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Estate Planning Blog

Serving Clients Throughout North Central Missouri

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Should I Ask Mom and Pop about Their Finances?

Adult children should know about their parents’ finances in case of any emergency. They should also know critical information in case of death. NASDAQ’s recent article entitled “9 Questions to Ask Aging Parents About Their Finances” acknowledges that speaking to aging parents about their finances isn’t easy. However, to start this process, the article gives us nine important topics you may want to discuss with your parents:

Do You Have a Financial Plan (and is it enough)? See if your parents have a financial plan. Some parents will have a solid financial plan that will let them to live comfortably into their 80s or 90s. On the other hand, you may discover they’re living on a fixed budget and money is tight. If you see that you’ll need to help them financially now or in the future, start planning ASAP. Any decision to provide them with financial support will likely have an effect on your own financial plan.

Do You Have an Accessible List of All Your Accounts? Ask your parents to draft a list of their financial assets and those named as beneficiaries of those accounts and keep it in a safe place. They should also put together important contacts, such as clergy, CPA, estate planning attorney, physician, etc.

Where’s Your Will, and Who’s the Executor? See where your parents keep their wills and estate documents. Some estate planning attorneys retain an original copy. If your parents don’t have a will, encourage them to see an estate attorney. An item that’s not commonly listed in the will, that you may want to ask about, is if your parents have prepaid for a burial plot or memorial arrangements.

Do You Have Life Insurance Policies that I Should Know About? See if your parents have any active life insurance policies. Get the details of the policies and the policy numbers. If your parents are still working, they may also have life insurance through an employer.

Are There Any Special Bequests to Family and Friends? Family heirlooms and special personal property may be a part of your parents’ estate plan. A sibling may have claimed your dad’s coin collection. Knowing your parents’ intentions and wishes for their keepsakes will make things much easier when they pass. Moreover, having conversations about family heirlooms now can help prevent any hard feelings later. Some people make up a list for their personal bequests and reference it in their wills.

Who Have You Named as Your Financial Power of Attorney? This document lets your parents name a primary and secondary person to make financial decisions on their behalf, if they become incapacitated. If you’re the one named as the person to make financial decisions, find out where all of your parents’ financial assets are held. You should also get information about their Medicare policy, any pensions and their Social Security benefits. It even helps to know their utility companies in case you need to pay these bills and must prove power of attorney.

Do You Have a Living Will? They should each have an advance health care directive or living will and health care power of attorney. These documents designate who has authority to make medical decisions on their behalf, if they became incapacitated or terminally ill. This also includes your parents’ preferences for life-sustaining treatment, including a “Do Not Resuscitate” clause, as well as their preferences on organ donation.

Have You Had Trouble Balancing Your Checkbook Lately or Forgotten to Pay Bills? Have a discussion about key financial decisions with your parents while they are in good health. This will let you make a plan, if they show signs of memory loss. The signs of memory loss include forgetting appointments, making occasional errors while managing household finances, or getting confused about the day of the week.

Do You Have a Long-Term Care Policy? To claim benefits of long-term care insurance, a person typically needs to be unable to perform two out of six common “activities of daily living” (bathing, dressing, toileting, eating, transferring and continence) or have a severe cognitive disorder. If your parents have a policy, access it and review its core benefits, in case you need to help them file a claim.

Discussing your parents’ financial and estate plans isn’t fun, but it will help give both you and your parents some peace of mind to know that they will be provided for, and things will be taken care of in their absence.

Reference: NASDAQ (Aug. 27, 2021) “9 Questions to Ask Aging Parents About Their Finances”

 

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Estate Planning Mistakes to Avoid

Estate planning is crucial to ensure that wealth accumulated over a lifetime is distributed according to your wishes and will take care of your family when you are no longer able to do so. Many well-intentioned people make common mistakes, which could be avoided with the guidance of an estate planning attorney, says the article “Avoiding Big Estate Planning Mistakes” from Physician’s Weekly.

Do you have a will? Many families must endure the red tape and expenses of “intestate” probate because a parent never got around to having a will prepared. The process is relatively straightforward: identify an estate planning attorney and make an appointment. Once the will is completed, make sure several trusted people, likely family members, know where it is and can access it.

