Do you really need a will?

There is a question we hear alot when people come to our office – namely: Do you really need a will?
You May Not Think You Need a Will, But You Really Do.

Most Americans do not have a simple will as part of their estate plan. You might believe that a will is only for the rich and famous, and not the average person who has a far smaller net worth. On the other hand, you may think that a will is entirely unnecessary since you have a trust, jointly owned property, or have named beneficiaries on your insurance.

So, do you really need a will? The short answer to this question is “yes.” Continue reading

Four Reasons Why Estate Planning Isn’t Just for the Top 1 Percent

There is a common misconception that estate plans are only for the ultra-rich – the top 1 percent, 10%, 20%, or some other arbitrary determination of “enough” money.  In reality, nothing could be further from the truth. People at all income and wealth levels can benefit from a comprehensive estate plan. Sadly, many have not sat down to put their legal house in order.

According to a 2016 Gallup News Poll more than half of all Americans do not have a will, let alone a comprehensive estate plan. These same results were identified by WealthCounsel in its Estate Planning Awareness Survey. Gallup noted that 44 percent of people surveyed in 2016 had a will place, compared to 51 percent in 2005 and 48 percent in 1990.  Also, over the years, there appears to be a trend of fewer people even thinking about estate planning.

When it comes to estate planning, the sooner you start the better. Continue reading

5 Things Every New Mother Needs to Know About Wills

As a new mother, you naturally want to ensure your new baby’s future in every way. For many new mothers, infancy is a time for celebrating new life, and making a will is the last thing on their minds. For others, the process of bringing new life into the world sparks intense feelings of wanting control and needing organization. Regardless of where you fall on that spectrum, you might be struggling to figure out what steps you need to take to protect your children’s future should the unthinkable happen. Here are five key things every new mother should know about wills.

  1. Naming a guardian could be the most important part of your will.

If you pass away while your child is a minor, the first issue to be addressed is who will assume responsibility for your child’s care. If you don’t name a guardian for your child in the will, the courts may decide this question for you, and the guardian might not be the person you would choose. Selecting a trusted guardian is in many ways more important at this stage than deciding about how to pass any assets you own.

  1. Name an executor you trust.

To ensure your child does receive all that you have allocated when she comes of age, choose a trustworthy executor. Many people choose a family member, but it’s just as acceptable to appoint a trusted attorney to handle your estate. Typically, an attorney has no emotional attachment to the family, which might seem bad, but usually results in less potential conflict.

  1. Named beneficiaries on your financial accounts may override the will.

Many accounts allow you to name a beneficiary. When you pass away, the funds go to the beneficiary named on the account, even if your will states otherwise. If you’re creating a will with your child in mind (or adding the child to an existing will), you should review your investment and bank accounts with your financial advisor to make sure there are no inconsistencies when naming beneficiaries. It’s also a good time to check retirement account and life insurance beneficiary designations with your financial advisor and your attorney.

  1. A will is not always the right document for your goals.

When naming your child as a beneficiary, a will only goes into effect after you die. If your will leaves property outright to a minor child, the court will step in and hold the assets until your child turns 18. Most 18 year olds lack the maturity to handle even a modest estate, so we don’t recommend outright inheritance for minor children.

A trust, on the other hand, goes into effect when you create it and can provide structure to manage the assets you leave behind for the benefit of your child. An experienced estate planning attorney can advise you on the best option for your family and your circumstances.

  1. In the absence of clearly stated intentions, the state steps in.

Think of a will, trust and other estate planning documents as an instruction manual for your executor and the courts to follow. You must be clear and consistent in your stated intentions regarding your child, as well as for others. If you’re not clear or if you don’t leave any instructions at all, the probate courts will step in and follow the government’s plan, which can lead to long delays and is probably not the plan you would have selected for your child and family.

