While the term fiduciary is a legal term with a long history, it very generally means someone who is legally obligated to act in another person’s best interests. Trustees, executors, and agents are all examples of fiduciaries. When you pick trustees, executors, and agents in your estate plan, you’re picking one or more people to make decisions in your and your beneficiaries’ best interests and in accordance with the instructions you leave. Luckily, understanding the basics of what each of these terms means and what to consider when making your choices can make your estate plan work far better.

 

Trustee

 

A revocable living trust is often the center of a well-designed estate plan because it is simply the best strategy for achieving most individuals’ goals. In a revocable living trust, pick a successor trustee will be responsible for making sure your wealth is passed on and managed in accordance with your wishes after your death or incapacity. Like each of the following individuals involved in your estate planning, it’s best to have a trusted person or financial institution carry out this vitally important role.

 

It’s important to make the language in your trusts as clear as possible so that your trustee knows exactly how to handle various situations that can arise is asset distribution. Lastly, your trustee will only control the assets contained within the trust — not the rest of your estate, another reason that completely funding your living trust is incredibly important.

 

Powers of Attorney

 

Your power of attorney is the document in your estate plan that appoints individuals to make decisions on your behalf if you become unable to do so yourself. There are a few different types of powers of attorney, each with their own specific provisions. There is quite a wide range of situations covered by various powers of attorney, and we can help you decide which types you’ll need based on your current situation and future goals. Here are two common types to cover in your estate plan:

 

  • Financial Powers of Attorney

Financial powers of attorney grant individuals the ability to take financial actions on your behalf such as purchasing life insurance or withdrawing money from your accounts to cover your costs. In most cases, powers of attorney are granted to individuals appointed as agents. However, especially regarding financial decisions, an institution like a trust company can also be named.

 

  • Health Care Powers of Attorney

Health care powers of attorney also cover a wide range of specific actions that can be taken regarding an individual’s medical needs such as making decisions about the types of care you receive. For example, a health care power of attorney can be the doctor you most trust to gauge your mental competency.

 

Executor

 

Your executor is the person who will see your assets through probate if necessary and carry out your wishes based on your last will and testament. Depending on your preferences, this may be the same person or institution as your trustee. You might also see this position designated as personal representative, but it means the same thing.

 

Many individuals pick a paid executor. This is someone who doesn’t stand to gain anything from your will, and is often the best choice if your estate is large and will be divided among many beneficiaries. Of course, family or friends can also serve, but it’s important to consider the amount of work involved before placing this burden on your family or friends.

 

Being an executor can be hard work and may have court-ordered deadlines, so it’s crucial to pick someone you know will be up for the job. They may need to hire a CPA to help sort out your taxes or a lawyer to assist in the process or to aid in dispute resolution. Therefore, choosing a spouse or someone else intimately involved in your life may not always be the wisest option, as they may not be up to the task at the time.

 

Get in touch with us today

 

Let us help you make the process of picking your trustee, powers of attorney, and executor as smooth and headache-free as possible. Once you have these choices in place, you’ll be able to rest easy knowing that your estate plan is in good hands no matter what life brings. Contact Us to make an appointment today.

Every one of us receives and passes on an inheritance. The inheritance may not be an accumulation of earthly possessions or acquired riches, but whether we realize it or not, our choices, words, actions, and values will impact someone and form the heritage we hand down.

— Ben Hardesty

Successful estate planning is about far more than simply passing your wealth to the next generation— it’s also about passing on your values. No matter which financial or legal structures you choose to contain and manage your assets, these instruments only preserve your wealth until it reaches the hands of your beneficiaries. What happens then? Your values enabled you to accumulate wealth and persevere in spite of obstacles and long odds. If your children and grandchildren don’t share and cherish those values, they could lose their inheritance as quickly as they received it.

But our values can be hard to capture in language. They seem second nature to us only because we live them every day. Here’s an exercise to help you identify your (perhaps) rarely-spoken moral code and communicate it to the next generation.

