Our blog provides education and information on estate planning issues to help you keep you informed on new developments in this area of law. Please note that information in this blog and website is informational only and is not legal advice.
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We work hard to build up the assets that compromise our estate and the last thing we want to happen is for one of these assets to be missed by our loved ones.
Years ago, when someone passed away, the executor of their estate would spend several days at the decedent’s home carefully reviewing every document they could find – bank statements, credit card statements, files, paperwork, bills, etc. It was a labor-intensive process, but by the end, the executor could feel reasonably confident they had located all the assets.
These days, however, things aren't as simple. Take a minute to think about how many of your financial statements have gone paperless. If you’re like me, it’s the majority of your accounts. Indeed, as more of our financial statements and communications move online – each with its own separate user name and password – the harder your executor’s job becomes and the more likely an account gets missed.
The solution is to leave a detailed list of your financial accounts, including financial institution, account numbers (the last four digits of the account number are enough), and approximate values, so your executor knows how much you have and where to find it. It's also helpful to include the contact information of your accountant, financial advisor, life insurance agent, and estate planning attorney.
Obviously, it goes without saying that this document should be kept somewhere secure, like a locked fire proof box. And although you’ll have to update it from time to time, once you invest the time to make your initial inventory, it’s fairly easy to keep up to date.
Given the importance of this issue, I provide my clients with an Asset Inventory to fill out and record this critical information, and include this document as part of the Estate Plan Portfolio they receive from my office.
During a divorce, there are five essential changes you should make to your estate plan to protect yourself and your assets. In Idaho, after a divorce is final, your ex-spouse is prohibited by law from inheriting your assets. However, if you die while your divorce is pending, these protections are not available and your spouse would likely inherit all of your assets, either under the terms of your current estate plan or under state law if you do not have an estate plan. This is probably that last thing you want to happen. Here are five steps to take when you file for divorce (or if you are contemplating filing for divorce) to exercise as much control as possible.
1. Update Your Will or Trust. In a typical estate plan, most spouses leave everything to each other. Your Will or Trust should be updated as soon as possible leaving your half of the community property, and all of your separate property, to someone other than your spouse. If you don’t have a will or trust, you should prepare one. Otherwise, your spouse will inherit all of your assets under state law.
2. Create a Children’s Trust if You Have Minor Children. If you have minor children, you should have a trust that names someone you choose as trustee to manage the assets your children inherit from you. If you don’t have an estate plan designating a trustee, your spouse will control these assets if something happens to you.
3. Revoke and Update Power of Attorney for Finance. A Power of Attorney for Finance allows you to nominate someone to manage your finances if you become incapacitated. Most spouses nominate each other as their agents and, in many cases, this power is immediate, meaning your spouse can access all of your accounts and assets, even if they are in your name alone. You want to revoke these powers as quickly as possible and provide notice to your spouse of your revocation. You also want to choose someone else to act as your agent.
4. Modify Medical Power of Attorney. You also likely have a medical power of attorney empowering your spouse to make health care decisions on your behalf. Given the current situation, your spouse is probably not who you want making these decisions. Revoke any medical powers of attorney naming your spouse, nominate a new agent, and notify your health care providers of this change.
5. Update Your Retirement Plan Beneficiary Designations. Your spouse is likely listed as the primary beneficiary of your retirement plan. Update your beneficiary designations to name someone other than your spouse. Although your spouse is probably entitled to a portion of your retirement account as part of the divorce, changing this designation now protects your interest in your retirement account.
At Shaila Buckley Law, we specialize in helping clients with this process to ensure your estate plan protects you during, and after, your divorce. Questions? We’d love to help. Give us a call at (208) 995-9224 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
One of the most important documents in an estate plan is the Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care, which allows you to nominate a Medical Agent to make decisions on your behalf.
What Is a Medical Agent?