Providing for your baby’s long-term welfare may start with just a simple will, but to be fully protected, you probably need more. That’s why it’s important to talk with a competent estate planning attorney to make sure you have the right plans in place to fulfill your goals. We’re here to help! Contact our office today at 832.408.0505 to talk about your options to protect your new baby.

Baltimore Register of Wills Can’t Find Her Father’s Original Last Will, Will Your Family Be Able to Find Yours?

While it’s not unusual for an original last will and testament to be misplaced, it is when your daughter happens to be the Register of Wills for Baltimore City. 

 What is a Register of Wills?

 In Maryland, the Register of Wills is an elected official in each county and the City of Baltimore who is responsible for overseeing the administration of the estates of deceased persons during the probate process.  As an added benefit, each Maryland Register of Wills provides safekeeping for the last will and testaments of living persons.

 Why is it Important to Locate an Original Last Will?

 Belinda Conaway became the Register of Wills for Baltimore City in December 2014 after her stepmother, Mary W. Conaway, held the office from 1982 through 2012.  After Belinda’s father, Frank M. Conaway, Sr., died in February 2015, court records indicate that the family was unable to locate his original last will and testament but did find a copy of a will he signed in 1999.  The 1999 will left Mr. Conaway’s estate equally to his children, Belinda and Frank M. Conaway, Jr.  In March 2015, Belinda filed a petition requesting that the copy of the will be admitted to probate.  She stated in her petition, “This copy was found among the personal papers and I have not been able to locate the original.” 

 Ironic, isn’t it?  Fortunately in this case, Mr. Conaway’s children agreed that the 1999 will was in fact their father’s last will and the probate judge admitted the copy to probate.  But this may not be the case in your situation.  Sometimes after an original will goes missing and a copy is found, family members will disagree about whether it is in fact the deceased person’s last will.  If this is the case, then the copy may be overlooked in favor of an older original will that has been located or state laws that dictate who inherits when there is no will (known as “intestacy laws”).

 This is why it is so important for your loved ones to be able to find your most-recent original last will – because without it, the laws of your state may presume that you intended to destroy your will and a copy of it will be viewed as worthless.

 Who Knows Where to Find Your Original Will?

 Do you know where your original will is located?  Do your loved ones know where your original will is located?  While your family members certainly don’t need to know what your will says, they do need to know where your original will is being stored. 

 On the other hand, if you’re uncomfortable letting family members know where to find your original will, then let someone you trust – such as your attorney, accountant, or financial advisor – know where to find your original will.  Otherwise, your family may end up in front of a probate judge and your true final wishes may be overlooked. Contact our office today at 832.408.0505 to see how we can help you!

 

3 Simple Ways to Avoid Probate Costs

The bad news: probated estates are subject to a variety of costs from attorneys, executors, appraisers, accountants, courts, and state law. Depending on the probate’s complexity, fees can run into tens of thousands of dollars.

The good news: probate costs can be reduced by avoiding probate. It’s really that simple.

Here are three simple ways to avoid probate costs by avoiding probate:

 Name a Beneficiary. The probate process determines who gets what when there is no beneficiary designation. So, naming a beneficiary is the easiest way to avoid probate. Common beneficiary designation assets include:

  • Life insurance
  • Annuities
  • Retirement plans
  1. Create and Fund a Revocable Living Trust. A revocable living trust owns your property, yet you remain in charge of all legal decisions until your death. After your death, your named trustee manages your assets – according to your A trust works well if properly created and funded by an experienced estate planning attorney.
  1. Own Property Jointly. Probate can be avoided if the property you own is held jointly with a right of survivorship. There are several ways that you can establish joint ownership of property such as:
  • Joint tenancy with right of survivorship – ownership simply transfers to other tenants upon your death;
  • Tenancy by its entirety – is a form of joint tenancy with right of survivorship, but only for married couples in some states;
  • Community property – property obtained during a marriage in some states;

State laws play an important role here. We can help you determine which form of joint ownership, if any, is a good fit for you.