The Science of Surfacing Your Subconscious Values

In Chapter 3 of his bestselling book, Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity, productivity author David Allen discusses what he calls vertical project planning— that is, identifying the “why’s” and “what’s” of any project before engaging with its details. To reveal the standards that you have regarding any task, just finish the following sentence:

“I would give others totally free rein to do this as long as they…”

For instance, if you’re planning a dinner celebration for your dad’s 70th birthday, you could fill in the blanks as follows:

as long as they created a budget for the party and got buy-in from both of my sisters to contribute;

…as long as they made sure to double check the guest list with mom;

…as long as they booked a restaurant within 30 minutes from my parents’ home.

As it pertains to communicating values, we could reword it like this:

“I would give a total stranger free rein to guide the people I care about most about how to live a great and moral life as long as they…”

…as long as they make sure to communicate my core values of creativity, compassion and integrity;

…as long as they give many concrete examples of these standards being met and not met to demonstrate exactly what I mean;

…as long as there’s some mechanism to remind my family of these values in an ongoing way, so that they don’t forget;

…as long as they make inheritance from the trust I establish conditional on whether my beneficiaries live these values.

Estate planning is ultimately not only about passing along your tangible wealth and deciding how to distribute assets. It’s an opportunity to ensure your legacy into the next generation and beyond. Clarifying your values and working to effectively pass them along can be a profoundly liberating experience.

Please contact us for insight about how to get started with this process.

I produced this video to talk about my experiences with social anxiety. I’ve discovered that social anxiety is more than fear. It can be a power to build personal strengths and talent. I believe it has helped me become a better estate planning attorney.

Weakness into Strenght: Social Anxiety and the Power to Be Your Best

If you suffer from “estate planning anxiety,” contact us and

A pet trust is an excellent way to make sure your beloved pet will receive proper care after you pass on. The problem, of course, is that you won’t actually be there to see that your wishes are carried out. It’s critical to set up a pet trust correctly to ensure there are no loopholes or unforeseen situations that could make your plans go awry. Here are 5 tragic mistakes people often make when leaving their assets to their pets.

 

  1. Appropriating more than the pet could ever need.

 

The gossip stories about such-and-such celebrity who left his or her entire fortune to a pet are the exception rather than the rule. Leaving millions of dollars, houses, and cars to your pet is not only unreasonable, but it’s more likely to be contested in court by family members who might feel neglected. To avoid this pitfall, leave a reasonable sum of money that will give your pet the same quality of life that she enjoys now.

 

  1. Providing vague or unenforceable instructions.

 

Too many pets don’t receive the care their owners intended because they weren’t specific enough in their instructions or because they did not use a trust to make the instructions legally binding. Luckily, a pet trust can clarify your instructions and make them legally valid.

 

If you leave money to a caretaker without a pet trust in place, hoping it will be used for the pet’s care for example, nothing stops the caretaker from living very well on the pet’s money. But when you use a pet trust to designate how much the caretaker receives and how much goes for the pet’s care, you’ve provided a legal structure to protect your furry family member. You can be as specific about your wishes as you’d like, from how much is to be spent on food, veterinary care, and grooming. You can even include detailed care instructions, such as how often the dog should be walked.

 

  1. Failing to keep information updated.

 

Bill sets up a pet trust for his dog Sadie, but what happens if Sadie passes away? If Bill gets a new dog and names her Gypsy, but he doesn’t update this information before he dies, Gypsy could easily wind up in a shelter or euthanized because she’s not mentioned in the trust. This is a common yet tragic mistake that can be easily avoided by performing regular reviews with your estate planning attorney to ensure that your estate plan works for your entire family.

 

  1. Not having a contingency plan.

 

You might have a trusted friend or loved one designated as a caretaker in your pet trust, but what happens if that person is unable or unwilling to take that role when the time comes? If you haven’t named a contingent caretaker, your pet might not receive the care you intended. Always have a “Plan B” in place, and spell it out in the trust.

 

  1. Not engaging a professional to help.

Too many people make the mistake of trying to set up a pet trust themselves, assuming that a form downloaded from a do-it-yourself legal website will automatically work in their circumstances. Only an experienced estate planning attorney should help you set it up to help ensure that everything works exactly the way you want.

 

When attempting to leave assets to your pet, the good news is that with professional help, all these mistakes are preventable. Talk with us today about your options for setting up a new pet trust or adding a pet trust to your current estate plan. We’re here to help.