A medical agent (also called a healthcare agent, healthcare surrogate, a healthcare proxy, or a medical proxy) is a person you authorize in a medical power of attorney to make decisions about your medical care if you are too ill to make them yourself or are otherwise unable to communicate your wishes.
Why is it important to choose a medical agent now?
The Covid-19 pandemic has rendered an unusually high number of patients in critical condition, with some on ventilators and under heavy sedation. Although the majority of people who get sick have mild symptoms and recover quickly, since no one knows exactly how they will be affected by the virus, it’s best to plan for the worst and hope for the best. Part of that planning is making sure someone can make healthcare decisions for you if you fall ill and are unable to make those decisions for yourself.
Factors to Consider in Choosing Your Medical Agent
A medical agent is an important role, and the person you choose will have the power to make critical healthcare decisions—like consenting to a treatment plan, whether to accept or refuse medical treatment, and which healthcare providers or hospitals to use for your care. As a result, it is crucial to think carefully about who you choose to fill this role. Many people simply assume that their spouse or their oldest child should take on this role, but they are not always the best suited. Here are some factors to consider when selecting an agent:
Medical directives may be among the most important legal documents you prepare - especially in light of COVID-19. Picking a medical agent can be tricky. If you need help thinking through your options, or if you need help with any other estate planning needs you may have — whether that’s setting up a financial power of attorney, last will and testament, or a trust — please give me a call 208-995-9224 or shoot me an email at email@example.com.
While most of us have thought about putting together an estate plan, it is not usually at the top of our “to do” list given the many things we juggle on a daily basis: work, taking care of kids or elderly parents, managing households, keeping up the house or garden, planning vacations, trying to exercise, seeing friends. . . and the list goes on.
As a result, many people now find themselves in the midst of a lethal and unpredictable global pandemic wondering what would happen to them and their loved ones if they became ill. Estate planning has suddenly become a top priority, but, given shelter in place orders and social distancing, putting together an estate plan right now can feel overwhelming.
Here is a short list of the bare-minimum estate planning documents that everyone should have in place as we move through this pandemic:
If you want more information on preparing these essential documents or estate planning in general, give me a call at 208-995-9224 or shoot me an email - firstname.lastname@example.org
Most people I know have years of old papers tucked away in filing cabinets, piled up on desks, or stored in the infamous “To Be Filed” folder. In the world of estate planning, these troves of documents are often left for heirs to sort through after a loved one’s passing. A big reason for this is that we don’t know what records to keep or for how long.
Here’s a list of the types of documents you should hang on to and the amount of time to keep these records.
Keep indefinitely in a safe place (such as a fireproof box or safe)
Divorce stinks. It’s awful for everyone and usually involves paying seemingly (and often actually) exorbitant sums of money to attorneys. Undoubtedly, the last thing you want to do after your divorce is meet with yet another attorney to discuss – of all things – estate planning.
But the period after a divorce is a critical time to address your estate plan. Under an Idaho law passed in 2018, an ex-spouse is treated as if they predeceased their spouse for the purposes of a will or trust. In simple terms, this means that if the will you created when you were married left everything to your spouse, then after you die, your assets would go to whomever you designated in your will after your spouse.
Given this law, why should you redo your estate plan? First, with your ex-spouse out of the picture, you should think about how you want your estate distributed. You may find that your feelings now are quite different than when you were married.
Second, an important part of a comprehensive estate plan includes designating who you want to make medical and financial decisions for you if you become incapacitated (in the form of a durable power of attorney for health care and a power of attorney for finances). For some couples, the only person they designate is their spouse. Without a backup listed, and with your ex-spouse prohibited by law from assuming this role, you have no one to make these decisions. This is not a desirable result.
Third, in my experience, most people don’t want their ex-spouse to play any role in managing their assets if they die. But, if you have children and don’t have an estate plan designating a trustee to manage the assets your children inherit from you, there is a high likelihood that a Court would appoint your ex-spouse to this role.
