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Estate Planning Blog

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Is Estate Planning for Everyone?

Why You Should Consider a Living Trust for Your Estate Planning

When it comes to estate planning, many people think of a will as the go-to document for ensuring that their assets are distributed according to their wishes after they pass away. However, a living trust can often be a more effective tool for many individuals, offering benefits that a will cannot provide. In this article, we’ll explore why you should consider a living trust to be a cornerstone of your estate planning strategy.

What Is a Living Trust?

A living trust is a legal document that places your assets into a trust for your benefit during your lifetime and then transfers those assets to designated beneficiaries when you die. The person who manages the trust, known as the trustee, can be yourself or another person you trust. A living trust’s flexibility and control make it an attractive option for many.

Advantages of a Living Trust

Avoiding Probate

One of the most significant advantages of a living trust is avoiding the probate process. Probate can be time-consuming, costly and public. With a living trust, your assets can be transferred to your beneficiaries quickly and privately without court intervention.

Control Over Asset Distribution

A living trust lets you specify exactly how and when your assets will be distributed to your beneficiaries. This is particularly beneficial if you have minor children or beneficiaries who may not be financially responsible. You can set up the trust to distribute the assets in increments or upon reaching certain milestones, such as graduating from college.


Living trusts are revocable, meaning you can alter or revoke the trust as your circumstances change. This flexibility allows you to adapt your estate plan as your financial situation evolves or as you acquire or divest assets.

Incapacity Planning

Should you become incapacitated due to illness or injury, a living trust already has a mechanism for managing your affairs. The successor trustee you’ve named can step in to manage your trust assets, ensuring that your financial needs are met without the need for a court-appointed guardian or conservator.

Estate Tax Benefits

For larger estates, a living trust can provide significant tax benefits. While assets in a living trust are still subject to estate taxes, the current exemption limits are quite high ($12.92 million for U.S. residents in 2023 and $13.61 million in 2024). This means that many estates will not be subject to federal estate taxes.

Considerations Before Creating a Living Trust


Creating a living trust generally involves higher upfront costs than drafting a will. However, when you consider the potential savings in probate costs and the value of the benefits provided, the initial investment can be well worth it.


Setting up a living trust can be more complex than drafting a will. It requires transferring ownership of your assets to the trust, which can involve additional paperwork and coordination with financial institutions.


While you maintain control of your assets during your lifetime, you must be comfortable with the idea of the trust entity holding title to your assets. This is a shift in mindset for some. However, it is essential for the trust to function as intended.

Is a Living Trust Right for You?

A living trust is not a one-size-fits-all solution. It’s essential to consider your individual circumstances, the complexity of your estate and your long-term goals. Consulting with an estate planning attorney can help you determine whether a living trust is your best option.

For a more in-depth look at living trusts and their role in estate planning, I recommend reading “Is a Living Trust Really the Best Way to Pass an Inheritance to Your Family?” on The Motley Fool.


A living trust offers numerous benefits, including avoiding probate, controlling asset distribution, offering flexibility, aiding in incapacity planning and potentially offering tax benefits. While there are considerations, such as cost and complexity, the advantages of a living trust often outweigh these concerns. If you’re looking to create a comprehensive estate plan that provides for your loved ones while giving you peace of mind, a living trust should be high on your list of options.

Remember, estate planning is a deeply personal process, and what works for one person may not be the best for another. It’s crucial to consult with a professional to tailor a plan that fits your unique situation. Click here to book a consultation with us today.


Seniors Be Careful: Elder Financial Exploitation More than Doubled Since COVID

Recent research from AARP shows the rate of elder financial exploitation has more than doubled since the start of the COVID pandemic, costing seniors age 60+ an estimated $28.3 billion annually, according to a recent article from Financial Advisor, “Rise of Financial Exploitation Presents New Challenges for Advisors.”

The size and scope of this problem make protecting seniors’ overall well-being, financial goals, and ability to meet their goals something all family members and professionals involved with seniors need to be aware of.

