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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.

 

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.


 


 

Friday
Feb242017

Passing to the Next Generation— A Powerful Exercise

 “Every one of us receives and passes on an inheritance. The inheritance may not be an accumulation of earthly possessions or acquired riches, but whether we realize it or not, our choices, words, actions, and values will impact someone and form the heritage we hand down.”

— Ben Hardesty 

Successful estate planning is about far more than simply passing your wealth to the next generation—it’s also about passing on your values. No matter which financial or legal structures you choose to contain and manage your assets, these instruments only preserve your wealth until it reaches the hands of your beneficiaries. What happens then? Your values enabled you to accumulate wealth and persevere despite all obstacles and long odds. If your children and grandchildren don’t share and cherish those values, they could lose their inheritance as quickly as they received it.

 But our values can be hard to capture in language. They seem second nature to us only because we live them every day. Here’s an exercise to help you identify your (perhaps) rarely-spoken moral code and communicate it to the next generation.

The Science of Surfacing Your Subconscious Values:

In Chapter 3 of his bestselling book, Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity, productivity author David Allen discusses what he calls vertical project planning—that is, identifying the “why’s” and“what’s” of any project before engaging with its details. To reveal the standards that you have regarding any task, just finish the following sentence:

I would give others totally free rein to do this as long as they…

For instance, if you’re planning a dinner celebration for your dad’s 70th birthday, you could fill in the blanks as follows:

…So long as they created a budget for the party and got buy-in from both of my sisters to contribute;

…So long as they made sure to double check the guest list with mom;

…So long as they booked a restaurant within 30 minutes from my parents’ home.

 As it pertains to communicating values, we could reword it like this:

I would give a total stranger free rein to guide the people I care about most about how to live a great and moral life as long as they…

…So long as they make sure to communicate my core values of creativity, compassion and integrity;

 …So long as they give many concrete examples of these standards being met and not met to demonstrate exactly what I mean;

 …So long as there’s some mechanism to remind my family of these values in an ongoing way, so that they don’t forget;

 …So long as they make inheritance from the trust I establish conditional on whether my beneficiaries live these values.

 

Estate planning is ultimately not only about passing along your tangible wealth and deciding how to distribute assets. It’s an opportunity to ensure your legacy into the next generation and beyond. Clarifying your values and working to effectively pass them along can be a profoundly liberating experience. 

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.

Wednesday
Feb082017

A Trust—the Best Option for Avoiding Probate

Ideally, when someone passes away, the paperwork and material concerns associated with the estate are so flawlessly handled—usually thanks to excellent preparation—that they fade into the background, allowing the family to grieve and remember in peace.

In fact, the whole business of estate planning—or at least a significant piece of it—is concerned with ease. How can assets and legacies be transferred to the next generation in a harmonious, stress-free, fair process?

To that end, one primary goal of many people is to avoid the complications and costs involved with probate.

There are many “tools of the trade”, that a qualified attorney can use to keep your assets out of probate—for example, establishing joint ownership on bank accounts and real estate titles, designating beneficiaries for life insurance policies and certain accounts, and so on. However, setting up a revocable living trust is quite often the best, most comprehensive option for avoiding probate. Let’s discuss why this is true.

What is a trust?

Often touted as an alternative to a will, a trust is a legal structure that permits management of your assets by a trustee on behalf of your beneficiaries. A living trust is established while you are still alive, as opposed to being created upon your death. You can be the trustee for your own living trust until you are no longer able to manage your financial affairs or pass away, at which point the responsibility for managing the trust passes to someone you designate as a successor trustee.

How does a trust help you avoid probate?

The purpose of probate is to transfer property ownership for all assets that were listed in your name when you passed away. A trust can bypass this process completely because your assets are transferred to the trust while you are still alive. Therefore, when you die, there’s nothing that needs to be transferred by the probate court (everything is already in your trust). Furthermore, a trust can cover virtually any type of asset, from real estate to vehicles to stock to bank accounts. When a trust is structured correctly with the help of an experienced estate planning attorney, your entire estate can stay out of probate court entirely. This process not only limits court costs, but it also maintains the privacy of your financial records while enabling your beneficiaries to enjoy the benefits of the trust without disruption or delay.

Establishing a trust can be a bit complicated, and the process can cost a bit more upfront than a will; however, if you’re willing to invest a little more up front, a trust can be your best option for avoiding probate later. Especially in California, probate should generally be avoided absent extenuating circumstances.

That said, as wonderful as revocable living trusts can be—always bear in mind H.L. Mencken’s warning that “For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.”

The key to planning effectively to minimize the likelihood of a drawn out, contentious, expensive process is to work with highly qualified, trusted people. Find a lawyer who genuinely cares about you and your family and who knows how to forge the right strategy for you and 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.

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.


 

Sunday
Feb052017

The Pros and Cons of Probate

In estate planning circles, the word “probate” often comes with a starkly negative connotation. Indeed, for many people—especially those with larger estates—financial planners recommend trying to keep property out of probate whenever possible. However, the probate system was ultimately established to protect the property of the deceased and his/her heirs, and in a few cases, it may even work to an advantage. Let’s look briefly at the pros and cons of going through probate.

