Why DIY Estate Planning is a Bad Idea For the People You Love

America is a nation of do-it-yourselfers, but building a deck and creating a legally valid estate plan are two entirely different things – and a less-than-perfect deck won’t devastate your family’s financial future or the relationships among the people you care about most.

The prevalence of online legal services has led many people to believe that they can create legal documents cheaply and those documents will be just as effective as if they had visited an estate planning attorney.  And this is why that is wrong:

No legal advice – these sites are little more than document mills that churn out the same generic forms over and over.  They are not attorneys and cannot advise or warn you if you make a mistake. Plus, who will be there for your family when something happens to you if you’ve used an online document drafting service?

Think your family doesn’t need an advisor to support them when you are gone?  Think again.

Consider this: Erica’s father was killed in a motorcycle accident. Dad didn’t leave much behind, but he did leave an estate plan prepared by a trusted family attorney.  Had the family attorney not been there for Erica and her brother, they would have taken what dad did leave and drowned their sorrows in a European backpacking trip.  Thanks to this family attorney, though, Erica and her brother now have a healthy trust fund set up for them for life with the proceeds of a successful wrongful death case.

Leaving it to your family to know what to do after you’re gone is a big mistake for the people you love.

One size doesn’t fit all – your family is different from everyone else’s family.  Just like every state has different inheritance laws, every family has different situations.  An online form will not help you protect a special needs child or relative, or protect a child’s inheritance from creditors or a nasty divorce.  An online form cannot tell you how to protect assets from taxes or help you achieve your goals.

And, an online form cannot keep your family out of conflict during a time of grief.  Even if you don’t have a lot of assets you are leaving behind, whatever you do have will be subject to distribution between the people you care most about.  Some of the biggest disagreements we’ve seen after death, aren’t about loads of money, but about the little things and those little things aren’t going to be dealt with well with form documents.

Save now, pay later – you may think you are saving money by using an online service to create your will or trust, but it is impossible to make a fair comparison since the services provided are entirely different.

An estate planning attorney creates an entire plan tailored to your individual needs in a legal document that will stand up in court, and advises you on ways to cut taxes and save for retirement and long-term care.  No online service does that.

In addition, your trusted advisor is going to be there for your family when you cannot be. The people you love will need someone to turn to after you are gone.  Do you want them to be stuck with figuring out who that should be during their time of grief? Or do you want to leave behind the gift of having taken care of things well during your lifetime and a trusted advisor to hold their hand when you no longer can?

We invite you to take advantage of our specialized legal services for families with a Family Wealth Planning Session.  Call our office today to schedule a time for us to sit down and talk about designing an estate plan that fits the needs of you and 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.

 

What a Will Won’t Do

There are a number of essential things a last will and testament can do for you, such as distribute family heirlooms and name a guardian for minor children, but there are some equally important things a will won’t do:

Diminish estate taxes – a will won’t help you decrease your estate taxes, but a Personal Family Lawyer® can advise you on what kind of trust instruments can accomplish this for you.

Provide long-term care – if you want to provide for someone with special needs or a person with long-term care needs, you will need to establish a trust or invest in a life insurance policy.

Distribute some types of property – to distribute assets from a retirement or investment account or the proceeds of a life insurance policy, you must execute the proper beneficiary designation forms, which supersede instructions in a will.  If you own property jointly with someone else, your will won’t allow you to distribute that property.

Provide for pets – since pets cannot legally own property, you will either need to establish a pet trust or designate a caretaker and provide funds for the care of your pet after you are gone.

If you’d like to learn more about wills, living wills, advance health care directives, Power of Attorney for Health Care designations or any other aspects of estate planning, call our office today to schedule a time for us to sit down and talk.

Procrastinantion is the #1 reason why people don’t plan… so schedule your no-obligation, no-pressure Family Wealth Planning Session, before the inevitable happens to you. Call our office Today!

Leaving Without a Plan: Prince Didn’t Leave a Will & Here’s Why You Should

Even after death, celebrities are highly publicized for their mistakes, many of which we make ourselves. April 21, 2016, superstar musician Prince suddenly died, leaving no will, and the management of his substantial estate fraught with legal complications and added costs.

It’s easy to assume that the wealthiest among us have all their ducks in a row, but it’s hard to judge someone—even a celebrity—for neglecting something like the creation of a will. Until you stop to seriously think about what will happen when you die, creating a will can seem like an unnecessary and morbid task, certainly not something you casually check off your to-do list. Nevertheless, the importance of having a will simply cannot be stressed enough. Below are just a few of the reasons why everyone should have a will, no matter their wealth, age or health.