Becoming familiar with the most common forms of financial fraud and abuse will help seniors and their professional advisors, including estate planning attorneys, to be prepared. These include:

Power of Attorney or Fiduciary Abuse. When naming a Power of Attorney—a written consent permitting someone else to make decisions on their behalf—the person is expected to act in their best interest. Abuse of Power of Attorney or fiduciary abuse can lead to money being mismanaged or being spent on something other than a senior’s expenses and care.

Abuse by a Family Member. This is sadly common and can include identity theft, misappropriating funds for personal use, forging documents or checks, unauthorized use of a family member’s credit card, insurance fraud, financial coercion, etc.

Investment fraud. This is one of the top methods of financial exploitation and includes a number of tactics, from pump-and-dump schemes to investment opportunities offering guaranteed returns, and Ponzi schemes. It also includes affinity fraud, pretending to have things in common with a person to gain their trust, only to aggressively sell inappropriate or worthless investments once they’ve gotten the seniors’ trust.

Medicare or Medicaid fraud. This occurs in several different forms: paying for care never received, being charged multiple times for a service or medical device only received once, fraudulent claims submitted in a senior’s name, or being offered a product or service unauthorized by Medicare or Medicaid.

Homeowner Scams. These schemes include wire fraud, foreclosure or mortgage relief, reverse mortgages, home improvement and rental scams. Anyone soliciting a senior for a home improvement project because their company is “in the neighborhood” should immediately be identified as a scammer.

No one wants to see seniors exploited. However, they become more vulnerable to financial abuse as they age. While the topic of aging and money can be uncomfortable and even taboo for many, it’s a pivotal discussion to have with family members.

Reference: Financial Advisor (Sep. 26, 2023) “Rise of Financial Exploitation Presents New Challenges for Advisors”

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Why You Need to Include Digital Assets in Your Estate Plan

A new form of wealth, with different ownership, storage, and transferability terms, has created a new challenge for estate planning from traditional forms of wealth. These are digital assets, electronic records in which an individual has a right or interest, as explained in a recent article, “Planning for Digital Assets 101,” from Wealth Management.

Digital assets can be divided into two groups: sentimental digital assets and investment digital assets.

Sentimental digital assets are those with an emotional tie, like photos, videos, social media accounts, etc. For these assets, the goal is to provide access to loved ones after a person’s death. Some platforms allow settings to name a legacy contact. A list of accounts, usernames and passwords will be helpful for family members.

The IRS defines investment digital assets as “any digital representation of value which is recorded on a cryptographically secured distributed ledger, like a blockchain, or any similar technology as specified by the Secretary.” This type of asset includes cryptocurrency, stablecoins and non-fungible tokens.

The challenge of digital investment assets in estate planning centers on how they are owned and stored.

Digital assets are stored in digital wallets, web-based or hardware-based. “Hot wallets” are web-based and run on smartphones or computers. Many investors use them for small amounts of cryptocurrency and frequent trading. “Cold wallets” are hardware-based wallets stored on devices not connected to the internet, reducing the risk of unauthorized access. A cold wallet can only communicate with an internet-connected device when plugged in. An investor will have a seed phrase or backup code to access the cold wallet, which the owner must store in a secure place.

Understanding the storage system is essential for estate planning for two main reasons:

Beneficiary Access. The recipient of a gift or bequest of the digital asset must have access to the relevant storage device to access the actual investment. Sharing this information comes with an element of risk, as access is inherently tied to value.

Fiduciary Access. If only the owner has access, heirs will have no way to gain access to the digital assets when the owner dies. Digital exchanges don’t allow users to name a contact to access the investment information upon death. Most exchanges don’t have centralized entities to record information. If access is denied to the heir, the investment could be lost.

Transferring digital assets requires providing access to beneficiaries and/or fiduciaries. There are several ways to structure such a transfer while minimizing the risk of theft or loss.

Digital assets can be transferred to a Limited Liability Company, and subject to certain limitations, retain control of the digital assets’ management by serving as LLC manager. Transferred LLC interests can also provide a mechanism to discount the value of the transferred interest. In addition, LLCs can provide asset protection since, in most states, LLCs protect a member’s personal assets from an LLC’s liabilities.

