Estate Planning Under New Tax Law

With the new tax law, and the Federal Estate Tax exemption at more than $11 Million per person, the question arises: Is Estate Planning Now Dead?

The answer is without question: No, estate planning is certainly not dead!  Planning is as important as ever.  The change in tax law merely provides an opportunity to focus on other priorities, including providing for care and protection of minor children, determining the right decision makers, and achieving charitable and family goals.  The list of planning considerations is as diverse and as unique as each individual, and the for those who no longer planning around the Federal Estate Tax, this is a great opportunity to make sure other planning objectives are achieved.

Do You Have A Will?

If the answer is “no,” a recent survey shows that you are not alone.  Only 4 in 10 American adults have a will or trust in place.  While older Americans are more likely to have a plan in place (81 percent of those age 72 or older and 58 percent of boomers), younger Americans, including those at ages of having minor children, are much less likely to have a plan.  A “a whopping 78 percent of millennials (ages 18-36) and 64 percent of Generation Xers (ages 37-52) do not have a will.”  See this AARP article for more information about the survey results.

 

An Estate Planning Reminder for Parents with Minor Children

I just tweeted an article by a Boston financial planner, Dee Lee, who discusses the importance of parents with minor children getting their estate plans in place.  I strongly feel that setting up an estate plan with protections for minor children is just as important as the other aspects of parenting for which we take so much care and concern.  I have written about this here and here.   Just like finding the right pediatrician, car seat, and child care, an estate plan is an essential protection for your children.  This writer said it so well, that I am posting here some highlights — and  a good reminder — from her article:

“Experts estimate that less than 35% of individuals have wills. This is one thing people procrastinate about, especially parents with young children.

These parents are focused on the safety issues around their home to keep the kids safe but have not done any estate planning to keep the kids safe if something should happen to them.

At the very least, you need a will naming guardians for your children if something should happen to you and your spouse.

Without a will you are leaving behind a messy situation to be handle by whoever the court appoints. And if there is life insurance involved I can guarantee even your cousin Vinny will offer to take the kids.”

By Dee Lee, Where There’s a Will, There’s A Way, August 27, 2015

 

 

Joan Rivers and End of Life Planning

Fellow legal bloggers Danielle and Andy Mayoras (find them here and here) have a great article today about end-of-life lessons to be learned from Joan River’s passing.  All estate plans should include planning for incapacity and end-of-life decision making.  The Mayoras’ article excellently explains why this is so important.

As they explain:  “Too many people think that estate planning is all about wills and trusts.  Far from it, end of life planning is often more important.  In fact, every adult over the age of 18 needs to have some type of advance directive in place.”   The consequences of not having such documents and place, can include a public and invasive guardianship proceedings through the courts, in order for the family to be legally appointed the decision makers.  In the case of facing an end of life decision, such as in Joan Rivers’ example, this process could be particularly painful and compound the grieving process of the family forced to make such decisions.  (Can you imagine the pain of having to go to court to obtain a guardianship while your loved one is near life’s end?)  Further, as the Mayoras explain, the guardianship process “can set the stage for a nasty family fight if people disagree on termination of life support (Terri Schiavo being a prominent example), or even a complete refusal to allow the life support to end, if the patient’s wishes were never reflected in writing.”

Bottom line: incapacity planning, including appointing a decisionmaker and stating your end-of-life wishes through a Living Will, are essential to any solid estate plan.  Such planning is an invaluable gift to yourself and your loved ones.

What Can Celebrity Deaths Teach Us?

High profile celebrity deaths are regularly in the headlines. The ongoing legal battle faced by Anna Nicole Smith, and now her Estate, continues.  That case included allegations of interference with inheritance.  Casey Kasem‘s last months raise questions about guardianship, elder abuse, fiduciary roles, and end of life decision making.  Philip Seymour Hoffman‘s estate plan, lacking in planning for the Federal Estate Tax and failing to include a child born after the his Will was executed, was largely seen as incomplete protection for his family.  Similarly, James Gandolfini’s Will was panned.  As one commentator summarized, “the most common tag-line is that his will is a tax disaster.”   In contrast, Robin Williams’ estate plan, is viewed by some as an example of a solid planning.

These estates serve as reminders for all of us to revisit our estate plans.  Key among the lessons are that even if you have a plan in place, you need to revisit that plan every couple of years or after a change in life, such as after the birth of a child or a divorce.  Questions to consider:

Do you have an estate plan?  Do you have a Will?  Could a Trust be a helpful instrument for you?

When is the last time you reviewed your plan?

Are all of your children included in your plan?  Who do you name as their guardians?  Are these still the right people?

Do you have trusts to provide for your children until the are the appropriate ages to handle money?

Do you have incapacity documents in place?  Who have you named to be decisionmakers in the event you are incapacitated?  Are they still the right people?

Could your Estate be subject to Federal Estate Tax?  Do you have a plan in place to minimize potential Federal Estate Tax liability?

Adult Guardianships in Indiana

Good planning for the possibility of future incapacitates, can decrease the likelihood of ever needing a guardianship.  However, if documents are not in place, or even if they are, a guardianship can be needed in certain situations.

What is an adult guardianship?

An adult guardianship is a court proceeding by which a court adjudicates whether a person has the capacity to make financial and medical decisions for herself.  It is a serious proceeding.  A determination of incapacity means the loss of many legal rights, including the ability to enter into contracts.  If the court determines that an individual is incapacitated, the court appoints a guardian to make decisions for the incapacitated person.  The guardian role is similar to that of an attorney-in-fact and health care representative, documents that can be prepared when an individual has capacity, for future incapacity planning.

When is a guardianship needed?

A guardianship may be needed when an individual is no longer able to make financial and health decisions for himself.  This may be due to illness, injury, or other cause.  Guardianship is also available for children due to their age of minority.  Even if Power of Attorney and Appointment of Health Care Representative in place, a guardianship can be necessary, particularly in cases of financial elder abuse or people seeking to take advantage of the incapacitated person.

Who can be appointed as guardian of an adult?

Under Indiana law, the court will first look to the individual named as in a Power of Attorney document as the Attorney-in-Fact to serve as guardian.  If there is no qualified Attorney-in-Fact, the court would next give priority to a spouse followed by an adult child, if that person is suitable and willing to serve.  An independent person or an corporate fiduciary could also serve in this role.

What is guardianship of the person?

A guardian of a person is responsible for the food, health, and shelter needs of an incapacitated person.  The guardian is responsible for the physical and emotional well being of the incapacitated person.  The guardian makes healthcare decisions for the incapacitated person and is responsible for making sure the living arrangements for the incapacitated person are appropriate for their needs.

What is a guardianship of the estate?

A guardian of the estate is responsible for the financial affairs of the incapacitated person.  The guardian will pay the incapacitated person’s bills and manage their finances.  The guardian has a duty to prepare and file an inventory with the court and file regular accounting.

Does a guardianship process require the assistance of an attorney?

In addition to the obtaining the assistance of an attorney in the guardianship filing and procedure with the court, once appointed, a guardian will benefit from the assistance and advise of legal counsel in carrying out their responsibilities and duties.  An attorney will prepare the guardianship petition, represent the potential guardian before the court, and will assist with the preparation of the inventory and accounting to be filed with the court.  The guardian serves in a fiduciary role, and an attorney can advise the guardian as to his responsibilities and duties in that role.

An alleged incapacitated person also has a right to be represented by counsel in the guardianship proceedings, and may wish for counsel to protect his rights.