Commit to Your Estate Plan Before Committing to a Trip Away

If you are planning a vacation, you probably have a lot to prepare for before you get away. Between structuring your itinerary, getting plane tickets or train reservations, and booking hotels, creating an estate plan is probably not something you thought to add to your to-do list. But, think again and consider that now is the time to take action on this vital piece of your legal life planning.

If something were to happen to you while away on vacation, whether an illness, injury or even death, your family would be stuck with a huge mess to clean up.

The Barber family of Southern California is an unfortunate example. Mom, dad and three kids went on a roadtrip to Arizona where they were in a terrible accident. Mom and dad died, and their three boys were injured, but alive.

It took the authorities a couple of days to locate any relatives, during which time the boys were in the protective custody of strangers. A fate no parent ever wants for their children in a time of tragedy, fear and grief.

The family member that was located first was a sister of the mom and she promptly took the boys back to her home and didn’t let any other family members see the boys.

It took many hundreds of thousands of dollars and at least 7 lawyers to sort out the family fighting that ensued over both the boys and the assets left behind by the Barber parents.

And it all could have been easily avoided with a small amount of planning in advance.

Making the commitment now to create a comprehensive estate plan will ensure your loved ones will not be stuck in court or conflict, if the unexpected happens while you are on vacation.

At least 8 weeks before you leave, schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session with us. During that Session, we’ll get you more financially organized than you’ve ever been before (ensuring none of your assets are lost if you are injured on your vacation) and guide you to make informed, empowered and educated choices for yourself and the people you love most. If you are leaving sooner than 8 weeks from now, call our office and let us know you need a rush Family Wealth Planning Session and we will see what we can do to get you started.

Whatever you do, do not just think a standard set of estate planning documents will serve you or your family. What you and your family need is a plan that properly addresses the care of your children (if you have minors at home), your assets and the parts of your life that go beyond just the money. We can explain more during the Family Wealth Planning Session.

This article is a service of Gratia P. Schoemakers, Personal Family Lawyer®. We don’t just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love.  That’s why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session,™ during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session!

7 Steps to Creating an Estate Plan That Keeps Your Family Out of Court

Many people fail to create an estate plan because they don’t truly understand what is involved and therefore believe it is too complicated. But the real truth is that creating an estate plan during your lifetime is far less complicated than what your family will deal with after you are gone, if you don’t:

  1. Create a Trust. When most people think of preparing for the end of life, they think of writing a Will, but having a Will without a Trust is fast track to put your family in the Courthouse after you are gone.  Instead, to keep your family out of Court, you’ll want to set up a Trust and title all of your assets to be owned by that Trust.  While it might feel like a lot of effort, it will save your family a LOT of trouble after you are gone.
  2. Designate beneficiaries. Designating beneficiaries for your retirement accounts and insurance policies is critical because these assets do not pass through your Will or Trust.  Filling out beneficiary designation forms for each of your accounts will ensure these assets pass to the people you want to have them and stay out of the Court system.  Be sure to review your beneficiary designations periodically to be sure they align with your current circumstances. Hot tip: never name minor children as beneficiaries of your retirement account or life insurance policies AND if you have more than $150,000 in a retirement account, consider a special trust called a Retirement Trust to ensure the most beneficial tax treatment for your loved ones.
  3. Avoid estate taxes. Most of us will not have to worry about estate taxes since the federal estate and gift tax exemption is $5.49 million ($10.98 million for married couples) in 2017 and indexed every year for inflation.  However, if you are married and wish to take advantage of portability – where spouses are entitled to each other’s unused exemption – the surviving spouse must file the required paperwork to claim the exemption.

Plus, 15 states and the District of Columbia have state estate taxes, so you could still owe even if your estate is too small to owe federal tax. The big key here is to not just leave a set of documents that your family will have to figure out after you are gone, but give them the gift of a trusted advisor to turn to; call us if you’d like to consider having us be that trusted advisor for your loved ones.

  1. Leave a letter of instruction. Not everything you may wish to pass on to your heirs – like instructions for your funeral – should be put in your will or Trust.  Leaving a letter of instruction with your family or attorney can ensure your final wishes are respected.  And take it one step further with a Family Wealth Legacy CD or DVD in which you record your values, insights, stories and experiences for your loved ones to refer back to for generations to come.  We provide this service at no additional charge for our clients because we know this is one of the things families value the most and is least often handled.
  2. Sign a durable power of attorney. Estate planning is not just about death, but also ensuring your family can handle things in the event you become incapacitated.  Signing a durable power of attorney that designates someone to handle your financial affairs will save time, money and hassle for your family that, without it, will have to go to court to have a guardian or conservator appointed to manage your financial affairs. This could cost tens of thousands of dollars and is easily handled with one simple document and a trusted advisor for your family to turn to in a time of need.
  3. Create an Advance Healthcare Directive. This document designates a decision maker of your choosing to make sure your wishes are followed when it comes to the medical care you want – or do not want – to receive when you are incapacitated or near death.  You will also need to sign a HIPAA release form so your medical records can be released to your health care agent and medical professionals can discuss your medical care with that person.
  4. Organize your paperwork and digital files. Since many of us live our lives online these days, make sure your executor has access to all your digital information, including website addresses and the log-in information for those sites.  Put all your important paperwork – deeds, insurance policies, bank and brokerage statements, etc. – in one file and let your executor know where it is.

