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...
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.
Because no one knows exactly how long Boomers will live or how much money they’ll spend before they pass on, it’s impossible to accurately predict just how much wealth will be transferred. But studies suggest it’s somewhere between $30 and $50 trillion. Yes, that’s “trillion” with a “T.”
A blessing or a curse?
And while most are talking about the benefits this asset transfer might have for younger generations and the economy, few are talking about its potential negative ramifications. Yet there’s plenty of evidence suggesting that many people, especially younger generations, are woefully unprepared to handle such an inheritance.
Indeed, an Ohio State University study found that one third of people who received an inheritance had negative savings within two years of getting the money. Another study by The Williams Group found that intergenerational wealth transfers often become a source of tension and dispute among family members, and 70% of such transfers fail by the time they reach the second generation.
Whether you will be inheriting or passing on this wealth, it’s crucial to have a plan in place to reduce the potentially calamitous effects such transfers can lead to. Without proper estate planning, the money and other assets that get passed on can easily become more of a curse than a blessing.
There are several proactive measures you can take to help stave off the risks posed by the big wealth transfer. Beyond having a comprehensive estate plan, openly discussing your values and legacy
with your loved ones can be a key way to ensure your planning strategies work exactly as you intended. Here’s what we suggest:
This is the fourth in an ongoing series of 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 us, your neighborhood Family Startup Lawyer™, to learn how to do the right thing for the people you love.
You may shop around and find a lawyer to create planning documents for you, or you might try creating your own DIY plan using online documents. Then, you’ll put those documents into a drawer, mentally check estate planning off your to-do list, and forget about them.
The problem is, your estate plan is not a one-and-done type of deal.
In fact, if it’s not regularly updated when your assets, family situation, and/or the laws change, your plan will be totally worthless when your family needs it. What’s more, failing to regularly update your plan can create its own unique set of problems that can leave your family worse off than if you’d never created a plan at all.
The following true story illustrates the consequences of not updating your plan, and it happened to the founder and CEO of New Law Business Model, Alexis Neely. Indeed, this experience was one of the leading catalysts for her to create the new, family-centered model of estate planning we use with all of our clients.
The father-in-law story
When Alexis was in law school, her father-in-law died. He’d done his estate planning—or at least thought he had. He paid a Florida law firm roughly $3000 to prepare an estate plan for him, so his family wouldn’t be stuck dealing with the hassles and expense of probate court or drawn into needless conflict with his ex-wife.
And yet, after his death, that’s exactly what did happen. His family was forced to go to court in order to claim assets that were supposed to pass directly to them. And on top of that, they had to deal with his ex-wife and her attorneys in the process.
Alexis couldn’t understand it. If her father-in-law paid $3,000 for an estate plan, why were his loved ones dealing with the court and his ex-wife? It turned out that not only had his
planning documents not been updated, but his assets were not even properly titled.
One crucial part of estate planning that frequently gets overlooked is ensuring your loved ones can easily locate all of your planning documents and other key assets upon your death or incapacity. One simple way to handle this important task is to create a “When I Die” file. According to A Beginner's Guide to the End: Practical Advice for Living Life and Facing Death, this is a “findable file, binder, cloud-based drive, or even a shoebox where you store estate documents and meaningful personal effects.”
This new book, authored by Shoshana Berger and BJ Miller, was recently excerpted in TIME magazine, and the excerpt discussed the importance of creating such a file in order to “save your loved ones incalculable time, money, and suffering” upon your death.
We agree with Berger and Miller, and would add that this file is every bit as important in the event of your potential incapacity, not just your death—and perhaps even more so. We also offer some additional guidance here about how to ensure your “When I Die” file provides maximum efficiency and effectiveness for the people you love.
Death can be a logistical nightmare
Following the death of her elderly father, Berger learned first-hand how agonizing it can be to not have a “When I Die” file. Though her father made his will and trust easily accessible, Berger and her sister spent nearly two years tracking down his other planning documents, assets, and finalizing his affairs.
