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Tuesday, September 27, 2016

New Laws May Put a New Spin on Your Estate Plan


Summary: There are lots of reasons to consider an estate plan review each year. In addition to taking the opportunity to review any life-event changes you've experienced, an annual plan review can make sure that your plan is optimized for any changes that have taken place in the law. New laws may have opened doors to new opportunities, or trap doors to new pitfalls. A thorough review can make sure that your plan is working at its best in light of any new estate planning laws your state may have. 

There are lots of reasons to consider getting an estate plan "check-up" in the first quarter of a new year. People use the changing calendar to engage in many resolutions, including ones related to getting organized and better caring for themselves and their loved ones. And, what better way to get organized and to best care for yourself and your loved ones than to ensure that your estate plan is still in tip-top shape, right? This is all definitely true, but there is also another reason to use the early months of a new year to get an estate plan review: changes in the law. January 1 is a common date for new statutes to take effect, and some of those statutes may offer you new estate planning opportunities.

Many aspects of the law have changed recently as a reflection of changing culture. Same-sex marriage is legal in all 50 states. This matters in many ways, including estate planning. As author Angela D. Giampolo recently pointed out in The Legal Intelligencer: "There are 1,138 identified federal statutes in which marital status is a factor in receiving federal benefits, rights and privileges." Another legal shift that has followed a cultural shift is that more and more states' laws are catching up to the modern relationship that many people have with their households pets, where the pet is seen less as merely a piece of property and more as a beloved and vital part of the family. Pet trusts and estate planning for pets are recognized in more states than ever before.

Other legal changes have taken place independent of any social/cutlural shifts. The number of states that recognize transfer-on-death (TOD) deeds, for example, has nearly doubled in the last few years. That's because, in 2009, a group called the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws drafted the Uniform Real Property Transfer on Death Act. This spurred many states into action. Just over a dozen states recognized TOD deeds in 2009. Today, two dozen states plus D.C. have laws giving these deeds recognition. 

In addition to these changes, there are also the alterations that take place after each legislative session. Each state's legislative body considers numerous bills every session, and passes many of them. Some of those relate to estate planning. These changes may require your plan to undergo no changes. But, sometimes, the changes in the law do dictate that you should consider altering your plan. These alterations may be needed to take advantage of new opportunities and benefits that have only now come available thanks to the new changes in the law. On the other hand, your plan may need changes to avoid new pitfalls that the changed laws have created for plans like yours.   

It's somewhat like income taxes. Each year, there are new changes to the laws and regulations governing income tax returns. Sometimes, they're big. Other times, they're very small. Regardless, you want to make sure that your accountant or tax preparer is creating your return using the latest rules. The same goes for estate planning. A thorough "check-up" can make sure that your plan has been analyzed, and optimized, for the current state of law.

This article is published by the Legacy Assurance Plan and is intended for general informational purposes only. Some information may not apply to your situation. It does not, nor is it intended, to constitute legal advice. You should consult with an attorney regarding any specific questions about probate, living probate or other estate planning matters. Legacy Assurance Plan is an estate planning services-company and is not a lawyer or law firm and is not engaged in the practice of law. For more information about this and other estate planning matters visit our website at www.legacyassuranceplan.com

This article written and published by:
8039 Cooper Creek Blvd
University Park, Florida 34201
844.306.5272 (Phone)
@assuranceplan
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Friday, September 23, 2016

Reverse Mortgages and Your Estate Plan

Summary: Reverse mortgages can provide clear benefits to some seniors, but also come with their own set of potential drawbacks. A reverse mortgage can help you cover some health care costs and may help you delay going into a nursing home. However, reverse mortgages could, depending on the eligibility rules observed in your state, negatively impact your Medicaid eligibility. They can also reduce the size of your estate that you leave for your loved ones, unless you plan for the payment of this debt after your death (using a vehicle such as life insurance.) Whether a reverse mortgage is right for you and your estate plan depends on the particular facts of your situation. 


