The idea of implementing an estate plan might be one of the scariest things you have to confront as an adult. But estate planning does not have to make chills run down your spine. On the contrary, estate planning is empowering for both you and your family and allows you to live confidently knowing that things will be taken care of in the event of your passing or incapacity. Remember, estate planning is not just for the ultra-rich. If you own anything or have young children, you should have an estate plan. Read below to find out reasons why.

Benefits of Estate Planning

Proper estate planning accomplishes many things.  It puts your financial house in order. Parents designate a guardian for their minor or disabled children, so they’re raised by someone who shares your values and parenting style (rather than whoever some judge picks). Homeowners can make sure their property is transferred to a designated beneficiary in the event of untimely death. Business owners can ensure the enterprise they’ve worked so hard to build stays within the family.

Yet, according to WealthCounsel’s 2016 Estate Planning Literacy Survey, only 40 percent of Americans have a will and just 17 percent have a trust in place. This translates to a majority of American families not being adequately protected against the eventual certainty of death or the potential for legal incapacity.

When it comes to estate planning, knowledge is vital. Less than 50 percent of those surveyed by WealthCounsel understood that an estate plan can be used to address several concerns – financial or non-financial matters – including health decisions and guardianship, avoiding court and preempting family conflicts, as well as taking advantage of business and tax benefits.

Estate Planning Horror Stories

Legal disputes over estate plans and wills – or, usually, the lack of having these in place at all – are common. These conflicts can cause harm to family relationships and be financially burdensome. Disputes among the rich-and-famous often made headlines.

Some scary outcomes of inadequate or non-existent estate planning include:

  • Prince, who died without a will, leaving lawsuits and hefty lawyer’s fees for his family;
  • Whitney Houston, whose failure to update her will negatively affect her daughter Bobbi Kristina’s inheritance;
  • James Gandolfini, who didn’t finish planning causing his estate to be hit with unnecessary and easily avoided death taxes;
  • Michael Jackson, who set up trusts for his children but never funded them resulting in a multiple probate court battles; and
  • Philip Seymour Hoffman, who never set up trusts for his kids causing their inheritances to be unnecessarily taxed.

These horror stories are not limited to wealthy celebrities. WealthCounsel’s survey found that more than one-third of respondents know someone who has experienced or have themselves suffered family disputes due to the failure of an existing estate plan or inadequate will. Additionally, more than half of those who have established an estate plan did so to reduce family conflict. Preserving family harmony is for everyone – not only for the wealthy or celebrities.

Attorneys: Your Guide to Not-So-Spooky Estate Planning

Estate planning can be confusing as each circumstance is unique and requires different tools to achieve the best possible outcome. Nearly 75 percent of those surveyed by WealthCounsel said estate planning was a confusing topic and valued professional guidance in learning more – so you’re not alone if you aren’t sure where to begin.

Slawson & Slawson here to help. An estate planning attorney is essential in determining the best way to structure your will, trust, and estate plan to fit your needs. If you or someone you know has questions about where to begin – contact us today.

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Estate Planning That Expresses Who You Are

5 Things to Talk About with Your Family


You intend to pass along your wealth through your estate plan, but what about your wisdom? Ensuring you accomplish both calls for a family meeting to have a conversation about who you are: your money, your legacy, and your core principles.


Most families lead far-flung and busy lives, meaning the only time they see one another face-to-face is around the dinner table during a handful of major holidays. The estate planning process is a perfect opportunity to bring everyone together outside of those scheduled occasions — even if a child or grandchild has to attend via video chat.


Working with your estate planning attorney in collaboration any other advisors you have in your corner can make this legacy-enriching process seamless and genuinely enjoyable. But bringing your family and your professional advisors into the conversation is better yet, as they’ll get to learn new things about you and get to share stories and memories of their own. Here are just a few of the topics you’ll want to go over during your family meeting:


  1. Your rich life story

You may think it’s all been said before, but this is the perfect time to schedule or conduct recording sessions about your own personal life narrative that describes who you are. These recordings will be treasured while you’re still here and long after you’re gone. Allow your family members to ask about particularly fond memories of yours, knowing that you’re creating a time capsule of sorts that will contain the uniqueness of your personality and the experiences that shaped you into the person you are today. And perhaps most importantly, share the valuable lessons you’ve learned from your experiences. Your family will be better for it.


