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Entries in Probate (35)

Wednesday
Feb222017

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

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

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

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

Document Instructions for Your Stuff:

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

Important Legal Mumbo Jumbo: 

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

How Do You Get an Estate Plan? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scary thoughts? You bet!

The Bottom Line:

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

Friday
Feb172017

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

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

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

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

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

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

What to go over with your estate attorney:

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

  1. Set reasonable expectations for long-term care:

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

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

2. Consider a long-term care insurance policy:

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

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

3. Get Smart About Living Wills and Trusts:

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

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

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

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

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.

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
Dec282016

3 Reasons You Want to Avoid Probate

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

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

1. It’s all public record:

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

2. It can be expensive:

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

3. It is a long process:

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

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

Friday
Dec232016

5 Mistakes Made by Successor Trustees—How to Prevent Them

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

1. Someone you trust implicitly.

2. Someone who is organized, responsible and meticulous.

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

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

1. Faulty Record-keeping:

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

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

2. Misunderstanding the Fiduciary Role:

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

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

3. Not Collaborating Effectively with Your Established Financial Team:

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

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

4. Failing to Discuss Compensation:

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

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

5. Failing to Remain Objective:

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

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

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

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.

Wednesday
Dec142016

3 Tips for Overwhelmed Executors

While it is an honor to be named as an executor of a will or estate, it can also be a sobering and daunting responsibility. Being a personal representative requires a high level of organization, foresight, and attention to detail to meet all responsibilities and ensure that all beneficiaries receive the assets to which they are entitled. If you’ve found yourself in the position of “overwhelmed executor,” here are some tips to lighten the load.

1.  Get professional help from an experienced attorney:

The caveat to being an executor is that once you accept the responsibility, you also accept the liability if something goes wrong. To protect yourself and make sure you’re crossing all the “i’s” and dotting all the “t’s,” consider hiring an experienced estate planning attorney at the beginning. Having a legal professional in your corner not only helps you avoid pitfalls and blind spots, but it will also give you greater peace of mind during the process.

2. Get organized:

One of the biggest reasons for feeling overwhelmed as an executor is when the details are coming at you from all directions. Proper organization helps you conquer this problem and regain control. Your attorney will help advise you of what to do when, but in general, you’ll need to gather several pieces of important paperwork to get started. It’s a good idea to create a file or binder so you can keep track of the original estate planning documents, death certificates, bills, financial statements, insurance policies, and contact information of beneficiaries. Bringing all this information to your first meeting will be a great start.

3. Establish lines of communication:

As an executor, you are effectively a liaison between multiple parties related to the estate: namely, the courts, the creditors, the IRS, and the heirs. Create and maintain an up-to-date list of everyone’s contact information. You’ll also want to retain records, such as copies of correspondence or notes about phone calls for all the contact you make as executor. Open and honest communication helps keeps the process flowing smoothly and reduces the risk of disputes. It’s worth repeating because it’s so important -- keep records of all communications, so you can always recall what was said to whom.

If you have been appointed as an executor, and you are feeling overwhelmed, we can provide skilled counsel and advice to help you through the process. We can also help you set your own estate plan, so your family can avoid the stress of probate. 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.

Wednesday
Dec072016

Your Estate Planning Binder—Tips for Proper Care and Maintenance

You finally crossed “getting your estate plan done” off your list, and you’ve (rightly) breathed a huge sigh of relief. By tackling this challenge, you’ve not only established protections for your loved ones and legacy, but you’ve also freed up some important “mental space” that had previously been preoccupied.

Once you create the documents that make up your estate plan, your estate planning attorney will prepare a binder containing all pertinent documentation. This estate planning binder is critical because it provides key information regarding your intentions after you pass away or if you become incapacitated. Once your trust is fully funded, your binder should also contain information about your assets. This makes administration easier for your family. This binder should be stored safely, reviewed regularly, and updated when necessary to avoid confusion when your loved ones need to refer to it.