While in certain situations a probate proceeding can be the most effective manner of distributing a decedent’s estate [for instance, if there is a large amount of contention between beneficiaries, it may be advisable for a successor trustee to commence a court-controlled probate process to limit personal liability], in California, it generally should be avoided absent extenuating circumstances.

The Pros:

For some estates, especially those in which no will was left, the system works to make sure all assets are distributed pursuant to state law. Here are some potential advantages of probating an estate:

 1. It provides a trustworthy procedure for redistributing the property of the deceased if no will was left.

 2. It validates and enforces the intentions of the deceased if a will exists.

 3. It ensures taxes and claimed debts are paid on the estate, so there’s a finality to the deceased   person’s affairs, rather than an uncertain, lingering feeling for the beneficiaries.

4. If the deceased was in debt, probate gives only a brief window for creditors to file a claim, which can result in more debt forgiveness.

 5. Probate can be advantageous for distributing smaller estates in which estate planning was unaffordable.

The Cons:

While probate is intended to work fairly to facilitate the transfer of property after someone dies, consider bypassing the process for these reasons:

 1. Probate is a matter of public record, which means personal family and financial information become public knowledge.

 2. There may be considerable costs, including court, attorney, and executor fees, all of which get deducted from the value of the estate.

 3. Probate can be time-consuming, holding up distribution of the assets for months, and sometimes, years.

 4. Probate can be complicated and stressful for your executor and your beneficiaries.

 5. You have no control over the distribution of your property after you pass, whereas by planning for distributions during your lifetime you have full control over where your assets ultimately end up.

 6. In California, because the fees paid to the Probate Attorney and Executor are defined by the California Probate Code, you do not have much control over the cost of settling your estate once you pass away.

 7. Probate is generally more expensive than creating and maintaining a revocable trust during your lifetime. As way of example, the following asserts the combined fees paid to the Probate Attorney and Executor in California for taking your estate through the probate proceeding after you die.

 a. If on the date of your death the value of your gross estate (“Gross Estate”) is:

                                  i.   $150,000

1.  The Statutory Attorney & Executors Fees are:

a.   $11,000

b.  Gross Estate:

                                    i.   $250,000

1.   The Attorney & Executors (“Probate”) Fees are:

a.  $16,000

c.  Gross Estate:

                                     i.    $500,000

1.    Probate Fees are:

a.   $26,000

d.   Gross Estate:

                                      i.    $750,000

1.    Probate Fees are:

a.   $36,000

e.   Gross Estate:

                                      i.    $1,000,000

1.      Probate Fees are:

a.   $46,000

f.   Gross Estate:

                                      i.    $1,250,000

1.    Probate Fees are:

a.   $51,000

g.  Gross Estate:

                                      i.    $1,500,000

1.    Probate Fees are:

a.   $56,000

h.   Gross Estate:

                                       i.    $1,750,000

1.    Probate Fees are:

a.    $61,000

i.    Gross Estate:

                                        i.    $2,000,000

1.    Probate Fees are:

a.    $66,000

j.     Gross Estate:

                                         i.     $2,500,000

1.     Probate Fees are:

a.    $76,000

k.    Gross Estate:

                                         i.    $3,000,000

1.    Probate Fees are:

a.    $86,000

l.     Gross Estate:

                                         i.    $3,500,000

1.    Probate Fees are:

a.    $96,000

m.  Gross Estate:

                                          i.    $5,000,000

1.    Probate Fees are:

a.   $126,000

As you can see, the cost of creating your estate plan during life is almost always going to be less than the cost of the fees that will ultimately be paid to the Probate Attorney and Executor if when you die you do not have an estate plan, or you solely have a Will without a properly funded revocable trust. Remember, a Will is not effective until after it goes through a probate proceeding.

Bottom line: While probate is a default mechanism that ultimately works to enforce fair distribution of even small estates, it can create undue cost and delays. For that reason, many people prefer to use strategies to keep their property out of probate when they die.

A talented attorney whose practice focuses solely on estate planning can help you develop a strategy to avoid probate, ensure that your post-death desires are realized, and make life easier for the next generation. 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.

Monday
Dec192016

Why You Need an Estate Plan To Compliment Your Financial Plan

If you want to leave a robust financial legacy for your family, a financial plan alone is like trying to guide a boat with just one oar. It’s only part of the big picture for your overall monetary health. A well-informed financial plan is worth your time for several reasons, but let’s look at how financial and estate planning can work in tandem to create the best possible future for you and your family in the years to come.

What’s included in a financial plan:

Financial planners take stock of an individual’s fiscal landscape and come up with approaches to maximize his or her overall financial well-being. Take Emily for instance, an energetic project manager in her late-twenties. She’s found a successful career track after graduating with her bachelor’s and now has the steady income necessary to start daydreaming about buying a house with bay windows like the one she passes on her morning commute.

But before she can take such a big leap, Emily tracks down a skilled financial planner who will take an honest look at her foreseeable cash flow and her spending and saving habits. People from all walks of life use the help of financial planners to make sure they’re in good shape for making big purchases, saving for their children’s education, and ensuring a comfortable retirement. This also includes developing an investment portfolio, which the financial planner monitors and manages.