You can name the person you want to manage your estate in your will. You will get to choose someone you trust and make sure they have all the knowledge they need to ensure your wishes for your estate are carried out.

You can decide who your beneficiaries will be. You can also disinherit those who would normally stand to inherit from your estate if you choose. Your wealth and possessions are yours; a will provides a legally enforceable way to ensure they go to the right people.

You can ensure your minor children will be raised by the people you want, for the long-term. If you have minor children, you should name a legal guardian and include provisions for their care in your will. But, don’t rely on a will alone because it won’t address the immediate care of your children if something happens to you, it won’t provide for your children’s care in the event of incapacity and it won’t ensure someone you would never want to raise your kids could not.

You can leave gifts and donations to your favorite charities or people you love beyond your legal family. Without a will, your estate would pass to the people designated to receive it under the law, and that may not be who you would want to receive everything you own. Creating a will ensures you get to choose who gets what.

Important as they are, a will can only do so much. For example, a will does not keep your family out of court.

And, a will does not ensure your kids will never be taken out of your home, if something happens to you.

And, a will does not keep your family out of conflict.

A will is only one part of a comprehensive estate plan that will protect and enforce your wishes when you die.

If you are ready to take the right steps toward making informed, empowered and educated decisions for the legal and financial future of the people you love, start by sitting down with a Personal Family Lawyer®.

As your Personal Family Lawyer®, we will walk you step-by-step through the creation of an estate plan that will protect what you value most. Our Family Wealth Planning Session™ helps you protect and preserve your wealth for future generations. Before the session, we’ll send you a Family Wealth Inventory and Assessment to complete that will get you thinking about what you own, what matters most to you and what you want to leave behind.

This article is a service of Gratia P. Schoemakers, esq. 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. Begin by calling our office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session.

 

Avoid these 10 Common Estate Planning Mistakes

As a Personal Family Lawyer®, I see many of the same estate planning mistakes made time and again by people who either fail to plan properly or who use “do-it-yourself” estate planning websites or forms in an effort to save money.

Without professional guidance, this can cause more problems for your heirs and end up depleting estate assets by far more than what you could potentially “save” by doing it yourself online.

A qualified estate planning attorney or Personal Family Lawyer® can help you avoid these 10 common estate planning mistakes:

  1. Failure to leave any written documentation of your assets, including a list of your online accounts and passwords
  1. Failure to let family members know where to find important estate planning documents
  1. Failure to name a guardian for minor children or choosing a guardian who lives far away without planning for temporary, local guardianship (solved with a comprehensive Kids Protection Plan®)
  1. Failure to name recipients for your personal possessions
  1. Failure to designate beneficiaries for retirement and other financial accounts
  1. Failure to name secondary beneficiaries
  1. Failure to name alternative trustees or executors
  1. Failure to properly fund or title assets to any trusts you have established
  1. Failure to update your estate plan as life circumstances change
  1. Failure to create an estate plan of any kind and instead leaving it to the court system to decide how your assets will be distributed

If you’d like to learn more about how to avoid common estate planning mistakes that could cost your heirs dearly, call our office today to schedule a time for us to sit down and talk.

Estate Planning Essentials for Parents

A comprehensive estate plan can protect the things that matter most. For many, this means their property and their family.

Including provisions for the care of your children in your estate plan is essential for peace of mind. But many parents struggle with including such provisions as naming a legal guardian for their child in their plan. Indeed, even the fictional parents in the popular television sitcom Modern Family struggled with this issue in a recent episode. While Jay and his new and much younger wife Gloria agonized and argued about who they should name as a legal guardian for their children, their children were left at risk that if something happened to Jay and Gloria before they decided and properly named guardians in a legal document, a judge would make the decision for them. Not ideal, under any circumstances.

When naming a legal guardian for your minor children, there are many factors to consider, such as whether the guardian has similar values to yours or can provide a welcoming home environment. But the toughest decisions are often the most important. Consider the outcome if you died without having legal protections for your children in place. Your children could be subject to conflict between relatives or they could be raised by someone you would never want, or in a way you wouldn’t want.  They could even temporarily be taken into the care of strangers.

Identifying and naming a legal guardian for your children in your estate plan is a difficult and important task. Don’t put off naming a legal guardian for your child. While thinking about what will happen to your child if you die is difficult even for fictional parents, your kids deserve the protection and you deserve the peace of mind that a legal guardian can provide.

