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Friday, December 29, 2017

Digital Estate Planning: Now More Important Than Ever

Summary: Across the last few years, legal experts have been increasingly extolling the need for people to engage in estate planning with regard to their digital/electronic/online assets. What may have started several years ago as a discussion about gaining access to a deceased loved one’s email in the face of an obstinate email service provider’s refusal to release password information has turned into something much larger. Today, as people of all ages live a greater and greater part of their lives online, the need for a careful and complete digital estate plan is higher than it’s ever been.

In the past, online technologies were things that only technophiles and other young people used. In the mid 1990s, email was just something that nerds and college kids used. Then there was early social media like MySpace, which again was predominantly populated by the young and tech-inclined. Today, people of all ages use email and social media. There’s Facebook and Pinterest. There’s also Instagram and Twitter. There are your photos on Flickr. Also, financial affairs are increasingly handled online, with most financial institutions offering easy-to-use apps and online platforms.

What’s more, for some people, digital assets involve more than just content with sentimental value (like pictures or messages) or debt obligations (like utilities or credit cards) but money-making things, as well. These might involve things like YouTube channels with millions of subscribers or a blog with a massive number of followers, either of which can be revenue-generating assets.

Whatever type of digital assets you have, it is exceptionally important to make sure that you have a plan in the event something happens to you. Just like creating an estate plan for your “traditional” assets involves careful preparation, so does digital asset planning. First, just like how you want to ensure that your estate plan accounts for all of your assets, you will want to make sure that your digital estate plan accounts for all of your online items, as well. To accomplish this, start by making a list of all of your digital assets. This means everything from your hardware (like, say, your laptop computer, desktop computer or external hard drive) to your email accounts to your social media accounts to any bills (from banking to utilities to credit cards and so forth) that you manage online.

Your list shouldn’t stop with your online financial accounts, your email and your social media accounts. It may include things that you might not necessarily immediately associate with estate planning at all. This list needs to include anything that your loved ones will NEED after you pass away or that you WANT them to have after you’re gone. For example, remember that family tree complete with digital pictures, family stories and research notes you have stored on that genealogy website? If you want to pass it on, you need to include it in this list.

The list needs to include the complete set of instructions for accessing each account, complete with login user IDs and passwords. Your digital estate plan should also spell out exactly how you want each asset handled, which can be particularly important with your revenue-generating digital assets. Because this list includes a step-by-step set of instructions on how to access some of your most valuable personal information, it is essential that you protect your digital estate plan list extremely carefully. The key is that the list must be stored somewhere that is very secure but also readily accessible to the person you’ve designated to deal with your digital assets after your death.




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





Monday, December 25, 2017

Avoiding Uncertainty and Taking Control of Your Legacy Through the Creation of an Estate Plan

Summary: There are many mistakes one can make when it comes to estate planning. One of the most fundamental traps is to fail to act. If you do nothing, you potentially expose your estate and your loved ones to many problems, including expensive probate actions, court challenges and possible inclusion of unintended beneficiaries (and exclusion of preferred ones.) You can avoid this trap by getting an estate plan with a will or a will and a living trust. With a properly executed plan, you can ensure that you are in control and that your legacy will not be left up to the uncertainty often involved in intestacy.

Not creating an estate plan means instead going through intestacy. Intestacy inherently involves deducing who your closest relatives and that means your case may contain uncertain for an extraordinarily long time. Take for example, an estate case from Louisiana involving a Confederate general and one of his former slaves, which was ruled upon by the Louisiana Court of Appeal… in 2017! The slave, George, had been owned by the general, but had been freed at the end of the war, and had even allegedly been promised (by the general) certain lands in a place called Bayou Black.

The former slave died in 1930. After he and his wife Frances died, the Louisiana courts eventually made a judicial determination that the man and his wife were each married once (to each other) and that there were nine children born of that marriage. The court declared that the lawful heirs were the descendants of those nine people. This ruling was made in 1972.

Decades later, another group of people went to court to argue that they were the rightful heirs to the assets. They argued that they were the descendants of George’s other children. Specifically, they claimed that George was married to another woman, Elie, and that George and Frances never legally married. (If George and Frances were never married, then that might wipe out the legal rights of inheritance by the descendants of George and Frances’s children.)