But financial planning only goes so far. To have a comprehensive approach, Emily also must also consider her estate and the wills and trusts she should put in place so her assets go where she wants them to in the long run. That’s where a trusts and estates attorney comes in.

What’s included in an estate plan:

Estate planning attorneys are lawyers who give sound advice about what will happen to a person’s assets if he or she becomes mentally incapacitated or when he or she dies. While this may not sound like the sunniest of topics, knowing that what you pass on to your family will be legally protected lets you focus on enjoying the best things in life without worrying about your loved ones’ futures. Estate planning includes defining how you want your loved ones to benefit from the financial legacy you leave behind, implementing tactics to protect your assets from creditors down the road, providing a framework so your loved ones can make medical decisions on your behalf when you can’t, developing strategies to help you reduce estate taxes, and more.

And at the end of the day, your attorney is a teacher. He or she should be equipped to clearly explain your legal options. Even though estate planning can be highly technical, your professional bond with your attorney can and should feel like a friendly partnership since it involves taking an honest look at many personal wishes and priorities. There is no one-size-fits-all estate plan, so choose an attorney whom you trust and enjoy working with and who is responsive to questions and needs.

Remember Emily? While financial planning helped, her get from point A to point B with some pretty big money milestones, she now knows she needs an estates and trusts attorney to make sure her wishes are carried out and her money stays in the right hands—her family’s.

How these two efforts work together:

There are several ways these two components of your financial wellness work in harmony. Asking your financial planner and estate planning attorney to collaborate is common practice, so don’t be concerned that what you’re asking is outside their regular scope of work. Knowing who else advises you will help both parties get the information they need do their jobs at peak effectiveness. For example, your estate planning attorney may prepare a living trust for you, but your financial planner may help you transfer certain assets into that trust.

What are you waiting for?

If you already have a financial planner and are thinking about working with a trusts and estates attorney, you’re in an excellent position. We can often collaborate with your advisor to begin working on your estate plan. This might save you time and money, as we’ll get up to speed with the help of your financial planner.

The right time to plan your estate is right now. The sooner you put yourself and your family able to rest easy knowing a solid plan is in place, the better. And now that you know your financial plan is a wonderful start—but not a complete solution—you’re ready to take the first step on the path to total financial security.

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
Dec092016

3 Celebrity Probate Disasters and Lessons to Learn from Them

With all the wealth accumulated by the rich and famous, one would assume that celebrities would take steps to protect their estates once they pass on. But think again: Some of the world’s richest and most famous people have passed away without a will or a trust, while others have made mistakes that tied their fortunes and heirs up for years in court. Let’s look at three high-profile celebrity probate disasters and discover what lessons we can learn from them.

1. Tom Carvel:

As the man who invented soft-serve ice cream and established the first franchise business in America, Tom Carvel had a net worth of up to $200 million when he passed away in 1990. He did have a will and accompanying trust that provided for his widow, family members and donations for several charities, but he also named seven executors, all of whom had a financial stake in the game. The executors began infighting that lasted for years and cost millions. In the end, Carvel’s widow passed away before the disputes could be settled, essentially seeing none of the money.

Lesson learned: “Too many cooks spoil the broth.” Your trustee and executor may have to make tough decisions. Consider naming executors and trustees who have no financial interest in your estate to reduce the risk of favoritism. Also, consider have only a single trustee and executor rather than a committee.

2. Jimi Hendrix:

Passing away tragically at age 27, rock guitarist Jimi Hendrix left no will when he died. What he did leave behind was a long line of relatives, music industry bigwigs, and business associates who had an interest in what would become of his estate - both what he left behind, and what his intellectual property would continue to earn. An attorney managed the estate for the first two decades after Jimi’s death, after which Jimi’s father Al Hendrix successfully sued for control of the estate. But when Al attempted to leave the entire estate to his adopted daughter upon his passing, Jimi’s brother, Leon Hendrix, sued, launching a messy probate battle that left no clear winners.

Lesson learned: When you don’t leave a will or trust, the effects can last for generations. An experienced estate planning attorney can help put your wishes in writing so they are carried out after your death rather than opening a door to costly conflict.

3. Prince:

The court battle currently in preparation over Prince’s estate is a celebrity probate disaster in action. When the 80’s pop icon died in early 2016, he left no will, reportedly due to some previous legal battles that left him with a distrust of legal professionals in general. The lines are already being drawn for what will likely be a costly and lengthy court battle among Prince’s heirs. Sadly, there’s even a battle looming about determining who his heirs are—for certain.

Lesson learned: Correct legal documentation protects your legacy. Don’t let a general distrust or a bad experience cause your heirs to fight and potentially lose their inheritance.

These celebrity probate disasters serve as stark reminders that no one’s wealth is exempt from the legal trouble that can occur without proper estate planning. As always, we are here to help you protect your family and legacy. 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
Dec052016

Including Grandkids in your Will—5 Tips to Avoid Common Problems

As we build wealth, we naturally desire to pass that financial stability to our offspring. With the grandkids, especially, we often share a special bond that makes us want to provide well for their future. However, that bond can become a weakness if proper precautions aren’t set in place. If you’re planning to include the grandchildren in your will, here are five potential dangers to watch for, and ways you can avoid them.