Bonus tip: If you have minor children at home (or adult children with special needs), don’t rely on naming guardians in your Will alone. Create a comprehensive Kids Protection Plan to ensure your children’s care is covered not just for the long-term, but for the immediate term as well and no one you don’t want raising your kids ever has a chance to take control.

Contact us about scheduling a Family Wealth Planning Session so we can sit down and talk about designing a plan that fits the needs of you and your family.  Surprisingly, sometimes the less you have, the more important it is to plan.

 

Go to Walmart for Bananas, Not Estate Planning

Did you know that the best-selling item at Walmart is bananas?  It’s true, and has been for several years.  So the next time you need a great price on your favorite yellow fruit, go ahead and head for Walmart.

But steer clear of the world’s largest retailer when you need a will or other estate planning documents.

While not available in the U.S. (yet), Walmart has been selling wills for $99 in several Canadian locations.  You can also get powers of attorney at the boutique law shop called Axess Law set up in Walmart.  And in our opinion, that’s not just bananas, it’s nuts too.

Creating an estate plan is something you do to leave a legacy of care and love for the people who matter to you the most.   Working with an attorney who understands your goals and wishes for your family, and can articulate those in a well-crafted estate plan, is a much better alternative than relying on a one-stop shopping experience, be it at Walmart or through online legal websites with standard forms that can’t begin to know what you truly want and deserve for your loved ones.

Having the caring guidance of a Personal Family Lawyer® will ensure that your estate plan takes advantage of the ever-changing state and federal laws as well as reduces the potential for family feuds.

If you’re the parent of minor children, your attorney will help you create a valid will (and if you work with a Personal Family Lawyer®, a comprehensive Kids Protection Plan®) that ensures the well-being and care of your children; without one, a judge will make that decision for you (or your kids could even be taken from your home temporarily).

Even if you don’t have minor or dependent children, you have stuff that will have to be handled after you are gone and a $99 will is likely only going to make it worse for the people left to clean up the mess.

Estate laws vary by state, which is another good reason to have a Personal Family Lawyer® guide you.  The probate process can be lengthy and arduous; your attorney can help you and your family stay out of Court, saving time, money and stress.

Finally, many life circumstances – remarriage, divorce, new children – impact your estate plan, so be sure you review it annually and keep it updated when things change.  Having a Personal Family Lawyer® who knows you and your family makes it much easier to keep your plan on track, so it will always be just what your family needs, when they need it.

If you would like more information about creating or updating your estate plan, call our office today at 832.408.0505 to schedule a time for us to sit down and talk and find out how to best protect your family.

Why You Should Get Estate Planning Off Your To-Do List

There are many goals most of us want to accomplish in life, and some of the most important ones center on family and money. Here is what a thoughtful estate plan can help you accomplish that involves both:

Control health care decisions. Most people will die in a hospital or care facility, and many will lack important decision-making capacity for their own care. You can name the people responsible for health care decisions if this should happen to you through an advance medical directive as part of your estate plan.

Control your finances. By assigning a durable power of attorney in your estate plan, you can save your family from the expense and emotional trauma of having to go to court to take control of your finances via a conservatorship in case you become incapacitated.

Plan for your long-term care. Most of us will require long-term care at some time during our lives, and it can be expensive – even financially devastating for many families. An estate plan will help you take the necessary steps to plan for your long-term care so it doesn’t fall to your family.

Keep peace in the family. By determining where your assets will go and having the right beneficiaries named on retirement and bank accounts, you will help ensure family harmony and fend off any potential inheritance fights.

The process of estate planning is ripe for procrastination since so few people understand it or – more commonly – wish to contemplate their own demise. Yet it still remains one of the best things you can do to protect your money, your health and your family.

Here are 3 tips to get estate planning off your “to-do” list:

Consider your children. Estate planning helps you protect your children throughout their lifetimes. When they are young, you need to appoint a guardian if something should happen to you. When they are older, you want to have the financial capacity to send them to college. When you are gone, you want them to enjoy a legacy that includes passing on your values as well as your assets.  Only estate planning can do this for you.