 We Have the Tools to Help You

Contact our office today at 832.408.0505. We’ll help you decide whether it makes sense to avoid probate in your particular case and, if so, the best way to do so.

What to Expect from Estate Planning in 2018

2017 is now fading into the rearview mirror. As we all look ahead to 2018, let’s consider a few things to watch regarding estate planning, so you and your family can be completely protected.

  • The death tax. The death tax has been in a state of flux ever since the early 2000s when the Bush administration’s first tax cuts changed the exemption and tax rates. The recently-passed Tax Cuts and Jobs Act is the latest significant change. Starting January 1, 2018, the estate tax exemption amount will double to $11.2 million per person (married couples have $22.4 million of combined exemption). Like the current exemption, this amount will adjust annually for inflation. However, this enhanced exemption expires on December 31, 2025, at which time it will return to an amount similar to the $5.49 million per person exemption we’ve had in 2017. Similar to what happened when the Bush tax cuts phased in (and were scheduled to expire) during the 2000s, we’ll face the same situation over the coming years – the law provides a deadline and timetable, but political activity may result in something entirely different. Regardless of your stance on this new tax law, if you have a plan based around the now-old rules, it’s time to visit with us, so we can make sure the plan still meets your needs and goals while maximizing the benefit to your family, charities, or other beneficiaries.
  • Incapacity planning. What happens if you don’t die? Historically, much of estate planning focused on what happened to your assets after your death. With cognitive impairment at near epidemic proportions, you must plan for the contingency that you don’t die and instead require assistance managing your affairs. Depending on your circumstances, this could range from a relatively simple matter of ensuring you have a trusted person authorized to make decisions to extensive planning to become eligible for help paying for nursing home care. Either way, now is the time to work with us to ensure that your plan protects you, even if you don’t die.
  • Giving your family lifelong financial security. Although you may not have a “large” amount of wealth now, you probably have an IRA or a life insurance policy. A modest IRA or life insurance policy could be the foundation for lifelong financial security for your family. To make this a reality, you need to set up your affairs with the proper structures to ensure money avoids costs, taxes, and the risk of financial immaturity or ignorance. We are here to help you ensure that the savings you’ve spent a lifetime building will be there for your family.
  • Fixing broken or old trusts. Many people have inherited assets from parents, aunts, uncles, and others through a trust. Some of these trusts may use old strategies or be expensive or difficult to administer. The law recognizes that old trusts may need some refreshing. There are many options available to modernize an old trust, and the best way to get started is to meet with us so we can explore which option is best for you and the trust you inherited.

2018 will likely be an exciting, dynamic year. No matter where you are on the estate planning journey, carve out some time to talk with us to make sure that you and your family are fully protected. Give us a call today.

Planning to Protect Your Assets

Asset protection planning is an important step to take in safeguarding your hard-earned assets from being lost, inadvertently, because you overlooked something important.

 The most foundational level of asset protection is to plan for what will happen to your assets in the event of your incapacity or death because you are 100% guaranteed to have one or both of those happen to you.

If you become incapacitated or die without proper planning in place, your assets will get stuck in the court system, and could be delayed in getting to your loved ones’ or even lost. If you have not reviewed your planning for death or incapacity in the past couple of years (or ever at all), you will want to call us for a Family Wealth & Legacy Planning Session as soon as possible.

And, what about planning to protect assets from things that could happen during life, such as potential litigation, taking on too many debts, accidents or other mishaps?

First and foremost, buy insurance! Insurance can do two things an asset protection plan can’t: pay to defend you in the event a lawsuit is brought against you and pay to settle any lawsuits. Bottom line: insurance says I love you. And, if you need it, you’ll be glad you have it.

As part of your Family Wealth & Legacy Planning Session, we will look at the types and amounts of insurance you have, and determine what else may be needed, or if you are even over-insured.