In other words, the plaintiffs asked the courts to look into the marital and paternal history of a man who had been dead for more than 70 years! Eventually, the courts ruled against the other children. The court’s ruling decided that there just wasn’t enough evidence to establish that George and Elie were married and that George and Frances weren’t.         

While you may not have to deal with any land promised to you by a Civil War general, this case still offers a clear lesson to anyone who hasn’t created an estate plan. And that lesson is… get one! Without a plan, all of your assets are subject to the intestate system of distribution. And, in every state, the intestate system is based upon the idea of finding your closest legal relatives and distributing your wealth to them. This system is particularly prone to court challenges, since a person who wants a piece of your estate doesn’t need to prove that they were an intended beneficiary in accordance with your express written wishes, they only need to persuade a judge that they are your long-lost child/grandchild/sibling/etc.

How do you avoid this trap? By taking action right away and getting an estate plan. With your plan including a will or a will and a living trust in place, you are in control of your legacy. The distribution of your wealth is not determined by your legal or blood kinship to others, but by the explicit instructions you left behind in your living trust or will. That way, you can be in control, can ensure that your assets go where you want them to, can eliminate uncertainty and can save your loved ones much stress by greatly reducing the risk of court challenges based upon people claiming to be your relatives.



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



  


Thursday, December 21, 2017

Jerry Lewis’s Estate Plan | Another Celebrity’s Passing Helps to Teach Everyone About Planning


Summary: We can learn a lot from famous estate plans. The estate plan of Jerry Lewis teaches both some positive and negative examples when it comes to disinheriting children. Regardless of the reasons why, parents are free to disinherit children but must be sure to structure their planning documents properly to carry out that goal. Lewis’s will’s clear language about his sons likely serves as a good example of how to accomplish disinheritance, while his will’s complete failure to mention Lewis’s illegitimate daughter may have the potential to cause problems and/or thwart Lewis’s planning goals.

For many people, they learn a lot by examples. The examples that provide them with education and information can be either positive ones or negative ones – in other words, they can be examples to emulate or they can be remembered as “what NOT to do.”

That is true of estate plans that make the news. Sometimes, famous estate plans offer lessons about what not to do. Famous singer Prince had no plan, which meant that his estate went through the intestacy process, and his wealth distributed to the closest of his legal relatives according to Minnesota law. Not only did that mean that he did not assert control over his cherished (and massive) catalogue of music that he’d created, it also opened the door to a large array of claims from people who were strangers to the singer but who claimed that they were his long-lost half-siblings and entitled to a cut of his fortune. This, in the eyes of many, might be an example of what not to do.

More recently, there is the estate of actor and comedian Jerry Lewis. Lewis, unlike Prince, did not leave the distribution of his wealth up to the whims of the Nevada Legislature. Back in 2012, Lewis created a will that stated his goals for the distribution of his wealth. That will was clear that Lewis’s five sons from his first marriage were to take nothing from his probate estate.

There may be many reasons why a parent disinherits a child. Perhaps the child is very wealthy and needs no help from his parent. Perhaps the relationship between parent and child deteriorated and the parent no longer felt emotionally motivated to leave an inheritance. Perhaps the child is notoriously poor with money and the parent fears the child will squander the inheritance. (In this last scenario, however, there are options, like planning with spendthrift trusts, to assist a child who is not good with money.)

Whatever the reason, once you decide your goals include disinheriting a child, it is important to do it clearly and unmistakably. Lewis’s will explicitly named his five sons and explicitly stated that he was intentionally disinheriting them. With clear language, you can eliminate or reduce the risks that your desires will be thwarted after your death.

Lewis’s will was not without possible shortcomings, though. In addition to the five sons he disinherited, Lewis had an adopted daughter whom he expressly left an inheritance in his will… and possibly one more child. That last child, an illegitimate daughter named Suzan, allegedly was the biological offspring of Lewis and a fashion model. According to some news reports, DNA tests show that Lewis is the father. Lewis’s will, however, makes no mention of Suzan whatsoever.