Review beneficiary designations. Life insurance policies, retirement accounts, investment accounts and other financial vehicles all require you to complete a beneficiary form to designate who will receive the assets upon your death. With no form, state law will govern, and your assets may go to those you never intended to receive them, or worse, go to your estate and be depleted by taxation. Be sure you have beneficiary forms on file for your accounts and that they are reviewed at least annually for any necessary updates.

Consider your own health. If you become incapacitated, who will be making your health care decisions for you? Do you want your life to be prolonged via life support no matter what? Whatever your wishes are for your own health, they won’t necessarily be followed unless you have executed a Living Will or assigned powers of attorney to see to these matters.

Make this the year you create your estate plan – or, if you have a plan that hasn’t been reviewed in the last two years, to update your estate plan. It’s a gift that will keep giving to you and your family.

The best way to learn about estate planning for your family is to meet with us for a Family Wealth Planning Session, where we can identify the best strategies for you to provide for and protect the financial security of your loved ones. Don’t wait! Give us a call today at 832.408.0505, we love to hear from you.

 

When Duty Calls: Navigating the Sandwich Generation with Ease

The average age of parents raising children in the US continues to rise, leaving many middle-aged Americans in a category commonly referred to as the the “sandwich” generation.

This growing population of professionals are often still raising kids at home when they become responsible for the care of their own aging parents. The stress and financial strain of managing the affairs of both children and parents can become overwhelming. The following tips can help make this challenging life stage manageable and more enjoyable.

Assess the Financial Situation

Taking time to thoroughly understand the financial picture for your own household is imperative as you step into a role of responsibility for your aging parent. Prepare for the inevitable and avoid surprises by working with a professional to consider how your role in the care of your parent will affect the plans you are making for your family’s financial future. Take advantage of our Family Wealth Planning Session process, a comprehensive planning process that ensures your legal, financial and insurance needs are covered appropriately.

Plan Ahead

Benjamin Franklin is quoted as saying that, “Failing to plan is planning to fail.” Planning for your family’s future means preparing for the worst and hoping for the best. As you move through helping your aging parent with important Estate Planning decisions, take time to be sure your own wishes are legally binding as well.

Be sure to include:

  • Medical power of attorney – appoints a person to make medical decisions if you are unable to do so
  • Durable power of attorney – designates a person to make financial decisions if you are unable to do so
  • Living will – expresses your wishes for end of life decisions
  • Will – carries out your wishes in the event of your death
  • Kids Protection Plan – designates a legal guardian for your minor children in the event of your incapacitation or death

Pay Attention to Red Flags

Even if your aging parent is still quite capable, work together to assess their financial situation carefully and be on the lookout for signs that anything is falling through the cracks. Common red flags are:

  • Frequent calls from creditors
  • Forgetfulness when it comes to bills and deadlines
  • Unopened mail

Utilize professional legal and financial support when necessary and communicate clearly so everyone knows who is responsible for what.

Practice Good Self Care

Stress is one of the most common consequences of caring for two generations at once. Balancing the responsibilities of raising children and caring for aging parents with relaxation and play is vital over the long-haul. Remember that adequate rest and good nutrition will provide you with the extra energy you’ll need when times get tough. Most importantly, remember that you don’t have to do it alone! As your Personal Family Lawyer®, we are ready to assist you when duty calls.

Now is the perfect time to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session, where we’ll review your current financial situation in light of your future responsibilities. With our assistance, you’ll gain the confidence of knowing you’re making the most empowered, informed and educated legal and financial decisions for yourself and the ones you love.

We, at GP Schoemakers PLLC, don’t just draft documents, we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love.  That’s why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session™ during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love. Begin by calling our office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session.

Consider Your Estate Plan Before Your Summer Travel

It’s summer, when travel is the busiest and careful planning is necessary to nab the best airfare or book that awesome beach cottage before it slips away. One thing that is probably not on your travel to-do list is estate planning, but it should be so you can travel with peace of mind.

Here are some tips to pack away your worries before you board that flight:

Complete your estate plan. If you’ve been putting it off, now is the time to complete your estate plan. If money is a consideration, then start with those the most important items: a will, power of attorney and advance health care directives.

Update an existing estate plan. Has something changed in your life since you last updated your estate plan? A birth, a death, a marriage, a divorce? Each of these triggers your need to update your estate plan.

Establish guardianship for minor children with a comprehensive Kids Protection Plan(r). Before you travel, make sure you have a plan in place to ensure the well-being and care of your kids, no matter what. A plan that only names guardians in a Will could leave your kids at risk of being taken into the care of strangers while the authorities figure out what to do, if something happens to you.

Review beneficiaries. Beneficiaries of your retirement accounts, life insurance and other assets must be kept current or your assets will not pass to them upon your death. If you have minor children, you will need to set up a trust and name the trust as beneficiary so your assets can pass without court intervention.