If you have a business, make sure you’ve fully separated personal and business assets. And that you are using your business entity properly, to ensure that any business activities are kept within your business entity, and that you have us review any personal guarantees before you sign something that could create personal liability for you.

If you need more thorough asset protection, due to an upcoming marriage, or engaging in other risky behavior, please contact us sooner rather than later.

Asset protection cannot happen after something happens. It must be set up ahead of time to be effective, and so it must happen now, if you want to get set up right.

Protecting your assets takes know-how. If you’re ready to develop a smart asset protection plan, consider sitting down with a licensed Estate Attorney. As your Estate Planning attorney, we can help you with your asset protection planning needs. Our Family Wealth & Legacy Planning Session guides you to protect and preserve what matters most. Before the session, we’ll send you a Family Wealth & Legacy Inventory and Assessment to complete that will get you thinking about what you own, what’s most important to you, and what you can do to ensure your family is taken care of.

This article is a service of Gratia P. Schoemakers, Estate and Business Attorney. 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 & Legacy 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 at 832.408.0505 to schedule a Family Wealth & Legacy Planning Session and find out how to better protect your family.

Why You Should Never Buy Your Will From Living Social or Groupon

Of the handful of major life events that require your serious consideration, few are as emotionally charged as how to leave your assets for loved ones at the time of your death. This often complex process is accomplished via testamentary documents such as wills and trusts, which have recently become available for purchase online as standard forms.

The assets you have acquired during your life and the ways that you own them are often far more complex than a standard legal document or online service can anticipate.  When you make that all important decision to create a will or put your assets into a trust, you need an experienced estate planning attorney to guide you so that your wishes for life and death can be carried out without risk of your family getting stuck in court or conflict, when it’s too late.

Your incapacity or death will be an emotional time for your family. During this time, they need guidance, not a set of documents, which may not have even been kept up to date or adequately cover after-acquired assets.

In certain cases such as being married multiple times, having minor children, or owning a small business, legal assistance is especially necessary.

There may also be a variety different tax or asset protection implications for your inheritors. The right lawyer can advise you on the best way to handle the different assets you own such as real estate, investments, a small business, or personal property.

Is a trust right for your situation? Is there a way to transfer an asset before you pass, so that it will be protected from claims, creditors or taxation? Groupon can’t help you with that.

You may save money initially if you have a simple, small estate with few assets by just using a form that you find online. However, if you become incapacitated before death, your family could get stuck with a long drawn out court process, as they attempt to get control of your financial assets. And, if your document is unclear, contestable, or wholly or partially invalid, it’s your family who will be paying the price down the road.

Speak with a licensed Estate Attorney to create an estate plan that protects you and your loved ones.

This article is a service of Gratia P. Schoemakers, Estate and Business Attorney. 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 & Legacy 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 at 832.408.0505 to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and find out how to better protect your family.

 

Tax Lessons to be Learned from Celebrity Estate Plans

A celebrity’s image and likeness can continue to produce considerable income after death. This type of intellectual property is considered part of your estate, and the IRS can tax its value. In the case of pop star Michael Jackson’s estate, that recently meant an IRS bill to the tune of $64.5 million, years after his death, which is about 40% of his likeness’ valuation of $161 million.

Michael Jackson’s estate planning fail could certainly have been avoided by using one of these estate-planning strategies that minimize the taxable value of a person’s image and likeness.

Charitable Bequests

Robin Williams made a charitable bequest of his image and likeness to a foundation. It was set up in his name, allowing his estate to get a charitable deduction against the estate tax.

Time Bans

Williams also established a 25-year time ban to prevent any future exploitation of his image. A time restriction lowers the value of a celebrity’s name and likeness because the value is typically lower at the end of the ban than at the date of death.

State of Residence

Some states don’t recognize inheritable postmortem rights to likeness. This means the estate can’t profit from it. Consider your state’s laws when estate planning so you can benefit from any available tax breaks.

Consult with Multiple Appraisers

Get one appraisal and have another appraiser act as a consultant to point out where there might be room to argue against the valuation.