This could present a headache for the estate and for the named beneficiaries. That’s because the law has something called a “pretermitted heir” or an “omitted heir.” This rule says that, if you have a close legal relative (and “heir at law”) of whom you make no mention in your estate plan, it is possible for the courts to declare that you simply forgot, or omitted, that heir from your plan and award that person the amount she would have gotten under the intestacy rules. This can happen any time you simply leave out a close relative like a child. That’s why it is so important, when you are disinheriting a child, to do so carefully and clearly, like Lewis did with his sons but not with his biological daughter.  


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


             




Monday, December 18, 2017

Choosing the Proper Form of Estate Planning for Your Home

Summary: For a lot of people, their home is their most important asset, both in terms of dollar value and emotional value. There are lots of different ways to structure your overall estate plan, and that is true regarding how you handle your home, too. Some methods may, depending on your circumstances, be more advantageous than others. Planning for your home can create traps for you if you’re not careful. Choose a disadvantageous plan and you could create major headaches for you or your loved ones. A proper plan, such as one with a revocable living trust, may allow you or your loved ones to maintain control and flexibility while also escaping unnecessary costs, procedural burdens and stress.  

Avoiding probate may a very important goal within the process of planning for the transfer of your home. Probate can potentially be complicated, stressful, time-consuming and expensive. There may be many documents that have to be filed with the court and multiple hearings to attend. There is also the requirement that the house be professionally assessed to determine its exact value.

In a recent article, a representative of Fidelity Investments told the New York Times that, when “assets are left through a will, about 5 to 15 percent of the total value of the estate goes to pay probate and legal fees.” These figures do not even factor in the cost to whomever you’ve named as the personal representative of your estate. As one New York City estate planning attorney told the Times in that same recent article, “People take days off from work to head to probate, which costs time and money. Who likes spending their vacation days in probate?”

One way around this problem is the use of trust planning. If your needs and goals center primarily upon avoiding probate, then a revocable living trust may be a place to start. With a properly executed living trust that is properly funded, your estate won’t need to go through probate when you die. Not only will you avoid the possible costs and delays of probate, you’ll also avoid the other procedural costs, hurdles and headaches, such as a probate-mandated valuation assessment of your home. If you have a living trust and your home funded into it, you can still sell it, give it away, rent it out or do anything you would otherwise do to your home if it was in your own name. You’ll have all of the control, freedom and flexibility as if you owned the home in your own individual name, but your home will be protected in terms of avoiding probate.

If, however, your goals also involve other needs (such as Medicaid planning, for example) there may be different or additional estate planning tools available to help. Certain types of irrevocable trusts may allow you to reduce the size of your “countable” estate and increase your potential for qualifying for benefits. Transferring property into an irrevocable trust should be done carefully and after detailed consultation with an experienced estate planning attorney. As the name implies, these trusts are irrevocable, so you can’t change your mind later. Additionally, if your concern is Medicaid planning, it is important to note that certain assets may be exempt from your “countable” estate and may not need to be placed in a trust to enhance your overall Medicaid planning goals.    



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



  

Friday, December 15, 2017

How the Recent Hurricanes and other Natural Disasters Impact Estate Planning

Summary: Recent natural disasters, including hurricanes in Florida and Texas and wildfires in the west, offer an important reminder that is fundamental to estate planning, which is that planning involves preparing for (and guarding against) the worst possible outcomes. One of these types of preparations is to ensure the safety and well-being of your estate planning legal documents themselves, whether in hard copy or electronic form. With the proper planning steps, you can make sure that your documents are safe, and are accessible to the people who will need them in the event of you incapacity or death.  

Hurricane Harvey in Texas dumped so much rain that the Washington Post declared it to be the "most extreme rain event in U.S. history." Hurricane Irma inflicted massive damage upon the state of Florida. While the east dealt with hurricanes, wildfires ravaged in the western United States. These natural disasters have harmed many people and they should also stand as an important lesson, regardless of where you live. A natural disaster can strike at almost any time and any place, and it is vitally important to be prepared.