Before we get into the nuts and bolts about how to complete this review process – to help you stay in control now that you’re there – let’s first take a step back and clarify a point that confuses many clients. Your estate plans and your financial plans for the future are two completely different things. They are both obviously important, and they both should be kept in a safe place and reviewed often. However, the estate planning binder has special importance because it contains your wishes and instructions for what should happen if you become incapacitated and when you die…as well as who should be in charge of what—at those times. But this binder is not the same thing as your financial plan. Your financial plan is a comprehensive plan of the assets you have now (and the assets you may need in the future) to help you achieve your goals in life.

Where to Keep Your Estate Planning Binder:

Your estate planning binder should be kept in a safe place along with your other important financial information. We recommend keeping it secured in a safe deposit box at your local bank or in a fireproof strong box, if you keep the documents at home. You can make photocopies or scans of the documentation for your own use if you wish to refer to them more frequently or have them as a backup. Remember though, the original documents have legal significance, so don’t create a situation where your family is forced to attempt to rely on copies - you need to safeguard your originals!

Who Should Have Access to the Binder:

You obviously have discretion regarding who can access your personal financial information. However, strongly consider retaining direct access yourself until circumstances require someone else to step in to take control. If you keep the binder in a safe deposit box, for example, you could keep a spare key in your home or office and notify your attorney, next of kin, or successor trustee as to the key’s location in case they need to use it. Talk to your bank about what limited access rights to the safe deposit box might be available.

How Often to Review Or Update Your Binder:

Your financial situation is likely to change over time – and perhaps more critically, other powerful and unexpected life events can shift your priorities and necessitate an adjustment to your plan.

For instance, the death of a spouse or life partner, a new marriage, an illness or accident that affects your child’s future, a sudden job loss or the surprising success of a business venture that you’ve plugged away at for years, or even a spiritual epiphany can reshuffle what’s important to you.

These events can also limit or constrain what’s possible for your future. Without renegotiating these commitments in a conscious way, you’ll likely feel intangible unease about them. The moral is that your binder should be reviewed periodically and updated to reflect the changes that happen in your life.

As a rule of thumb, we recommend reviewing your estate plan as follows:

1. A quick review once a year

2. A thorough review every 3-5 years to ensure the documents reflect your current finances and intentions

3. Any time you experience a significant increase or decrease in income or wealth

4. Any time you experience a major life change, such as a birth, marriage, or death in the family

5. Any time you consider a change in who you want to benefit from your estate plan

Keeping your estate planning binder secure and up to date will reduce confusion and likelihood of disputes when others need to enact your wishes for your estate. 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.

Friday
Sep232016

What Sumner Redstone's Estate Planning Challenges Can Teach Us

Media mogul Sumner Redstone—owner of CBS and Viacom, among other holdings – allegedly created quite an estate planning mess, according to a recent report in the New York Times. An article dated June 2nd reports that “with a fortune estimated at over $5 billion, Sumner M. Redstone could afford the best estate planning that money could buy. What he ended up with is a mess—no matter the outcome of the welter of lawsuits swirling around him.”

Here are five lessons from the business titan’s problems:

1. Avoid making decisions that could complicate both your public image and your business situation. The New York Times reported that “A lawsuit brought by Manuela Herzer, one of Mr. Redstone’s late-in-life romantic partners, stripped him of whatever dignity he might have hoped to retain by publicly revealing humiliating details about his physical and sexual appetites and his diminishing mental capacity.”

2. Define “incapacity.” Mr. Redstone did (smartly) establish an irrevocable trust. However, his case is also a cautionary tale: if you're going to tie asset transfers or succession plans to your own mental state, you must define “incapacity.” If you don't, the state will. A seemingly trivial semantic argument like that could tie your estate up in court for years, pitting family members against one another in an embarrassing public battle.

3. Create a clear succession plan. Leave no doubt. Clarify how your businesses will be managed and by whom. Step down from leadership while you are mentally capable of making that decision, and give a safe and clear hand off to your successor. If you can, it’s much better to be deliberate and thoughtful about handoffs of authority, rather than waiting until things become unmanageable.

