Estate Planning

Why Estate Planning Is Important to Younger Adults

Most young adults don’t consider estate planning a priority. Young adults in their twenties and thirties often think they don’t own enough to constitute an estate. However, an estate is the total of all you own – money, investments, real estate, vehicles, business interests, digital assets (including cryptocurrency), and other personal belongings. No matter how much or minor, you own your possessions need to go somewhere after you die. You may not think you will die young, but if the coronavirus pandemic has taught us anything, it is that life is uncertain. It is a myth that estate planning is just for the rich and the old.

What legal documents constitute an estate plan?

Some documents may vary depending on your wealth or financial structure; however, everyone should have a will. At the time of your death, everything you own becomes your estate. Your estate will go through a probate process where the court will determine what happens to you everything you own that doesn’t have a co-owner or beneficiary. Because the probate court will inventory your assets and notify and pay creditors, your will is a public record. If you have a will, the probate court will use it as a guide. In the absence of a will (dying intestate), the court will use state intestacy laws to determine who inherits your assets.

What does a will establish in an estate plan?

A will designates two critical things. The first is the naming of your executor. An executor is responsible for carrying out the instructions in your will, making payments on any outstanding debts, distributing assets to named heirs, and filing your final taxes. Second, if you have dependents, your will names the guardian and backup guardian to provide care for them. The naming of an executor and guardian for a dependent can only happen in a will.

The value of establishing an advance healthcare directive for young adults

All young adults should have an advance healthcare directive, also known as a medical directive or living will, which includes a durable healthcare power of attorney. These legal documents specify your healthcare wishes if you are permanently incapacitated or for end-of-life healthcare and designate who will make those decisions on your behalf according to your instructions. In addition, it is imperative to include a HIPAA privacy authorization form for your durable healthcare power of attorney or trustee. The form permits medical and healthcare professionals to disclose pertinent health information and medical records to your healthcare proxy.

While it may be uncomfortable to contemplate being unable to make decisions for yourself as a young adult, accidental injuries, heart disease, cancer, and strokes, to name a few, are becoming all too prevalent in young American adults. Making plans while you are competent and able is a prudent course of action and can bring you a sense of calm, knowing you have confronted the possibility and have a plan in place.

The value of a revocable living trust for young adults

Some young adults will have enough assets, real estate, or business interests to make a revocable living trust worthwhile. This trust type avoids the probate process, ensuring privacy. There is no limit to the number of times you can amend a living trust. You may change asset distribution or add assets as you acquire more throughout your life. An estate planning attorney can help you determine if your financial situation and age warrant the setting up of this type of trust.

You probably have more assets than you realize. To assess your situation, inventory all of your belongings which typically includes but is not limited to:

  • All bank accounts in your name and their approximate balances
  • All investments you own
  • Any property or real estate you own
  • Any retirement plans you have, including pensions
  • Any insurance policies you carry
  • Any retirement plans, including pensions, you own
  • Businesses you own, whether in part or whole
  • Valuable personal property such as your grandmother’s wedding ring, a collection of trading cards, or a grandfather clock
  • Digital assets such as cryptocurrency, income-generating online storefronts, influencer accounts, or income-producing subscription accounts like TwitchTV
  • Include all email accounts, login URL’s including user names and passwords where you receive critical communications
  • All outstanding debts

Once you realize the scope of your belongings and assets, you can begin formulating your estate plan. First, consider who you want to receive your possessions and think about secondary beneficiaries, especially over time, as early estate planning requires frequent reviews and updates in the event of deaths, marriage, divorce, or the birth of a child.

Once you have an inventory and have begun thinking about who should handle things upon your passing and who you want as beneficiaries, it’s time to sit down with an estate planning attorney. Working with an estate planning attorney is easier than ever now, as COVID-19 increases the use of video and smartphone conferencing that streamlines legal planning. Estate planning attorneys like us can create a plan that best suits your situation, even if you aren’t sure what to do. Proper legal documents can save your loved ones from an expensive probate trial should someone contest your will. Even as a young adult, it is best to start planning now, even if it is just with some primary documents.

We would be happy to discuss your needs in a confidential setting that you are comfortable with – by video, over the phone, or in person. Please contact our Reno office by calling us at (775) 853-5700.

Estate Planning

A Guide for Completing Your Estate Plan

As you may expect, the older population far outpace the younger counterparts in estate planning, however, 19 percent of those over age 72 and 42 percent of those between 53 and 71, according to survey data — lack any type of estate plan.

