Elder Law, Estate Planning

A Good Estate Plan Should Include the Following Five Items

Everyone should plan their estate, but as we age, it becomes even more necessary to do so. Many people avoid estate planning because they do not want to think about the end of life, failing health, or disability. Others believe that an estate plan is only for rich people. However, an estate plan is helpful for the senior adult and their families regardless of overall wealth.

The estate is all the property owned both individually and jointly, including bank accounts, real estate, jewelry, etc., and what is owed. Without an estate plan, it is very difficult to carry out a person’s wishes and can bring on a long, drawn-out probate that can be very expensive for the family. If an estate plan is in place, it can provide peace of mind for the senior adult and their family, as well as protection for the wishes of the senior.

Below are some basic guidelines for what should be included in an estate plan.

1. Will.  A will provides for an executor of the estate, who will take care of managing the estate, paying debts, and distributing property as specified. The distribution of assets can be outlined in the will. This can be as broad or detailed as a person wishes. In a will, beneficiaries and guardians for minor children should be assigned. It may not seem necessary to discuss minor children when discussing seniors and estate planning, but with the rise of grandparents raising grandchildren, this may indeed be an important part of the will. A senior adult can spell out, in the will, how they want their funeral and burial to be carried out as well.

2. Living Will. A living will outline a senior’s wishes for end-of-life medical care. It can include, in as much detail as the senior wishes, what medical treatments the senior would or would not like to have in specific situations. A living will takes the stress of making those decisions off of family members and helps to keep peace in families during times that can be difficult and emotional.

3. Healthcare Power of Attorney. A healthcare power of attorney is also a key part of an estate plan. This legal document provides for someone to legally make healthcare decisions for a senior adult. A durable power of attorney will remain in effect for the senior if the senior becomes unable to make decisions.

4. Financial Power of Attorney. A financial power of attorney names an agent who has the power to act in the place of the senior adult for matters relating to finances. The durable financial power of attorney stays in effect if the senior adult becomes unable to handle their affairs. By having a financial power of attorney in place, the stress and expense of a guardianship can be avoided, and the senior has the final say in who will make decisions relating to finances.

5. Trust. Setting up a trust can be beneficial for the distribution of specific assets or pieces of property. The benefit of a trust is that it does not go through probate, as compared to a will. Property is still distributed at the death of the trustmaker, but it is done without the need of a court.  This also allows for privacy of the trustmaker, where with a will and a probate, all of the deceased person’s assets and the terms of their will are made public.

Having an estate plan is necessary if you or your senior loved one wishes to have a say in what happens at the end of life and with assets after death. Consulting and planning with an elder law attorney will help to ensure that all options are explored and the best possible solution is utilized. The elder law attorney can walk you through all of the necessary parts of the estate plan, provide an explanation, and prepare the paperwork. Elder law attorneys will help take the guesswork out of estate planning.

If you have any questions about something you have read or would like additional information, please feel free to contact our Reno office by calling us at (775) 853-5700.

Estate Planning

Don’t Let Your Family Feud End up in Court

Family disagreements about a parent’s end-of-life care and inheritance can get so serious they may end up in a legal filing and court case. You can take steps moving beyond the possibility this might happen and create (or amend) your estate plan seeking to diffuse these potential issues before they become legal challenges.

Every situation is unique. Everybody’s family has a different mix of personalities, degrees of wants versus needs, and problem-solving skills. The American family system is more complex than ever, with a 2021 divorce rate hovering around 50 percent, divorces, remarriages, committed long-term partner relationships, biological children, stepchildren, and physical decentralization from other family members.

Fights occur in families that are rich and poor. It turns out the dollar amount is often irrelevant. Problems stem from mismatched expectations, including but not limited to:

Sibling rivalry – Tensions between siblings tend to boil over after the passing of a parent. This situation can be especially true when inheritable assets go to step-siblings. Grief often triggers reflection, and memories of clashes and disagreements never settled tend to present themselves in real-time. The settlement of your estate can become the battleground to settle the score of a long-time feud. Avoid the situation by appointing a professional fiduciary as your trustee. If you do not prefer this option, select a family member trustee with no stake in the rivalry to mitigate its effects.

The economic disparity among beneficiaries – Socio-economic imbalances of estate heirs can destabilize the entire process. A wealthier heir may afford to hold an inheritable asset, while less economically stable heirs may want to sell for immediate financial gain. The problem seems to become compounded by the number of inheritors. You can avoid these disputes by leaving specific instructions as to the preservation or sale of real property. You may opt for “cash-out” provisions that will pay the less financially stable heirs the value of their stake in the real property and allow the more financially stable heir to retain full ownership.