Review/update incapacity documents. Two very important health care documents – a durable power of attorney for health care and a HIPAA Authorization – will determine who can make medical decisions for you and who has access to your medical records in case of incapacity. Be sure you have these documents before you travel and that the person/people named are still valid.

Review/update insurance. Does your life insurance coverage still meet your family’s needs?  If not, it is time to update your insurance policy before you hit the road.

In addition, you need to be sure you have an organized file of all your accounts and estate planning documents and you need to tell your family where they can locate the file if and when it becomes necessary.

The time to create a plan that spells out how you will pass on your values, beliefs and your money to your children is now. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a time for us to sit down and talk.

What We Can Learn From Downton Abbey About Estate Planning

Downton Abbey – the PBS drama about the fortunes and misfortunes of an aristocratic British family in the early 20th century that has taken American audiences by storm – gets most of its gripping plot twists as the result of a number of bad estate planning moves.  For example (Spoiler Alert: these include references to Season 3 that recently concluded):

Protect your inheritance.  The Earl of Grantham inherits Downton Abbey and marries a rich American to keep the estate solvent.  However, he squanders the family fortune on an unwise overseas investment that goes belly up.  The family turns to Lady Grantham’s rich American mother, but she is unable to help since her fortune is tied up in a trust.

If the Earl’s fortune had been properly protected by a properly counseled and prepared trust, the estate could have been protected from his spendthrift investing.

Have a succession plan.  The Earl’s new son-in-law Robert Crawley – also heir apparent to Downton Abbey since he is the last remaining male relative of the line – inherits a fortune from his former fiancée’s father to save the estate just before the family is forced to sell.

While the infusion of the new windfall saves the estate, Robert and the Earl disagree about how the estate is to be managed.  Robert wants to modernize; the Earl is stuck in the old ways of doing things.  Bad feelings among family members ensue.

Bringing the next generation into the family business can be a smooth transition when a succession plan is put into place and the roles and responsibilities of each family member are clarified and communicated.

Create an advance medical directive and Kids Protection Plan®.  The Earls’ youngest daughter Sybil tragically dies in childbirth.  As she falls ill, family members struggle over the course of treatment, bringing in two doctors who disagree as to the best medical plan.  After her death, her family has to make their best guess as to how she would want her daughter raised.

A medical directive could have provided the family with important information on what Sybil would have wanted if she were unable to make medical decisions for herself.  A Kids Protection Plan® would have addressed guardianship issues and spelled out her wishes for her daughter’s upbringing.

If you’re ready to do the right thing for your family, call our office today to schedule a time for us to sit down and talk.

No More Reasons for Delay in Implementing These 5 Estate Planning Essentials

Last year’s uncertainty about the future of the estate and gift tax caused many people to put their estate planning on hold, even though estate and gift tax planning is only a teeny tiny piece of estate planning.  Now that the clouds have lifted and Congress has given us clarity, there is simply no reason for anyone to delay in implementing these five estate planning essentials:

Will.  Look around you right now.  Everything you see has to be distributed in the event of your death.  Your Will names the person you want to handle it all and can also indicate who you want to receive it all.  If you don’t have a Will, a Judge decides who is in charge of your affairs and State law provides who receives everything you own.  Take control now by getting your Will in place today.

Kids Protection Plan®.  If you have minor children at home, you need a comprehensive set of documents to ensure they are taken care of by the people you want, in the way you want, no matter what.  Not just for the long-term, but also in the immediate term if and when something happens to you.  A Kids Protection Plan® does just that.  Only a licensed Personal Family Lawyer® has the skills, training, and resources to create a comprehensive Kids Protection Plan for your family, so call us today if you do not have one in place already.

Advance Medical Directive.  Also known as a health care proxy, durable power of attorney for healthcare or living will, this document provides the legal right for the person of your choice (your representative) to make healthcare decisions for you in case you become incapacitated and unable to make those decisions for yourself.  Plus, it also lets that person know HOW you want decisions to be made if you cannot make them for yourself.  Without an Advance Medical Directive in place, your family could have their hands tied when it comes to ensuring you get the best care possible, in the way you would want.

Power of Attorney.  In the event you cannot communicate, your Power of Attorney will allow your family to gain access to your financial accounts so they can pay your bills and manage your financial affairs. Without this in place, they’ll face an expensive, long and public court process to take matters into their hands.  Don’t leave your family in that position, handle this today.

Trust.  If you own any property that would go through the probate process (a home, bank accounts, brokerage accounts, business assets, investment real estate, and other investment assets), you’ll want to make sure to have a Trust set up as soon as possible so your family isn’t stuck dealing with an expensive, unnecessary, long, and totally public Court process in the event of your death.  A revocable living trust puts the people you know, love and trust in control without having to go to Court.

If you’re ready to do the right thing by your family, call our office today to schedule a time for us to sit down and talk.