  1. How you’d like to be honored

Estate planning involves considering some weighty decisions when it comes to long-term care, powers of attorney, and other situations that may arise should you become mentally incapacitated. Although these are not the sunniest of topics, it’s important to express to your family why you’re opting for the choices you feel most aligned with. This will ease those processes for your loved ones, should these things ever come to pass. And once you get this part of the conversation covered, there are better things to come.


  1. Your family tree

Your family might be curious about more than just your own life story. Take this time to go over your family tree and answer questions the younger members of your family don’t know the answers to about your heritage. Getting a who’s who on paper and in a digital format is an excellent gift to your beneficiaries, as they’ll be able to reference it and build upon it throughout the years.


  1. Significant heirlooms

Every family has heirlooms, and every piece tells a story of who you are. It’s common for estate plans to contain physical objects that matter dearly to their owners, such as furniture, garments, jewelry, hobby collections, and memorabilia. Keeping the story of the object alive is more important than transferring its monetary value to the next generation.


  1. Your core values

Your estate plan can be customized to include specific language that carries your values along with it while still leaving room for your beneficiaries to grow and explore on their own terms. Educational, incentive, and charitable trusts are just a few methods available to you to express your values through your estate plan.


You know there’s much more to who you are than the wealth you’ve accumulated in your life. Likewise, your estate plan is about more than just your financial worth. After all, what’s passed down from generation to generation amounts to something far greater than numbers on paper.


We’d love to help you build your estate plan to include a balanced representation of who you are and what you believe. We’re here to help coach you through the process of going over these topics with your family and weaving them into your trusts and other critical documents. Contact Us to set up a time, and we’ll get started right away.

Money may be the most talked about wealth contained within your estate, but the riches of your experience and wisdom can mean even more to family members down the line. Reinforcing family traditions can be built into your estate plan alongside your wishes regarding your money, property, and belongings. After all, what makes a family a family is its values and traditions — not its finances.


It’s an excellent idea to hold a family meeting in which you discuss the  things that matter most to you. In addition to the value of sharing your wisdom, you can also make contention among your heirs less likely if they understand the reasons behind your choices. This is just one of the many reasons to have a family discussion about your legacy and your estate plan.


How to tell your story through your estate plan


It’s a delight to get to hear your elders’ stories of their fondest memories and wildest adventures, as well as the struggles they overcame to get the family where it is today. This wisdom provides meaning for a financial legacy that otherwise might just be viewed as a windfall. As part of your estate and legacy planning, you can decide to record your own personal history. Here are a few ways:


  • Audio files: With the broad range of audio formats available today, you can record in the way that’s easiest for you – anything from a handheld cassette recorder to the Voice Memos app on your iPhone. There are some easy-to-use digitizing services that can compile your stories into audio files to make available to your family and descendants.


  • Video files: The same goes for home movies and other video recordings. Older film formats can be easily digitized and organized along with the videos from your phone. Today’s technology also makes it easier than ever to add narration (and context) to a video, making the story all the richer.


  • Photo albums: Many families have prized photo collections that catalog generations. It’s a tragedy when something like this is lost in a fire or extreme weather event, or even misplaced in a move. Creating a digital database is a favor to your family in more ways than one: Not only will they have access to these memories at any time, they can also feel secure knowing that these family treasures won’t be lost anytime soon and that multiple copies can be made for the different branches of the family.


  • Letters and other writings: If you enjoy writing, you can also include handwritten or typed letters or stories to your family members in your legacy plan to be received and read at the time of your choosing. You can also include past letters and postcards that might be tucked away in the attic. It’s not only a personal delight to relive the memories of the past by reviewing your old letters and postcards, but it’s also a great way for younger generations to get to know and sincerely appreciate your life journey and legacy.


Passing your values to the next generation

Some estate planning strategies blend your finances and personal values. For example, we might have a discussion on some of your core values in life. Whether you feel most passionate about the need for your beneficiaries to travel and gain worldly experience, continue a unique family tradition like sailing or astronomy, or support meaningful charitable or spiritual work, we can draft trusts that contain funds specifically set aside for these endeavors.