Co-trustees – Even family members with great relationships and the best of intentions can clash as to the administration of your estate. All it takes is two inheritors and one grandfather clock. Executors must move quickly and decisively to administer an estate because all inheritors are waiting for their share of the payout. Avoid this problem and name only one to administer your estate.

Beneficiary dependency or mental illness – Irrational behavior that becomes part of an already sensitive situation, like your death and the settlement of your estate, will slow progress and create ill will. Any history of psychological instability or substance abuse threatens to derail an orderly process. To avoid situations with chemical dependency, create contingencies for that heir to test clean for a specific time or establish a discretionary trust where a competent trustee handles access to assets on behalf of the addicted individual. In the case of mental illness, establish a special needs trust or build specific provisions into your base trust. This protection permits the beneficiary to qualify for government assistance and still receive trust disbursements.

Undue influence – End-of-life care for a parent usually falls to one person (often a sibling) handling most of the caretaking. The uneven workload and intimate daily contact can leave the caretaker believing they are entitled to more and coerce the parent to change documents to the caretaker’s benefit. Undue influence is more often than not a product of the other offsprings’ apathy. Prevention includes paying close attention to the increasing susceptibility of an aging parent and using digital means, audio-video cameras, digital monitors that track change in blood pressure et al., to identify parent stress and prevent caregiver coercion for personal gain.

Late marriage – Love knows no bounds. Late in life, marriages happen, and you can expect resentment of your new spouse by existing heirs, particularly in a blended family with children who are primarily, or only, on the settlor’s side. Divorces, remarriage, and deaths make updating your estate planning documents a must. Upon remarrying, it is essential to place assets in your trust or modify your existing trust and Will to clarify the division of assets.

Advance benefits to one heir and not others – If one of your children needs financial assistance now or another is starting a fledgling business, yet another might require a down payment for a first home or bailout money from suffocating college debt, you may opt to provide financial help. These scenarios are common but can strain relations during probate among heirs not receiving the same benefit. Avoid this situation by noting in your trust language which heir received an advancement to their inheritance and how to deduct that previously received amount from your estate assets. If you do not, some inheritors may receive a double payout, ruffling the feathers of other heirs.

Estrangement or disinheritance – Children and other potential heirs left out of inheritance typically have nothing to lose by challenging their exclusion. This situation becomes worse in the case of blended families and their complexities, particularly if the sidelined heir pairs the challenge with a secondary claim like undue influence. You can avoid this by keeping your trust updated. A more recent trust will include a more modern disinheritance clause covering changes in this area of law. Make sure you understand the specific language in your trust regarding disinheritance.

A carefully crafted estate plan that accounts for your heirs and potential relationship problems is the first step to reducing a legal challenge stemming from a family feud. An elder law estate planning attorney knows the problems that may crop up among family members and can address these issues using the appropriate legal entities with clear and specific language. Reducing the possibility of a legal challenge to your estate brings peace of mind to you and your future heirs. 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

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

The Power of a Personal Property Memorandum with a Will or Trust

Arguments can take place over things like a coffee mug, a piece of jewelry or a painting. Family members often end up arguing over mom or dad’s favorite items when that parent dies. These types of arguments can be eliminated by filling out a personal property memorandum and keeping it with your will or trust.

A personal property memorandum is designed to cover who should receive items owned that don’t have an official title record. Personal property includes furniture, jewelry, art, and other collections, as well as household items like china and silverware. Personal property memoranda may not include real estate or business interests, money and bank accounts, stocks or bonds, copyrights, and IOUs. 

When writing your memorandum, it is best to keep things simple. Personal property memoranda generally resemble a list of items with the attached names of the inheritors. It can be handwritten or typed but should always be signed and dated.

All items should contain sufficient detail so that argument and confusion can be avoided. Complete contact information including address, phone, email, and a backup contact if possible should be included. Do not include items that you have already explicitly left in your will or trust.

The beauty of a separate list of personal items and their planned distribution is that if you later decide to change who receives what, you simply update your current list, or replace the list altogether. You can destroy an old record or maintain signature and dates on each of your personal property memoranda so that it is easy to identify your most current set of wishes.

 A personal property memorandum for your tangible personal effects is a simple way to address how you want your personal property to be distributed. We would be happy to help you create a legal personal property memorandum along with any other estate planning documents you may need. We look forward to hearing from you, please contact our Reno office by calling us at (775) 853-5700.