Finally Writing a Will

Here’s a journalist’s take on getting (his long put off) estate planning documents in place:

What it was Like to Finally Write My Will, by John Schwartz.

And here’s Mr. Schwartz’s “To Do” list from this piece.  Of course, I recommend always having a lawyer prepare your documents!

“Get a will. Really. Dying without one — “intestate” — is a drag for everyone.

Get a lawyer. Unless your life is wonderfully uncomplicated, you’ll want the help of an adviser. Even if you do it yourself, have an attorney look over your work.

Decide on your beneficiaries, and make sure your insurance policies and other investments are in agreement with what your will says.

Name an executor. It’s a tough and thankless job, so get someone with good judgment; this person can be paid out of your estate.

Got young kids? Name a guardian. If not, the courts will appoint one; why not take care of this essential matter ahead of time?

Secure your paperwork. Once the documents are done, put them in a safe place and make sure your relatives know how to find it.

Revisit it every five years. The world changes; your will should, too.”

This is a great starting list, but I also add:

Get Advanced Directives.  Have decision makers in place in the event of incapacity.

Put a Trust in Place for Minors.  Make sure you protect your children’s inheritance until they are at mature ages.

Prince – Dying Without A Will?

The recent passing of music legend Prince serves as yet another reminder to get your estate plan in place.  As reported in the press, Prince’s sister has filed papers with the Court alleging that her brother died without a will.  Dying without a will in place is called “intestate.”  You can find my summary of Indiana’s intestate laws, here and here.  The intestate laws act as a default estate plan, and very likely may not include all of your intentions.

In Prince’s case, it has been widely reported about his great business abilities and his strong desire to be in control of his music and his public image.  It also appears Prince was generous and was a benefactor to many charitable organizations. If Prince truly did not have a Last Will & Testament (and this remains to be seen), then his great desire for control over his art and his charitable intent will not be realized now that he has passed.  A true loss of opportunity for his great legacy.

For the rest of us, this is a reminder that it is never too early to plan and make sure our intentions will be followed.

Working with Fantastic People

I work with great people!  Harrison & Moberly is comprised of a team of talented, smart, and caring individuals.  Most of our staff have been with us for decades.  It’s an incredible place to work.

I was reminded of this fact this morning, when I found a pile of thick, extra-long scarfs knitted by our long-time legal assistant, Janice Collins.  Janice – a knock out litigation assistant — told me she just has to keep busy in the evenings, and so knits away.  She recruited H&M tax and estates lawyer, Fred Scott, to pass out these scarfs to homeless people on his daily walks to Court.

They did not want me to write about this.  Their motivation to help others, in some small way, stay warmer in the cold weather months, was certainly not motivated by a desire for attention or recognition.  But I couldn’t help but share this story.  It’s another reminder that people are what make a work place and a law firm great.  I am thankful to call Harrison & Moberly and its people my law firm family.

A Celebrity’s Daughter’s Death and Estate Planning for Young Adults

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the importance of having your now adult child get his or her estate planning documents prepared.  The idea may seem unnecessary at first blush — your now 18 year old (or twenty-something) “adult” child has just reached the legal age of adulthood and likely has yet to accumulate significant assets.  He or she may in many ways seem still like a child to you, and not yet ready for important adult documents.  However, under the law, they are adults, and you are no longer their default decisionmaker nor are you automatically granted access to your adult child’s medical records.  This is an important time for your child to designate whom he or she wishes to make these types of decisions.

A celebrity death serves as reminder to us of all the necessity of getting these documents in place.  Bobbi Kristina Brown, the twenty-two year old daughter of Whitney Houston and Bobby Brown, died recently after several months in a comatose state.  You can read more about the tragic story here and here.  Unfortunately, her lack of incapacity planning documentation and resulting legal protections (not unusual, given her age) resulted in a family legal fight during her incapacity.  A reminder to talk with your young adult children about the necessity of getting, at a minimum, their incapacity documents in place under the counsel of an estate planning attorney.

UPDATE: Congress Passes ABLE Act

Update on the ABLE Act:

From the National Academy of Elder Law Lawyers:

Congress passed the ABLE Act on this week, which creates tax-favored accounts for children and adults whose disability occurred before age 26.