Although managing these details can seem daunting, and even depressing, the task becomes far less unpleasant with proper understanding and planning. Estate planning is essential for seniors and for their family members to be prepared in the event of a loved one’s illness or passing.

If you or an aging loved one have been putting off estate planning, start with the basics and learn why it’s important take the focus off of the negative and shift it to the positive benefits.

Understanding the meaning of “estate”

In addition to the fear factor of planning for illness and death, many seniors dismiss its importance because they don’t understand what “estate” means, or they believe it applies only to those with significant wealth. In reality, an estate includes anything a person owns — homes or other properties, bank accounts, automobiles and additional assets, and ownership of any licenses or patents. 

A person’s estate also includes any liabilities such as mortgages. These debts will need to be settled before loved ones or beneficiaries receive any compensation or death benefits. An estate plan encompasses more than distributing assets and settling debts, however. It also outlines decisions about healthcare and other key things.

The estate plan’s role in self-advocacy

Estate plans help seniors establish important guidelines that allow them to advocate for themselves. This is essential for seniors who wish to retain their independence and protect their assets. In addition to creating wills and other important documents, an estate plan allows seniors to have a say in the quality of their long-term care — whether at home or in an assisted living facility — and to qualify for associated government benefits to help pay for that care. It also helps them to protect their life savings and outline their wishes should they become incapacitated. 

Elder law attorneys can help clients develop strategies to enable seniors to better advocate for themselves in these scenarios.

What’s included in an estate plan?

A properly executed estate plan typically includes a Last Will and Testament, Living Will, and Medical and Financial Powers of Attorney. Let’s take a look at what each of these things is and the purposes they serve:

  • Last Will and Testament: Allows a person to determine who will inherit assets and appoint an executor who will make sure wishes are carried out.
  • Living Will: Allows a person to choose the type of care he or she wants should they become hospitalized and/or incapable of making decisions independently. A Living Will would, for example, outline a person’s wishes about certain medical treatments, such as blood transfusions, or whether or not they wish to be resuscitated.
  • Medical Power of Attorney: Appoints someone — generally a spouse or family member — to make decisions on a person’s behalf about medical care and treatment.
  • Financial Power of Attorney: Appoints someone — also typically a spouse or family member — who can make financial decisions on a person’s behalf. This includes allowing access to bank accounts to ensure bills and mortgages continue to get paid in the event of illness or incapacitation.

Establishing Trusts

Estate planning also includes provisions for developing Trusts. Trusts allow seniors to set aside money for specific people or charities while avoiding the long, drawn-out process of probate. This allows heirs and beneficiaries to receive intended inheritances much more quickly.

While many trusts are revocable, meaning the senior can change or terminate the trust at any time, irrevocable trusts are often used to protect the assets of a senior. Whether an irrevocable trust is right for your situation depends on a number of factors, including your health, what type of care you wish to receive and how you will pay for any care you may need in the future.

If you or your loved one has been avoiding this important planning measure, now is the time to begin. Being proactive increases options and makes the process far less stressful than trying to initiate planning or make important decisions during a health crisis or death. 

Cost is another reason seniors often cite for avoiding planning. However, elder law attorneys can tailor plans to specific needs, making them more affordable. If you have questions or would like to discuss your personal situation, please don’t hesitate to contact us. Please contact our Reno office by calling us at (775) 853-5700.

Elder Law, Estate Planning

Estate Planning Tips to Keep Your Plan Current

Studies have found that over 64% of Americans don’t have an estate plan. Many Americans over the age of 65 believe they lack the knowledge necessary to adequately plan for retirement and are not knowledgeable about basic retirement tools, like 401ks. If you don’t have a proper plan in place, or if your plan is decades old, don’t hesitate to contact a local estate planning attorney to start the process of protecting your loved ones’ futures. Here are a few quick estate planning tips that will help you learn more about this important area of law.

It is not only for the rich and famous.

Many Americans equate estate planning with large complicated assets and estate tax loopholes. This could not be further from reality. And while it’s true that the estate tax won’t impact the vast majority of us, you still need a comprehensive plan in place. Estate planning encompasses so much more than taxation issues or complex wealth.

If you die with no estate plan, the state steps in.

The problem with the lack of an estate plan occurs when the state’s “intestacy” laws kick in and dictate how your assets are split up and passed on to your heirs. Creating an estate plan is the only sure method to make sure that your specific wishes are carried out. With no strategy, your kids might be in limbo or worse yet, in conflict. Proper preparation can also protect your family from lenders and lawsuits. No family wants to deal with debt collectors and mounting bills when they are mourning the loss of a loved one.

