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Monday, June 5, 2017

New State Laws Serve as Reminders of the Benefit of Estate Plan Reviews

Summary: Whether it is a court ruling or a newly enacted statute, changes in the law are one of many good reasons why you should get an estate plan review periodically. These new laws could mean making changes to comply with new demands, or they could mean making changes to take advantage of new benefits and rights created by the new laws. With a comprehensive review, you can make sure that you’ve taken the time to go over the changes that have happened in your life, as well as the changes that have happened in the law, to make sure that your estate planning has everything in it that it needs to do as much for you as it possibly can, and that it does so in the most optimized and efficient manner available.

One example of a state where the government has made recent changes to the laws that impact estate planning is Michigan. In 2016, that state made several alterations to its statutes.

One major new law was the creation of Michigan’s new “Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act”. This law that changes the rules regarding one of the more cutting-edge issues in estate planning, which is access to a deceased person’s digital assets.

Once upon a time, photos were glossy prints stored in an album or scrapbook, videos were recorded on 8mm film or VHS tapes and letters were paper documents stored in a shoebox. Today we have Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, Youtube, Dropbox, Twitter and email. Instead of paper bank and financial statements, we have online banking. The key to opening up all of these possessions of a deceased loved one, as opposed to a metal key to lockbox, is a username and a password. In the past, many service providers steadfastly have refused to grant access to anyone, even a duly authorized executor, attorney-in-fact or successor trustee, unless they had the user’s ID and password. 

The new act specifically spells out four categories of people who are legally entitled to request access to your digital assets. These include your agent under your financial power of attorney, the personal representative of your probate estate, the successor trustee of your trust or your court-appointed conservator. If, however, you’ve named someone specifically to handle a particular account after your death (such as your Facebook “legacy contact,”) then that designation takes priority.

Michigan also passed a “Funeral Representative Act.” Similar what its neighbor, Indiana, did last decade, Michigan now has a law on the books that gives you the option, as part of your estate planning, to execute a document that names a specific person who will have the legal authority to make decisions about “the handling, disposition, or disinterment of my body, including decisions about cremation.” If the person you prefer make your final arrangement decisions is someone other than your next of kin, this new law (and the new estate planning document it created,) can be extremely helpful to you in making or updating your plan.

The state also now gives residents the option to name an official designated caregiver. Once you’ve designated a caregiver, the law requires your hospital to work with that person on things like your discharge from the hospital and your after-care needs.

The recent round of statutory changes also allows Michiganders to set up a specific type of irrevocable trust that offers enhanced protection from creditors (assuming your trust and your situation meet all the legal requirements.) Michigan became the 17th state to recognize these trusts. If you are a farmer or other small business owner, it may be helpful to learn more about them.

To be sure, Michigan was only one of many states to enact statutory changes that had an impact on estate planning recently. Sometimes, these changes are created by the legislature and sometimes they’re caused by court decisions (such as 2015’s same-sex marriage ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court.) Even if you don’t live in Michigan, your state government may have made changes that could have potential impacts on your plan. With a detailed estate plan review, you can make changes to comply with new laws’ demands. Alternately, when a new law gives you a new opportunity to assert even more control over your legacy and further customize your plan, a review can help you make that happen.

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


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