A directed trust is another way to transfer digital assets, while maintaining control and decision-making with the owner. In some states, a directed trust can have an “investment trustee” or “investment trust director” to exclusively handle investment responsibilities, including managing and storing digital assets.

Even using these two methods, someone other than the original owner must be granted access to the digital assets. One way to do this is by naming a “digital fiduciary”—someone tasked with managing the digital assets.

Estate plans involving digital assets must clearly outline heirs for the digital investment and its tangible storage devices. The assets can pass with the residuary, and complexities can arise if the residuary beneficiaries differ from tangible property beneficiaries who will receive the storage device. Speak with an experienced estate planning attorney to be sure that your digital assets are included in your estate plan.

Reference: Wealth Management (Sep. 19, 2023) “Planning for Digital Assets 101”

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Social Security Cost of Living (COLA) Is Likely to Increase in 2024

Following two years when Social Security Cost of Living Adjustments (COLAs) soared to the highest levels in decades, beneficiaries should not be surprised by more modest increases in monthly payments in 2024, reports a recent article, “Social Security COLA 2024: How Much Will benefits Increase Next Year?” from AARP.

The inflation gauge used by the Social Security Administration (SSA) to set the annual COLA rose at a 2.6% annual rate for July and 3.4% for August. These are the first two of three months the SSA uses to determine the final increase, which will be announced more formally in October.

The August uptick was a bit higher than anticipated, and September’s inflation numbers are expected to rise to similar levels. Analysts expect a 2024 COLA of about 3 percent.

This may seem like a letdown for recipients. Still, COLA is calculated to exactly offset the price increases faced by consumers, measured by the Consumer Price Index, since the prior COLA was determined.

A 3 percent COLA indicates inflation is slowing down or getting under control, which is especially important for seniors living on a fixed income. While a higher COLA sounds nice, it reflects rising prices, which can be far more challenging for retirees who count on Social Security benefits to pay their household bills.

All forms of benefits are affected by the COLA, including retirement, disability, family, and survivor benefits. The adjustment starts with the December Social Security benefits, which most folks receive in January 2024.

Benefits are calculated by the CPI-W, a subset of the main Consumer Price Index, which measures a broad range of retail prices. The SSA compares the average CPI-W for July, August, and September of each year to the figure for the same period the year before to arrive at the COLA for the year to come.

For example, the year-over-year changes in the CPI-W for the three months in 2022 were 9.1%, 8.7%, and 8.5%, respectively. Over the entire quarter, the index was 8.7% higher than average for the same period in 2021, resulting in the COLA used at the start of 2023.

If projections hold, and there’s no reason to think they won’t, the 2024 adjustment will align more with the relatively low inflation pre-pandemic period. When there’s no inflation, there’s no COLA. This happened in 2010, 2011 and 2016. The most significant adjustment ever? 14.3 percent in 1980.

Studies by the Center for Retirement Research show Social Security benefits generally keep up with inflation in the long term but can lag during short-term periods of volatility, depending on whether or not the price index is trending up or down when the COLA is set.

Beneficiaries in 2021 and 2022 lost buying power when COLAs were outpaced by surging inflation, peaking around 9 percent in mid-2022. This year, inflation was cooling somewhat when the 8.7 increase took effect and remained below the COLA level.

Another factor impacting the COLA’s value is Medicare costs. A rise in Medicare Part B premiums in 2024 would offset a portion of the COLA increase for Social Security recipients who have premiums deducted directly from their benefits, which is about 70 percent of Medicare enrollees.

Reference: AARP (Sep. 13, 2023) “Social Security COLA 2024: How Much Will benefits Increase Next Year?”


What Happens When the Second Parent Passes?

After doing everything right, including having an estate planning attorney prepare estate plans for her parents, a woman managed her mother’s affairs after her death in a matter of months. She expected the same when her father died, but some unexpected events occurred. A recent article from Business Insider, “I thought I was ready to wrap up my parents’ finances when they died. I was wrong,” provides some cautionary insights.

As their Power of Attorney, she managed her parents’ finances for several years before they passed, including placing most of their assets into irrevocable trusts. When her mother died, the trusts specified how the assets would be divided. A third went to the surviving spouse and a third to each of the two children. She was able to complete the transfer by phone with the investment company. She also filed her mother’s final tax returns and paid any outstanding bills.