Fourth, redoing your estate plan ensures the least amount of hassle for your family. Although Idaho law prohibits an ex-spouse from inheriting your assets, the financial institution holding your retirement account and life insurance company may not know you were divorced. These types of assets pass outside of probate directly to whomever you named as your beneficiary (on forms you likely filled out years ago). The last thing you want is for your heirs to have to try to collect funds improperly paid to your ex-spouse, especially if your divorce did not end on good terms.
Last, unlike the attorney fees accrued in your divorce – which undoubtedly were hard to predict and multiplied at unsettling rates – redoing your estate plan, at least in my office, involves a flat fee. You’ll know the cost up front and will be able to ask questions without worrying about how many billable minutes just went by.
Did you know there is such as a thing as a Pet Trust? The most famous example of a Pet Trust may be the one set up by the hotel heiress Leona Helmsley. When Ms. Helmsley died, she left most of her $5 billion estate to charity, but also created a $12 million trust for her beloved Malatse dog, appropriately named Trouble. Further complicating matters was the fact that Ms. Helmsley cut two grandchildren out of her Will completely. As you might imagine, years of costly litigation resulted.
Formal Pet Trust are just one of many ways to provide for your pet in your estate plan. Here are some things I recommend considering when planning for your pet.
Who do you want to care for you pet?
Pets are considered “personal property” and will pass to whomever inherits your other assets unless you designate someone specific. Give some thought to your pet’s needs – health, activity level, disposition – when choosing who should care for them after you die. It’s also a good idea to check with that person and make sure they’re up for the job.
Do you want to leave money to care for your pet?
You can’t leave money directly to your pets. If you do so, those funds will simply be added back to the “residue” of your estate and distributed to your heirs. However, there are many options for providing financially for your pet.
Pet Trusts are one vehicle for doing so. Most Pet Trusts aren’t funded to the tune of millions of dollars. Instead, the average Pet Trust holds a modest amount of money set aside to help cover the cost of feeding and caring for your pet. And, as with all trusts, the terms are entirely up to you. Some people like to designate a trustee who is different from the person caring for the pet to manage the funds and make sure they are being used for the benefit of the pet.
A more informal option is to simply gift a certain amount of money to the person who becomes the guardian of your pet. Setting a little something aside to defray costs and thank the person who will care for your pet is a thoughtful gesture that is often unexpected but much appreciated.
Will your pet be hard to place?
If you have an exotic pet or one that may be hard to find a home for, it’s good to consider this in your planning. There are several organizations that can help, such as the ASPCA and private rescue organizations. In some cases, you can leave money to an organization to care for your pet during its lifetime and also to support the organization.
These are just a few of the many resources and options available to provide for your pet after you're gone. If you have questions or would like to discuss options, Shaila Buckley Law can help. Give me a call at 208-995-9224 or shoot me an email – email@example.com – to discuss. You can also click here to schedule an appointment.
When to Update Your Estate Plan
Once you have a well-drafted, personalized estate plan in place, the hardest work is done and you should congratulate yourself on checking this critical item off your “To Do” list.
Nonetheless, every couple of years, you’ll want to review your plan and make sure it still reflects your family’s needs and wishes. Life happens: children grow up, people move, you buy or sell a house. You want your estate plan to keep up with these changes.
Life changes that should be addressed in your estate plan include:
If you’ve experienced any of these life changes, or something else you think should be addressed in your estate plan, give me a call at 208-995-9224 or shoot me an email - firstname.lastname@example.org - and we’ll get it taken care of.
Choosing a guardian is often one of the most difficult choices my clients have to make. It’s terrible to imagine not being able to care for your children as they grow up, especially if your children are very young.
But not choosing someone is a much worse option. If you don’t designate a guardian for your children, a court would make the decision for you. And although Judges do their very best to decide what would be in the best interest of your children, they don’t know your children, or you family, like you do. As hard as it might be, it’s much better for you, your children, and, quite frankly, your entire family, to make this decision yourselves rather than leave it to someone else.