 

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We understand that it feels hard to get around to estate planning; it sounds about as fun as getting a root canal. However, we also understand that we all want to make sure that our loved ones are protected and receive our hard-earned assets – regardless of whether we have $10 million or $10,000.

Don’t let these common estate planning roadblocks stop you from protecting yourself and your family:

  1. Who Wants to Talk About Death? Discussions of death, dying, and illness – money and family – will and trusts – make many folks uncomfortable. Of course, that’s normal.  But, don’t let a few minutes of feeling uncomfortable stop you from taking care of yourself and your loved ones.

 

  1. This Isn’t a Good Time. You have a lot of commitments.  We understand that, but there’s never going to be a better time. Call our office, get on the calendar, and get it done.

 

  1. I Don’t Get It. Estate planning is documented in legal papers; finances are discussed; the law is analyzed. It’s common feel uncomfortable in a world you’re not familiar with.  If that’s what you are thinking, you are not alone. We will translate complex legal concepts into everyday layman’s terms for you, just like we do for everyone else.

The truth is that estate planning isn’t really that bad. In fact, with our help, estate planning is easy. We’ll chat with you about your goals and concerns, analyze your family and financial situation, and work with you to come up with a solid plan. You provide the information, which we always keep confidential, and we’ll take care of everything else.

 

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With all the wealth accumulated by the rich and famous, one would assume that celebrities would take steps to protect their estates once they pass on. But think again: Some of the world’s richest and most famous people have passed away without a will or a trust, while others have made mistakes that tied their fortunes and heirs up for years in court. Let’s take a look at three high-profile celebrity probate disasters and discover what lessons we can learn from them.

 

  1. Tom Carvel

 

As the man who invented soft-serve ice cream and established the first franchise business in America, Tom Carvel had a net worth of up to $200 million when he passed away in 1990. He did have a will and accompanying trust that provided for his widow, family members and donations for several charities, but he also named seven executors, all of whom had a financial stake in the game. The executors began a round of infighting that lasted for years and cost millions. In the end, Carvel’s widow passed away before the disputes could be settled, essentially seeing none of the money.

 

Lesson learned: “Too many cooks spoil the broth.” Your trustee and executor may have to make tough decisions. Consider naming executors and trustees who have no financial interest in your estate to reduce the risk of favoritism. Also, consider have only a single trustee and executor rather than a committee.

 

  1. Jimi Hendrix

 

Passing away tragically at age 27, rock guitarist Jimi Hendrix left no will when he died. What he did leave behind was a long line of relatives, music industry bigwigs, and business associates who had an interest in what would become of his estate – both what he left behind, and what his intellectual property would continue to earn. An attorney managed the estate for the first two decades after Jimi’s death, after which Jimi’s father Al Hendrix successfully sued for control of the estate. But when Al attempted to leave the entire estate to his adopted daughter upon his passing, Jimi’s brother, Leon Hendrix, sued, launching a messy probate battle that left no clear winners.

 

Lesson learned: When you don’t leave a will or trust, the effects can last for generations. An experienced estate planning attorney can help put your wishes in writing so they are carried out after your death rather than opening a door to costly conflict.

 

  1. Prince

 

The court battle currently in preparation over Prince’s estate is a celebrity probate disaster in action. When the 80’s pop icon died in early 2016, he left no will, reportedly due to some previous legal battles that left him with a distrust of legal professionals in general. The lines are already being drawn for what will likely be a costly and lengthy court battle among Prince’s heirs. Sadly, there’s even a battle looming about determining, for certain, who his heirs actually are.

 

Lesson learned: Correct legal documentation protects your legacy. Don’t let a general distrust or a bad experience cause your heirs to fight and potentially lose their inheritance.

 

These celebrity probate disasters serve as stark reminders that no one’s wealth is exempt from the legal trouble that can occur without proper estate planning. As always, we are here to help you protect your family and legacy. Give us a call today.

As we build wealth, we naturally desire to pass that financial stability to our offspring. With the grandkids, especially, we often share a special bond that makes us want to provide well for their future. However, that bond can actually turn into a weakness if proper precautions aren’t set in place. If you’re planning to include the grandchildren in your will, here are five potential dangers to watch for, and ways you can avoid them.