Unfortunately, even if you have made the hard decisions and worked with a lawyer to name legal guardians in a Will, your kids could still be at risk, because that would not take into account what happens if you become incapacitated, or if your named guardians all live far from your home, and it wouldn’t protect against anyone who may challenge your decisions. The only way to ensure your kids are raised by the people you want, in the way you want, never taken into the care of strangers (even temporarily) and that your kids would never be raised by anyone you wouldn’t want, is by creating a comprehensive Kids Protection Plan®, which only a select few lawyers, like us, are trained to prepare.

If you are ready to take that step, start by sitting down with us. As your Personal Family Lawyer®, we can walk you step by step through creating a comprehensive Kids Protection Plan® that not only names a legal guardian for your child in your Will, but also ensures your kids care is fully provided for, in the short-term and the long-term, and in the event of your incapacity.

Working with a trusted Personal Family Lawyer® will ensure your entire family is protected and cared for no matter what.

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.

If you would like to create or update your estate plan, call our office today to schedule a time for us to sit down and talk.

Why You Need to Update Your Estate Plan After These Life Events

Too many estate plans are created and then quickly forgotten, put on a shelf, and never looked at again. While we do recommend that you review and update your plan at least every three years, no matter what happens in your life, your plan must be updated immediately in the event of  any of these seven life events.

  1. Marriage

Getting married is the joining together of two lives. Your plan must address and account for your new legal status. Naming your spouse as a beneficiary on your insurance policies, updating your will and/or trust, and including him or her in the determination of how your financial and medical decisions will be made, if you cannot make them for yourself, are all critical steps to take after marriage.

  1. Divorce

When you begin the process of getting divorced, you also must update your estate plan, unless you continue to want your future ex-spouse to receive your assets, and make financial and medical decisions for you, if you cannot.

Once your divorce is complete, you may have an entirely new asset profile to plan for now that you know what you own, what your ex-spouse owns and how you hold title to your assets, so it’s time to update your estate plan.

  1. Births and adoptions

Providing for the care and custody of your child in the event of your death or incapacity is  paramount in your estate plan. That means naming guardians for your new child, both long and short-term, with a Kids Protection Plan® is a must. And, if you have not already done so, you’ll definitely want to consider setting up a trust for your child, to receive the assets you will be leaving behind.

  1. Deaths

The death of a loved one die is never easy. And when they were a part of your estate plan, their death should prompt a review of your own plan sooner rather than later. You may need to name new beneficiaries, find a new person to hold Power of Attorney, update your health care directive, or identify new guardians for your children. This should not be put on the backburner.

  1. Sickness

If you are in the midst of an illness, you may want to revisit who you have chosen to make medical decisions for you, in the event that you cannot, and how you want those decisions to be made.

  1. Moving

When you move to a new State, have a lawyer review your estate plan to ensure your documents will still operate as you desire. . Some documents may need to be revised and you will certainly want to ensure any new real estate you acquire in your move is accounted for and properly transferred into your plan.

  1. New Assets Acquired

More money means more problems, but only if you don’t plan well. Revisit your estate plan each time you change investment accounts, inherit any assets, acquire new property or other investments, or start or sell a business. Most plans fail because they do not take into account all of the assets owned by the person who died.

If you are anticipating or have recently experienced one of these major life events, contact us. It’s time to update your plan. 

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.

How to Discuss Estate Planning With Aging (or Sick) Loved Ones – Part 2

In our last newsletter, we shared the first part of our article on how to discuss estate planning with aging (or sick) loved ones.

If you didn’t read it yet, you can do so here

The holidays can be the best time for you to be ready to discuss these issues with family, and the more you are prepared, the easier it will be.

Here’s the bottom line: learn to ask the right questions and then listen deeply. This may be a difficult topic for your loved one to discuss, so make sure you are bringing your curiosity, not answers, and then staying open to truly hear what your loved one wants.

Ask your loved one what role they would like you to take, rather than assuming. And reassure your loved one that you have no expectations, but that you will be involved as much or as little as he or she desires.

If you need support on the right questions to ask, check out the Conversation Project. Their Conversation Starter Kit, available for free on their website, has a series of questions that you can use to begin the conversation about end of life care with your loved one.

Be able to answer questions. If your loved one hasn’t thought about estate planning, make sure you can help him or her make important decisions about their estate plan and end of life wishes. You may want to consult with an experienced lawyer who handles estate planning first, and suggest your loved one speak to a Personal Family Lawyer® for a full Family Wealth Planning Session.