1. Including no age stipulation:

We have no idea how old the grandchildren will be when we pass on. If they are under 18, or if they are financially immature when you die, they could receive a large inheritance before they know how to handle it, and it could be easily wasted.

Avoiding this pitfall: Create a long-term trust for your grandchildren that provides continued management of assets regardless of their age when you pass away.

2. Too much, too soon:

Even if your grandkids are legally old enough to receive an inheritance when you pass on, if they haven’t learned enough about handling large sums of money properly, the inheritance could still be quickly squandered.

Avoiding this pitfall: Outright or lump-sum distributions are usually not advisable. Luckily, there are many options available, from staggered distributions to leaving their inheritance in a lifetime, “beneficiary-controlled” trust. An experienced estate planning attorney can help you decide the best way to leave your assets.

3. Not communicating how you’d like them to use the inheritance:

You might trust your grandchildren implicitly to handle their inheritance, but if you have specific intentions for what you want that inheritance to do for them (e.g., put them through college, buy them a house, help them start a business, or something else entirely), you can’t expect it to happen if you don’t communicate it to them in your will or trust.

Avoiding this pitfall: Stipulate specific things or activities that the money should be used for in your estate plan. Clarify your intentions and wishes.

4. Being ambiguous in your language:

Money can make people act in unusual ways. If there is any ambiguity in your will or trust as to how much you’re leaving each grandchild, and in what capacity, the door could be opened for greedy relatives to contest your plan.

Avoiding this pitfall: Be crystal clear in every detail concerning your grandchildren’s inheritance. An experienced estate planning attorney can help you clarify any ambiguous points in your will or trust.

5. Touching your retirement:

Many misguided grandparents make the mistake of forfeiting some or all of their retirement money to the kids or grandkids, especially when a family member is going through some sort of financial crisis. Trying to get the money back when you need might be difficult to impossible.

Avoiding this pitfall: Resist the temptation to jeopardize your future by trying to “fix it” for your grandchildren. If you want to help them now, consider giving them part of their inheritance in advance, or setting up a trust for them. But, always make sure any lifetime giving you make doesn’t leave you high and dry.

If you’re planning to put your grandchildren in your will or trust, we’re here to help with every detail you need to consider. 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.

Saturday
Dec032016

Giving Your Kids an Early Inheritance—4 Things to Consider

If you’re thinking about giving your children their inheritance early, you’re not alone. A recent Merrill Lynch study suggests that these days, nearly two-thirds of people over the age of 50 would rather pass their assets to the children early than make them wait until the will is read. It can be especially satisfying to fund our children’s dreams while we’re alive to enjoy them, and there’s no real financial penalty for doing so, if the arrangement is structured correctly. Here are four important factors to take consider when planning to give an early inheritance.

1. Keep the tax codes in mind:

The IRS doesn’t care whether you give away your money now or later. The lifetime estate tax exemption as of 2016 is $5.45 million per individual, regardless of when the funds are transferred. So, whether you give up to $5.45 million away now or wait until you die with that amount, your estate will not owe any federal estate tax (although, remember, the law is always subject to change). You can even give up to $14,000 per person (child, grandchild, or anyone else) per year without any gift tax issues at all. You might hear these $14,000 gifts referred to as “annual exclusion” gifts. There are also ways to make tax-free gifts for educational expenses or medical care, but special rules apply to these gifts. Your estate planner can help you successfully navigate the maze of tax issues to ensure you and your children receive the greatest benefit from your giving.

2. Gifts that keep on giving:

One way to make your children’s inheritance go even farther is to give it as an appreciable asset. For example, helping one of your children buy a home could increase the value of your gift considerably as the home appreciates in value. Likewise, if you have stock in a company that is likely to prosper, gifting some of the stock to your children could result in greater wealth for them in the future.

3. One size does not fit all:

Don’t feel pressured to follow the exact same path for all your children in the name of equal treatment. One of your children might prefer to wait to receive her inheritance, for example, while another might need the money now to start a business. Give yourself the latitude to do what is best for each child individually; just be willing to communicate your reasoning to the family to reduce the possibility of misunderstanding or resentment.

4. Don’t touch your own retirement:

If the immediate need is great for one or more of your children, resist the urge to tap into your retirement accounts to help them out. Make sure your own future is secure before investing in theirs. It may sound selfish in the short term, but it’s better than possibly having to lean on your kids for financial help later when your retirement is depleted.

Giving your kids an early inheritance is not only feasible, but it also can be highly fulfilling and rewarding for all involved. That said, it’s best to involve a trusted financial advisor and an experienced estate planning attorney to help you navigate tax issues and come up with the best strategy for transferring your assets. 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
Dec022016

5 Things Every New Mother Needs to Know About Wills

As a new mother, you naturally want to ensure your new baby’s future in every way. For many new mothers, infancy is a time for celebrating new life, and making a Will is the last thing on their minds. For others, the process of bringing new life into the world sparks intense feelings of wanting control and needing organization. Regardless of where you fall on that spectrum, you might be struggling to figure out what steps you need to take to protect your children’s future should the unthinkable happen. Here are five key things every new mother should know about Wills.