If you watch much TV (beyond premium channels and public broadcasting,) you've probably seen commercials marketing reverse mortgages to seniors. Reverse mortgages can offer real benefits to some seniors, depending on their circumstances. However, these reverse mortgages can also come with distinct risks, too. Before you make the decision to take out a reverse mortgage, you should educate yourself on all of the impacts that a reverse mortgage will have, including on your estate plan. 

A reverse mortgage can be very helpful to some seniors. Generally, advisers might suggest a reverse mortgage as a viable option for seniors who have relatively little cash but a lot of equity in their home. The money received for a reverse mortgage can be invaluable to some people. The proceeds of a reverse mortgage may help pay for in-home care, which may allow you or a loved one to avoid, or at least put off, going into a nursing home. 

There are downsides, though, as it relates to your estate plan. A reverse mortgage can impact your Medicaid eligibility. Depending on the state where you live, it is possible that your state's Medicaid agency could view the payments you receive from your reverse mortgage as income and this added "income" could put you above the threshold for continued Medicaid eligibility. Even if your state doesn't view the payments as income, your state could view a lump-sum or the accumulation of monthly payments received as part of a reverse mortgage as assets that might take you over the allowable maximum for continued eligibility. 

Additionally, there is the scenario in which you die before you pay back the total amount you took out in your reverse mortgage. When that happens, the loan is paid back from the proceeds of the sale of your house. But what if you don't want to sell your house or you don't want to leave your loved ones a diminished asset? One way to deal with this is by using life insurance. Buying life insurance for the purpose of having the proceeds cover your outstanding reverse mortgage balance potentially can accomplish two goals. One, this strategy can potentially lower your death tax obligations, as your it lowers the amount of equity you have in your home, so the total amount of your taxable estate (for purposes of death taxes) is reduced by that same amount. Also, this strategy ensures that your loves ones will receive a set amount of inheritance that won't be impacted by the fluctuations of the real estate market.

If you're considering a reverse mortgage, your estate planning professional can help you go over your circumstances and goals and decide if it makes sense for you.

This article is published by the Legacy Assurance Plan and is intended for general informational purposes only. Some information may not apply to your situation. It does not, nor is it intended, to constitute legal advice. You should consult with an attorney regarding any specific questions about probate, living probate or other estate planning matters. Legacy Assurance Plan is an estate planning services-company and is not a lawyer or law firm and is not engaged in the practice of law. For more information about this and other estate planning matters visit our website at www.legacyassuranceplan.com

This article written and published by:
8039 Cooper Creek Blvd
University Park, Florida 34201
844.306.5272 (Phone)
@assuranceplan
#legacyassuranceplan






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Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Making Sure Your Estate Plan Doesn't Become an 'Unmanned Ship'


Summary: There are a lot of things that go into making certain your estate plan functions properly. One of those things is making sure that your plan has an ample number of people chosen by you named in the roles of successor trustees, alternate successor trustees, executors and alternate executors. By making sure you have a sufficient number of people named in your plan, and by getting regular plan "check-ups," you can greatly reduce the risk that your plan becomes a ship with no captain and, as a result, forcing your loved ones to go to the courts to have a judge decide who should manage your trust or estate.

When one decides to create an estate plan, one thing many people desire is control... control over their wealth both during their lives and afterward. One aspect to ensuring that control is making certain that you have the people you want directing your wealth after you and dead or otherwise are incapacitated. One way you can lose that control is if you do not name enough people to manage your living trust or your probate estate. If all of your named people predecease you or otherwise cannot serve, you could be left with a plan that is an umanned ship with no one to steer it.  

One real-life case where this happened occurred in Indiana. The plan in that case was that of a southern Indiana couple, Roy and Margerie Yount. The Younts created a revocable living trust where Margerie was the sole initial trustee. After Roy died, Margerie had an amendment and restatement of the living trust prepared that made the Younts' granddaughter, Jill Yount, the trust's trustee. Some time later, a dispute arose between grandmother and granddaughter, the relationship deteriorated and Margerie decided she no longer wanted Jill to be trustee. Margerie hired a local law firm to represent her in her legal action seeking to force Jill from the position of trustee. Eventually, Jill agreed to step aside and the trial court in the case issued an order declaring Jill removed.