One way to prepare is to ensure that your vital documents are protected. In addition to other papers like passports, birth certificates and insurance policies, you'll definitely want to make certain that your estate planning documents are among your collection of essential papers that you protect.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has several tips for Americans across the country when it comes to protecting critical documents. With regard to the hard copy versions of your documents, they need to be stored someplace same from fire as well as water. If you have a fire and water-proof container like a safe, that would be a place to use or, if you don't have a safe but a trusted friend or relative does, you could possibly store your documents with them. Alternately, bank safe deposit boxes may be a useful destination for your documents that will keep them safe.

For electronic versions of your documents, it is often beneficial to consider password-encrypting your documents and storing them on a flash drive or other removable hard drive. Then, you'd just need to keep that flash drive or hard drive in someplace safe from fire and water, just like your hard copy documents.

A key thing to keep in mind with both your hard copy and your electronic copy documents is ensuring access to them. Because this set of documents will include your will, living trust and powers of attorney, it is essential that the people you've designated to act on behalf of you, your trust or your estate have the knowledge and the permission they need to access those documents in the event of your incapacity or death. If you prefer a bank safe deposit box, you need to have careful and detailed conversations before selecting a bank, to make certain that the bank you choose will allow your attorneys-in-fact, successor trustees or executor of your estate to access that box and your documents when the time comes for them to do so.

As far as electronic files go, it is important that you give your attorneys-in-fact, successor trustees and executor of your estate the password information they'll need to access your files. Should you decide to store electronic files using cloud storage, it is equally important to make sure that those people have the user ID and password information they will need to carry out the tasks you've asked them to undertake.   

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






Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Every Estate is Unique, and Every Estate Needs a Unique Estate Plan

Summary: Most people have things, situations or people in their lives that would tend to create a degree of uniqueness to the handling of their estates. That’s why proper and comprehensive estate planning is so important. Regardless of why your situation is unique, with a detailed and comprehensive plan that is uniquely customized by an experienced attorney to meet your specific needs, you an make sure that you have total control over your legacy.    

Almost everyone’s life circumstances have some unique elements to them. And almost everyone’s life circumstances, especially the unique parts, comprise a host of reasons why getting an estate plan and keeping it updated is so important.

One relatively unusual circumstance was something that a federal appeals court in New York had to address recently. The case involved the children of a man named Eric. Eric had married in his early 20s to Sharon, who was also in her early 20s. Just a few months into the marriage, the couple got the kind of news that anyone would dread: Eric had non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The couple decided to deposit some of Eric’s sperm in a sperm bank. A few months later, in the spring of 1996, Eric died at age 24.

Sharon had two sons, one in 2007 and one in 2008, both whom were the biological offspring of Eric. After the boys’ birth, Sharon filed for Social Security dependents’ benefits. The case wound its way through the system, eventually reached the federal appeals court in New York. That court’s ruling followed a previous U.S. Supreme Court that faced a similar issue. In that case, the mother gave birth to twins who were conceived using her and her husband’s genetic material. The births occurred 18 months after her husband’s cancer-related death. In both cases, the courts denied Social Security benefits to the children conceived after the father’s death.

While the issue of federal Social Security dependents’ benefits may be pretty well decided, the issue of inheritance from a probate or intestate estate isn’t. Most states have neither statutes nor state court caselaw explicitly declaring whether or not a child conceived after a parent’s death can inherit from that parent. That means that the issue will not be decided until a law is passed by the legislature or a court issues a ruling on it.

Of course, people who find themselves in this situation do have a way around it – and that way is careful and detailed estate planning. Through a specifically written and comprehensive will or living trust, you can declare with clarity the people you want to receive your assets after you die. So, for people who have stored genetic material for their spouse’s use (or perhaps donated for others’ use,) they can state unequivocally in their plan their intentions to include or exclude these future children.

And that, to some extent, is the greatest lesson of these recent cases. Certainly, only a small minority of people will have to address the issue of future-born children who are their biological offspring (conceived via assisted reproduction.) However, almost everybody has some aspect or component of their planning that is unique or at least outside the norm. Whether it is a person you desire to include, a close blood relative you desire to exclude, a specific bequest you want to make, or something else, your comprehensive estate plan is the way to take total control of your legacy, and make sure that each and every thing that happens regarding your estate after you die happens in the way that you want it to occur, no matter how common or uncommon that thing is.    

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