4. Make crystal clear what role your children will play once you are gone. Disenfranchised or estranged family members can wreak havoc on your fortune if you don't clarify what roles they will play in your business, your trusts, and your legacy after you are gone. If you don't spell out those roles, a court will. If you really want to, you can disinherit someone. But, you need to make sure you do it the right way for it to be legally effective.

5. Hire a qualified lawyer to troubleshoot your plan and help you game out contingencies. A lawyer with significant estate planning experience can help you deal both with the “known unknowns” and the “unknown unknowns” that can throw your estate planning strategy off course. The more complex your estate is, the more involved your attorney should be.

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
Sep212016

Lessons for Family Legacy Protection Planning—The Tragic Loss of Star Trek’s Anton Yelchin

On June 19, 2016, when successful actor Anton Yelchin (Chekov in the recent Star Trek movies) failed to show for rehearsal, his friends became worried and drove to his house. Sadly, they found Yelchin pinned between his security fence, brick mailbox, and Jeep Grand Cherokee.

According to investigators, the 27-year-old star exited the vehicle before it allegedly rolled backwards down his steep driveway, pinning, and ultimately killing the Star Trek actor. Los Angeles County Coroner Assistant Chief Ed Winter stated the cause of death was “accidental blunt traumatic asphyxia.” Two days later, Fiat Chrysler released a statement informing the public of an investigation to determine whether a gear shift defect could have been to blame for the accident.

In June 2016, the manufacturer reported that this defect could be responsible for as many as 266 auto accidents. Back in April 2016, the manufacturer issued a recall for nearly 500,000 2014 and 2015 Grand Cherokees, as well as other models due to an allegedly dangerous design error in the electronic shifters. Until Yelchin, no deaths had been linked to the issue.

Following Yelchin’s death, several Jeep owners took steps to file a class action lawsuit against Fiat Chrysler, alleging that the drivers suffered economic losses in the aftermath of the tragic accident. According to the lawsuit, plaintiffs claim that Fiat Chrysler knew about the shifting device’s possible defect for at least two years but hid this knowledge from the public, a decision that allegedly resulted in dozens of reported injuries and possibly Yelchin’s death.

Estate Planning Lessons: What Happens if You Pass Away Unprepared?

When you’re in your 20’s and 30’s and in good health, it’s easy to feel invincible and to justify deferring estate planning. Why worry about a long-term financial strategy and your “legacy” if you’re just getting a toehold in your industry?

Yelchin’s tragic situation highlights the fact that we are all – young and healthy, old and infirm alike – vulnerable to events outside our control. Establishing even a rudimentary plan is better than having nothing.

Details have yet to emerge about whether the actor had estate planning documents in place. However, actors who suddenly vault to success via high profile movie and TV roles as well as business owners who experience dramatic surges in income should reevaluate their plans frequently, especially during and after periods of major career growth and contraction.

Depending on the nature of your income surge, you might need focused, specialized planning to minimize tax consequences. Likewise, when your life or business goes through big inflection points, it can help to rethink your long term financial strategy just as a way to clean up the “open loops” in your life – to eliminate background distraction, so you can concentrate more on what’s important and what you love to do.

Failing to establish, amend, or revise a trust or will as your life changes can create needless risks. While no lawsuits appear to have been filed yet by Yelchin’s heirs, a properly drafted, up-to-date estate plan can make it easier for a family to hold those responsible for the death of a loved one accountable. In addition, the clarity created by such a plan helps keep family members concentrated on meaningful and important work, such as consoling children left behind and supporting one another emotionally, rather than potentially distracting legal issues.

While drafting a trust or a will does require skill and thoughtfulness, an experienced estate planning lawyer can take the emotional charge out of this process, simplify it greatly for you, and ensure an enduring legacy 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.

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.