She expected to have the same experience when her father died. However, she found that settling the second spouse’s affairs more complicated, even though she’d previously helped settle a second spouse’s estate for her father-in-law.

Her father’s estate was more straightforward: he lived in an assisted living facility with few possessions. Transferring the remaining trust assets to her sister and herself took one phone call and outstanding medical bills were paid in a matter of months. However, problems arose.

Her father’s bank account wasn’t in the trust, and neither she nor her sister could access his bank account without a will. He had a trust but no will, so her sister had to go to court and be legally declared his next of kin before she could close the bank account.

Filing the final tax return was also a challenge. While getting his traditional mail was always a challenge, she had been able to find any paper documents in the past. She could not log into his online accounts, since digital assets were never addressed.New Article

Getting a transcript from the IRS has been a long and complex process, and she’s hoping to get tax information in time to file by the tax extension deadline. As he died in 2023, she’ll have to do another set of tax returns next year.

Lessons learned:

Having a will and trust documents prepared by an estate planning attorney will make life easier. Designating an executor and/or trustee ahead of time can ease potential friction between siblings.

Gather all the paperwork. If parents are well enough and willing, gather financial paperwork, from tax records, bank and credit card information and login information to online accounts while they are still living.

Set realistic expectations. Don’t expect to complete all tasks quickly. It will take a few months and maybe longer to finalize taxes, sell property and deal with any outstanding legal or financial issues. Knowing it’s going to take time may make the process less frustrating.

Losing a parent is hard, and losing a second parent is often harder. Preparing for the estate planning aspects in advance can make a tough time a little easier.

Reference: Business Insider (Sep. 19, 2023) “I thought I was ready to wrap up my parents’ finances when they died. I was wrong.”


What Is Happening with Barbara Walters’ Estate?

New York Post’s recent article entitled, “Barbara Walters’ belongings auction-bound — own a piece of the broadcaster’s beloved NYC home,” reports that later this month and into early November, more than 300 items from Barbara Walters’ Upper East Side apartment of more than 30 years will be up for auction.

The famous news anchor — who passed away late last year, aged 93 — spent more than 30 years at her posh dwelling, “surrounded by treasured American Art, jewelry, fashion, furniture, decorative items and cherished personal mementos — all of which will be going under the hammer” in a live and online auction, reads a description by auctioneer Bonhams.

“In line with Walters’ commitment to philanthropy, the net proceeds of the sale will benefit charities dear to Walters.”

More than 120 pieces of jewelry will be on offer, including many of the bold earrings and brooches Walters became known for wearing during her legendary interviews.

One of these is the 13.84-carat engagement ring Merv Adelson gave Walters during their brief marriage (estimated to be worth anywhere from $600,000 to $900,000), a ruby and diamond floral brooch Walters wore to the Waldorf Astoria in 1991 for the eighth annual Night of Stars fashion festival, as well as gifts from celebrity friends, including a silver-plated cigarette box she received from Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones.

Her extensive dinnerware collection is also up for auction. These are fine China teacups and dishes likely used by the star-studded guests of her soirees, from Dr. Henry and Nancy Kissinger, Oscar and Annette de la Renta and Andrew Lloyd Webber to Hugh Jackman.

For anyone with $19.75 million to spare, Ms. Walters’ silverware and art pair wonderfully with the apartment itself, which hit the market in April.

Located at the white-glove cooperative 944 Fifth Avenue, the unit (currently configured as a two-bedroom) boasts a wood-burning fireplace, 10-foot-high ceilings, views of Central Park, and, of course, the priceless association with a woman who was once the world’s highest-paid news anchor.

Reference: New York Post (Oct. 5, 2023) “Barbara Walters’ belongings auction-bound — own a piece of the broadcaster’s beloved NYC home”

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What Is in Senator Dianne Feinstein’s Estate?

The properties demonstrate Feinstein and her husband’s expansive wealth and success in their respective fields, according to BNN’s recent article, “Feinstein’s Billionaire Legacy: Children to Inherit Prominent Properties Amid Disputes.”