The trust did not name an alternate trustee in the event that Jill died, could not serve, resigned or was removed. The relevant individuals never agreed on an acceptable new trustee and nobody asked the court to appoint one, either. When Margerie died two years later, the trust still had no trustee. Jill eventually sued her grandmother's lawyers, accusing them of malpractice by failing to ensure that a viable replacement trustee was found. The lawyers won that case, though, because they were able to convince the courts that Margerie hired them for the sole and narrow purpose of pursuing the litigation needed to force out Jill as trustee, not to represent Marjerie in her estate planning in general.

So why this such a big deal that the granddaughter sued the lawyers? When a trust has no trustee, it has no one authorized to take any action on behalf of the trust. No one has the required legal power to do anything, including distributing the trust's assets upon the death(s) of the trust's creator(s). This can occur if all of your successor and alternate successor trustees either cannot or will not serve. Most commonly, this happens because the trust creators' named too few successor trustees and those successor trustees die before the trust creator does. I can also happen, as in the Younts' case, if there is only one trustee and that person is removed by a court. Each state has its own laws about how to deal with these situations, but in most places, the only way to resolve this problem is to go to court and ask a judge to name a new trustee. This can potentially be both expensive and time-consuming.  

There are a couple of important steps you can take to minimize your risk of your plan having this type of problem. The first is to ensure that your trust names not only a successor trustee, but also multiple alternate successor trustees. That way, even if something unexpected happens to your first choice, you will still be in control of who takes over managing your trust. The second is to ensure that you get regular estate plan reviews. A review will give you the opportunity to look over your plan and, among other things, identify people to whom you've assigned certain responsibilities (such as successor trustees) who have died or become incapacitated. Once you've identified these life changes, you can pursue the necessary plan amendments to make certain your plan remains in ideal condition. 

While this Indiana case involved the trusteeship of a living trust, the steps mentioned above also apply to your will as well, where it is important to make sure you have an ample number of alternate choices for serving as the executor of your estate, and to give your will a regular "check-up" to ensure that everyone you've named is still able to serve.

This article is published by the Legacy Assurance Plan and is intended for general informational purposes only. Some information may not apply to your situation. It does not, nor is it intended, to constitute legal advice. You should consult with an attorney regarding any specific questions about probate, living probate or other estate planning matters. Legacy Assurance Plan is an estate planning services-company and is not a lawyer or law firm and is not engaged in the practice of law. For more information about this and other estate planning matters visit our website at www.legacyassuranceplan.com

This article written and published by:
8039 Cooper Creek Blvd
University Park, Florida 34201
844.306.5272 (Phone)
@assuranceplan
#legacyassuranceplan






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Friday, September 16, 2016

Avoiding Probate with a Living Trust: It's About More Than Just Saving Time and Money

Summary: Estate plans with revocable living trusts can, if properly created and implemented, allow you to avoid probate and, by doing so, save time and money, and protect your family's privacy. Unlike other probate-avoidance plans, though, a plan with a living trust can do more, including protecting you from the potential takeover of your assets through an unwanted guardianship/conservatorship. Additionally, a living trust plan can make the process of updating your plan potentially easier and more efficient than it would be with other plans designed to avoid probate.

If you've done much exploration into the issue of estate planning, you have probably heard about the goal of avoiding probate. When it comes to discussions of avoiding probate, two of the major advantages of achieving that goal are the time savings and cost savings that can be realized if you successfully avoid probate. But, for those people who create an estate plan that includes a revocable living trust, their plans have the potential to achieve these worthwhile benefits, but also do much more.

Like any plan that avoids probate (such as a plan centered around transfer-on-death designations or joint-tenancy-with-right-of-survivorship (JTWROS) ownerships,) a plan built around a living trust can, if properly created, funded and maintained, allow the plan creator to avoid probate. By doing so, you can achieve many benefits. Probate procedures sometimes can be very expensive and can be extremely time-consuming. Additionally, probate administrations are court processes and, therefore, are matters of public record in most situations and most places. If you avoid probate, you have the potential to save time, save money and protect your family's privacy.