Are you properly insured? If the last time you looked at your life insurance coverage was more than ten years ago, it’s probably not kept pace with your life. Although every person’s situation is different, high- income earners, like physicians or other professionals, need to understand that life insurance “replaces” income. This means enough to pay for college, pay off a mortgage and provide for your surviving spouse and children’s lifestyles.

When was the last time you spoke with your estate planning attorney, CPA, or financial advisor? Tax laws are constantly changing, and if your estate plan is not keeping up with those changes, you may be missing out on planning opportunities. Your family also may end up with a big tax bill, if your estate plan hasn’t been revised in the last three or four years. Your team of professionals is only as good as you let them be, so stay in touch with them.

When was the last time you reviewed your estate plan with your attorney? If you thought an estate plan was a set-it-and-forget-it plan, think again. Tax laws aren’t the only thing that changes. If you’ve divorced and remarried, you definitely need a new estate plan—and possibly a post-nuptial agreement. Have your children grown up, married and perhaps had children of their own? Do you have a new and troublesome son-in-law and want to protect your daughter’s inheritance? All of the changes in your life need to be reflected in your estate plan.

Having “the talk” with your family. No one wants to think about their own mortality or their parent’s mortality. However, if you don’t discuss your estate plan and your wishes with your family, they will not know what you want to happen. It doesn’t need to be a summit meeting, but a series of conversations to allow your loved ones to become comfortable with the discussion and make it more likely your wishes will be fulfilled. This includes your estate plan and your wishes for burial or cremation and what kind of memorial service you want.

Reference: Physician’s Weekly (Oct. 8, 2021) “Avoiding Big Estate Planning Mistakes”

 

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After 34 Years, Nursing Home Receives $1 Million Donation

Both the timing and the amount of Oscar Geckler’s gift to St. Luke Lutheran Community was unusual, to say the least. His last will and testament, 27 pages long, had very specific instructions concerning a donation only available 34 years after his death. The $1 million donation, as described by a recent article, “Stark County nursing home gets $1M donation after 34-year wait” from The Repository, is a great example of just how much control can be exerted through estate planning.

When Geckler died, Ronald Regan was president, and now-President Biden was a young senator from Delaware. Oscar and his wife Bernadine lived on a farm at the northwest corner in Nimishillen Township, outside Canton, Ohio. The property wasn’t at all neat and tidy. Those who knew him said the farm was littered with broken-down tractors and Oscar was a bit of a tightwad. The couple had financed a few projects at their church, but what neighbors didn’t know was that the same man who raised sheep and pigs and milked his own cows was also an avid reader of The Wall Street Journal.

He invested wisely and was worth $2 million when he died.

The couple had no children of their own, although he had two from a prior marriage. His estate was meticulously planned out. He had created four separate trusts to ensure his wife and other family members would be financially secure after his death.

Funds in one of the trusts were dedicated to care for the cemetery gravesites of Oscar and his wife, along with seven other family members.

However, the will had more details. Grave upkeep was to continue for exactly 19 years and 1 day after the death of the last Geckler family member. Bernadine died on October 3, 2002, and the clause expired in early October 2021.

The $ one million gift will help support St. Luke’s retirement communities, which have struggled during the COVID-19 pandemic. The church operates many facilities throughout the area, ranging from independent living to skilled nursing care. Most of the money will be spent in North Canton, where Geckler lived.

In 2004, an attorney representing St. Luke went to probate court in an effort to reform the trust. The thinking was to obtain some part of the donation before its expiration date, since so much money was in the trust—far more than was needed to maintain the gravesites. The request was to take $750,000 from the trust and leave the rest for gravesite maintenance.

The judge denied the request. “Pure economic expedience simply is not a basis for reforming or accelerating distribution of trust assets….” was the explanation. Otherwise, the clear direction and expressed intent of Oscar Geckler would be violated. St. Luke’s would have to wait, but the wait is now over.

Trusts are used in an estate plan to achieve your wishes, whatever they may be, including unusual requests, like Oscar Geckler’s. Your estate planning attorney can create a plan to suit your individual and unique wishes.

Reference: The Repository (Oct. 4, 2021) “Stark County nursing home gets $1M donation after 34-year wait”

estate planning

What is the Difference between a Trust and a Will?