Your estate plan makes sure that your charities get the donations you intended to make.

An estate plan enables you to donate to a charity with confidence. Do you wish for part of your real property, personal property, or assets to go to a favorite charity? If that’s the case, the only real way to be charitable in passing is with an estate plan.  And, in case you do have worries about taxation, charitable estate planning could yield you tax breaks that you otherwise may not qualify for.

Estate plans are a must for unreliable relatives.

Sometimes, adult children aren’t as stable or responsible as you would wish. If you are concerned about your kids having total control over their inheritance, then you may even leave the funds in a trust, which allows somebody else (the trustee) to make decisions regarding how the money is utilized. This can shield your children from blowing through their inheritance as a result of bad decision-making, substance abuse issues, or just plain excess spending.

For unconventional families, estate planning is a non-negotiable

Estate preparation is vital for unconventional families. If you are part of a non-traditional or blended family, you will need an estate plan to ensure that your assets are distributed to those you consider your closest relatives. Or, if you are in a relationship aside from a conventional marriage union, your estate would skip your partner and pass to your parents or some other blood relations unless you have an established estate plan. Making certain that this does not occur is reason enough to hire an experienced estate planning attorney. If you have questions or would like to discuss your personal situation, please don’t hesitate to contact us. Please contact our Reno office by calling us at (775) 853-5700.

Elder Law, Estate Planning

Estate Planning for the LGBTQIA+ Community

To protect our loved ones and our assets, estate planning is important to any individual regardless of orientation. In the LGBTQIA+ community, estate planning can legally protect against discrimination even if others are reluctant to recognize your relationship and your desire to permit your partner to make decisions for your care should you become unable to. Estate planning can also create mechanisms that financially provide for your partner as well.

How Obergefell v. Hodges Impacted Same-Sex Couples

In 2015 the case of Obergefell v. Hodges made it a fundamental constitutional right to marry, including same-sex couples. The US Supreme Court’s decision to recognize same-sex marriages opens up many previously unavailable legal tools and tax savings that had only been available to “traditional” legally recognized marriages. The Supreme Court ruling further stated that a valid same-sex marriage in one state must be recognized in all states. Note that non-marriage alternatives will not result in the federal government’s recognition of the relationship.

These alternatives include adults in domestic partnerships and civil unions, which are federally not legally recognized as marriage. However, these couples can still receive partnership decision-making privileges and benefits. To do so requires a different type of planning. However, your partnership is characterized, creating a legal framework to protect yourself and your partner is possible.

A married same-sex couple with proper estate planning will receive all state and federal benefits of marriage. Federal benefits include the unlimited marital deduction for federal estate and gift taxes. An unmarried same-sex couple who cannot receive these marital tax benefits can still ensure their partner will receive the legal right to inherit each other’s assets with other legal mechanisms. They will also be able to make health care decisions for one another; however, the legal framework will differ from the legally married couple.

Revocable Living Trust for the LGBTQIA+ Community

In either marriage or a cohabitation arrangement, a revocable living trust permits the couple to nominate each other as trustees, allowing the spouse or partner to manage their loved one’s financial affairs if they become incapacitated. A durable financial power of attorney is another solution to manage the affairs of a loved one if they become incapacitated. The rules and requirements of a durable financial power of attorney vary from state to state, so it is necessary to review and reconfigure this document if you relocate.  In either an LGBTQIA+ marital or cohabitation living arrangement, a health care power of attorney allows you to appoint your partner to make health care decisions on your behalf should the need arise.

Advance Healthcare Directive for the LGBTQIA+ Community

It is imperative to include a HIPAA privacy authorization form for your health care power of attorney or trustee. The form permits medical and healthcare professionals to disclose pertinent health information and medical records to a partner. A durable health care power of attorney can prevent biological family attempts to interfere with a spouse or partner’s ability to make medical decisions for their loved one.  A legally binding durable health care power of attorney can prevent family interference, no matter how well-intentioned it might be.

The Importance of a Will for the  LGBTQIA+ Community with Minor Children

Should a same-sex couple have children, where at least one parent is non-biological, a will is a legal tool to address guardianship of minor children. Your will is the only place to define guardianship of children and name an executor. Many custody battles over LGBTQIA+ parents’ non-biological children occur among families after the biological parent’s death or incapacity.