1. Naming a guardian could be the most important part of your Will:

If you pass away while your child is a minor, the first issue to be addressed is who will assume responsibility for your child’s care. If you don’t name a guardian for your child in the Will, the courts may decide this question for you, and the guardian might not be the person you would choose. Selecting a trusted guardian is in many ways more important at this stage than deciding about how to pass any assets you own.

2. Name an executor you trust:

To ensure your child does receive all that you have allocated when she comes of age, choose a trustworthy executor. Many people choose a family member, but it’s just as acceptable to appoint a trusted attorney to handle your estate. Typically, an attorney has no emotional attachment to the family, which might seem bad, but usually results in less potential conflict.

3. Named beneficiaries on your financial accounts may override the Will:

Many accounts allow you to name a beneficiary. When you pass away, the funds go to the beneficiary named on the account, even if your Will states otherwise. If you’re creating a Will with your child in mind (or adding the child to an existing Will), you should review your investment and bank accounts with your financial advisor to make sure there are no inconsistencies when naming beneficiaries. It’s also a good time to check retirement account and life insurance beneficiary designations with your financial advisor and your attorney.

4. A Will is not always the right document for your goals:

When naming your child as a beneficiary, a Will only goes into effect after you die. If your Will leaves property outright to a minor child, the court Will step in and hold the assets until your child turns 18. Most 18 year olds lack the maturity to handle even a modest estate, so we don’t recommend outright inheritance for minor children.

A trust, on the other hand, goes into effect when you create it and can provide structure to manage the assets you leave behind for the benefit of your child. An experienced estate planning attorney can advise you on the best option for your family and your circumstances.

5. In the absence of clearly stated intentions, the state steps in:

Think of a Will, trust and other estate planning documents as an instruction manual for your executor and the courts to follow. You must be clear and consistent in your stated intentions regarding your child, as well as for others. If you’re not clear or if you don’t leave any instructions at all, the probate courts will step in and follow the government’s plan, which can lead to long delays and is probably not the plan you would have selected for your child and family.

Providing for your baby’s long-term welfare may start with just a simple Will, but to be fully protected, you probably need more. That’s why it’s important to talk with a competent estate planning attorney to make sure you have the right plans in place to fulfill your goals. We’re 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.

Monday
Sep262016

What To Do After a Loved One Dies  

If you've been appointed an executor or a successor trustee of a loved one’s estate, and that person dies, your grief—not to mention your to-do list—can be quite overwhelming. For example, you may need to plan the funeral, coordinate with out of town relatives coming to visit, and finding an estate planning attorney to help you to administer the estate. Regardless of the additional tasks on hand, it is most crucial that you take care of yourself during such an emotionally taxing time.

To give you an idea of some of the first steps that should be taken after a loved one passes, here is a quick checklist of initial tasks that should be completed. I know it can be difficult, but some of these items are deadline specific, so make sure that you reach out sooner than later:

1. Secure the deceased's personal property (vehicle, home, business, etc.).

2.  Notify the post office.

3.  If the deceased wrote an ethical will, share that with the appropriate parties in a venue set aside for the occasion. You may even want to print it and make copies for some individuals.

4.  Get copies of the death certificate. You'll need them for some upcoming tasks.

5.   Notify the Social Security office.

6.   Take care of any Medicare details that need attention.

7.    Contact the deceased's employer to find out about benefits dispensation.

8.    Stop health insurance and notify relevant insurance companies. Terminate any policies no longer necessary. You may need to wait to actually cancel the policies until after you’ve “formally” taken over the estate, but you can often get the necessary paperwork started before that time.

9.     Get ready to meet with a qualified probate and trust administration attorney. Depending on the circumstances, a probate may be necessary. Even if a probate is not needed, there is work that needs to be The deceased’s will and trust. If the original of the deceased’s will or trust can’t be located, contact us as soon as possible and bring any copies you do have.

  • A list of the deceased’s bills and debts. It’s often easier to bring the statements or the actual credit cards into the office rather than try to write out a list, but do whatever is easiest for you.
  •   A list of the deceased’s financial advisors, insurance agent, tax professional, and other professional advisors.
  •   A list of the deceased’s surviving family members, including their contact information when available. Even if they’re not named in the trust, the attorney will need to know about everyone in the family.

10. Cancel your loved one's driver's license, passport, voter's registration, and club memberships.

11. Close out email and social media accounts, and shut down websites no longer needed. Depending on circumstances, to take these steps, you may need to wait until you’ve “formally” taken over the estate, but you can often learn the procedures and be ready to take action.

12. Contact your tax preparer.

You may be thinking about handling all the paperwork yourself. It’s a tempting thought—why not keep things as simple as possible? However, a “DIY” approach to this process might cost you and your family dearly. Read on to understand why.

Consequences of Mishandling an Estate: Examples from Real Life

Example #1: Failing to disclose assets to the IRS. Lacy Doyle, a prominent art consultant in New York City, inherited a large estate when her father passed away in 2003. He allegedly left her $4 million, but she only disclosed fewer than $1 million in assets when she filed the court documents for the estate. Per the New York Daily News: “She opened an ‘undeclared Swiss bank account for the purpose of depositing the secret inheritance from her father’ in 2006 — using a fake foreign foundation name to conceal her identity… [she also] didn't report her interest in the hidden accounts — nor the income they generated — from 2004 to 2009.” As a result of these alleged shenanigans and Doyle’s failure to report the accounts to the IRS, she was arrested, and she now faces a six-year prison sentence.