Feinstein, who was raised with money, has been one of the wealthiest members of Congress for years. She was independently wealthy when she married Richard Blum in 1980. After her election to the Senate, she placed her securities into a blind trust valued between $5 million and $25 million.

The couple’s combined fortunes have thrived, surpassing even the senator’s previous standard of living. Her primary residence is a 9,500-square-foot mansion in the posh Pacific Heights neighborhood of San Francisco. Until recently, their vacation homes included the 36-acre Bear Paw Ranch in Aspen, Colorado, and a seven-bedroom Lake Tahoe compound. Current holdings include a property on the Hawaii island of Kauai and a home in Washington, D.C.

However, the battle over Blum’s estate raises questions about the extent of his wealth and the out-of-pocket cost of home health care that Senator Feinstein has received since her bout with shingles earlier this year. During his lifetime, Blum, a private equity magnate, was often publicly referred to as a billionaire. However, the pandemic reportedly significantly impacted his investments, particularly his extensive hotel holdings.

An ugly dispute has arisen among the couple’s children, casting a new light on their fortune, and hinting at a potential court battle over the estate. Feinstein’s daughter, Katherine, and Blum’s three daughters, Annette Blum, Heidi Blum Riley, and Eileen Blum Bourgarde, will split the estate equally.  However, a dispute has come up concerning a waterfront house in Marin County, California, valued at $7.5 million, which was at the center of a dispute between Katherine and Blum’s daughters this year.

The couple’s wealth is largely attributed to his success as an investor. Feinstein’s daughter and three stepdaughters are set to inherit the late senator’s $102 million property portfolio and her $62 million private jet.

The distribution of the portfolio, estimated to be worth over $160 million, is now a big issue among the couple’s children.

Reference: BNN (Oct. 3, 2023) “Feinstein’s Billionaire Legacy: Children to Inherit Prominent Properties Amid Disputes”

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Estate Plan can Ease Anxiety and Confirm Legacy

Creating an estate plan can take stock of today’s priorities while creating a legacy by clarifying intentions. This could mean providing for your family, supporting charitable organizations, or providing a means for future generations to know about your passions. Estate planning also addresses tax issues and can be used to reduce court involvement with your estate, according to a recent article from Worth, “Take Charge of Your Legacy With an Estate Plan.”

For most people, considering death is uncomfortable, but your estate plan is essential to those loved ones taking care of your estate. Nearly all wealthy Americans expect to leave money or other assets to their children. People who don’t consider themselves wealthy also intend to leave property to their loved ones.

Consider what happens when no estate planning is done. It took six years to settle the $156 million estate of singer Prince, who died without a will in 2016. A jury only recently finished determining the inheritance of Aretha Franklin, who left conflicting wills after she died in 2018. While the estate was being decided, it dwindled from an estimated $80 million to $6 million.

Having an estate plan can also alleviate anxiety, with a survey showing individuals with investible assets of $1 million—$10 million feeling more in control of their finances once they have an estate plan in place.

Creating an estate plan may be easier if you address parts individually. You may even have some parts in place already, such as details about ownership of bank or investment accounts and beneficiary designations.

All assets need to be recorded, including digital assets. The estate plan should include information on life insurance proceeds because there may be adverse tax implications for the estate if they’re not appropriately structured. For instance, life insurance proceeds are generally exempt from federal income taxes; they are included in the estate and could potentially bump the estate’s value above the federal estate tax exemption. This can be avoided by transferring ownership of the policy to another person or establishing an Irrevocable Life Insurance Trust. Any transfer of life insurance policies made within three years of death is subject to federal tax, so this step needs to be considered carefully with the help of an estate planning attorney.

Don’t overlook the emotions of loved ones. Items with sentimental value often cause family strife, so create a distribution plan for possessions. Your last will and testament should include jewelry, artwork, and family heirlooms.

Part of your estate plan addresses what would happen if you become incapacitated. This includes Do-Not-Resuscitate instructions and other wishes for medical care. Everyone over 18 should have a Power of Attorney in place so someone can manage their legal and financial affairs in case of incapacity. There are different types of POAs; your estate planning attorney will know which best suits your needs.