It is essential to address any previous LGBTQIA+ committed relationship structures before finalizing your estate plan to tie up any loose ends. If you were in a legal union before marriage was an option, you are subject to the patchwork of prior state laws that can have unintended consequences for new estate planning. Before 2015 some same-sex couples married in states that recognized their marriage only to move to states that did not. Believing that their nuptials were non-binding in the states that did not recognize same-sex marriage, these couples may have split up without ever legally dissolving their marriage. Some states even automatically converted registered civil unions or domestic partnerships into legal marriages. The fallout is there are now LGBTQIA+ people who are married and unaware that they are open to the possibility of future claims against their estate from a previous marriage. All previous domestic partnerships, civil unions, or other legal arrangements must be untangled and resolved to protect against these possibilities.

In general, studies find that the LGBTQIA+ community tends to lag behind others in having a will and revocable living trust. These documents are significant for non-married LGBTQ+ people in a seriously committed relationship. State laws will default to granting rights to biological family members absent legal documents to the contrary.

Specific issues unique to the LGBTQIA+ community can potentially make planning more complex. We would be happy to meet with you to discuss how you can properly document your wishes regarding the inheritance of your property, who can make decisions for you if you’re unable to, and who would care for your children should the need arise.  If you have questions or would like to discuss your personal situation, please don’t hesitate to contact us. Please contact our Reno office by calling us at (775) 853-5700.

Estate Planning

How Does Estate Planning Work?

The law describes estate planning as a legal document summarizing the property a person owns and how to distribute these assets when deceased. Property ownership includes individual as well as jointly owned bank accounts, stocks and bonds, retirement accounts, real estate, jewelry, vehicles, your online digital footprint, and even pets. Short of being utterly destitute, you have an estate, and planning for it helps to protect yourself, your family, and your loved ones.

According to Caring.com, fewer Americans than ever are engaging in estate planning. The number of adults who have a will or other types of estate planning documents has fallen nearly 25 percent since 2017. Astonishingly, the demographic of older and middle-aged adults are less likely to have wills and estate plan documents at roughly the same 25 percent rate. Additionally, a growing number of Americans lack the resources and knowledge as to how to get a will. Overall, the prevalence of estate planning documents since 2017 has shown a decrease of almost 25 percent.

In their annual survey, Caring.com posed the question to its participants as to why they have put off having estate planning documents, and increasingly people cite a lack of education or the perceived cost of estate planning as the most significant reason. Yet 60 percent of the same respondents think planning their estate is either somewhat or very important. Data shows that as a person’s income increases, their likelihood of having estate planning documents like a will, living trust, or advanced health care directives also increases. Still, the number of people with said documents continues to decrease, even in higher-income groups.

In 2020, study participants in the highest income group show a decrease of 26 percent regarding estate planning documents. Even those Americans with the resources to create a will feel it is something they can put off until later in life, which has disastrous consequences for their loved ones in the case of unexpected death.

caring.com

Estate planning is the process of outlining specific instructions as to how you want your money, and other property dispersed upon your death. It includes decisions about your medical care and final arrangements as well. Wills, trusts, and advanced medical directives are the three primary estate planning documents you need to understand and put into place as soon as possible.

A will instructs how to divide up assets, debt, personal property, and more. A will can cover all of your estate planning needs, however; it does come with a few limitations. First, a court process called probate must be started upon death. During this sometimes lengthy process, a judge oversees the transfer of ownership of your property according to your will. Once a probate is opened, the will becomes public knowledge, as well as the property that the deceased owns. For those who wish to avoid court or who wish to keep their affairs private, a living trust may be the best option.

A living trust takes effect at the moment it is enacted while your will only become effective upon your death. Planning with a living trust can more expensive, but it provides the advantage of avoiding probate court and keeps all of your information (and your beneficiaries’ information) private. Further, a living trust can provide for the management of your assets should you become disabled.

An advanced health care directive, like a living trust, is designed to take effect during your lifetime. This directive stipulates your end of life wishes as well as what should happen if you become incapacitated and unable to make decisions about your medical care.  

A durable power of attorney covers who will make financial decisions for you if you are unable to. You can specify more than one agent, and you can be very specific about what that agent can do on your behalf, including management of online accounts.

If you are ready to discuss your planning needs, we would be honored to help. If you have an existing plan, we would be happy to review that plan to make sure it still works for you given your current health and financial circumstances. We look forward to hearing from you! Please contact our Reno office by calling us at (775) 853-5700.

Elder Law, Estate Planning

The Probate Process Explained

The probate process involves authenticating the deceased individual’s will, assessing the assets, settling debts and taxes, and overseeing the allocation of the inheritance. After an asset-holder dies, the court will appoint a valid will’s executor to administer the probate process. In the absence of a will, the court will appoint a state administrator to handle probate. Probate law varies by state, but there are steps in the process that are common.