But a plan with a living trust can do much more. It can help make your plan more organized and make dealing with changes in your life easier to address when it comes to your estate planning. Say, for example, you recently got divorced. If your plan is built upon using transfer-on-death asset designations, then you'll need to be sure that you change each asset where you had you ex-spouse as the death beneficiary. That usually means going to each institution where that asset is held, getting that institution's specific change form, filling it out and submitting it. As several courts have recently ruled, changing your will does nothing to affect these accounts. Only a properly completed and submitted change-of-beneficiary form will make the change you want take effect. Multiply that process by the number of assets that need to be addressed and you have the possibilityl for quite a chore. By contract, with a trust, it is possible that a single trust amendment document could, by itself, completely update your plan and make the changes you want in the wake of this divorce.

Your living trust also has the potential to protect you from unwanted and unnecessary guardianship/conservatorships. If someone were to attempt to obtain a guardianship/conservatorship over your assets, and you had already created and funded a living trust, that person would not be able to grab control of your assets. Control of your assets would instead shift the person you named as your successor trustee in living trust document. Plans built around JTWROS ownership and/or transfer-on-death designations would not afford you this type of protection.     

This article is published by the Legacy Assurance Plan and is intended for general informational purposes only. Some information may not apply to your situation. It does not, nor is it intended, to constitute legal advice. You should consult with an attorney regarding any specific questions about probate, living probate or other estate planning matters. Legacy Assurance Plan is an estate planning services-company and is not a lawyer or law firm and is not engaged in the practice of law. For more information about this and other estate planning matters visit our website at www.legacyassuranceplan.com

This article written and published by:
8039 Cooper Creek Blvd
University Park, Florida 34201
844.306.5272 (Phone)
@assuranceplan
#legacyassuranceplan






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Tuesday, September 13, 2016

The Extreme Importance of Proper Estate Plan Maintenance

Summary: Estate planning is not a one-time task; it requires upkeep, just like your home, your yard or your vehicle. Even after you've made an estate plan, you should consider getting a plan "check-up" routinely, especially after major life events like divorce, marriage or a death in the family. Also, it is very important to take great care in storing your documents and making sure the right people have access to them in the event of your death. Experienced estate planning professionals can help you deal with these and other issues as you undertake the ongoing maintenance that is necessary to allow your plan to function as it should.   

When you undertake to deal with your "yard work," you understand that this task may entail many things, including mowing, weeding, or fertilizing, just to name a few. What's more, you also fundamentally know that you cannot just mow or weed your yard once and profess that your yard work is "finished." You'll need to revisit this chore periodically over time. Estate planning is a lot like that. Failing to recognize that your estate plan needs occasional care and maintenance can have disastrous consequences. A court case from New York provides a real-life example of just what can go wrong if you don't dot your I's and cross your T's when it comes to estate plan maintenance.

Based upon the facts reported by the New York courts, the story of the deceased person in the case, Robyn Lewis, had many tragic elements to it. She died in Syracuse, NY at the young age of 43. Unfortunately, her death marked only the beginning of a long legal process regarding her estate. 14 years before she died, Lewis was married and living in Texas. She and her then-husband made the wise decision to get estate plans. In her will, she left everything to her husband and, as an alternate beneficiary, she named her father-in-law.

In 2007, the couple divorced. Lewis and her ex-husband agreed between themselves that the husband would keep the property in Texas and Lewis would keep the upstate New York property she'd bought during the marriage, which had been in her family for many generations.

Divorce is one of those life events that should definitely make you consider the benefits of getting an estate plan "check-up". Lewis's estate planning goals were clearly different after the divorce than they were before. Getting either a new document or amending her existing one would have allowed her to enshrine these changes onto paper.

