Misconceptions you might have with estate planning

I have heard all of these misconceptions mentioned, including just today.

  1.  The attorney who prepared my will must handle my probate.  No.  Many estate planning attorneys prepare wills with an eye toward being called upon to handle a probate if the client dies, but there is absolutely no requirement that the drafting attorney who prepared your will must handle your probate.  This includes if the attorney who prepared your will holds your original will for safekeeping.
  2. My will dispenses with all of my property. Some documents override a will.  If you have a will, and you leave all real (house, land) and personal property to John, yet you have a deed that is held somehow with Jane, Jane will get the house because she is on the deed, not John, even though your will gives it to John.  Generally, titled and deeded assets go to the person listed on the title, or beneficiary designation, or deed.  “I leave everything I own to Bob.”  At my death, I have a life insurance policy that lists Joanne on the beneficiary designation.  Who gets my life insurance?  Joanne.
  3. I had a trust prepared so I don’t have to worry about probate.  It is so frustrating to see clients come to me with trusts they had prepared (and paid a lot to have prepared), only to learn that the trusts are unfunded.  What the client has, then, is a stack of papers that likely will not do what was intended.  Funding your trust involves titling or deeding assets to your trust.  You can accomplish this by naming your trust on beneficiary designations so that asset goes into your trust at your death, or having a “transfer on death affidavit” prepared that puts your home into your trust at your death.  For example, you would have a deed prepared granting your home from Jenny Jones to “The Jenny Jones Revocable Living Trust.”   However you accomplish it, a discussion of “funding your trust” should be a critical part of planning from your attorney.  If you have a trust prepared and then never prepare a new deed putting your home into your trust, and you die, your home will likely require a probate to be opened, defeating one of the important reasons for having a trust prepared (avoiding probate, privacy).
  4. A will (last will and testament) is different than a “living will.”  A last will and testament is what we think of as a “will”–we state who is to inherit what, we name a guardian for our kids if they’re young, we name an executor.  On the other very different hand, a “living will” is a healthcare document stating whether we want artificial life support if (1) we are terminally ill and death is imminent, or (2) if we are in a permanently unconscious state (i.e., brain dead).  This is popularly known as “pulling the plug.”

Contact me at julie@juliemillslaw.com to discuss estate planning.

Three Ways Couples Hold Property in Ohio

There are three ways in Ohio that couples can hold property.  Why does it matter?

The form in which you hold property affects how you can transfer the property, what happens to it at your death, what happens if one of two property-holders dies or wants to sell his or her portion.  You should know how you hold property so you can change the type of deed you have for your specific reasons.  Do you want the other owner to get your share if you die, or do you want your kids to get it?  Do you want to transfer your share to the other owner outside of probate?  Do you want to transfer your share of the property to your spouse at your death only?

Get out your deed, or get onto your county recorder’s website and find your deed online.  Does it state:

1.  “George Burns and Gracie Allen, Husband and Wife”?  If no manner of title is stated, in Ohio the form of ownership will be presumed to be tenancy in common.  Each person owns an undivided fractional interest in the property.  They can own equal or unequal shares.  When an owner dies, that person’s share must go through probate, and is then transferred according to his or her will.

2.  “George Burns and Gracie Allen, joint tenants with rights of survivorship…”  The magic word is survivorship.  If the deed is a survivorship deed, then on the death of one owner, that owner’s share passes outside of probate to the other owner.  For a couple whose largest asset is their house, and few other assets that would need probated, having a survivorship deed could result in avoiding probate.

3.  What if George owned property and wanted to have the property pass to Gracie at his death, but for any number of reasons didn’t want her to have a present interest in the property?  George could have a transfer on death affidavit prepared (and recorded).  He would name Gracie in the affidavit to receive the property at his death.

If you want to avoid probate, be sure your deed has survivorship language or you record a transfer on death affidavit.  Why make your heirs go through the probate process if they can avoid it?

To change the form of ownership you have with your property, contact me to decide the best form of ownership for your situation, and to prepare and file a deed if necessary.  I can be reached at julie@juliemillslaw.com.

The Poor Man’s Trust

A “Poor Man’s Trust” (I’ve seen it called “Poor Man’s Will” also) is the estate plan you create by naming beneficiaries on accounts, and titling property as transfer-on-death to have it pass to the person you name, all to avoid probate.  Your bank accounts are payable-on-death (POD), your life insurance and retirement policies all have named beneficiaries, and the deed to your house has a transfer-on-death affidavit recorded leaving your home to a named person on your death, resulting in these assets passing to the people you have designated outside of probate.  Why, then, would you need a will, or revocable trust?

This planning method might work for some.  I am in the group of attorneys who believe that access to legal help should be more affordable, and that living trusts are often over-hyped.  So in some limited circumstances, this method of planning might be acceptable.

If you are leaving everything outright to certain people, then designating beneficiaries like this might accomplish your goals.  For example, Joan is an older single woman whose husband died decades ago, she has an adult child or two.  John never married and has no children.  Perhaps beneficiary-planning might work for them.  However, few people have such an uncomplicated situation to make this method of planning workable.  It might not work for “uncomplicated” Joan or John, either.

The Poor Man’s Trust is certainly less expensive short-cut to having a will or trust.  As with most short-cuts, however, there will be a cost:

  • Stories of fraud are common with people convincing elderly people to change beneficiaries on their beneficiary forms
  • If you leave everything to a beneficiary, the administrator of your estate might have to go after the beneficiary to pay back money for your funeral and last expenses
  • If your beneficiary predeceases you, the state laws of descent and distribution decide who gets your assets, not you
  • Your beneficiary’s creditors can go after everything you leave him or her the minute it comes into their possession
  • If you have a surviving spouse, he or she could change the beneficiaries you have named
  • If Joan above left life insurance to her son with wishes that he distribute some to charity, or another relative, there is nothing to ensure that he does so

Having a will ensures that your assets reach their intended destination—your executor and the court will see to that—as well as pay your final expenses so beneficiaries aren’t forced to repay your estate.  A living trust will provide for you during periods of incapacity, unlike beneficiary planning.  If your desire is to avoid probate, a trust does that.  Additionally, a trust would ensure that people are not unintentionally disinherited through fraud, or changing beneficiaries on a form, as well as distribute to beneficiaries at certain times to avoid creditors attaching.

Most importantly, a Poor Man’s Trust is absolutely inadequate if you have minor children.  You need a will to name a guardian, and you need a living trust to provide for their education and future without you (a will distributes everything to a child once they reach 18).

If you still believe beneficiary-planning is for you, I would recommend at least a Last Will and Testament that names an executor to ensure final bills are paid, particularly funeral expenses.

See this article on Poor Man’s Trust method of planning.

Contact me at julie@juliemillslaw.com to discuss this and other methods of estate planning.