First, an executor is appointed and is normally the person named in the will. It is the executor’s responsibility to initiate the probate process. An executor can be a family member, a financial advisor, or any person the testator deemed capable of administering their estate. The executor files the will with the probate court, which initiates the probate process. A court officially appoints the executor as named in the will, giving the executor legal authority to act on the testator’s behalf.

The executor’s function is to locate and oversee all of the estate’s assets and to determine each asset’s value. The majority of the deceased’s assets are subject to the probate court, where the deceased lived at the time of their death. Real estate is an exception, and probate may extend to any county where the real estate is located.

The executor will pay any taxes and debts owed by the deceased from the estate. A notice of death is published, and creditors are given a limited time to make claims against the estate for any money owed to them. If the executor rejects the claim, the creditor may take them to court, where a probate judge will determine the debt’s validity. The executor is responsible for filing the deceased’s final, personal income tax returns. The executor’s last task, via court authorization, is to distribute what remains of the estate to the beneficiaries.

Probate is required for any asset or account that does not have a joint owner or beneficiary named.  If a joint owner or beneficiary is named, then title changes automatically and probate becomes unnecessary.

If a person dies without a will, they are said to have died intestate. An estate can also be deemed instate if the will presented to the court is found to be invalid. The decedent’s assets of an intestate estate follow a similar probate process, beginning with the appointment of an administrator. An administrator functions like an executor, receiving all legal claims against the estate, paying outstanding debts, and the decedent’s taxes.

Administrators must also seek out legal heirs, including surviving spouses, parents, and children. The probate court will determine the distribution of the estate among its legal heirs. In the absence of any family or other heirs, remaining assets go to the state.

The more complex or contested an estate is, the longer the probate process can take to finalize. The longer the process, the higher the cost. Probate without a will typically costs more than probate with a valid will, but neither scenario is inexpensive. Probate court files an estate’s assets as a matter of public record, so if you want to keep your estate private, it is best to pursue other estate planning options such as a trust. 

As estate planning attorneys, we can help you determine what planning tools are best for you. Contact us to schedule time for a private conversation to further determine how we can help. Please contact our Reno office by calling us at (775) 853-5700.

Estate Planning, Healthcare

Advance Health-Care Directives for Critical Decisions

Imagining how we may perish is probably one of the hardest things we will ever have to think about. Yet, if we want our dying to be meaningful and merciful, it is imperative that we think about it while we still can. Most of us want to die at home, in a familiar and peaceful setting surrounded by loved ones. We would much rather not spend our last moments in an emergency room or ICU, with strangers futilely pounding on our chests and our families relegated to the waiting room.

With those two alternatives in mind, we need to do all we can to keep control, as much as possible, of decisions that need to be made long before our final moments. We need to think carefully, well in advance, about what makes life worth living, and where pain and limitation have so eroded that quality of life that we would prefer not to go there.

These are notoriously difficult questions, but it is vital to address them anyway. For example, Terri Schiavo spent nearly half her young life unconscious in a condition known as a “persistent vegetative state,” being kept alive by a feeding tube. Her husband and friends claimed that before her severe brain injury, she said that she would not want her life sustained by machines. Unfortunately, she never put that wish in writing. On the other side, her devout family and right-to-life supporters insisted that she be kept alive despite her dire condition. After protracted litigation, Ms. Schiavo’s husband prevailed, the feeding tube was withdrawn, and fifteen years after she was injured and never having regained consciousness, she was finally allowed to die.

Since her passing, the law has evolved nationwide to encourage us all to document final wishes, to avoid the anguish and uncertainty of Ms. Schiavo’s situation. There are a number of documents available in your state for that purpose. The umbrella term for these is “advance health-care directives.”

It’s our job as lawyers to help you sort through the various directives needed to express your wishes. Here is a step-by-step guide to begin the conversation about final wishes, and to understand which document does what when.

1. If you are over the age of 18, appoint a health-care agent to speak for you when you can’t.

Decide who, among those who know you well, is best suited to take on this responsibility. That person must possess good communication skills, remain calm in difficult situations, and be able to deal flexibly with the complexity that might arise in reconciling your wishes with available medical options. Depending on which state you live in, your agent can also be called a “health care proxy.”

Sit down with that person and discuss your wishes in various scenarios. This is not an easy conversation to have, but there are guides available to help you. Visit “The Conversation”

and download the starter kit.