 

Friday
Sep162016

What To Do When a Disability Throws Your Estate Plan Into Chaos 

As poet Robert Burns mused centuries ago," The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry." Despite thoughtful effort and a concerted strategy, you cannot prepare for every emergency. A car accident, sudden illness, workplace injury or chronic medical condition can force you to re-evaluate the core assumptions you used to plan your future and set up your legacy.

A 2015 report published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offered this sobering assessment: “In 2013, approximately one in five U.S. adults reported a disability, with state-level prevalence of a disability ranging from 16.4% in Minnesota to 31.5% in Alabama.” The CDC also reported that “annual disability-associated health care expenditures were estimated at nearly $400 billion in 2006, with over half attributable to costs related to non-independent living (e.g., institutional care, personal care services).”

Frustrating as it is. you can't turn back the clock. However, you can take meaningful actions to protect your legacy and estate in the wake of your newfound limitations. Here are some insights to that end:

Work with a qualified estate planning attorney to ensure the following:

●   There’s an authorized person to make financial and healthcare decisions for you if you become mentally or physically unable to do so yourself.

●    There’s also an authorized person to manage your property, pay your bills, file your taxes and handle similar business if you’re unable to do these tasks.

●    Your wishes about health care decisions, such as end of life care and do-not-resuscitate instructions, have been communicated in a legally valid and binding manner.

Get a recommendation from your estate planning attorney or your financial advisor, who can help you take additional actions, such as:

●    Ensuring that you have appropriate insurance.

●    Reassessing your investment options and portfolio in light of your new limitations and constraints on your ability to generate income.

●    Making sure that you have a budget that works and that your bills will all get paid on time.

Mind this important distinction:

Be advised that “disability” for legal purposes is different than “disability” for financial planning purposes.

For example, disability for financial purposes might mean you can’t work gainfully anymore because of cancer or a workplace injury. On the other hand, “incapacity” in an estate planning context typically means that a person is no longer capable of making sound decisions, often due to systemic illness or injury. 

In other words, you can be “disabled” for financial/insurance purposes and be non-disabled for legal purposes. However, almost anyone who is disabled for legal purposes would also be considered disabled for financial purposes.

Either way, it’s important for us to work together with your financial advisor to make sure you and your family are fully protected.

Take these actions on your own:

 1. Pay attention to where your money is going, as well as to your long term planning strategy. Your estate planning attorney can help you assess whether your current plans are still realistic and, if not, what alternative options you have.

2.  Maintain a healthy lifestyle. For instance, cut down on added sugars and refined vegetable oils and be sure to eat enough vegetables, protein, and healthy fats.

3. Get the help you need from trusted professionals. Now is the time to tap your friends and family and network for assistance with the heavy lifting. No single advisor will have all the answers. But, your team can work in concert to reduce the anxiety and uncertainty and keep you focused on what really matters.

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
Jul292016

Updating Your Revocable Trust: How Many “Tweaks” Are Too Many?

If your life or the law has changed since you signed your trust, it needs to be updated. Updates can be made by way of an amendment or a complete restatement. An amendment updates a specific part of the trust; whereas, a restatement, updates the entire trust.

You might think that an amendment would cost less than a restatement, but that’s not necessarily true. Let’s briefly discuss which option is best for you.

Amendments v. Restatements: Which Is Better?

Imagine a recipe card you’ve used for years. If one or two provisions have been crossed out and replaced, the card may still be readable. However, if many provisions have been altered, the recipe is likely confusing. If your loved ones can’t read your instructions and determine whether to add a cup of flour or of sugar, your recipe won’t work. You’ve got a fifty-fifty chance for a great dish—or a complete disaster.

The same can be said about revocable trust. Making one or two amendments is generally acceptable, but when revisions are numerous or comprehensive, your instructions may become confusing and you may be better served with a restatement.