Example #2: Misusing power of attorney. Another famous case of an improperly handled estate involved the son of famous New York socialite, Brooke Astor. Her son, Anthony Marshall, was convicted of misusing his power of attorney and other crimes. Per a fascinating Washington Post obituary: “In 2009, Mr. Marshall was convicted of grand larceny and other charges related to the attempted looting of his mother’s assets while she suffered from Alzheimer’s disease. He received a sentence of one to three years in prison but, afflicted by congestive heart failure and Parkinson’s disease, was medically paroled in August 2013 after serving eight weeks.”

Some Key Takeaways

1. Seek professional counsel to avoid even the appearance of impropriety when handling an estate.

2. Bear in mind that errors of omission and accident can be costly – even if your intent was good. An executor who makes distributions from an estate too soon can get into serious trouble, for instance. An executor’s personal assets can wind up in jeopardy if his or her actions cause an estate to become insolvent.

3. Even if you’re well organized and knowledgeable about probate and estate law, it’s surprisingly hard to anticipate what can go wrong. There are many ways to end up in hot water when you’re handling the estate or trust of a loved one.

We’re here to help you steer clear of the obstacles and free you to focus on yourself and your family during this difficult time. Contact us for assistance. We can help you manage estate and trust related concerns as well as point you towards other useful resources.

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.

Tuesday
Sep202016

Stress Test Your Estate Plan

So you’ve done the hard work of establishing an estate plan. Good for you. However, you still have serious work to do to ensure that the strategy you’ve selected will maximize your peace of mind and protect your legacy.

Estate plans are living, breathing creations. Your life can and will change due to new births, children getting older and other shifts in the family; changes to your portfolio, career and business; and changes to your health, where you live and your core values. Likewise, external events, such as tax legislation passed in your state or the development of a novel financial instrument, can throw your plan off track or open the door to opportunities.

Obviously, you want to do due diligence without spending inordinate amounts of time noodling over your plan. To that end, ask yourself the following “stress test” questions to assess whether you need to meet with an estate planning attorney to update your approach:

1. When was the last time you updated your will or living trust? Since then, have you had new children or gotten divorced? Have you moved to a new state, opened or sold a business, or just changed your mind about the type of legacy you want to leave behind? Strongly consider updating your documents as soon as possible - especially if big, tangible life events have occurred.

2. Who have you named as executor and trustee? If you had to start your planning over from scratch today, would you still make the same decisions? If not, why not?

3. Do you have adequate insurance? Many people do not have enough insurance for themselves or their businesses. They also fail to name contingent beneficiaries. Get your insurance policies in order.

4. How much of your property is jointly owned with someone other than your spouse? Jointly owned property has the potential to be double taxed. Take a look at your real property and seek advice on the proper adjustments to make in order to save on taxes when it's really necessary to save on taxes.

5. How's your record keeping? Nothing is more frustrating for an executor than sloppy record keeping.

6. When was the last time you gave your plan a thorough once-over? Even if nothing “huge” has happened in your life recently, if it has been over five years since a qualified estate planning attorney has assessed your strategy – it’s time to schedule a meeting. Identify any issues and iron out the kinks one at a time.

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
Sep152016

4 Famous Estate Planning Debacles—The Importance Of Proper Planning 

These four celebrity estate planning fiascos offer lessons about how to handle your own planning and legacies.
  1. Pablo Picasso – The great artist died in 1973 at 91 without a will, a status referred to as “intestate.” Of course, Picasso isn't the first, or the last, celebrity to die intestate. However, after he died, his six heirs fought for six years over the wealth of assets he left behind. One lesson for us all: Make sure you have your estate planning documents in place before you go. 
  2. Heath Ledger – It was a huge surprise, and disappointment, to millions of adoring fans when Heath Ledger died in 2008 at the age of 28. He did leave a will. Unfortunately, he didn't update the will after the birth of his daughter. Fortunately for his daughter, the family decided to include her in the inheritance, which proves that sometimes people do the right thing. But what if his family had insisted instead on the terms of Heath’s will?  One lesson for us: When there’s a big change in your family situation (or when you have a life changing epiphany about your core values and legacy), update your plans accordingly. Do not assume that just because you’re young and healthy that you will have lots of time to get things in order. Do not assume that, since you have a plan in place, it will automatically update to match your current desires and needs.
  3.  Philip Seymour Hoffman – Actor Philip Seymour Hoffman didn't want his children to grow up as “trust-fund babies.” Fair enough, but he decided to leave his inheritance with his girlfriend, counting on her to care for his children on his behalf. The problem: there was no guarantee that would happen. Since the two weren't married, Hoffman's estate was hit with a huge tax. One lesson for us: A trust that includes your guidance about the proper use of the funds is better than hoping for the best with one that leaves your wishes undefined.
  4. Tom Clancy – Author Tom Clancy left behind a huge fortune, but his estate planning documents weren't clear about some of the important details. These issues led to drama for family members. One lesson for us: the more complicated your family, your assets, and your business dealings are, the more accurate, precise, and proactive you need to be in working with us on your estate plan.
 