Click to access TCP_StarterKit_Final.pdf

2. Health Care Power of Attorney (HCPOA)

Once you have had that conversation, visit your lawyer to name your agent formally in an HCPOA document. HCPOA conveys legal authority on your agent or proxy to express your health-care decisions when you are unable to.

3. HIPAA authorization

Your agent or proxy will also need access to your otherwise private medical information. This is best done by a standardized document that complies with the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). Without this authorization, your agent will be unable to obtain the medical information necessary to exercise the authority you want him or her to have.

Now armed with your agent and the HCPOA and HIPAA documents, you will know that if you were to meet with an accident or lose consciousness, you have chosen and empowered an advocate to speak for you. You should review and update these documents every five years or so.

The next three documents are important at the end of life. All these documents should stipulate that you desire comfort care, to keep you clean and as pain-free as possible. Remember, though, that you must create these documents while you are still able to know and communicate your wishes, so it’s best to do the next two documents at the same time that you do your HCPOA and HIPAA.

4. Living Will (also known as Physician’s Directive)

This document is for use when you are not enjoying the quality of life. Either death is imminent; you are in a persistent vegetative state; or you are permanently unconscious, permanently confused, or unable to care for yourself. If you have no awareness of others; can’t remember or understand or express yourself, or are unable to move, bathe, or dress yourself, it’s advisable to have expressed, in advance, the kind of treatment you want to receive or not receive.

A living will express your choice as to whether you do, or do not, want artificial measures that will merely prolong your life but not improve it. Those measures, among others, may include CPR if your heart stops, or breathing or feeding tubes or repeated courses of antibiotics or chemotherapy.

You may also require physicians, and not your agent, to be the ones to decide whether to cease life-prolonging procedures as you would like. This decision will relieve your agent from the heavy responsibility of making that irreversible choice.

Living wills are legal in almost every state. Ask your lawyer. Don’t make this kind of document yourself. Otherwise, you risk that the document may be misinterpreted, with drastic consequences.

5. Specialized Directives

Medical decision-making varies depending on specific health conditions, so specific directives may be tailor-made for those conditions. For example, people suffering from advanced dementia benefit from a directive, in addition to the HCPOA or living will, specifically requesting that hand-feeding be ceased when the person can no longer speak, recognize loved ones, or move purposefully. Otherwise, caregivers are obligated to cajole or demand that the patient be fed by hand, taking advantage of a primitive reflex to open the mouth. This risks that the person may inhale the mush instead of swallowing it, in some cases causing pneumonia.

For this kind of condition, ask your lawyer to prepare a specific directive tailored for advanced dementia, using the directives created by End of Life Washington

or End of Life Choices New York.

If, however, you suffer from a neurological illness like Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS) or advanced Parkinson’s, even though most of us would decline mechanical treatments, those same treatments may be important aids to preserve the quality of life for people with those conditions.

Again, remember that you must create these documents while you still have the capacity to communicate your wishes. Living wills should be reviewed every six months because wishes can change depending on the progress of the illness.

6. POLST or MOLST

This is a brightly colored, short-form document that is primarily intended for emergency responders when the patient is frail and is likely to die within a year. It is designed to be immediately recognizable by hospitals and EMS personnel, to express that when the patient is unresponsive, cardio-pulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and other aggressive treatments are desired or not desired (DNR).

This document should be filled out in consultation with the patient’s physician. The acronyms stand for “physicians’ orders for life-sustaining treatment” or “medical orders for life-sustaining treatment.”  Many states provide for this kind of document.

7. Make Your Documents Known

When it comes time to use your documents, they must be readily available. Give a copy of them to your agent or proxy, make sure they are included in your medical records, and, if you are in need of the POLST or MOLST, post it beside your bed or on your fridge where EMT knows to look for it. If your documents can’t be found, or if your agent or family don’t understand them or ignore them, you will have spent your time, effort, and money in vain.

But if all goes according to your wishes, you will have done your best to create a good death, one that is as meaningful as possible for all concerned. If you have questions or would like to discuss your personal situation, please don’t hesitate to contact us. Please contact our Reno office by calling us at (775) 853-5700.

Estate Planning

The Functions of a Will

The legally binding directive declaring who will receive your assets upon death is called a will, and a will is a significant element of a complete estate plan. If you die without one (intestate), the state will distribute your assets and property via state law and quite possibly at odds with your wishes.  Having a will allows you to appoint a legal representative or executor to carry out your bequests and name a guardian for your children. There is no doubting the importance of having a will, however, there are some limitations you should be aware of.

