, such as how often the dog should be walked.

    3. Failing to keep information updated:

    Bill sets up a pet trust for his dog Sadie, but what happens if Sadie passes away? If Bill gets a new dog and names her Gypsy, but he doesn’t update this information before he dies, Gypsy could easily wind up in a shelter or euthanized because she’s not mentioned in the trust. This is a common yet tragic mistake that can be easily avoided by performing regular reviews with your estate planning attorney to ensure that your estate plan works for your entire family.

    4. Not having a contingency plan:

    You might have a trusted friend or loved one designated as a caretaker in your pet trust, but what happens if that person is unable or unwilling to take that role when the time comes? If you haven’t named a contingent caretaker, your pet might not receive the care you intended. Always have a “Plan B” in place, and spell it out in the trust.

    5. Not engaging a professional to help:

    Too many people make the mistake of trying to set up a pet trust themselves, assuming that a form downloaded from a do-it-yourself legal website will automatically work in their circumstances. Only an experienced estate planning attorney should help you set it up to help ensure that everything works exactly the way you want.

    When attempting to leave assets to your pet, the good news is that with professional help, all these mistakes are preventable. Talk with us today about your options for setting up a new pet trust or adding a pet trust to your current estate plan. If you want to ensure that your family is cared for, please click here to schedule your complimentary Estate Planning Strategy Call with San Francisco’s premier estate planning attorney, Matthew J. Tuller.