That said, what should you look for in a guardian? The first advice I give my clients is to think about people who share your values and parenting style. This may mean looking outside of your family. This is okay. There’s no rule that says your guardians have to be blood relatives, and some people find they have much stronger bonds with the family they chose rather than the family they’re born into.
Second, think about your children. Is their sense of place and home very important to them, or are they free spirits up for an adventure? Do they have a strong support network where you live? When my husband and I talked through our options, we felt that we wanted to pick a person who lived in Boise so that our children wouldn’t have to be uprooted from their friends and their community. For other people, however, this may not be an important consideration.
Third, talk to whomever you’ve chosen to make sure they’re up for the job. Perhaps your younger sister who is still single and living on her own in San Francisco isn’t ready to take on the responsibility and sacrifice that comes with raising children. Or, maybe your dearest friends are having problems in their marriage and aren’t able to manage anything more. In most cases, people are honored to be asked and happily agree. But it’s much better to know now that they are unwilling than to put someone in a difficult position down the road.
Fourth, and perhaps most important: you can change your mind. Pick someone and see how you feel about it. If you’re still worried about your decision a month after signing your will, you may not have picked the right person. Also, people and children change over time. Perhaps your parents were the right choice when your children were young, but may not be suited to raising teenagers. Or perhaps your younger sister has settled down and is now in a position to be a guardian. Regardless of the reason, changing your guardian is a simple (and inexpensive) thing to do.
So . . . hire a babysitter, go out to dinner, and have a long discussion about what feels right. Then make your decision, check your estate plan off your to do list, and devote your energy to something more pleasant!
For more information on Estate Planning for Parents, please click here.
A Children’s Trust is a trust that you create in a will, by means of a “testamentary trust”, or in a revocable living trust, to manage a child’s inheritance if something were to happen to you. In its most simple form, a Children’s Trust appoints a “Trustee” – a trusted adult picked by you – to manage your children’s assets until your children reach an age when they are mature enough to manage their assets on their own.
For example, a typical Children’s Trust structure I often recommend to my clients provides that a Trustee will manage the children’s assets until they reach the age of 23, at which point they will be able to request distribution of up to 25% of the principal of the trust. At age 25, they’ll be able to request up to 50% of the principal, and, at age 28, they’ll be able to control all of the funds in their trust.
I like this structure because it allows children to “practice” managing their own money while a majority of their assets are kept safe under the watchful eye of the Trustee. If they run through the first 25% in a matter of weeks, they’ll hopefully take note and do a better job the next time they receive a distribution.
In many cases, the amount of assets your children would inherit if you were to die is much greater than you might imagine. A lot of our assets are tied up in our homes, our retirement accounts, and in life insurance policies. None of these assets are “liquid” so you may not feel like you have a lot, but when everything is added up, you may end up with a much bigger number than you expected.
Imagine how you would have felt if you were given a substantial sum of money when you turned 21? I don’t know about you, but I thought I was invincible at that age and, quite frankly, had a pretty limited understanding of how to manage money. A Children’s Trust accounts for the exuberance and naivete of youth by protecting your children’s assets until they have the life experience to do so themselves.
Many of my clients own property in more than one state. They may have condos in a large city where they once lived which they now rent. Some own vacation houses some place warm and lovely. Others simply have real estate investments across multiple states. Whatever your circumstances, if you own property in more than one state, you will be subject to “ancillary probate” when you die unless you have an estate plan in place that avoids this process.
Typically, when the average person dies, their estate goes through probate in the state where they live. Probate is the process in which a court supervises the distribution of a person’s estate: attorneys must be hired, executors must be appointed, assets must be identified and valued, creditors notified, bill and taxes paid, and assets distributed to beneficiaries. However, if a person owns real estate in multiple states, a probate proceeding has to be filed in every state in which they own property.