  • Educational trusts: If you value education, you might want to set up a trust to fund undergraduate and graduate degrees, med school, study abroad, or even community classes for your family’s future generations. Because of sharp increases in educational costs within the U.S., your grandchildren will likely stand to benefit immensely from an educational trust.


  • Incentive trusts: Similar to the way educational trusts set aside wealth for the purpose of funding a beneficiary’s schooling, incentive trusts can also help steer the course of your descendants’ lives be encouraging some paths while discouraging others. For example, an incentive trust could contain instructions for disbursements to be released when the beneficiary is working a part or full-time job. Or if family vacations were an important part of your upbringing, you could set aside funds specifically for your grandchildren to experience the same wonderful tradition you enjoyed.


  • Charitable trusts or foundations: Charitable trusts or foundations establish a family legacy of supporting a particular cause, but they also have the added financial benefit of reducing income and estate taxes. They are an excellent way to help a charitable organization that’s central to your core values and make your name associated with that philanthropic effort for generations to come.


Are you curious about exploring a few of these options in your estate and legacy plan? Contact Slawson & Slawson today, and we can schedule an appointment to go over your many options for showcasing your memories and values in a long-lasting way that truly benefits your family

flowerSubstance addiction is by no means rare, impacting as many as one in seven Americans. Because of its prevalence, navigating a loved one’s addiction is actually a relatively common topic in everyday life. But you should also consider it when working on your estate planning. Whether the addiction is alcoholism, drug abuse, or behavioral like gambling, we all want our loved ones to be safe and experience a successful recovery. A properly created estate plan can help.

The idea that money from a trust could end up fueling those addictive behaviors can be a particularly troubling one. Luckily, it’s possible to frame your estate planning efforts in such a way that you’ll ensure your wealth has only a positive impact on your loved one during their difficult moments.

Funding for treatment

One of the ways your trust can have a positive influence on your loved one’s life is by helping fund their addiction treatment. If a loved one is already struggling with addiction issues, you can explicitly designate your trust funds for use in his or her voluntary recovery efforts. In extreme cases where an intervention of some sort is required to keep the family member safe, you can provide your trustee with guidance to help other family members with the beneficiary’s best interest by encouraging involuntary treatment until the problem is stabilized and the loved one begins recovery.

Incentive trusts

Incentive features can be included in your estate planning to help improve the behavior of the person in question. For example, the loved one who has an addiction can be required to maintain steady employment or voluntarily seek treatment in order to obtain additional benefits of the trust (such as money for a vacation or new car). Although this might seem controlling, this type of incentive structure can also help with treatment and recovery by giving a loved one something to work towards. This approach is probably best paired with funding for treatment (discussed above), so there are resources to help with treatment and then benefits that can help to motivate a beneficiary.

Lifetime discretionary trusts

Giving your heirs their inheritance as a lump sum could end up enabling addiction or make successful treatment more difficult. Luckily, there’s a better way. Lifetime discretionary trusts provide structure for an heir’s inheritance. If someone in your life is (or might eventually) struggle with addiction, you can rest easy when you know the inheritance you leave can’t be accessed early or make harmful addiction problem worse.

Of course, you want to balance this lifetime protection of the money with the ability of your loved one to actually obtain money out of the trust. That’s where the critical consideration of who to appoint as a trustee comes in. Your trustee will have discretion to give money directly to your beneficiary or pay on your loved one’s behalf (such as a payment directly to an inpatient treatment center or payment of an insurance premium). When dealing with addiction, your trustee will need to have a firm grasp of what appropriate usage of the trust’s funds looks like. Appointing a trustee is always an important task, but it’s made even more significant when that person will be responsible for keeping potentially harmful sums of money out of the addicted person’s hands.

Contact Us For Help

Navigating a loved one’s addiction is more than enough stress already without having to worry about further enablement through assets contained in your trust. Let us take some of the burden off your shoulders by helping you build an estate plan that positively impacts your loved one and doesn’t contribute to the problem at hand. That way, you can go back to focusing your efforts on the solution. Contact us today at Slawson and Slawson to see how we can help.

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