Estate Planning Considerations for Mothers

How should a mother provide for her children in her will?  A recent article asks this question, pointing out that many women live alone and need to make decisions on their own, and not with a spouse or partner, regarding their estate planning, finances, and inheritance for their children.

“There are 26.7 million women who are aged 65 or older, according to the 2016 profile of older Americans by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Nearly half (46%) of women who are aged 75 or older live alone. These women have homes, financial resources and children, requiring them to make these decisions on their own.”

The author points out that a mother’s desire to treat her children “equally” in her estate planning, may not match the realities faced by her children.  “For many, dividing the inheritance equally among their offspring is a deeply held value. But it isn’t always easy: What if one child is a successful professional with a good pension plan, and the other is a struggling artist who may never have adequate health coverage? Or perhaps one daughter has a special-needs child, and the other has chosen not to have children? What then is the process of balancing their value of equal distribution and the contradictory need to make financially realistically decisions?”

 

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.

 

Estate Planning for Parents of Young Children

This is a topic of much passion for me.  Estate planning is a necessary protection for all parents with minor children.  Yet, national surveys reveal that less than 40 percent of Americans with children under the age of 18 have their estate planning documents in place.  (LexisNexis 2011 EZLaw Survey).

As a parent with young children myself, I understand that it may seem impossible to find the time to meet with a lawyer and get estate planning documents in place.  Life is busy!  Estate planning often seems like something that can wait to another, less hectic time.  Or, some parents, especially those with young children and just beginning their careers, feel that they have not yet accumulated sufficient assets to warrant the need for such a plan.  And, if I’m being honest, although I personally find estate planning to be a topic of great interest, most people do not particularly enjoy the topic or find it unsettling.  Who wants to talk about planning for death?

Estate planning is necessary!  It is as important as the other basic protections we have in place for our children and loved ones.  Here’s why:

1. Avoiding Intestate Distribution.  You likely do not want your Estate distributed according to the “intestate” or default distribution plans put in place by Indiana Probate law.

2.  Naming a Guardian For Minor Children.  You will want to name an individual(s) to care for your children in the event that both parents should pass.  In the absence of a written appointment by the minor’s parents (through a Last Will & Testament or other document), the Court will select a Guardian, most likely choosing among surviving family members who seek the appointment, and without the benefit of instruction from the child’s parents.

3.  Putting in Place a Plan to Manage Your Children’s Inheritance.  If something should happen to you (and your spouse) while your children are minors, you will want to put into place a trust to manage and distribute your children’s inheritance.  Without such a plan, the Court will appoint a custodian to manage the money while your child is a minor and, in most cases, your child will receive her inheritance outright at the age of 18.  Planning with trusts will allow you to put in place the management of your child’s inheritance until ages you determine are appropriate for distributions, holding it in trust beyond the age of 18.  In addition to managing and investing the inheritance funds, the trustee will use the inheritance to provide for your child’s care, support and education until the ages of distribution.

4. Planning with Beneficiary Designations.  An estate planning lawyer will help you set up your beneficiary designations to fully take advantage of trusts you put in place for the protection of your minor children.  Without such properly worded designations, your children will receive assets such as life insurance, 401(k)s, and IRAs, outright at the age of 18, and not protected by trust.

5.  Planning for Incapacity.  In addition to protecting your family in the event of death, an estate plan should also include incapacity planning documents, including a General Durable Power of Attorney, Living Will, and Appointment of Health Care Representative.  If you should become disabled or incapacitated, these documents will be essential to the continued function of your family and eliminate the public and potentially expensive and time-consuming process of a guardianship.

6.  Other Concerns.  A solid estate plan (and counsel of an estate planning attorney) affords other protections.  Additional topics that may be relevant to you and your family include Federal Estate Tax, avoidance of probate, second (or subsequent) marriages, blended families, children with disabilities requiring long-term care, and capital gains/income tax planning.

 

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?