Although a will can be the primary mechanism to transfer property on death, it does not cover all property situations. Some classes of property you are unable to distribute through a will are:

  • Property held in trust – A trust will have named beneficiaries who will receive the trust’s property according to the trust terms and not based on what is in your will (unless specifically stated in the trust).
  • Pay on death accounts – Informally known as PODs, the original account owner names a beneficiary(s) to whom the assets in the account pass automatically upon the owner’s death.
  • Life Insurance – Life insurance benefits pass to your named beneficiary(s) in the life insurance policy and are not affected by your will.
  • Jointly held property – Co-owned property is not distributed through your will. Joint tenants have an equal ownership interest in the property, and when one joint tenant dies, their interest ceases to exist. The other joint tenant now fully owns the entire property.
  • Retirement plans – In a similar manner to life insurance, money in an IRA or 401(k) passes to the named beneficiary(s). According to federal law, a surviving spouse is generally the automatic beneficiary of a 401(k); however, there are some exceptions. An IRA permits you to name a beneficiary(s).
  • Investments in transfer on death accounts – Some accounts holding stocks and bonds will transfer on death to the named beneficiary(s). Like POD accounts, transfer on death accounts bypass probate and go directly to the beneficiary(s).

A will does not allow you to avoid probate. By necessity, a will must go through the probate process in order to allow beneficiaries to inherit property. It can take months to get through probate, and it involves expenses like an attorney, executor, and court fees. Also, your will and everything associated with it (property you own, who your beneficiaries are, etc.) become part of the public record that anyone can access.

Keep funeral instructions outside of your will. The reality is your funeral may have already taken place before someone finds and reads your will, which can take days, even weeks. If your funeral or memorial service is important to you, the best way to help your family is to pre-plan, making arrangements with a funeral home. You can leave written instructions with the family as to your plans.

Your pets cannot inherit through your will. An animal is legally unable to inherit money or property from you. If you want your pets to be cared for after you die, leave money to a person willing to take care of your animals. The person you select can inherit your pets since a pet is considered property. You can also set up a pet trust or a pet protection agreement, either of which provides for your pet’s care.

Provisions for a child on government benefits are best in a trust. It is best to create a special needs trust to provide for a child with special needs or a child who is receiving government benefits. The trust can hold money for your child’s care without affecting those benefits.

There are ways to circumvent the limitations of a will by creating trusts, setting up pay-on-death accounts, and ensuring a beneficiary is named on all accounts that permit them. Your will is an important component of a comprehensive estate plan, but it can’t do everything.

We would be happy to discuss the pros and cons of having a will and other options available to you as part of your overall estate plan. Please contact our Reno office by calling us at (775) 853-5700.

Estate Planning

How Do You Contest a Will?

An executor oversees the settling of the estate according to the will after your death, laying out who the inheritors are and what property needs to be divided. For many reasons, beneficiaries can feel slighted by what they did or didn’t receive, and some individuals are entirely excluded from inheriting anything at all. The legal process of challenging the validity of a will is called a will contest (or “contesting the will”).

Once probate is underway, the named executor will take the necessary steps to complete probate and notify beneficiaries named in the will. This legal notice typically limits the time when a beneficiary can contest the validity of the will. Generally, a beneficiary (and even a person not named in the will) has thirty to ninety days to bring legal action against the decedent’s will.

Know that the vast majority of wills pass through probate without issue. The courts rightly view the will like the author’s (testator), last voice. Because the testator can no longer speak to their wishes, the courts try to adhere to the legally filed will stringently. Because of the narrow timeline for filing a will contest and the odds stacked against winning the legal challenge, most challengers will find it a fruitless and costly endeavor.

Under what circumstances then would you want to contest a will? Legally, only a person or entity with “standing” can contest a will. Standing is when the party involved in the will contest will be personally affected by the case’s outcome. Most often, this means an heir or beneficiary already named in the decedent’s last will or any preceding will. It may also include any person (usually a spouse or child) not named in the will, but because of state intestacy laws would be eligible to inherit in the absence of a will. Typically, four grounds are viable for contesting a will:

  • The will’s signing lacked the proper legal formalities
  • The mental capacity of the decedent to make a will is in question
  • Someone leveraging undue influence over the decedent into making or changing a will
  • The will’s procurement is fraudulent

Certain fact patterns may lead to a successful will contest. As an example, if a testator writes their own will, some legal formalities may be overlooked, rendering the will invalid. In particular, the “do it yourself” method for creating a will may not include all of the “what if” scenarios making the will incomplete. In another example, if the testator is experiencing isolation from family and friends, the primary beneficiary’s influence and motives regarding the estate may come into question. If the executor is trying to enforce an outdated will, the newer one should supersede the older one as long as no coercion was involved in writing the most recent version. Finally, some medical evidence may suggest the testator lacked the requisite mental ability to make a will. Occasionally the challenger to an existing will can negotiate a settlement with the estate instead of enduring a court proceeding.

