The Estate Plan List (to get you started)

Will

Do you have a will?  If yes, is it up to date with people you chose to serve as executor and guardian?  Do you want to add or remove any beneficiaries?

Financial Power of Attorney

Do you have a durable financial power of attorney that names trusted people to take care of your financial matters if you are unable to?  How will your bills get paid if you are in the hospital?

Living Will

A living will is a healthcare document that details your end-of-life decisions.  Do you want to be kept alive by artificial means?  Are there some procedures you want to refuse (typically for religious reasons)?  For your living will to take effect, two doctors must agree that you have a terminal condition or are in a permanently unconscious state, and death is being prolonged with no reasonable chance for recovery.  The people you list in this document are merely for contact purposes–they have no decision-making authority.

Healthcare Power of Attorney

A healthcare power of attorney allows you to name people who will have authority to make healthcare decisions for you if you are unable to do so.  If you have a living will, your healthcare power of attorney cannot override your wishes in your living will.

Life Insurance

Why have life insurance?  Obvious reasons include providing money to those dependent on your income if you die.  Life insurance can also be used to pay off your debts so that you don’t burden your family with your financial liabilities, such as medical debt if you were hospitalized or had a lengthy illness.  You can purchase a policy designed to pay off the mortgage on the house if you want to be sure your children and family can keep the family home.  If you own a business, life insurance can be purchased to enable your business partners to buy out your shares and keep the business running smoothly.

There are more components to an estate plan, but the list above explains your first considerations when starting to plan.  This list is specific to Ohio.  Documents described above might be different in your state.

If you have any estate planning questions, email me at julie@juliemillslaw.com.

 

 

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.

When to say goodbye to pets

A sizable portion (surprising to some) of my law practice is pet estate planning.  Whether it’s preparing a will and designating someone in it to care for your pet if you die, or creating a pet trust for your pet (recommended), or adding provisions to an existing will or trust, people see pets as family and plan for them as they do their children or other beneficiaries.  People engage in pet estate planning for everything from one dog, to a stable of horses, to parrots who often live to age 60 or 70.  (Blatant plug–I was one of the first Ohio attorneys to publish an article on pet estate planning after the change in Ohio law that permitted it.  I wish everyone planned for their pets in this way, and I’m happy to help with documents and, or, letters of intent regarding their care.)

As difficult as it is to plan for a day when we might not be able to care for our pets, it is incredibly difficult to know when it is time to humanely let our pets die.  How do you know when it’s time to let them go?  That decision is fairly easy when there’s visible suffering, but the signs aren’t always so clear.

Veterinarian Alice Villalobos, DVM created a scale that can help guide pet owners in deciding whether euthanasia is appropriate.  If you score higher than 35 on the scale, then perhaps supportive care is appropriate instead of euthanasia.  Whatever your score is on this scale, my suggestion is to discuss everything with your veterinarian.

If I can help you plan for your pet should something happen to you, please email me at julie@juliemillslaw, or visit http://www.juliemillslaw.com for additional information.

Benefits of a Trust

A trust is a contract, or a relationship, between the person who makes the trust (Grantor) and the person who manages the trust (Trustee).  These are often the same person, initially.  I make a trust (Grantor), and I manage the trust while I’m alive and competent (Trustee).  The Trustee manages the assets that are in the trust for the benefit of the beneficiaries, who are people the Grantor chooses to receive assets that are in the trust.  (I, as Trustee, manage assets in the trust such as investments, insurance, real property, etc., for the benefit of my children who are my chosen beneficiaries.)

Why have a trust?

The premier reason for a trust, in my opinion, is to maintain control from the grave.  For example, if you have assets such as a house and retirement plan, and if you have a minor-age child when you die, your child will inherit everything–value of your house, retirement, assets—when he or she turns 18.  It is likely that an 18 year-old person will mismanage (likely deplete) that amount of money.  If you had died with a trust, however, the trust could have reserved money for college, would distribute money at certain staggered intervals (my clients typically choose a portion distributed to the child at 25, then 30 and then 35).

Benefits of a trust

Beyond “control from the grave” for the benefit of children, however, are other important benefits to a trust.

  1. Trusts do not have airtight privacy control but, as private contracts, are typically private.  This is the opposite of probate and guardianship proceedings, which are both public matters.  With a trust, you can avoid both probate and guardianship.
  2. Avoid probate if you own property in other states (ancillary probate). For snowbirds and others who own homes and other property in another state, if the property is held by (deeded or titled to) a trust, then you do not have to have ancillary probate.  If you died owning a condo in Florida, you would have to hire a Florida attorney to probate your Florida property, unless the condo was held by the trust.
  3. A trust can serve as ‘contingent beneficiary.’ If you have a life insurance policy and name the trust as the beneficiary, then at your death the payout is to the trust which then manages that money according to the terms you set.  If the payout goes directly to a child, the money could be depleted, or attached by creditors (your child’s divorcing spouse, or a victim of car accident your child/beneficiary caused, etc.).
  4. Protect assets from surviving spouse. Assets in a trust are not part of a probate estate, which means that they are not subject to a surviving spouse’s right under law to elect against the will.  A trust reduces the chances that a surviving spouse can change the deceased’s estate plan after death, which can be important in blended families.
  5. Protect assets from creditors of Grantor’s estate. Assets in a trust are not part of a probate estate, and creditors generally cannot get to those assets.  If I died with creditors wanting to get to my estate’s assets, the creditors would not be able to get to assets in my trust.  Of course, there are some exceptions to this.
  6. Control the disposition of your assets. This benefit is similar to what I describe in the “Why Have a Trust?” paragraph above, but goes deeper.  You can determine the terms of the trust.  You can decide on whatever terms you want, except those terms that are against public policy (“nothing to my daughter if she marries someone outside of her race,” or “at my death dump the waste from my chemical company into the nearest river”).  Some terms my clients have chosen include distributions to a beneficiary with addiction issues conditioned on passing drug tests, certain incentive distributions for a beneficiary pursuing higher education or receiving certain grades, etc.  You can leave assets to a disabled beneficiary without jeopardizing that beneficiary’s government benefits (typically Medicaid and SSI).  You can provide funds for the down payment of beneficiary’s first house or a car upon graduating from college.  A trust can do most everything for a beneficiary that you would want to do if you were alive.