As you might imagine, this can be a huge headache for their heirs. Attorneys have to be found and hired in every state, and attendance may be required at court hearings in multiple locations. In addition to the administrative hassle, however, are the significant costs involved.
Unsurprisingly, much of the cost comes in the form of attorney’s fees. In Idaho, it typically costs $3,000 to $5,000 in attorney’s fees to probate an estate. However, other states have much higher mandatory fees. California is one of the most expensive states. For example, in California, it costs $34,000 to probate a home worth $700,000. In Florida, probate costs are $3,000 plus 3% of the value of the estate between $100,000 to $1,000,000. So, a $700,000 house in Florida will cost $24,000 to probate.
You can see how costs can quickly add up! Fortunately, all of these costs and hassles can be avoided with thoughtful estate planning. If you create a living trust and transfer all of your real estate holdings, wherever they are located, into your trust, you can avoid ancillary probate. In fact, by placing all of your assets into a living trust, you can avoid probate all together and ensure your estate will be distributed in an expeditious and cost-effective way.
I can’t tell you the number of times a client has said, “But aren’t trusts only for the very rich?” “Trusts” hold a place in our collective imagine as something reserved for the uber-wealthy. We all know or have heard of a “trust fund baby,” those lucky folks who have inherited so much family wealth that working is optional and there are no worries over how to pay for college!
And while it is true that the very wealthy do use trusts to pass down family wealth and protect money from estate taxes, trusts – specifically revocable living trusts – offer significant benefits for average people.
Privacy. Having a revocable living trusts allow you to avoid having your estate pass through probate. Probate is a judicial process in which the court oversees the distribution of assets in an estate. Probate filings are public records and available to anyone who petitions the court. The terms of a trust, in contrast, are kept private. With a trust, the only people who know the value of your estate are your beneficiaries, and, if you so choose, the beneficiaries may only know the amount they have inherited, and not the total value of your estate.
Lower, predictable costs. Revocable living trusts enable you to predict and control administrative costs. With trusts, the main cost is in the creation of the trust, which you’ll know in advance. Once the trust is created, the costs to maintain it are negligible. More importantly, when you pass, the cost to distribute and administer your trust is small. In contrast, if your estate goes through probate, it’s impossible to predict how much the attorney fees, court costs, and filing fees will be. Currently, probate fees in Idaho range from $3,000 to $6,000.
Control over your assets. Revocable living trusts allow you to set up guidelines for how and when your heirs receive their inheritance. This is particularly important when you have minor children. A trust allows you to set up a timeline for when your children (or grandchildren) receive their assets – for example, you can give them chance to “practice” managing a portion of their inheritance with the security of knowing that a levelheaded trustee is keeping the remainder of the inheritance safe. You can also direct how the assets are used, for example for college instead of for a gap year in Bali.
Ease of administration. Living trusts are easier to administer after your passing. With a trust, your trustee will distribute your assets pursuant to your instructions. In contrast, with a will, your executor must wait for the authorization of the Court before distributing assets.
Faster administration. Probate takes an average of six months in Idaho, as certain statutory deadlines have to be met. With a trust, your trustee can begin to distribute your assets without meeting any statutory deadlines and on a much faster pace.
Lower likelihood of being contested. Revocable living trusts are less likely to be contested. During probate, attorney’s fees are given priority of payment from the estate. This means that attorney’s representing an heir who is contesting the will are guaranteed to be paid. Attorneys are often willing to defer their fees in this situation, meaning an heir can contest the will with few, if any, out-of-pockets costs. In contrast, a person challenging a trust has to pay their attorney upfront, making the challenge much more costly.
Protections for blended families. Revocable living trusts are great vehicles for blended families – allowing spouses to provide for each other while also balancing the needs of children from an earlier marriage.
Tax reduction. Revocable living trusts can help with estate tax avoidance, if this is a concern.