Although amendments are generally used to make smaller changes and restatements are used for larger ones, there’s no bright line rule when it comes to amending or restating a revocable trust. A general guideline to follow is that anytime you’re making more than two changes, restatements are likely better as they:

1.Foster ease of understanding and administration;

2.Tend to avoid ambiguity;

3.Reduce the amount of paperwork to retain and provide to financial institutions / parties;

4.Decrease the risk of misplacement;

5.Prevent beneficiaries from discovering prior terms; &

6.Provide an opportunity to provide other relevant updates, such as changes in the law

In many cases, a restatement may actually be more cost effective than amendments. This is especially true today as computer software allows estate planning attorneys to create and retain documents easily and efficiently. Fortunately, today, you pay for legal counseling, not typing.

Have Questions About Updating Your Trust? We Can Provide Answers:

Before deciding whether to amend or restate, it’s important to determine whether previous changes have inadvertently altered your intent or might adversely affect how the trust is administered. We’ll help make your instructions clear.

Have questions? If you do, that’s normal. We can provide you with answers. Whatever your circumstances, rest assured that we can help you to determine the best way to update your trust.

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.

Friday
Jul082016

Prince’s Incredibly Expensive And Unfortunate Mistake

The news of the unexpected death of music legend Prince, age 57, shocked the world and touched off stirring tributes from the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Elton John, the Harlem Gospel Choir, and the cast of Saturday Night Live.

Prince left a profound, indelible mark as an artist – when asked what it was like to be the greatest guitar player alive, for instance, Eric Clapton famously responded: “I don’t know. Ask Prince.” Tragically, though, for all his talent, Prince made a simple error that is creating huge complications for his family.

According to paperwork filed with the Carver County, Minnesota courts by Prince’s sister, Tyka Nelson, Prince died intestate. That means he left no will or other document to guide the disposition of his estate.

In April 2016, the court assigned a special administrator to manage his estate’s assets until a probate hearing can be held to appoint a personal representative.

Per Minnesota law, his estimated $300 million in assets—which include a large home and a music catalog rumored to contain valuable unreleased songs—must be distributed between his siblings. That may sound like a simple, mundane task, but it’s anything but.

Not surprisingly, the drama has already started. Reuters recently reported that several relatives have emerged from the woodwork to stake a claim to this fortune, including Carlin Q. Williams, who, “asserts he was sired by Prince during a tryst his mother had with the singer in a Kansas City hotel room in 1976.”

What Happens If, Like Prince, You Die Without a Will?

When a person dies intestate, state law determines how the estate is handled. Unsurprisingly, these rules can lead to outcomes that deviate dramatically from the person’s wishes.

For instance, in Minnesota— the location of Prince’s Paisley Park estate, where he passed away on April 21, 2016—half-siblings and full siblings are treated the same when it comes to inheritance. Tyka Nelson is Prince’s only full sibling; the singer also has five half-siblings.

Would Prince have wanted all six people to receive an equal share of his estate? Would he have left anything to Carlin Q. Williams? Would he have chosen to leave his estate to another person altogether… or to a meaningful charity? Did he just not care what happened to his legacy?

Unfortunately, since he died intestate—so we will never get answers to these questions.

A Simple, Inexpensive Solution Was Available All Along:

Prince famously toiled over every aspect of his musical art and developed a keen eye and ear for detail. Ironically, he could have prevented his estate’s issues without anything near the amount of effort he put into producing soaring songs like Purple Rain.

Working with an attorney to create an effective will or trust is not complicated. With just a few documents—including, for instance, a revocable trust, Advance Health Care Directive, Durable Power of Attorney, and HIPAA Authorizations—you can eliminate uncertainty and provide for the next generation and your favorite causes.

The costs of probating even a relatively small intestate estate can reach into the five figures, provoke infighting among the people you love dearly. Here in California, this process generally takes one or more years.

If you haven’t established a will or a trust, and you’ve been kicking yourself to get started because of cautionary stories like Prince’s, we can help.

Please click here to schedule your complimentary Estate Planning Strategy Call with San Francisco’s premier estate planning attorney, Matthew J. Tuller.