You can offer to attend the Session with your loved one, but be prepared for us to confirm with your loved one (outside of your presence) that he or she feels comfortable with you in the room and that he or she was not pressured into having you present.

Discuss estate planning and end of life wishes with your loved one before it’s too late. If your loved one becomes incapacitated or dies before you have an understanding of his or her wishes, it will be challenging to ensure their medical choices, and the management of their estate will be handled they way they would have wanted. And, you could end up in Court, unnecessarily. We are here to help your family stay out of Court and out of conflict. It’s our mission.

Finally, you may want to check out the Five Wishes process for discussing and documenting end of life medical-decision making. In the event that you do, please contact us after the Five Wishes document has been created so we can review it for you and your loved one to ensure that it will meet the requirements you will need to actually support your loved one, in the event they cannot make their own medical decisions.

If you need to come in and meet with us over the holidays, because you are visiting family or having family visit, and it’s the best timing for you, please contact us to schedule now and we’ll do our best to fit you in during our special holiday hours for families like yours.

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 and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.

Can Facing Your Death Actually Increase Happiness During Life?

Bhutan is an independent state in Southeast Asia, bordered by China to the north and India to the south.  Nestled in the Himalayas, Bhutan is the last remaining Buddhist state in the world. But one of the most unique aspects of Bhutanese government is the country’s use of the Gross National Happiness (GNH) Index to measure the society’s level of happiness.

The country reports 91.2% of Bhutanese are narrowly, extensively, or deeply happy. What could be causing all this happiness in Bhutan?

Culturally, the Bhutanese are “expected to think about death five times a day.” Some people feel that reflecting on death causes greater focus and increased appreciation for life.

Consider an article written by Eric Weiner for the BBC. Weiner cites research that seems to demonstrate a connection between thinking about death and positive thoughts. He also argued that “Unlike many of us in the West, the Bhutanese don’t sequester death. Death—and images of death—are everywhere.”

It’s true: Confronting the thing we fear the most can be incredibly freeing. For example, planning for death brings the peace of mind knowing we are prepared for it when the time comes. There is great satisfaction in life, ensuring our families will be provided for and our assets will be tended to, no matter what.

So when you’re ready to take that step, as your Personal Family Lawyer,® we stand ready, willing, and able to help you move forward with planning for what is simply and naturally a part of life—death.

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 and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.

Life Changes that Require an Update to Your Estate Plan

Even if you do not have an estate plan that you’ve created, the State has one for you. And it’s likely one you won’t like. It may be time for you to review the plan the State has for you and make more informed, empowered choices for your family.

If you have created an estate plan with a lawyer, or on your own, it may be time for a review and an update.

Estate planning is simply not something you do once, set it and forget it. In the same way your life, the law and your assets change, your estate plan must change as well.

Far too many people spend thousands of dollars on a plan, only to have it sit on a shelf getting stale, and then end up leaving their family with a huge mess they thought they had invested time and money to prevent.

Don’t let this be the case for your family. Your family is worth more than that.

The bare minimum, your plan should be reviewed every three years. We do recommend that your Family Wealth Inventory (or listing of your assets) be updated annually. You may want to check to make sure you even have an asset inventory included with your plan. Most plans don’t have this included.

Unfortunately, most lawyers (and every do it yourself) system overlooks this and there are Billions of dollars in our State Departments of Unclaimed Property as a result.

In addition to the minimum review every three years, your plan needs to also be reviewed in the event of any of these life changes:

  • significant changes in the value of your estate;
  • changes in your “income level or requirements,” such as retirement;
  • an out of state move;
  • job changes;
  • changes to family situations, such as births, marriages, deaths, and major illnesses;
  • changes to business interests;
  • significant purchases or payoffs;
  • major changes in insurance coverage; and
  • the death or major illness of someone named as your executor, trustee, power of attorney, or child guardian.

As part of our standard service, we create a Family Wealth Inventory of your assets so nothing is lost to the State Department of Unclaimed Property when you become disabled or die. In addition, we review your plan at no additional charge every three years, and have membership program options to review your plan annually plus make changes to your plan at no additional cost to you.  And, that’s just the beginning.

If it’s time to create or review your plan, contact us for a Family Wealth Planning Session. You’ll get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before and make informed, empowered decisions for yourself and your family. Because you and they are worth it.

This article is a service of Gratia P. Schoemakers,  Personal Family Lawyer,® who develops trusting relationships with families for life.  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 time for us to sit down and talk because this planning is so important.