Lewis may have done just that. Her neighbor testified in court that Lewis made a new will in 2007 naming her brothers as her beneficiaries. However, when Lewis died in 2010, no one could find the will. Once you've gone to the effort not only to create a plan, but to update your plan after a major life event, it is essential to make sure that you store your documents in a safe place and let the appropriate person (or people) know how to access them after you die.

Based on the inability to locate the 2007 will, two New York courts decided that the 1996 will was still valid. Because Lewis and her husband had divorced after the will was made, New York law prevented him from inheriting under that will. However, the law had no prohibition against other ex-in-laws inheriting. This meant that, under the will, Lewis's New York property, the one that had been in her family for multiple generations, belonged to... her ex-father-in-law!

In 2015, New York's highest court sent the case back to the trial court for reconsideration. The ex-father-in-law could still prevail and receive the property. Even if he loses, Lewis's relatives will have spent many years and (presumably) much money on legal costs just to keep the property in the family. A properly updated and stored estate plan likely could have prevented much or all of these problems and this litigation. 

This article is published by the Legacy Assurance Plan and is intended for general informational purposes only. Some information may not apply to your situation. It does not, nor is it intended, to constitute legal advice. You should consult with an attorney regarding any specific questions about probate, living probate or other estate planning matters. Legacy Assurance Plan is an estate planning services-company and is not a lawyer or law firm and is not engaged in the practice of law. For more information about this and other estate planning matters visit our website at www.legacyassuranceplan.com

This article written and published by:
8039 Cooper Creek Blvd
University Park, Florida 34201
844.306.5272 (Phone)
@assuranceplan
#legacyassuranceplan






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Friday, September 9, 2016

Trust Planning for Your Blended Family

Summary: Estate planning for blended families --- couple with children from prior relationships --- can be especially challenging. An estate plan should provide for all of the couple's goals, including means for supporting the longer-living spouse and also protecting the legacies of the loved ones of the spouse who dies first. An estate plan that utilizes separate revocable living trusts for each spouse may benefit some families by allowing them to protect everyone involved.

Here in 2016, families come in more shapes, sizes and varities than ever. Especially among older people, the likelihood is higher than ever that their families will involve children from prior marriages or relationships. Whether your blended family's relationships mirror TV's "The Brady Bunch" or your family has a dynamic that is more complicated and difficult, estate planning is very important to ensure that the wishes you desire are carried out after you pass. A recent court case from Florida exposes why it is vitally important, not only for belnded families to plan, but to ensure that they have a sufficiently careful plan to protect everyone.

In that Florida court case, a lawsuit erupted over the estate plan of Dennis and Betty Dowdy. The couple each had children from prior relationships, but had none together. The Dowdys created an estate plan that included the Dowdy Family Trust. The couple named themselves as the initial trustees and beneficiaries of the trust, which held certain real estate properties. The couple's plan stated that, when the first spouse died, the survivor became the sole trustee. After both passed, the plan named one of the wife's children, Deborah Andrews, and one of the husband's children, Michael Dowdy, as co-successor trustees.

The problem arose three years after the husband died in 2008. The wife, acting as sole trustee, removed the husband's children from the trust, both as successor trustees and as beneficiaries. She then proceeded to sell the trust's remaining assets and took sole possession of the proceeds of that sale. The husband's son went to court, asking the court to invalidate the actions his stepmother had taken by herself. He argued to the judge that the trust automatically became irrevocable the moment his father died. 

The court ruled in favor of the wife. The way the trust was written, in the court's opinion, meant that it only became irrevocable after the death of both spouses, not merely after either one of them passed away. This meant that, after the husband's death, the wife was the sole trustee of the trust with total control over the trust. Her actions in removing the husband's children and selling trust assets were completely legal.

Was this the outcome that the husband would have wanted? We can only guess, but it seems unlikely. That's why it is so important to make sure that your estate plan is crafted in a way to protect you and your family. Trusts can be wonderful instruments in helping to escape probate or some tax obligations. However, your trust planning should be detailed enough to avoid potential pitfalls like the one that ensnared the family in this Florida case. One way to protect yourself and your family is by using multiple trusts. A separate revocable living trust for each of the husband and the wife can provide the probate-avoidance benefits that come with using trusts, and can allow you to ensure that the spouse who lives longer is properly supported during her lifetime while, at the same time, allowing each spouse to have the peace of mind of knowing that, if he should die first, his children and other loved ones will not ultimately find themselves frozen out of the estate's wealth.