Celebrity estate planning fails grace the cover of tabloids and news sites as soon as weeks after their deaths. Fortunately, they provide valuable estate planning lessons for the rest of us. While their fails may be more expensive, even a small fail can have a huge impact on your family’s future and well-being. Don’t leave your family holding the bag, especially an empty one.

Your family is worth the time for you to have a Family Wealth Planning Session with us so you can make empowered, informed choices for the people you love. As your Estate Attorney, we can walk you step by step through a process that will minimize your tax liability and keep your family out of court and out of conflict.

Our Family Wealth & Legacy Planning Session guides you to protect and preserve what matters most. Before the session, we’ll send you a Family Wealth & Legacy Inventory and Assessment to complete that will get you thinking about what you own, what’s most important to you, and what you can do to ensure your family is taken care of and you’ll leave the Session with absolute clarity about how to make the best choices for your life and death.

This article is a service of Gratia P. Schoemakers, Estate and Business Attorney. 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 & Legacy 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 at 832.408.0505 to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and find out how to better protect your family.

Facing Grief After the Death of a Loved One Can Be the Key to a Life of Health and Wholeness

If you have ever met someone who repeatedly sabotaged their life or seemed to have a hard time moving things forward, despite the best of intentions, it may be that they were dealing with unprocessed grief. Most people have never been taught to deal with grief and as a result are stuck dealing with confusing emotions, relationships that don’t work and lives that can feel like they just don’t work.

This relationship between facing grief and being able to move through it in a healthy way was discussed at length by Prince Harry in a recent podcast with Bryony Gordon of Mad World. In the interview, Prince Harry addressed his personal struggle with dealing with the loss of his mother, grief he spent 20 years denying.

Raised in the spotlight, in a culture where keeping up appearances and holding it together are paramount, Prince Harry struggled through early adulthood and didn’t know why. A few very public drunken escapades and the expectation that feelings were not to be discussed led Harry to a very dark place. Some blamed it on traumatic experiences he’d had while serving in Afghanistan, but deep down Harry knew that wasn’t the cause.

His rage grew and he had no outlet. Thankfully, he started talking – to family members and to a therapist. And things began to shift. He slowly realized that the public grieving he was forced to do as a child did not adequately release his intense emotions. He took up boxing to deal with his anger and started a non-profit organization to help others, passionate about spreading the word that grief should not be suppressed.

Prince Harry discovered that simple and honest conversation about death and grief were the key to healing. In doing so, he processed his feelings and moved on from the death of his mother in a healthy way. Now he enjoys helping others move through grief and other painful emotions by listening to their problems, a technique he says is sometimes all you need to face grief and gain clarity of mind about your feelings.

Clarity in the face of grief is important not only to keep moving forward in your life and process your emotions in a healthy way, but it’s also necessary to be able to make the important decisions often faced when someone dies – and often not considered until it’s too late. The unfortunate result is a tough transition when a loved one dies.

What we can learn from Prince Harry’s experience is that grief should never be ignored. Denial can contribute to self-destructive behavior and an avoidance of dealing with important issues, such as how a loved one’s wishes should be carried out.

To be proactive and reduce the strain on your family when you die, so that they can focus on moving through the grief instead of stuffing the feelings so they can deal with all of the “stuff” you’re leaving behind, create a comprehensive estate plan that makes it easy for the people you love. Doing so will allow your family to focus on processing their grief without having to worry about over-managing your estate.

If you are ready to take that step toward making things as easy as possible for the people you love in the event of your incapacity or death, start by sitting down with us. As your Personal Family Lawyer®, we can walk you through creating an estate plan that will protect what you value most. We always begin with a  Family Wealth Planning Session so you can get informed, educated and empowered to make the right choices for the people you love. . 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, and how your affairs should be handled when you die.

This article is a service of Gratia Schoemakers, Estate Attorney. 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