Beger recalls “sleuthing through his file cabinet and mail and requesting what seemed like a mountain of duplicate death certificates to prove to various companies that he had actually died.”
In the lawsuit, Adria Petty and Annakim Violette, claim their father’s widow, Dana York Petty, mismanaged their father’s estate, depriving them of their rights to determine how Petty’s music should be released.
Petty died in 2017 of an accidental drug overdose at age 66. He named Dana as sole trustee of his trust, but the terms of the trust give the daughters “equal participation” in decisions about how Petty’s catalog is to be used. The daughters, who are from Petty’s first marriage, claim the terms should be interpreted to mean they get two votes out of three, which would give them majority control.
Alex Weingarten, an attorney for Petty’s daughters, issued a statement to Rolling Stone magazine, asserting that Petty’s widow is not abiding by Petty’s wishes for his two children.
“Tom Petty wanted his music and his legacy to be controlled equally by his daughters, Adria and Annakim, and his wife, Dana. Dana has refused Tom’s express wishes and insisted instead upon misappropriating Tom’s life’s work for her own selfish interests,” he said.
In April, Dana filed a petition in a Los Angeles court, seeking to put Petty’s catalog under control of a professional manager, who would assist the three women in managing the estate’s assets. Dana alleged that Adria had made it difficult to conduct business by acting abusive and erratic, including sending angry emails to various managers, record label reps, and even members of Petty’s band, the Heartbreakers.
This is the third in an ongoing series of 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 a Family Startup Lawyer™ to learn how to properly address them.
These thoughts all come from a mix of egoic pride, denial, and above all, we imagine, a lack of real education about estate planning and the consequences to your family. Once you understand exactly what planning is designed to prevent and support, you’ll realize there really is no acceptable excuse for not having a plan, provided you are able to plan and truly care about your family’s experience after you die or if you become incapacitated.
Indeed, the first step in creating a proper plan is to thoroughly understand the potential consequences of going without one. In the event of your death or incapacity, not having a plan could be incredibly traumatic and costly for your family, who will be left to deal with the mess you’ve left behind. While each estate and family are unique, here are some of the things most likely to happen to you and your loved ones if you fail to create an estate plan at all.
Your family will have to go to court
If you don’t have a plan, or only have a will (yes, even with a will), you’re forcing your family to go through probate upon your death. Probate is the legal process for settling your estate, and even if you have a will, it’s notoriously slow, costly, and public. But with no plan at all, probate can be a true nightmare for your loved ones.
Depending on the complexity of your estate, probate can take months or even years to complete. And like most court proceedings, probate can be expensive. In fact, once all of your debts, taxes, and court fees have been paid, there might be nothing left for anyone to inherit. And if there are any assets left, your family will likely have to pay hefty attorney’s fees and court costs in order to claim them.
This is the second in an ongoing series of 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 a Family Startup Lawyer™ to learn how to properly address them.
In fact, if your plan consists of a will alone, you’re guaranteeing your family will have to go to court when you die. There’s a saying in the lawyer world of estate planning: “Where there’s a will, there’s a probate.” And it’s no laughing matter.
In our view, a primary goal of estate planning is to keep your family out of court and out of conflict no matter what happens to you. Yet with only a will in place, your plan can fall woefully short of that goal, leaving your loved ones—and yourself, if you become incapacitated —susceptible to getting stuck in an unnecessary, expensive, time-consuming, and public court process.
Here’s why having just a will is not enough:
A will offers no protection against incapacity
A will helps ensure your assets are properly distributed when you die. But it offers no protection if you become incapacitated and are unable to make decisions about your own medical, financial, and legal needs.
Should you become incapacitated with only a will in place, your family would have to petition the court to appoint a guardian or conservator to manage your affairs, which can be extremely costly, time consuming, and traumatic. The first article in this series offers an in-depth look at some of the consequences of failing to plan for incapacity. The Real Cost To Your Family: Not Planning For Incapacity
Your family must still go to court
While you may think having a will allows your loved ones to inherit your assets without court intervention, this is not true. For your assets to be legally transferred to your beneficiaries, your will must first pass through the court process called probate.