 

  1. Including no age stipulation.

 

We have no idea how old the grandchildren will be when we pass on. If they are under 18, or if they are financially immature when you die, they could receive a large inheritance before they know how to handle it, and it could be easily wasted.

 

Avoiding this pitfall: Create a long-term trust for your grandchildren that provides continued management of assets regardless of their age when you pass away.

 

  1. Too much, too soon.

 

Even if your grandkids are legally old enough to receive an inheritance when you pass on, if they haven’t learned enough about handling large sums of money properly, the inheritance could still be quickly squandered.

 

Avoiding this pitfall: Outright or lump-sum distributions are usually not advisable. Luckily, there are many options available, from staggered distributions to leaving their inheritance in a lifetime, “beneficiary-controlled” trust. An experienced estate planning attorney can help you decide the best way to leave your assets.

 

  1. Not communicating how you’d like them to use the inheritance.

 

You might trust your grandchildren implicitly to handle their inheritance, but if you have specific intentions for what you want that inheritance to do for them (e.g., put them through college, buy them a house, help them start a business, or something else entirely), you can’t expect it to happen if you don’t communicate it to them in your will or trust.

 

Avoiding this pitfall: Stipulate specific things or activities that the money should be used for in your estate plan. Clarify your intentions and wishes.

 

  1. Being ambiguous in your language.

 

Money can make people act in unusual ways. If there is any ambiguity in your will or trust as to how much you’re leaving each grandchild, and in what capacity, the door could be opened for greedy relatives to contest your plan.

 

Avoiding this pitfall: Be crystal clear in every detail concerning your grandchildren’s inheritance. An experienced estate planning attorney can help you clarify any ambiguous points in your will or trust.

 

  1. Touching your retirement.

 

Many misguided grandparents make the mistake of forfeiting some or all of their retirement money to the kids or grandkids, especially when a family member is going through some sort of financial crisis. Trying to get the money back when you need might be difficult to impossible.

 

Avoiding this pitfall: Resist the temptation to jeopardize your future by trying to “fix it” for your grandchildren. If you want to help them now, consider giving them part of their inheritance in advance, or setting up a trust for them. But, always make sure any lifetime giving you make doesn’t leave you high and dry.

 

If you’re planning to put your grandchildren in your will or trust, we’re here to help with every detail you need to consider. Contact us to explore your options and protect your family.

 

When establishing a trust, you need to give serious thought to choosing your successor trustee—the person who will administer your trust once you’re no longer able to do so. This individual ideally should be:

 

  • Someone you trust implicitly.
  • Someone who is organized, responsible and meticulous.
  • Someone who can remain steadfast to your wishes in the face of family disagreements and other disputes regarding the trust.

 

That said, even the most capable, well-intentioned successor trustees can make mistakes when managing affairs. Here are five surprisingly common mistakes along with steps to take to prevent them from happening.

 

  1. Faulty Record-keeping

 

To ensure that a trust fulfills its purpose without being contested, the trustee must keep accurate, detailed records of income and distributions. Your trustee must also be prepared to report these figures regularly to the beneficiaries and heirs. If these records are incomplete or inaccurate, the door is opened for someone to challenge the trust, potentially leading to lengthy and costly court battles.

 

To prevent this mistake: Hire an accountant to assist the successor trustee in record-keeping, and make sure the trustee and the accountant make a connection before the trustee takes over.

 

  1. Misunderstanding the Fiduciary Role

 

Many trustees mistakenly assume their job involves acting in the best interests of the person setting up the trust. In reality, their job is to act in the interests of the beneficiaries of the trust. Furthermore, the trustee may be legally liable for any failure to protect the beneficiaries against bad investment advice concerning the trust.

 

To prevent this mistake: Detail the fiduciary role of the successor trustee in the trust documentation itself, and be certain that the trustee understands his/her role.

 

  1. Not Collaborating Effectively with Your Established Financial Team

 

The successor trustee’s failure to communicate with key members of your team while administering your trust can lead to inaccuracies, misunderstandings and significant, preventable financial losses.

