If something unexpected happens to you and you haven't planned for everyone you love and everything you have, the State of California has a default plan for you.
Sound scary? Well, it can be. Those you love would have to deal with the red tape and bureaucracy of government procedures and regulations.
We at Sky Unlimited Legal Advisory help you understand the legal and financial consequences of not having a comprehensive Estate Plan to protect your loved ones ... and more.
Before meeting, we'll ask you to complete a Family Wealth Worksheet, which will help you understand what you own and what needs to be decided for the well-being and care of your loved ones and cherished belongings. We'll meet for a Family Wealth Planning Session™, where we spend some time together reviewing this document. You'll learn about our Planning for Life process and we will both decide if it makes sense to work together to design an estate plan that will best suit the needs of your family.
The foundation of your estate plan will often include a revocable living trust, which when done properly and maintained over time, should help your family to avoid the cost and delay of probate and minimize or eliminate estate taxes.
At Sky Unlimited Legal Advisory, we do not offer a "one size fits all" estate plan. We form a working relationship with our clients. We educate you, take the time to get to know you and your family. We will discuss your concerns, your goals, and will gladly and patiently answer all of your questions. Our goal is to create an estate plan that is exactly right for you.
Our services include a no-charge three-year review to ensure that as your lives change, so will your estate plan to safeguard your assets for maximum protection.
The strategies that are appropriate for protecting your assets are different for every family. Check out our proven process that gives you peace of mind...
This is especially true in today’s all-digital world, where practically every shred of data related to your personal and financial background can be found online.
While no one is forcing you to use the Internet to manage your financial accounts, purchase goods and services, or communicate with the outside world, these days it’s nearly impossible to live your life without the web. This net-based existence can feel somewhat unnerving for those of us who came of age while the tech revolution was already underway, but for the elderly, who lived the vast majority of their lives offline, it can be absolutely overwhelming.
Given their lack of tech experience, coupled with the fact that many of them are undergoing varying levels of cognitive decline and sometimes live lonely, isolated lives, scammers view seniors as easy targets. And many of today’s con artists are so sophisticated, even the most intelligent and educated can be duped.
This is the first in an ongoing series of Sky Unlimited Legal Advisory articles discussing the true costs and consequences of failed estate planning. The series highlights a few of the most common—and costly—planning mistakes we encounter with clients. If the series exposes any potential gaps or weak spots in your plan, meet with your Family Startup Lawyer™ to learn how to properly address them.
When it comes to estate planning, most people automatically think about taking legal steps to ensure the right people inherit their stuff when they die. And these people aren’t wrong.
Indeed, putting strategies in place to protect and pass on your wealth and other assets is a fundamental part of the planning equation. However, providing for the proper distribution of your assets upon your death is just one part of the process.
And it’s not even the most critical part.
Planning that’s focused solely on who gets what when you die is ignoring the fact that death isn’t the only thing you must prepare for. You must also consider that at some point before your eventual death, you could be incapacitated by accident or illness.
Of course, no one wants to believe their family would ever end up battling one another in court over inheritance issues or a loved one’s life-saving medical treatment, but the fact is, we see it all the time.
Family dynamics are extremely complicated and prone to conflict during even the best of times. And when tragedy strikes a key member of the household, even minor tensions and disagreements can explode into bitter conflict. When access to money is on the line, the potential for discord is exponentially increased.
The good news is you can drastically reduce the odds of such conflict through estate planning with the support of a lawyer who understands and can anticipate these dynamics. This is why it’s so important to work with an experienced lawyer like us when creating your estate plan and never rely on generic, do-it-yourself planning documents found online. Unfortunately, even the best set of documents will be unable to anticipate and navigate complex emotional matters like this, but we can.
By becoming aware of some of the leading causes of such disputes, you’re in a better position to prevent those situations through effective planning. Though it’s impossible to predict what issues might arise around your plan, the following 2 things are among the most common catalysts for conflict.
1. Poor fiduciary selection
Many estate planning disputes occur when a person you’ve chosen to handle your affairs following your death or incapacity fails to carry out his or her responsibilities properly. Whether it’s as your power of attorney agent, executor, or trustee, these roles can entail a variety of different duties, some of which can last for years.
As you likely know, the administration's “zero-tolerance” policy had led to the separation of more than 2,300 children from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border between May and June 2018 alone.
Putting politics aside, with horror stories of toddlers being ripped from their mothers’ arms and audio recordings of children crying and begging for their parents, we imagine it would be hard for anyone with their own kids not to be disturbed.
What’s more, perhaps these events have got you thinking about how it would be for your children to be taken into custody of strangers. And if not, let this be the moment you willingly feel the fear and decide to use your privilege of being able to make choices on behalf of your children to ensure their well-being and care by the people you want no matter what happens.
It can happen to your family
Even though most people think that something like that could never happen to their family, they’re totally wrong. While your kids almost certainly won’t be taken into custody by U.S. border agents, your children could be taken into the care of strangers if something happens to you—even if your family or friends are on the scene.
