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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.

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.

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.

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.
Friday
Apr222016

Revocable Trust v. Irrevocable Trust: Which Is Best for You?

Trusts allow you to avoid probate, minimize taxes, provide organization, maintain control, and provide for yourself and your heirs. In its most simple terms, a trust is a book of instructions wherein you tell your people what to do, when.

While there are many types of trusts, the major distinction between trusts is whether they are revocable or irrevocable. Let’s take a look at both so you’ll have the information you need:

Revocable Trusts. Revocable trusts are also known as “living trusts” because they benefit you during your lifetime and you can alter, change, modify, or revoke them if your circumstances or goals change.

1. You stay in control of your revocable trust. You can transfer property into a trust and take it out, serve as the trustee, and be the beneficiary. You have full control. Most of our clients like that.

2. You select successor trustees to manage the trust if you become incapacitated and when you die.   Most of our clients like that they, not the courts, select who’s in charge when they need help.

3. Your trust assets avoid probate. This makes it difficult for creditors to access assets since they must petition a court for an order to enable the creditor to get to the assets held in the trust. Most of our clients want to protect their beneficiaries’ inheritances.

Irrevocable Trusts: When irrevocable trusts are used, assets are transferred out of the Grantor’s estate into the name of the trust.  You, as the Grantor, cannot alter, change, modify, or revoke this trust after execution. It’s irrevocable and you usually can’t be in control.

1. Irrevocable trust assets have increased asset protection and are kept out of the reach of creditors.

2. Taxes are often reduced because, in most cases, irrevocable trust assets are no longer part of your estate.

3. Trust protectors can modify your trust if your goals become frustrated.

As experienced estate planning attorneys, we can help you figure out whether a revocable or irrevocable trust is a good fit for you and your loved ones. 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
Apr132016

10 Types of Trusts: A Quick Look

Considering the myriad of trusts available, creating an estate plan that works can seem daunting.  However, that’s what we, as estate planning attorneys, do every day. We know the laws and will design a plan which addresses your specific situation. 

Here’s a look at the basics of ten common trusts to provide a general understanding. There will not be a quiz at the end. All you need to do when we meet is share your goals and insight into your family and financial situation, we’ll design a plan that incorporates the best documents for your situation.

1. Bypass Trusts. Commonly referred to as Credit Shelter Trust, Family Trust, or B Trust, Bypass Trusts do just that: bypass the surviving spouse’s estate to take advantage of tax exclusions and provide asset protection. 

2. Charitable Lead Trusts. CLT's are split interest trusts which provide a stream of income to a charity of your choice for a period of years or a lifetime. Whatever’s left goes to you or your loved ones.

3. Charitable Remainder Trusts. CRTs are split interest trusts which provide a stream of income to you for a period of years or a lifetime and the remainder goes to the charity of your choice. 

4. Special Needs Trusts. SNT's allow you to benefit someone with special needs without disqualifying them for governmental benefits. Federal laws allow special needs beneficiaries to obtain benefits from a carefully crafted trust without defeating eligibility for government benefits.

5. Generation-Skipping Trusts.  GST Trusts allow you to distribute your assets to your grandchildren, or even to later generations, without paying the generation-skipping tax.

6. Grantor Retained Annuity Trusts. GRAT's are irrevocable trusts which are used to make large financial gifts to family members while limiting estate and gift taxes.

7. Irrevocable Life Insurance Trusts. ILIT's are designed to exclude life insurance proceeds from the deceased’s estate for tax purposes. However, proceeds are still available to provide liquidity to pay taxes, equalize inheritances, fund buy-sell agreements, or provide an inheritance.

8. Marital Trusts. Marital Trusts are designed to provide asset protection and financial benefits to a surviving spouse. Trust assets are included in his or her estate for tax purposes.

9. Qualified Terminable Interest Property Trusts.  QTIP's initially provide income to a surviving spouse and, upon his or her death, the remaining assets are distributed to other named beneficiaries. These are commonly used in second marriage situations and to maximize estate and generation-skipping tax exemptions and tax planning flexibility.

10.  Testamentary Trusts. Testamentary Trusts are created in a will. These trusts are created upon an individual's death and are commonly used to provide for a beneficiary. They are commonly used when a beneficiary is too young, has medical or drug issues, or may be a spendthrift. Trusts also provide asset protection from lawsuits brought against the beneficiary.

There are many types of trusts available. We’ll help you select which trusts, if any, are a good fit for you. 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
Mar292016

James Brown’s Vague Estate Plan Equated To Years of Family Litigation

James Brown, the legendary singer, songwriter, record producer, dancer, and bandleader was known to many as the “Godfather of Soul.” Although he intended his estimated $100 million estate to provide for all of his children and grandchildren, his intentions were somewhat vague.  This forced his family into years of litigation which ended up in the South Carolina Supreme Court.

As an estate planning attorney, I work with my clients’ to ensure that we avoid these types of situations before they happen. In this author’s humble opinion, it is well worth spending the time up-front, to avoid the nightmares that can result later without proper planning.

Everything Seemed In Order…

Brown signed his last will and testament in front of Strom Thurmond, Jr. in 2000. Along with the will that bequeathed personal assets such as clothing, cars, and jewelry, Brown created a separate, irrevocable trust which bequeathed music rights, business assets, and his South Carolina home. 

At first glance, it seems as though everything in Brown’s estate plan was in order. In fact, he was very specific about most of his intentions, including:

  1. Donating the majority of his music empire to an educational charity
  2. Providing for each of his six adult living children (Terry Brown, Larry Brown, Daryl Brown, Yamma Brown Lumar, Deanna Brown Thomas and Venisha Brown)
  3. Creating a family education fund for his grandchildren

However, only days after his death in 2006 from congestive heart failure, chaos erupted. 