 

To prevent this mistake: Make sure your trustee is properly introduced to, and connected with, your attorney, CPA, financial planner and anyone else involved with your estate planning.

 

  1. Failing to Discuss Compensation

 

If your appointed trustee is a close friend or family member, the topic of compensating the trustee may be glossed over or forgotten. This oversight can result in a lack of morale or even resentment if managing the trust becomes difficult or time consuming.

 

To prevent this mistake: Bring up the topic of compensation yourself when you establish the arrangement; be as generous as you deem necessary; and put the compensation terms in writing.

 

  1. Failing to Remain Objective

 

Many people choose a close family member as a trustee. This strategy can be appropriate, especially when privacy matters. However, disputes about money can happen even in the tightest-knit families, and it can be difficult to near-impossible for a relative to remain neutral when resolving those fights. The end result could be decisions that family members perceive to be unfair or that wind up being inconsistent with your intentions.

 

To prevent this mistake: Make certain the person you choose can remain neutral and faithful to the terms of the trust, even under duress. If there is any doubt, consider hiring a corporate trustee with no emotional connection to the family or estate.

 

Selecting a successor trustee is one of the most important decisions you will make during your estate planning process. For insightful counsel on this issue, contact us today to schedule a private appointment.

If you’re thinking about giving your children their inheritance early, you’re not alone. A recent Merrill Lynch study suggests that these days, nearly two-thirds of people over the age of 50 would rather pass their assets to the children early than make them wait until the will is read. It can be especially satisfying to fund our children’s dreams while we’re alive to enjoy them, and there’s no real financial penalty for doing so, provided that you structure the arrangement correctly. Here are four important factors to take into account when planning to give an early inheritance.

 

  1. Keep the tax codes in mind.

 

The IRS doesn’t really care whether you give away your money now or later—the lifetime estate tax exemption as of 2016 is $5.45 million per individual, regardless of when the funds are transferred. So, whether you give up to $5.45 million away now or wait until you die with that amount, your estate will not owe any federal estate tax (although, remember, the law is always subject to change). You can even give up to $14,000 per person (child, grandchild, or anyone else) per year without any gift tax issues at all. You might hear these $14,000 gifts referred to as “annual exclusion” gifts. There are also ways to make tax-free gifts for educational expenses or medical care, but special rules apply to these gifts. Your estate planner can help you successfully navigate the maze of tax issues to ensure you and your children receive the greatest benefit from your giving.

 

  1. Gifts that keep on giving.

 

One way to make your children’s inheritance go even farther is to give it as an appreciable asset. For example, helping one of your children buy a home could increase the value of your gift considerably as the home appreciates in value. Likewise, if you have stock in a company that is likely to prosper, gifting some of the stock to your children could result in greater wealth for them in the future.

 

  1. One size does not fit all.

 

Don’t feel pressured to follow the exact same path for all your children in the name of equal treatment. One of your children might actually prefer to wait to receive her inheritance, for example, while another might need the money now to start a business. Give yourself the latitude to do what is best for each child individually; just be willing to communicate your reasoning to the family to reduce the possibility of misunderstanding or resentment.

 

  1. Don’t touch your own retirement.

 

If the immediate need is great for one or more of your children, resist the urge to tap into your retirement accounts to help them out. Make sure your own future is secure before investing in theirs. It may sound selfish in the short term, but it’s better than possibly having to lean on your kids for financial help later when your retirement is depleted.

 

Giving your kids an early inheritance is not only feasible, but it also can be highly fulfilling and rewarding for all involved. That said, it’s best to involve a trusted financial advisor and an experienced estate planning attorney to help you navigate tax issues and come up with the best strategy for transferring your assets. Give us a call today to discuss your options.

If you’ve been appointed an executor of a loved one’s estate, or a successor trustee, and that person dies, your grief – not to mention your to-do list, including tasks ranging from planning the funeral, coordinating relatives coming in from out of town and (eventually) meeting with a trust administration or probate lawyer – can be quite overwhelming. First and foremost, take care of yourself during this emotional time.