Trusts and wills are two different ways to distribute and control your assets after your death. They have some key differences. Family trusts and wills are both worthwhile estate planning tools that can make sure your assets are protected and will pass to heirs the way you intended, says MSN’s recent article entitled “Family Trusts vs. Wills: What Are the Differences Between These Estate-Planning Options?”

This article tells you what you need to know about the differences between family trusts and wills to help you avoid estate planning mistakes.

Remember that without a will, the state probate laws will determine what happens to your assets. It may or may not be what you want. In contrast, a will lets you state to whom you want to distribute your assets.

Note that a trust permits the grantor (the person making the trust) to do what he or she wants with the assets. A trust also avoids probate.

A family trust is a wise choice for those who want to provide for the management of their assets if they become incapacitated, people interested in keeping information about their assets and who inherits those assets private and those who have a significant number of assets or a large estate. Here are some other situations in which a family trust would be appropriate to use:

  • Asset protection from creditors and divorce
  • For disabled beneficiaries who need to qualify for government benefits
  • For tax-planning; and
  • For cost and time efficiency over a lengthy probate process.

Everyone should have a will. It’s a way to leave bequests, nominate guardians for a minor child and an executor.

If you have a family trust, you still need a will. There may be some assets not owned by the trust, such as vehicles and other personal property. There may also be payments due you at your death. Those assets must go through probate, if not arranged to avoid probate.

Once that process is complete, the assets are distributed to the family trust and are governed by its provisions. This is what is known as a “pour-over will” because the assets “pour over” to the family trust.

Contact an experienced estate planning attorney to discuss the estate planning options available for you and your situation.

Reference: MSN (Aug. 27, 2021) “Family Trusts vs. Wills: What Are the Differences Between These Estate-Planning Options?”

 

What You Need to Know about Probate

We often read about celebrities who die without an estate and how everything they own must go through probate. The article titled “What to know about probate” from wmur.com explains what that means, and what you need to understand about wills, probate and estate planning.

Probate is a process used to prove that a person’s will is valid and to supervise how their estate is handled. It involves a court that focuses on this area. Much about the process depends upon the state in which it’s taking place, since these laws vary from state to state.

When someone dies without a will, they have failed to provide instructions for the distribution of their property. Their assets will still be distributed, but the laws of the state will determine what happens next. The state follows intestacy laws, which outline pre-set patterns of distributing property. In one state, property will go to the spouse and children. In others, the spouse may get everything.

Other decisions are made for your family when there is no will. If you have not named an executor, the court will appoint someone to oversee your estate. The court will also appoint a person to raise your children, if no guardian has been named for minor children. A family member may be chosen, but it may not be the family member you wanted to raise your kids, or it may be a stranger in a foster home.

Another reason to have a will is that probate can take a few months, or, depending on where you live, a few years, to complete. If there is litigation, and not having a will makes that more likely, it would take longer and will undoubtedly cost more. While this is going on, assets may lose value and heirs may suffer from not having access to assets.

Probate is also costly. There are legal notices to be published, court fees, executor fees and bond premiums, appraisal fees and attorney expenses.

Having an estate plan also means tax planning. While the federal estate tax as of this writing is $11.7 million per individual, it will not be that high forever. If the proposals to lower the federal estate tax to $3.5 million per person come to pass, will your estate escape estate taxes? What about your state’s estate or inheritance taxes?

Probate is also a very public process. Once a will is admitted as valid by the court, it becomes a public document. Anyone and everyone can view it and learn about your net worth and who got what.

With all these drawbacks, are there good reasons to allow your estate to go through probate? In some cases, yes. If multiple wills have been found, probate will be needed to establish which will is the correct one. If the will is confusing or complex, probate could provide the clarity needed to settle the estate. If beneficiaries are litigious, probate may be the voice of authority to quell some (but not all) disputes. And if the estate has no money and a lot of debt, it may be the probate court that sorts out the situation.

Every estate is different. Therefore, it is important to speak with an estate planning attorney to have a will, power of attorney and any health care directives created and properly executed. Every few years, these documents should be reviewed and revised to keep up with changes in the law and in your personal life.

Reference: wmur.com (July 29, 2021) “What to know about probate”

 

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Couple’s Charitable Remainder Trust Helps University Students

Florida resident Robert Larson of Leesburg recently donated $1.4 million to the Minnesota State University, Mankato in honor of his late wife, Virginia, the Minnesota State University, Mankato recently announced.