This article is published by the Legacy Assurance Plan and is intended for general informational purposes only. Some information may not apply to your situation. It does not, nor is it intended, to constitute legal advice. You should consult with an attorney regarding any specific questions about probate, living probate or other estate planning matters. Legacy Assurance Plan is an estate planning services-company and is not a lawyer or law firm and is not engaged in the practice of law. For more information about this and other estate planning matters visit our website at www.legacyassuranceplan.com

This article written and published by:
8039 Cooper Creek Blvd
University Park, Florida 34201
844.306.5272 (Phone)
@assuranceplan
#legacyassuranceplan






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Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Don't Forget Your Pour-Over Will When Planning Your Estate

Summary: A revocable living trust can achieve many things for its owner in terms of meeting estate planning objectives. There are some things, however, that only a will can do. For those who want the benefits of a living trust, a pour-over will can be an invaluable companion to your trust. Your pour-over will can make sure that your goals are protected in case an asset (or assets) didn't get funded into your trust and can also give you other benefits that are unique to wills, such as the naming of guardians. 

Batman had Robin. The Lone Ranger had Tonto. And Sherlock Holmes had his trusty friend, Dr. Watson. Each of Robin, Tonto and Watson were trusty companions whose presence allowed Batman, the Lone Ranger and Holmes to be more effective at accomplishing the goals they set out to achieve. An estate plan with a revocable living trust can achieve many goals, potentially allowing you to avoid substantial expenditures of money and time. But, just like these fictional heroes, your living trust is more effecteive when paired with the right companion. In this case, that companion is a pour-over will, a vital tool for making your estate plan as complete as possible.

Your pour-over will can serve may vital needs. Perhaps the most obvious one is distributing some of your assets. If you have an estate plan with a living trust, then ideally all of your assets (that you have not already planned through other means) have been funded into your trust and would be distributed according to your trust's provisions upon your death. Real life, though, is not always ideal. For example, you could purchase, inherit or otherwise come into ownership of certain assets shortly before your death and not have time to get those new assets transferred from your name to your trust.

Alternately, you could have certain assets that you own about which you simply forgot, or maybe even never knew they belonged to you. Regardless of how it happens, if you have assets you own in your own name (that are not subject to other non-probate distribution,) then they must be dealt with somehow. Your pour-over will directs that, once the probate process is complete, these assets go to your trust. At that point, they can be distributed according to the wishes you put down in your living trust document.

Why is this so important? Well, if you have assets outside your trust (items you own in your own name) when you pass, then those assets are generally part of your probate estate (unless they are things like transfer-on-death accounts that are automatically distributed upon your death.) If you have assets in your probate estate and you have no will at all, then those assets are distributed according to your state's intestacy laws. This could mean having valuable assets being distributed in ways much different than what your goals are!

Your pour-over will also provides you with certain benefits that only a will can do. If you have underage children or children with special needs, you cannot name a guardian for those children in a trust document. You can, however, include your preferences regarding guardians in your plan's pour-over will. For those in that situation, this bit of planning is often a "top priority" in terms of goals to be accomplished.

This article is published by the Legacy Assurance Plan and is intended for general informational purposes only. Some information may not apply to your situation. It does not, nor is it intended, to constitute legal advice. You should consult with an attorney regarding any specific questions about probate, living probate or other estate planning matters. Legacy Assurance Plan is an estate planning services-company and is not a lawyer or law firm and is not engaged in the practice of law. For more information about this and other estate planning matters visit our website at www.legacyassuranceplan.com

This article written and published by:
8039 Cooper Creek Blvd
University Park, Florida 34201
844.306.5272 (Phone)
@assuranceplan
#legacyassuranceplan






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