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...
But without taking the proper precautions, the wealth you pass on is at serious risk of being accidentally lost or squandered. In some instances, an inheritance can even wind up doing your kids more harm than good.
Creating a will or a revocable living trust offers some protection, but in most cases, you’ll be guided to distribute assets through your will or trust to your children at specific ages and stages, such as one-third at age 25, half the balance at 30, and the rest at 35.
If you’ve created estate planning documents, check to see if this is how your will or trust leaves assets to your children. If so, you may not have been told about another option that can give your children access, control, and airtight asset protection for whatever assets they inherit from you.
In our planning process, we always offer parents the option of creating a Lifetime Asset Protection Trust for your children’s inheritance. A Lifetime Asset Protection Trust safeguards the inheritance from being lost to common life events, such as divorce, serious illness, lawsuits, or even bankruptcy.
But that’s not all they do.
Indeed, the best part of these trusts is that they offer you—and your kids—the best of both worlds: airtight asset protection AND use and control of the inheritance. What’s more, you can even use the trust to incentivize your children to invest and grow their inheritance.
And you might be surprised to learn that there are a variety of settlement options available besides the most common method—a lump-sum payout.
Depending on the life insurance company and policy, these options may be selected by the policyholder ahead of time or chosen by the beneficiary upon the insured’s death. Whether you’re the policyholder or beneficiary, it’s important that you understand these options in order to maximize the policy’s financial benefit and reduce potential taxes.
Here are six popular life-insurance settlement options:
1. Lump-sum: The beneficiary receives the full death benefit all at once in a single payment.
2. Interest Income: The insurance company retains the original death benefit and makes interest-only payments to the beneficiary. The original benefit may be paid in full to the beneficiary after a certain time period or to a contingent (alternate) beneficiary upon the primary beneficiary’s death.
3. Fixed Amount: The beneficiary is paid a fixed amount on a regular basis until the total death benefit (plus any interest accrued) has been paid out. If the beneficiary dies before all of the funds have been paid, a contingent beneficiary may receive the remaining amount.
4. Fixed Period: The beneficiary receives regular payments of both principal and interest over a fixed period of time, typically up to 30 years. If the beneficiary dies before the time period is over, the remaining balance may pass to a contingent beneficiary.
5. Life Income: The beneficiary receives guaranteed payments over the remainder of his or her life. The amount of the payments is determined by the insurance company and based on the beneficiary’s age and gender. The payments continue until the beneficiary dies. If he or she dies earlier than expected, the insurance company keeps the unpaid amount.
And as this ugly drama plays out in the courtroom and tabloids, it highlights the single-most costly estate-planning mistake a parent can make.
Hussle, 34, whose given name was Ermias Ashgedom, was gunned down outside his South Los Angeles clothing store in March. His alleged killer, Eric Holder, was arrested and indicted for murder a few days later. The rapper’s death is particularly tragic, as his debut album, Victory Lap, was recently nominated for a Grammy Award.
Yet even more tragic is what’s happening to Hussle’s kids. Because Hussle never named legal guardians, the decision of who will raise his two children—daughter Emani, 10, and son Kross, 2—is now up to the court. And this mistake is already having terrible consequences.
In addition to not naming guardians for his kids, Hussle also failed to create a will, which makes their guardianship even more contentious. Hussle’s estate is estimated to be worth $2 million, and under California law, in the absence of a will, that money is to be split equally between his two kids.
Given that both children are minors, however, they’re ineligible to access their inheritance until they reach the age of majority. This means that whoever ultimately wins guardianship of the children will likely gain control over their money as well.
Caught in the middle
Guardianship of Hussle’s son Kross, while still undecided, is currently not a source of conflict. Kross’s mother is actress Lauren London, who was Hussle’s longtime girlfriend, and Kross had been living with London at the time of his father’s death. She petitioned the court for her son’s guardianship, and there’s little doubt she’ll get it.
As family structures become more varied, we’re learning that when it comes to raising children, the marital status, gender, and even relationship status of the parents matters less and less.