A story entitled “Minnesota State Mankato Receives $1.4 Million Gift to Support Education, Music, ROTC Scholarships” said that Larson’s gift will support scholarships for students studying elementary education (75%) and music (20%), and the remaining 5% is earmarked to establish Minnesota State Mankato’s first Reserve Officer Training Corps endowment. At least 14 students annually will receive scholarships as a result of the gift.

“This gift is especially meaningful because of the many years that Robert and Virginia Larson spent planning for it,” said Minnesota State University, Mankato President Edward Inch.“ Students will benefit from this gift for many generations to come.”

The Larson’s originally planned their gift by creating the university’s first-ever charitable remainder trust in 1987. The trust was set up to benefit University students after both Robert and Virginia died.

A charitable remainder trust (CRT) is a gift of cash or other property to an irrevocable trust. The donor gets to keep an income stream from the trust for a term of years or for life. The charity then gets the remaining trust assets at the conclusion of the trust term. The donor receives an immediate income tax charitable deduction when the CRT is funded, based on the present value of the assets that will eventually go to the named charity.

Mr. Larson later decided he wanted to give a larger sum to the university to be able to have an effect on students while he was still living. Therefore, he decided to forego the annual payments he received and terminated the charitable remainder trust early.

His wife Virginia graduated from Minnesota State Mankato in 1961 with a bachelor’s degree in elementary education. She began teaching fourth grade in Lakeville, Minnesota. She then taught third grade in Poway, California, and finally taught fourth grade and English as a second language in Chula Vista, California. She died in 2020.

“Virginia really enjoyed her time as a student at Minnesota State Mankato, and we started planning for this gift out of a desire to help students,” said Robert Larson.

Reference: Minnesota State University, Mankato (August 12, 2021) “Minnesota State Mankato Receives $1.4 Million Gift to Support Education, Music, ROTC Scholarships”

 

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Court Upholds Kelly Clarkson’s Prenup

News outlet TMZ reported that Kelly Clarkson was on the set of her TV show, The Voice, when she heard the news and “let out a scream” of joy, with fellow coaches Blake Shelton and Ariana Grande about her prenup.

The Daily Mail’s recent article entitled “Kelly Clarkson’s prenup UPHELD by judge in divorce battle” says that while Clarkson was filming the singing competition, she received an email from her lawyers informing her of the good news that her prenup had been kept in place. As a result, she’ll keep the bulk of her assets and income.

In July, Clarkson, who is estimated to be worth $45 million, was ordered to temporarily pay ex-husband Brandon Blackstock about $200,000/month in spousal and child support. Court documents also showed some details of Clarkson’s finances: she personally earns $1,583,617 a month. With the court’s decision, Clarkson will keep most of their assets, including the Montana ranch where her ex-husband is currently living.

Blackstock had been contesting the prenup and wanted to split their properties 50/50, as well as the money she earned throughout their marriage, but a judge denied this request.

A judge found for Clarkson that the signed prenup had to be taken into account. The pop star now has the right to sell the Montana ranch because she’s the one who bought it.

The parties’ divorce has been bifurcated—which means that the end of the marriage has officially been declared. Clarkson has been awarded primary custody of their minor children – River and Remington.

It was previously reported that Clarkson would pay 70% of her children’s school fees and expenses. However, she had refused to pay for the Montana ranch. The judge ordered that Blackstock carry the financial burden of his Montana ranch that costs around $81,000 a month to run in expenses. Now it looks as though Clarkson will sell it.

Blackstock is currently living at the ranch and is using it as his primary residence. He’s earning around $10k a month. In comparison, Clarkson was bringing home around $1.5M a month.

Court documents confirm that Kelly will continue to pay her ex $150,000 per month while the divorce case continues, as well as $45,000 in child support. Clarkson has sold a staggering 25 million albums and 45 million singles worldwide in her career, and currently has her own hit talk-show. She started dating Blackstock, a country music manager, in 2011. They married in 2013.

Reference: Daily Mail (Aug. 13, 2021) “Kelly Clarkson’s prenup UPHELD by judge in divorce battle”

 

Near Retirement Planning

What Not to Do when Creating an Estate Plan

Having a good estate plan is critical to ensure that your family is well taken care of after you are gone. Working with an experienced estate planning attorney remains the best way to be sure that your assets are distributed as you want and in the most tax-efficient way possible. A recent article titled “Estate Planning mistakes to avoid” from Urology Times looks at the fine points.