But you can do something to protect your children and ensure they’re always in the care of people you know, love, and trust. If you use this atrocity against families to take action on behalf of your own kids—instead of merely feeling numbness and paralysis over not knowing what to do—these events can inspire you to do the things you know you must in order to properly take care of your family.
But one thing many people forget to do is plan for the worst. Traveling, especially in foreign destinations, means you’ll likely be at greater risk than usual for illness, injury, and even death.
In light of this reality, you must have a legally sound and updated estate plan in place before taking your next trip. If not, your loved ones can face a legal nightmare if something should happen to you while you’re away. The following are 4 critical estate planning tasks to take care of before departing.
1. Make sure your beneficiary designations are up-to-date
Some of your most valuable assets, like life insurance policies and retirement accounts, do not transfer via a will or trust. Instead, they have beneficiary designations that allow you to name the person (or persons) you’d like to inherit the asset upon your death. It’s vital you name a primary beneficiary and at least one alternate beneficiary in case the primary dies before you. Moreover, these designations must be regularly reviewed and updated, especially following major life events like marriage, divorce, and having children.
2. Create power of attorney documents
Outside of death, unforseen illness and injury can leave you incapacitated and unable to make critical decisions about your own well-being. Given this, you must grant someone the legal authority to make those decisions on your behalf through power of attorney. You need two such documents: medical power of attorney and financial durable power of attorney. Medical power of attorney gives the person of your choice the authority to make your healthcare decisions for you, while durable financial power of attorney gives someone the authority to manage your finances. As with beneficiary designations, these decision makers can change over time, so before you leave for vacation, be sure both documents are up to date.
In light of this, it’s critically important to have the appropriate safeguards in place to reduce the risk of fraud and identity theft, especially for your senior parents. Because your parents are probably not as savvy about digital technology and may be losing some of their powers of discernment as they age, it’s quite likely up to you to help them protect themselves—and ultimately your inheritance.
Along with traditional estate planning strategies to ensure your parents’ planning is handled in the event of their incapacity or death, you should take the following four precautions to ensure the safety of their identity and finances while they’re still alive and well.
1) Secure their computer: Your first step should be to make sure all computers they use are protected by robust security software bundled with anti-virus, anti-spam, and spyware detection features. Always go with the latest version of software, and make sure it’s configured to provide automatic updates, including security patches.
2) Use strong passwords and PINs: Create strong passwords and PINs that contain numbers, letters, and symbols, and change them regularly (once every six months). Don’t use the
same password for multiple accounts—each account should have its own unique password. Never share passwords, don’t store them on a computer, and keep them in a secure location.
There are many different kinds of power of attorney. The scope of the authority the principal grants to the agent can be very broad or quite specific. The power of attorney document specifies exactly what that authority looks like. For example, it is customary to give someone the power to make decisions about your:
The agent can be granted authority to make only financial decisions or just health care decisions. Every situation is different and calls for a customized document reflecting the wishes of the principal.
Back in the day, when the estate tax exemption was $675,000 to $1,000,000, most living trusts were drafted to provide for a mandatory split of trust assets upon the death of the first spouse.
This was done to ensure that the full estate tax exemption was used and unnecessary estate taxes were avoided.
A split of the trust assets is still appropriate in certain circumstances, but not for the same reasons, and currently, it would not be handled in the same way.
For example, if you are in a second marriage, with children from a prior marriage, you are likely to want a split of trust assets at the first death. This ensures that the surviving spouse can use the assets of the first spouse to die during his or her life, but that the remaining assets after the death of the surviving spouse return to the children of the deceased spouse and are not diverted to a new spouse or children from a new marriage.
However, if you are in a first marriage situation, all children are from the current marriage and no additional children are likely, splitting the assets at the death of the first spouse adds significant cost and unnecessary complexity.
You may be surprised to learn, however, that debt-free is not always the best decision - particularly if the choice is between paying off a mortgage or using the money more wisely to invest in a future using low-interest rate funds.
What? I Shouldn’t Pay Off My House?
Most of us don’t have that much extra cash lying around. We simply don’t have the luxury of being able to pay off our family home and maxing out our retirement contributions and investing in a side business. It’s pretty much an either-or proposition.
With that said, from a financial standpoint, it is usually most favorable to make additional contributions to a company 401(k) program, if your company is matching your contributions, or investing in growing a side business, rather than using extra money to pay off the mortgage.
It may even be the biggest asset you’ll leave behind for the people you love.
If that’s the case, you may want to consider creating a special trust designed specifically to receive your retirement account assets in the event of your death.
If you leave your retirement account to the people you love outright, simply by naming them as beneficiaries on your retirement account rather than through a special trust, here are the risks:
1. Some studies indicate 80% of retirement account beneficiaries immediately liquidate the account and frivolously spend the assets (and on top of using the assets in ways you may not agree with, they also lose significant tax benefits for these assets you worked so hard to create);