What children need most are parents who are committed to loving and supporting them. Whether or not the parents have a romantic relationship with one another is immaterial to their ability to raise healthy and happy kids, so long as their co-parenting relationship is solid.
One new child-rearing trend that highlights this notion is platonic parenting. Also known as co-parenting, platonic parenting involves two or more people who agree to raise children together without a romantic connection. And we are discovering this nontraditional style of parenting can produce children who are just as well adjusted as those raised in a happily married household.
An alternative arrangement
Platonic parenting was pioneered within the LGBTQ community, where until recently same-gender couples couldn’t legally marry and didn’t have the court system to make up rules for them about post-breakup parenting. Following a romantic split, they were forced to create innovative, outside-the-box parenting arrangements on their own.
More recently, platonic parenting has spread to married couples looking to more effectively raise their children following divorce. By maintaining an amicable and cooperative relationship—sometimes even cohabitating—a couple whose romantic connection has dissolved can not only spare their children the trauma of divorce, but they may also find the arrangement is much healthier for them. Indeed, couples who stay unhappily married for the children’s sake often find the arrangement can be even more harmful to the whole family than a clean divorce.
And now, more and more people are choosing to raise children together using platonic parenting, without ever having a romantic relationship to begin with.
In the first part of this series, we discussed how some professional adult guardians have used their powers to abuse the seniors placed under their care. Here, we’ll discuss how seniors can use estate planning to avoid the potential abuse and other negative consequences of court-ordered guardianship.
The New Yorker exposed one of the most shocking accounts of elder abuse by professional guardians, which took place in Nevada and saw more than 150 seniors swindled out of their life savings by a corrupt Las Vegas guardianship agency.
The Las Vegas case and others like it have shed light on a disturbing new phenomenon—individuals who seek guardianship to take control of the lives of vulnerable seniors and use their money and other assets for personal gain. Perhaps the most frightening aspect of such abuse is that many seniors who fall prey to these unscrupulous guardians have loving and caring family members who are unable to protect them.
In the first part of this series, we detailed how criminally-minded individuals can take advantage of an overloaded court system and seize total control of seniors’ lives and financial assets by gaining court-ordered guardianship. Here we’ll discuss how seniors and their adult children can use proactive estate planning to prevent this from happening.
It’s important to note that any adult could face court-ordered guardianship if they become incapacitated by illness or injury, so it’s critical that every person over age 18—not just seniors—put these planning vehicles in place to prepare for potential incapacity.
Keep your family out of court and out of conflict
Outside of the potential for abuse by professional guardians, if you become incapacitated and your family is forced into court seeking guardianship, your family is likely to endure a costly, drawn out, and emotionally taxing ordeal. Not only will the legal fees and court costs drain your estate and possibly delay your medical treatment, but if your loved ones disagree over who’s best suited to serve as your guardian, it could cause bitter conflict that could unnecessarily tear your family apart.
Furthermore, if your loved ones disagree over who should be your guardian, the court could decide that naming one of your relatives would be too disruptive to your family’s relationships and appoint a professional guardian instead—and as we’ve seen, this could open the door to potential abuse.
And when they do leave something behind, what you likely cherish most about the object are the memories and feelings it evokes, not the thing itself.
For the founder and CEO of New Law Business Model, Alexis Katz, the most treasured memento her late father left her wasn’t even something she intended to be special—it was just a random voicemail on her cellphone. And the message wasn’t meant to be anything sentimental.
His message simply said, “Lex, it’s your dad. Call me back.”
Following his death, Alexis loved listening to that message to hear her father’s voice. Of all the assets he left behind, that voicemail was what she cherished most.
Until one day, she went to listen to the message and discovered it had been erased—and her father’s voice was lost to her forever. She still recalls that day as one of her worst ever, yet like most painful events, it taught her an important lesson.
Losing that voicemail ultimately inspired Alexis to build a new feature into her family-centered model of estate planning, known as Family Wealth Legacy Passages. This feature, which is included in every plan we create, allows you to preserve and pass on something that’s inherently more valuable than any tangible asset you might leave your loved ones.