An out-of-date estate plan. Life is all about change. Your estate plan needs to reflect those changes. Just as you prepare taxes every year, your estate plan should be reviewed every year. Here are trigger events that should also spur a review:

  • Parents die and can no longer be beneficiaries or guardians of minor children.
  • Children marry or divorce or have children of their own.
  • Your own remarriage or divorce.
  • A significant change in your asset levels, good or bad.
  • Buying or selling real estate or other large transactions.

Neglecting to update an estate plan correctly. Scratching out a provision in a will and initialing it does not make the change valid. This never works, no matter what your know-it-all brother-in-law says. If you want to make a change, visit an estate planning attorney.

Relying on joint tenancy to avoid probate. When you bought your home, someone probably advised you to title the home using joint tenancy to avoid probate. That only works when the first spouse dies. When the surviving spouse dies, they own the home entirely. The home goes through probate.

Failing to coordinate your will and trusts. All your wills and trusts and any other estate planning documents need to be reviewed to be sure they work together. If you create a trust and transfer assets to it, but your will states that the asset now held in the trust should be gifted to a nephew, then you’ve opened the door to delays, family dissent and possibly litigation.

Not titling assets correctly. How assets are titled reflects their ownership. If your home, bank accounts, investment accounts, retirement accounts, vehicles and other properties are titled properly, you’ve done your homework. Next, check on beneficiary designations for any asset. Beneficiary designations allow assets to pass directly to the beneficiary. Review these designations annually. If your will says one thing and the beneficiary designation says another, the beneficiary designation wins.

Not naming successor or contingent beneficiaries. If you’ve named a beneficiary on an account—such as your life insurance—and the beneficiary dies, the proceeds could go to your estate and become taxable. Naming an alternate and successor for all the key roles in your estate plan, including beneficiaries, trustees and guardians, offers another layer of certainty to your estate plan.

Neglecting to address health care directives. It may be easier to decide who gets the family vacation home than who will decide to keep you on or take you off life-support systems. However, this is necessary to protect your wishes and prevent family disasters. Health care proxy, advance care directive and end-of-life planning documents tell your loved ones what your wishes are. Without them, the family may be left guessing what to do.

Forgetting to update Power of Attorney. Review this critical document to be sure of two things: the person you named to manage your affairs is still the person you want, and the documents are relatively recent. Some financial institutions balk at older POA forms, and others will outright refuse to accept them. Some states, like New York, have changed POA rules to make it harder for POAs to be denied, but in other states there still can be problems, if the POA is old.

Reference: Urology Times (July 29, 2021) “Estate Planning mistakes to avoid”

 

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What to Do with Estate Plan when Loved One Dies

There are a few things a family needs to address immediately after a death, says Cleveland Jewish News’ recent article entitled “Funeral arrangements, estate planning take education.”

It is important that the decedent have a last will and testament to say to how their assets will be distributed. In addition, a trust in combination with a will can give the creator more control over how, when and where the assets go. A fully-funded revocable living trust does not go through probate, like a testamentary trust created under a will to administer the inheritance. A trust can help to avoid probate.

As for funeral arrangements, this can be challenging, if families have not started the planning process quickly. Trying to make decisions on a cemetery, a casket, a funeral home and a service can be daunting. There are a number of decisions to be made in a short amount of time.

As far as reviewing the documents and assets the decedent left behind, do this one at a time and organize as you go to avoid some stress. A family that is grieving can be overwhelmed very quickly.

When a family and loved ones have too much on their plates, nothing will get done because it is too much. Instead, look at one asset at a time, go through it and see how it is titled and if they think the beneficiary designation is appropriate.

Review each asset and make sure you have covered each one, especially if your goal is to avoid probate.

While still living, a person should make a list of where everything is located, details on their accounts and the account numbers and their estate planning attorney. This will ease the family’s burden when going through your assets and other documents, after you pass away.

Although it is not necessary that a parent disclose everything about his or her finances, a parent should have that information available somewhere. That way children will know where all the assets and important documents are located when needed.

Reference: Cleveland Jewish News (June 22, 2021) “Funeral arrangements, estate planning take education”