Trusts do cost substantially more than wills.  The cost of will plans is in the hundreds of dollars, where the cost of trust plans often starts at about $1,200.  However, probating an estate (with only a will) will likely cost more than having a trust plan prepared.

A trust is not for everyone.  I highly recommend trusts for people with minor age children, blended families, and for those who wish to maintain control over the disposition of their assets after they die.

To find out if a trust is for you, email me at julie@juliemillslaw.com.

Probate: What is it?

“Probate” is a court-supervised legal process that happens after someone dies.  The purpose of probate is to make sure that the debts and taxes of the person who died are paid, if possible, and that the deceased’s assets are distributed according to how he or she intended.

  1. Assets: generally, only the assets belonging solely to the person who died are probated. Other assets can often be transferred outside of probate, such as real property held in survivorship (your deed will say “survivorship”), many assets with beneficiary designations such as retirement accounts and life insurance and assets held in a trust.   These are just a few items on a long list.
  2. What starts the probate process? You file the deceased person’s will with your local county probate court.  Then, a timeline begins ticking where you file certain documents within certain timeframes, creditors have a certain deadline by which they need to respond if the deceased had debts, etc.
  3. Do I need an attorney? It depends. If real property (house, land) is involved then hiring an attorney is highly recommended.  If there are few assets, no real property, then perhaps an attorney might not be necessary.  The attorney’s fees are paid by the estate.
  4. How long will the probate process take? It typically takes about nine months but can take longer if certain taxes are owed or if there is a will contest.
  5. What will I have to do as the Executor? File the will with the probate court, gather and safeguard the deceased’s assets, have assets appraised, pay final bills, and distribute assets.

Contact me if you need guidance or representation through the probate process at julie@juliemillslaw.com.

Five ways to make your survivors miserable

You have died, so your survivors are already grieving.  No one wants to “tie up loose ends” and take care of standard post-death things such as getting your death certificate, distributing your possessions, selling your house, etc.  These five ways will almost ensure that their job is made worse.

  1. Die without a will.  Dying without a will is called dying “intestate.”  Without a will directing what goes where, the person in charge of administering your estate needs to distribute according to statute.  This process could be easy, or could be difficult, but will almost definitely be more of a hassle.  If you have minor-age children, quadruple the “hassle quotient.”  Now the Court will need to determine who cares for your children (guardian) with no guidance from you–the person who knows best who the guardian should be.
  2. Have a trust prepared but do not fund it or put assets in it.  If you wisely have a revocable living trust prepared to, among other things, avoid probate, and you fail to re-title or deed the assets to your trust, then these assets will need to go through probate.  (This is not true if held in survivorship deed.)  I have seen probate estates opened just to probate a house or other deeded or titled property when the deceased had a trust prepared, but the trust was “empty”(unfunded).
  3. Fail to designate a point person to hold passwords to social media, email and other accounts.  Survivors might want access to your pictures, or to let others know you have passed.  At one point one company that stored pictures online would not let a surviving husband access his wife’s account.  Her account happened to contain almost all of their childrens’ pictures from birth.  For a professional with a LinkedIn account, notifying colleagues of your death might be critical to clients or matters.  In some circumstances a court order can lead to accessing the account.  Lessen the workload of your survivors by leaving a list of accounts and passwords in a secure place with a trusted person.
  4. Fail to leave instructions regarding cremation or burial.  This is one area that can turn amicable survivors into feuding adversaries.  Some people have strong feelings against being cremated while others have strong feelings against being buried.  Families often argue over which cemetery will be chosen, or where ashes are to be stored or scattered.  Do your family members a favor and specify these instructions.
  5. Neglect to provide for the care of pets.  Who will care for your dog, cat, horse, or other pets if you die?  Leaving a relative to distribute your assets and close your accounts is enough work without also leaving it up to him or her to find homes for your pets, or to be put in the heart-wrenching position of having to take them to the pound or shelter.  Leave provisions for pets in your will or have a pet trust prepared.

Guest Post from attorney Kevin Spence: What is Revocable Living Trust?

In my previous post, “Just married, no kids–do we need a will?” I advised that you might not need a will under certain circumstances.  One circumstance, in my opinion, necessitates not only a will but a living trust:  having a minor child.  If you have just a will, your minor child would inherit everything at age 18 from his or her deceased parents.  Very few 18 year-old young adults would be capable of managing money from an inheritance, let alone saving it for college and a secure future.

If you have young children please take a moment to read this post, “What is Revocable Living Trust,” from guest blogger and attorney Kevin Spence.