Heirs Not Happy With Charitable Donation:

Apparently, Brown’s substantial charitable donations didn’t sit well with his heirs. Both his children and wife contested the estate.

 i. Children. His children filed a lawsuit against the personal representatives of Brown's estate alleging impropriety and alleged mismanagement of Brown's assets. (This was likely a protest of the charitable donation.)

 ii. Wife. Brown’s wife at the time, Tomi Rae Hynie, and the son they had together, received nothing as Brown never updated his will to reflect the marriage or birth. In her lawsuit, Hynie asked the court to recognize her as Brown's widow and their son as an heir. 

In the end, the South Carolina Supreme Court upheld Brown’s plans to benefit charities and recognized Hynie and their son as an heir. 

Should You Anticipate Litigation?

Brown’s estate was substantial and somewhat controversial – and he failed to update or communicate his intentions to his family.  His heirs were taken by surprise.  And experienced attorney could have avoided much of the family upset.

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
Feb122016

Investment, Insurance, Annuity, and Retirement Planning Considerations

If your clients choose to use a Standalone Retirement Trust (SRT) to provide asset protection benefits for their beneficiaries, then the tax-related asset allocation strategy would be essentially the same as without an SRT, with one small exception.

 Consider skewing your investment plan toward: 

  1. Loading retirement accounts and inherited retirement accounts with bonds, Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs), and other assets that produce income taxed as ordinary income;
  2. Housing stocks, Exchange-Traded Funds (ETFs), and other qualified-dividend generating investments in taxable accounts; and
  3. Placing any high-growth assets in Roth or inherited Roth IRAs.
WARNING: SRT Tax Consequences:

That one small exception is that if your SRT is designed as an accumulation trust (necessary for asset protection), then the undistributed Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs) accumulating in the trust will face tightly compressed trust tax rates. If the undistributed annual RMDs exceed $12,400 (2016), the SRT is hit with a 39.6% marginal tax rate, possibly much higher than a beneficiary's personal income tax rates. For this reason, you might select very low-growth assets you believe belong in a client’s total portfolio for the accumulation SRT. Examples of these assets might be cash, short-term bonds, etc.

Always Use an SRT?
  1.      Of course not. No planning is one-size-fits all. There may be cases where your client’s circumstances do not warrant the hassle and expense of creating an SRT. An example might be if the inherited IRA is quite small in relation to all the other assets your client is protecting. In such cases, here are some other approaches to consider:
  2.   For clients who are still working but not fully funding their workplace retirement plan (e.g. 401(k), 403(b), 457, SIMPLE IRA, SEP IRA, etc.) accelerate the depletion of the beneficiary IRA and use the extra taxable cash flow to max out tax-deferrals into the workplace plan. If for every dollar pulled from the inherited IRA an additional dollar is contributed to the workplace plan, the tax impact is neutral but the assets are now easily consolidated into a single account.
  3.       For clients who are in retirement, if the optimal liquidation strategy in their case is to consume qualified assets first (as might be the case for those who enjoy a window of low income tax rates between retirement and deliberately delayed Social Security benefits), then consider consuming the inherited IRAs first of all.
  4.       Depending on the circumstances, it may make sense for the client to hasten withdrawals from the inherited IRA to fund 529 plan contributions, to fund life insurance premiums, to fund Roth IRA conversions, HSA contributions, etc., in order to pass assets to heirs through those sorts of channels instead.
 

As a note to insurance agents or annuity-oriented brokers, though qualified longevity annuity contracts (QLACs) were approved in 2014 for a portion of the assets in one’s own IRA, they are not allowed in inherited IRAs.  And while life insurance is allowable in ERISA plans, it is not allowable in inherited IRAs any more than in one’s own IRA.

Team Up with Us:

We’d be happy to answer all SRT and retirement protection questions.  Please feel free to call with questions or if you’d like help planning for a client.  It takes a village.

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
Feb242014

Understanding Losses: Liability Exposure

We live in a litigious society. Lawsuits abound, whether deserved or not. If you own property or stock that was purchased at a low price and has had high appreciation, it is at risk to litigation and creditors—even if you are not in a high-risk profession. Others may be in a private business such as medicine or law that bring with it additional exposures to monitor.

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Tuesday
Feb182014

Wealth Protection: Avoiding Losses

You can’t create wealth until you preserve it first. Each dollar lost unnecessarily isn’t just a single dollar lost, but a compounded dollar lost. A dollar not lost allows wealth to compound from a higher floor. Losses can occur from many places beyond investments: property, income, taxes and fees. It is well worth paying for the expertise of professional advisors who are able to prevent or reduce losses in all of these areas.

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Thursday
Feb062014

Understanding Losses: Property

Property insurance provides protection against most risks to property, such as fire, theft and some weather damage. However, if property has appreciated and there isn’t sufficient insurance for replacement value, any losses must be paid out of pocket. To protect your wealth from these kinds of losses, it is important to determine replacement values so you will have adequate insurance.

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Tuesday
Jan282014

Passion Investing as a Spark to Your Life

Bill Gates, Warren Buffet and over 50% of the Fortune 400’s The Richest People in America list have decided to give away their wealth for charitable pursuits. Of course, not many of us have that kind of money or are inclined to give away all we own. However, giving to charitable organizations is something that anyone can do, and we can all derive a similar satisfaction by investing in causes that light our passion.

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Sunday
Dec152013

The Many Needs for Life Insurance in Our Lives

While many people are hesitant when it comes to life insurance, the potential benefits are so great, that we recommend that you place your reservations on hold—if only momentarily—to consider the benefits, before writing off the idea completely.

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