Whether you’re just starting to explore the need for estate planning or you’re a seasoned veteran with a well-worn trust binder, we should all remember a few key points:

1. Have estate planning documents in place, even if you’re young and healthy and think you’ll have plenty of time to get things in order later.

2. When there’s a change in your family situation (marriage, birth, or death) or if you’ve changed your mind about something, update your plans accordingly. Do not assume that since you have a plan in place, it will automatically update to match your current desires and needs.

3. Provide guidance to your family about how you would like them to use their inheritance. Do not rely on hope or verbal instructions. The best place for guidance is in your trust or in an intent letter that can help your trustee manage your trust.

4. If you’re well-off or have complex assets, you need to work with your estate planning attorney in a more proactive way to avoid potential missteps while still achieving your goals.

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
Sep122016

3 Tips for Your Digital Assets—Protecting Your Cyber Legacy

There’s an entire category of commonly-overlooked legacy to consider – digital assets. Don’t worry if you didn’t consider these assets when you made your will or trust. It’s surprisingly common and, luckily it’s easy to correct.

What are digital assets? They include the following:

  1.  Your photos (yes, all those selfies are a digital asset)
  2. Files stored in the cloud or on your local computer
  3. Virtual currency accounts
  4. URLs
  5. Social media profiles (Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.)
  6. Device backups
  7. Databases
  8. Digital business documents

Because technology is ever-evolving, much more will be added as the months and years go by.

These assets can have real value, such as virtual currency accounts, a URL, or digital business assets. So, you can no longer adopt a wait-and-see approach for these assets. Whether you proactively plan or not, your legacy now includes more than the inheritance you want to pass along, your family heirlooms, and general assets. You must now consider your digital assets.

 So, here are 3 tips to get you started.  

1. Inventory your digital assets. Make a list of every online account you use. If you run a business, don't forget spreadsheets, digital records, client files, databases, and other digital business documents, although those should probably be part of your business succession plan. If it exists in cyberspace, connects to it or pertains to it, put it on the list for your attorney and executor.

2. Designate a cyber successor. A cyber successor is someone you trust who can access your accounts and perform business on your behalf after you are gone or in the event you are incapacitated. Make sure they can access your accounts in a timely manner. Safeguard your list, so that it doesn't end up being vulnerable to unauthorized access, identity theft, or data loss.

3. Determine the necessary documents for your estate, and make a record of your wishes. You may want to put some of your digital assets into a trust or even include specific access in a power of attorney. Consult with an estate planning attorney to determine the best way to determine your successors, trustees, and beneficiaries, and then make sure the right documents or designations are in place so access can be made when it’s needed. The laws in this arena are evolving, so any planning you’ve done in the past probably needs an update.

Potential Pitfalls of Cyber Estate Planning

The worst thing you can do is nothing. This could result in the loss of digital family photo albums or disruption of your business if you’re incapacitated. If this process feels daunting or you’re still not sure where or how to start, give us a call. We can help you identify, track, and protect your digital assets to give you peace of mind.

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
Sep112016

Act Now! Avoid New IRS Regulations That Might Raise Taxes on Your Family’s Inheritance 

The IRS recently released proposed regulations which effectively end valuation discounts that have been relied upon for over 20 years. If the IRS’s current timetable holds, these regulations may become final as early as January 1, 2017. Although that date isn’t set in stone, I expect that the regulations will be final around that time or shortly thereafter.

With New Regulations Looming, What Should You Do Now?

As I mentioned before, the timetable isn’t set in stone. Luckily, there’s still a narrow window of time to implement “freezing” techniques under current, more favorable law, to save taxes and protect your family’s inheritance.

Depending on your circumstances, some options are going to be a better fit than others, and I want to make sure you get the best outcome possible. Some of these “freezing” techniques involve the use of a family business entity to own and operate your family fortune, in combination with one or more special tax-saving trusts. These plans provide numerous benefits including asset protection, divorce protection, centralized management of assets, and more – in addition to the tax savings.

Unfortunately, these types of plans can take 2-3 months to fully implement and time is running short.

So, here’s your action plan:

  1.  First, schedule an appointment with me as soon as possible. I’d like to get a time on the calendar so that I can take a look at the options that are available to you under current law between now and the end of this year.
  2. Second, find your estate planning portfolio and take a look at it. If I prepared your plan, you’ll have a graphic that represents your current plan, making it easy to review. (If you can’t find it, let me know and I will send you another one.) If someone else prepared your plan, you might have a graphic summary or some other type of summary. Regardless of who prepared your plan, now’s a great time to review your plan. When we meet, I want to make sure that anything we do to help you protect your family’s inheritance from the IRS still achieves your overall planning goals - and not just the tax-saving goals.

Our firm is available to assist you with the immediate implementation of your wealth transfer plan using valuation discounts that are still available under current law.

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
Jul152016

Wondering Whether You Need to Update Your Estate Plan?

In short, the answer is yes. It’s unrealistic to think that a piece of paper you draft, reflecting your life at a certain time, will work when your life has completely changed some years later. We’ll use the Thompson family as an example.