 

To help you with the “business” end of things, here’s a quick checklist of crucial details that will make the trip to our office to handle the legal affairs easier. I know it can be difficult, but some of these things have a deadline, so make sure that you reach out sooner rather than later:

 

  • Secure the deceased’s personal property (vehicle, home, business, etc.).
  • Notify the post office.
  • If the deceased wrote an ethical will, share that with the appropriate parties in a venue set aside for the occasion. You may even want to print it and make copies for some individuals.
  • Get copies of the death certificate. You’ll need them for some upcoming tasks.
  • Notify the Social Security office.
  • Take care of any Medicare details that need attention.
  • Contact the deceased’s employer to find out about benefits dispensation.
  • Stop health insurance and notify relevant insurance companies. Terminate any policies no longer necessary. You may need to wait to actually cancel the policies until after you’ve “formally” taken over the estate, but you can often get the necessary paperwork started before that time.
  • Get ready to meet with a qualified probate and trust administration attorney. Depending on the circumstances, a probate may be necessary. Even if a probate is not needed, there is work that needs to be done to administer the trust properly. Here’s what you need to gather:
  1. The deceased’s will and trust. If the original of the deceased’s will or trust can’t be located, contact us as soon as possible and bring any copies you do have.
  2. A list of the deceased’s bills and debts. It’s often easier to bring the statements or the actual credit cards into the office rather than try to write out a list, but do whatever is easiest for you.
  3. A list of the deceased’s financial advisors, insurance agent, tax professional, and other professional advisors.
  4. A list of the deceased’s surviving family members, including their contact information when available. Even if they’re not named in the trust, the attorney will need to know about everyone in the family.
  • Cancel your loved one’s driver’s license, passport, voter’s registration, and club memberships.
  • Close out email and social media accounts, and shut down websites no longer needed. Depending on circumstances, to take these steps, you may need to wait until you’ve “formally” taken over the estate, but you can often learn the procedures and be ready to take action.
  • Contact your tax preparer.

 

You may be thinking about handling all the paperwork yourself. It’s a tempting thought – why not keep things as simple as possible? – but a “DIY” approach to this process might cost you and your family dearly. Read on to understand why.

 

Consequences of Mishandling an Estate: Examples from Real Life

 

Example #1: Failing to disclose assets to the IRS. Lacy Doyle, a prominent art consultant in New York City, inherited a large estate when her father passed away in 2003. He allegedly left her $4 million, but she only disclosed fewer than $1 million in assets when she filed the court documents for the estate. Per the New York Daily News: “She opened an ‘undeclared Swiss bank account for the purpose of depositing the secret inheritance from her father’ in 2006 — using a fake foreign foundation name to conceal her identity… [she also] didn’t report her interest in the hidden accounts — nor the income they generated — from 2004 to 2009.” As a result of these alleged shenanigans and Doyle’s failure to report the accounts to the IRS, she was arrested, and she now faces a six-year prison sentence.

Example #2: Misusing power of attorney. Another famous case of an improperly handled estate involved the son of famous New York socialite, Brooke Astor. Her son, Anthony Marshall, was convicted of misusing his power of attorney and other crimes. Per a fascinating Washington Post obituary: “In 2009, Mr. Marshall was convicted of grand larceny and other charges related to the attempted looting of his mother’s assets while she suffered from Alzheimer’s disease. He received a sentence of one to three years in prison but, afflicted by congestive heart failure and Parkinson’s disease, was medically paroled in August 2013 after serving eight weeks.”

 

Some Key Takeaways

 

  1. Seek professional counsel to avoid even the appearance of impropriety when handling an estate.
  2. Bear in mind that errors of omission and accident can be costly – even if your intent was good. An executor who makes distributions from an estate too soon can get into serious trouble, for instance. An executor’s personal assets can wind up in jeopardy if his or her actions cause an estate to become insolvent.
  3. Even if you’re well organized and knowledgeable about probate and estate law, it’s surprisingly hard to anticipate what can go wrong. There are many ways to end up in hot water when you’re handling the estate or trust of a loved one.

 

We’re here to help you steer clear of the obstacles and free you to focus on yourself and your family during this difficult time. Contact us for assistance. We can help you manage estate and trust related concerns as well as point you towards other useful resources.