The ABLE Act allows these tax-favored accounts to receive up to the annual gift tax exemption (currently $14,000 per year). Beneficiaries are restricted to one account, but anyone could contribute to their account. Modeled after 529 college savings accounts, ABLE account programs will need to be implemented by the states.

According to the Congressional Budget Office, “assets in an ABLE account and distributions from the account for qualified disability expenses would be disregarded when determining the qualified beneficiary’s eligibility for most federal means-tested benefits. For SSI [Supplemental Security Income], only the first $100,000 in each ABLE account would be disregarded.”

The Senate passed the ABLE Act as part of the Tax Increase Prevention Act of 2014, also known as “tax-extenders,” a bill that includes a variety of extensions for temporary tax provisions. The House passed the ABLE Act overwhelmingly 404-17 on December 3, 2014, and engrossed it into the “tax-extender” bill before sending it to the Senate last week.

The President is expected to sign this legislation.

Advocacy Alert – Sharing Post from NAELA

The National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys asked its members to share this post:

“This Week: House Could Vote on Tax-Favored Accounts
for Some Persons with Disabilities

The House may potentially vote on a bill this week that would create tax-favored accounts for children and adults whose disability occurred before age 26.

The most recent version of the bill, known as the ABLE Act, would allow these tax-favored accounts to receive up to the annual gift tax exemption (currently $14,000 per year). Beneficiaries are restricted to one account, but anyone could contribute to their account.

According to the Congressional Budget Office, “assets in an ABLE account and distributions from the account for qualified disability expenses would be disregarded when determining the qualified beneficiary’s eligibility for most federal means-tested benefits. For SSI [Supplemental Security Income], only the first $100,000 in each ABLE account would be disregarded.”

The news came as part of the House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s (R-CA) floor schedule for the week. Congress hopes to finish up its lame-duck session in the next two weeks.

The Senate would still need to pass the Act before going to the President’s desk for signature. The original version, which was substantially larger in scope, had 74 co-sponsors in the Senate and 380 in the House.

NAELA will continue to monitor this legislation as it develops.”

Source: http://www.naela.org, December 1, 2014

Estate Planning and Our Four Legged Friends

Yesterday I visited Indianapolis’s Cat Haven, a wonderful local non-profit that provides homes for abandoned cats.  Many of these cats are elderly (10 years old or older), which gave me pause to consider how a cat that age would end up abandoned.  It seems likely to me that those animals may very well have been loved by an owner who passed away, leaving no one to care for the beloved pet.

High-profile estates, such as Joan Rivers, often provide for well-funded pet trusts.  However, planning for your pet to be cared for upon your death does not  require large sums of money, great wealth, or celebrity.  Pet Trusts are legally-enforceable instruments under Indiana law.  You can set aside a certain sum of money to provide for your pet(s) in a Pet Trust, designating a person or persons to care for your pet(s) and providing funds for your pet’s welfare.  Upon your pet’s death, you can direct for any remaining Pet Trust funds (not used for your pet’s benefit during his lifetime) can be distributed to your human beneficiaries or charities.  Even if you do not wish to provide for a Pet Trust, your Last Will and Testament is an ideal place to identify the person(s) who will care for your pet after your death.   I enjoy assisting estate planning clients with Pet Trusts and planning for beloved pets and would be happy to answer questions about planning for pets.

Here are some additional sources of information about planning for a pet’s care in the event of the owner’s death:

Humane Society of the United States: Providing For Your Pet’s Future Without You

ASPCA: Planning for your Pet’s Future

Prof. Gerry W. Beyer: Frequently Asked Questions About Pet Trusts

 

 

Estate Planning Beyond Documents

See the New York Times today for an article titled There’s More to Estate Planning Than the Will.  It is an excellent article and well worth the read.  I agree with the conclusion that documents are not enough.  While it is truly a gift to your family and loved ones to have all of your documents in place and up to date, the gift of well organized affairs — paperwork, passwords, records all in one place and organized — cannot be overstated.   I have seen firsthand the relief and deep appreciation of surviving family members when their deceased loved one has left everything “all in order.”  It is a true gift.

The article describes the book by author Erik A. Dewey.  His Big Book of Everything can be downloaded for free here.  What a nice gift!  His form, or a similar one, could be a good place to start — in addition to estate planning documents — to “get your affairs in order.”