And though you may not want to believe such a thing could happen, you need to know that without the right planning in place, even the seniors in your own family could be at risk.
In fact, there are currently 1.5 million American adults under guardianship, with an estimated 85% of them over age 65. All total, these guardians control nearly $273 billion in assets. And a 2010 report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found hundreds of cases where guardians were involved in the abuse, exploitation, and neglect of seniors placed under their supervision.
Exploitation disguised as protection
Although most of the reported abuse was committed by family members, an increasing number of elder abuse cases involving professional guardians have recently made the headlines. The New Yorker exposed one of the most shocking accounts of elder abuse by professional guardians, and the abuse suffered by these victims is so horrendous, it’s hard to believe.
The case involved the owner of a Las Vegas guardianship agency, who was indicted on more than 200 felonies for using her guardianship status to swindle more than 150 seniors out of their life savings. The craziest part of this is that many of those seniors had loving and caring family members, who were unable to protect their senior family members.
That case and similar cases of criminal abuse by professional guardians across the country has shed light on a disturbing new phenomenon—individuals who seek guardianship to take control of the lives of vulnerable seniors and use their money and other assets for personal gain.
These predatory guardians search for seniors with a history of health issues, and they’re often able to obtain court-sanctioned guardianship with alarming ease. From there, they can force the elderly out of their homes and into assisted-living facilities and nursing homes. They can sell off their homes and other assets, keeping the proceeds for themselves. They can prevent them from seeing or speaking with their family members, leaving them isolated and even more vulnerable to exploitation.
Estate planning, in particular, is one arena where these new rights and benefits are readily apparent.
With marriage equality, same-gender couples no longer have to pay exorbitant amounts of money for creative estate-planning work-arounds just to achieve similar protections offered to opposite-gender couples. Yet same-gender couples continue to face unique planning challenges.
Because you may have family members who remain opposed to the validity of your marriage, same-gender couples’ estate plans are often more vulnerable to dispute and even sabotage by unsupportive relatives. This could mean that family members are more likely to contest your wishes, or it might entail custody battles over non-biological children in the event of the biological parent’s death.
Unsupportive family members may even try to block the ability of your spouse to make medical decisions on your behalf should you become incapacitated by accident or illness.
While the planning vehicles available to same-gender and opposite-gender married couples are generally the same, there are a few unique considerations those in same-gender marriages ought to be aware of.
Here are three of the most important things to keep in mind.
Indeed, pets can become our closest companions. As such, it’s only natural you’d want to make sure your furry friend is provided for in your estate plan, so when you die or if you become incapacitated, your beloved companion won’t end up in an animal shelter or worse.
However, unlike your human family members, pets are considered your personal property under the law, so you can’t just name them as a beneficiary in your will or trust. If you do name your pet as a beneficiary in your plan, whatever money you tried to leave to it would go to your residuary beneficiary (the individual who gets everything not specifically left to your other named beneficiaries), who would have no obligation to care for your pet.
Wills aren’t a good option
Since you can’t name your pet as a beneficiary, your first alternative might be to leave your pet and money for its care in your will to someone you trust to be your pet’s new caregiver. While it’s possible to leave funding for your pet in this manner, it definitely isn’t the best option.
In stark contrast, the law considers your pet nothing more than personal property. That means that without plans in place, your pet will be treated just like your couch or vacuum in the event of your death or incapacity.
For example, if you die without including any provisions for your pet’s care in your estate plan and none of your family or friends volunteer to take your pet in, your faithful companion will likely end up in an animal shelter.
While you can leave money for the care or your pet in a will, there will be no continuing oversight to ensure your pet (and the money you leave for its care) will be cared for as you wish, if you do it that way. Indeed, a person who is named as the guardian of your pet in your will could drop the animal off at the shelter and use the money to buy a new TV—and face no penalties for doing so.
What’s more, a will is required to go through a court process known as probate, which can last for years and leave your pet in limbo during that entire time. And a will only goes into effect upon your death, so if you’re incapacitated by accident or illness, it will be useless for protecting your pet.