Meet the Thompson’s:

Meet Bill and Karen Thompson. They got their first estate plan in place when their daughter, Jessica was born 30 years ago. They updated it when their son Steve came along 4 years later. They attended one of our living trust seminars 10 years ago and got a fantastic trust-based plan in place, protecting themselves, their children, grandchildren, and dog, Beacon.

Unfortunately, the Thompson’s didn’t join a client maintenance program; instead, they elected to take on the responsibility of calling for updates themselves. Life got busy and, as you might guess, that didn’t happen.

Here’s what’s changed in their lives in the last 10 years. Jessica and Steve are now adults and through college.

1.      Jessica has married and now had two daughters. One of the girls may have autism.

2.      Steve is also married and is expecting his first child.

3.      Karen’s mother is now living with them.

4.      They bought a vacation home in Florida.

Do you think their estate plan will still work the way they want it to?

Changes in Your Own Life:

The Thompson’s have experienced a lot of changes, but those changes might be typical of what 10 years brings. Think about the changes in your life over the past 10 years—or—since you last updated your estate plan.

Here are some questions that if answered yes, should lead you towards updating your estate plan.

1.      Have you moved?

2.      Do you have more children or grandchildren?

3.      Have you started a business, suffered health problems, or purchased a new home? Do you have  new accounts and investments?

4.      Do you now care for a parent, pets, or dependent children?

5.      Have you remarried, gotten divorced, or retired?

6.      Has someone you loved died?

7.      Have friends named in your plan as trusted helpers moved away or has your relationship changed?

8.      Are your children now adults and able to help you?

9.      Do you want to help with grandchildren’s college or dance lessons?

10.  Do you see the world in a different way?

Many things have happened in the past 10 years. Your estate plan needs to reflect the changes in your personal life, financial situation, and goals. There have also been changes in the law and we continuously learn to protect our clients in better and better ways, so the way we do things has changed.

Is Your Estate Plan Out-of-Date?

If you’ve experienced changes like the Thompsons or it’s been more than 3 to 5 years since you updated your estate plan, it’s time to come in. We’ll review your plan and chat with you about what’s been happening in your life, so we can get you and your estate plan up-to-date, reflecting where your life is now.

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
Jul112016

5 Critical Reasons to Update Your Estate Plan

Estate plans are almost magical: they allow you to maintain control of your assets, yet protect you should you become incapacitated. They take care of your family and pets. And, if carefully crafted, they reduce fees, taxes, stress, and time delays. Estate plans can even keep your family and financial affairs private. But one thing estate plans can’t do is update themselves.

Estate plans are written to reflect your situation at a specific point in time. While they have some flexibility, the bottom line is that our lives continually change and unfold in ways we might not have ever anticipated. Your plan needs to reflect those changes. If not, if will be as stale as last week’s ham sandwich and can fail miserably.

If anything in the following 5 categories has occurred in your life since you signed your estate planning documents, call us now to schedule a meeting. We’ll get you in ASAP to make sure you and your family get protected.

1. Marriage, Divorce, Death. Marriage, remarriage, divorce, and death all require substantial changes to an estate plan. Think of all the roles a spouse plays in our lives. We’ll need to evaluate beneficiaries, trustees, successor trustees, executors/personal representatives, and agents under powers of attorney.

 2. Change in Financial Status.  A substantial change in financial status – positive or negative – generally requires an estate plan update. These changes can be the result of launching, winding down, or selling a business; business and professional success; filing bankruptcy; suffering medical crisis; retiring; receiving an inheritance; or, even winning the lottery.

 3. Birth, Adoption, or Death of a Child / Grandchild. The birth or adoption of a child or grandchild may call for the creation of gifting trusts, 529 education plans, gifting plans, and UGMA / UTMA (Uniform Gifts to Minors Act / Uniform Transfers to Minors Act) accounts.  We’ll also need to reevaluate beneficiaries, trustees, successor trustees, executors/personal representatives, and agents under powers of attorney.

 4. Change in Circumstances. Circumstances change. It’s a fact of life - and when you’re the beneficiary or fiduciary of an estate plan, those changes may warrant revisions to the plan. Common examples include:

1. Children and grandchildren attain adulthood and are able to serve in trusted helper [fiduciary] roles;

2. Relationships change and different trusted helpers need to be named;

3. Beneficiaries or trusted helpers develop overspending or drug / gambling problems;

4. Guardians, executors, or trustees are no longer able (or no longer wish) to serve in their preassigned roles;

5. Beneficiaries become disabled and need a special needs trust to receive government benefits; and/or

6. Guardians for minor children divorce, move to a new state, or are, otherwise, no longer appropriate to serve.

5. Changes in Venue.  Moving from one state to another always warrants estate plan review as state’s laws differ. Changes may be needed to ensure that you’re taking full advantage of – and not being penalized by – your new state’s laws. This is also true when purchasing a second home outside of your state. 

Estate Plans Are Created to Help, Not Hurt, You:

Old estate plans get stale just like old sandwiches do. You wouldn’t rely on last week’s ham sandwich for lunch; please don’t rely on your estate plan from yesteryear. If you’ve experienced any of the changes we’ve mentioned in this article, it’s time to come in and chat.

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.