Some wills include a no-contest clause, also called an “in terrorem” clause. This provision states that if anyone files a lawsuit challenging the will’s validity, they will receive nothing from the estate. While this may a powerful deterrent, it may not be allowed in the state where the will is probated.

To protect your will from being contested, even if you have limited assets, your best strategy is to have your will professionally drafted by an attorney well versed in estate planning. Using an attorney can help protect you and your estate from future legal challenges while helping you think through who you want to inherit your money and property, and how each person should receive what they inherit.

If you would like to discuss whether a will is appropriate for you or whether you should update an existing will, we would be happy to speak to you at your convenience. Please contact our Reno office by calling us at (775) 853-5700.

Estate Planning

The Impact of the “For the 99.5% Act” on Estate Planning

On March 25th, 2021, a new bill named “For the 99.5% Act,” was presented to Congress by Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Jimmy Gomez. The bill’s current form is only 18 pages long, but its potential impact on federal estate and gift tax laws significantly affects estate planning. While it is impossible to determine if the bill will pass into law, some of the act’s key elements may inspire Congress to increase the estate tax using other mechanisms should this bill fail. They might also seek to remove well-known tools like trusts to bypass taxation upon your death to generate revenue for federal programs.

In a letter to Congress, 51 national organizations supporting Senator Sanders and Representative Gomez estate tax reform urge Congressional members to adopt the legislation. The letter cites that the richest one percent of Americans own nearly 32 percent of the nation’s wealth, and the bottom 50 percent own just 2 percent. This stark inequality creates constraints and financial growth limitations for the majority of Americans.

The Sanders-Gomez proposal wants to reverse this trend and increase the estate tax rate currently in place, topping out at 65 percent on estates over one billion dollars. In contrast, President Biden’s campaign estate tax plan would retain the 40 percent estate tax rate currently in place. Much is unknown, but one thing is clear; change is coming to the inheritable asset and gift tax classes.

The Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT) believes the Sanders bill can raise 430 billion dollars over ten years. Some of the bill’s main provisions that generate this revenue include:

  • Gift tax exemption reduction from 11.7 million dollars to 1 million dollars annually
  • Federal estate tax exemption reduction from 11.7 million dollars to 3.5 million dollars
  • Increase in gift and estate tax rates from 40 percent up to a top rate of 65 percent
  • Elimination of the short-term Grantor Retained Annuity Trust (GRAT) with no “grandfather” exemption for existing trusts
  • Grantor trust inclusion in a decedent’s estate. Many irrevocable trusts are grantor trusts for income tax purposes, although trust assets are excluded from the grantor’s estate for federal tax purposes. Enacting “For the 99.5% Act” into law will end the Grantor Trust type of estate planning. Additionally, without very careful planning, Irrevocable Life Insurance Trusts will no longer provide shelter for life insurance proceeds from estate taxation
  • Elimination of minority discounts on valuations for the transfers of non-business assets held in a business entity such as a partnership or limited liability company controlled by or majority-owned by members of the same family
  • Elimination of certain marketability discounts for passive assets not used in an active trade or business
  • The implementation of a federal 50-year rule against perpetuity will result in estate taxation at some point for Dynasty Trusts

The 99.5 Percent Act will provide beneficial valuation rules for small businesses and farms as well as land subject to qualified conservation easements. The Sanders-Gomez bill will give family farms extra protection by allowing lower assessed value on farmland up to three million dollars, exempting even more farms from tax.

There is overwhelming public support to raise taxes on Americas’ wealthiest. Still, some of these inheritance tax rate changes will affect the so-called “middle-class millionaires” who will need to restructure their current estate plans if the 99.5% Act is passed into law. The proposed tax rate of 45 percent on estates between 3.5 to 10 million dollars will affect family generational wealth more so than the top tax rates for mega multi-millionaires and billionaires.

If you have questions about this pending legislation and whether it could impact you, please don’t hesitate to reach out. We would be happy to discuss planning options with you to minimize your tax liability. Please contact our Reno office by calling us at (775) 853-5700.