Estate planning is a time to speak with family members about the role they can play in carrying out your legacy. A family meeting to discuss values, vision, and purpose can be helpful at any level of wealth, from endowing a new building at an alma mater to volunteer opportunities in the community.

Your estate plan is not a “set-it-and-forget-it” document. It should be reviewed annually and fine-tuned, especially when significant life changes occur, like marriage, divorce, death, the sale of a business, a change in the law, or a change in real estate ownership.

Reference: Worth (Sep. 22, 2023) “Take Charge of Your Legacy With an Estate Plan”


What Estate Planning Is Needed for Parents?

Even when you’re young, childless and don’t have many assets, you need to do some basic estate planning.

However, this takes on a new urgency when you become a parent.

It’s essential to state who you’d want to care for your children if you’re gone and also to provide for their financial security.

The Motley Fool’s recent article entitled, “3 Estate Planning Documents Every Parent Needs,” details three estate-planning documents parents should consider. Work with an experienced attorney to draft these documents.

  1. Last will and testament. A will is probably the most basic estate planning document you should have. You can leave instructions about how you want your property distributed when you die. In addition, you can use this document to name a legal guardian to care for your child if you and their other parent die before the child reaches adulthood.
  2. Revocable living trust. If you die before your child reaches the age of majority (age 18 in most states), a court-appointed guardian will manage any assets the child inherits. When they reach adulthood, they can take control of the property. However, this can be a problem if you have substantial assets. You may not want an 18-year-old coming into a lot of money at once. A revocable living trust is like a will in that you can use it to specify who gets your property. However, it allows you to be more detailed about how your property will be distributed.
  3. Financial power of attorney. This document allows you to designate an individual to manage your finances if you become incapacitated. Parents must have this document so that someone can access their bank accounts and pay bills, if necessary. Without it, access will typically require a court order. You’ll want to make sure money is available for your children’s expenses without delay in an emergency.

3.5. Life insurance. Once you become a parent, purchasing life insurance is a must. Term life insurance policies, which only pay a benefit if you die within a specified period, are usually affordable.

No one likes to think about their mortality. However, if you have children, preparing for the worst is something you can’t afford to put off.

Reference: The Motley Fool (June 2, 2023) “3 Estate Planning Documents Every Parent Needs”


What was in Singer Sinéad O’Connor’s Estate Plan?

The late “Nothing Compares 2 U” singer told People in 2021 that she wanted to protect her art and finances at all costs if she dropped “dead tomorrow.”

Sinéad O’Connor revealed in 2021 that she gave her children instructions for her death, reports Page Six’s recent article entitled, “Sinéad O’Connor gave kids instructions for what to do if she dropped ‘dead tomorrow.’”

“See, when the artists are dead, they’re much more valuable than when they’re alive,” she told the magazine at the time.

The controversial Irish singer told her children from when “they were very small” that if their “‘mother drops dead tomorrow, before you called 911, call my accountant and make sure the record companies don’t start releasing my records and not telling you where the money is.’”

O’Connor was found dead at her London home on July 26th. She was 56.

While no cause of death has been given, authorities announced that the late performer would undergo an autopsy. The test results are expected to be returned in “several weeks.” Police also said that O’Connor was “pronounced dead at the scene.” However, her “death is not being treated as suspicious” as no foul play was suspected.

“It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of our beloved Sinéad,” her family confirmed in a statement. “Her family and friends are devastated and have requested privacy at this very difficult time.”

O’Connor never quite recovered from her 17-year-old son Shane’s suicide in January 2022, tweeting that she had been “living as an undead night creature” ever since he took his own life.

“He was the love of my life, the lamp of my soul. We were one soul in two halves. He was the only person who ever loved me unconditionally,” she continued.

“I am lost in the bardo without him.”

O’Connor is survived by her three other children: Jake, 36, daughter Roisin, 27 and son Yeshua, 16.

Reference: Page Six (July 28, 2023) “Sinéad O’Connor gave kids instructions for what to do if she dropped ‘dead tomorrow’”