Estate Planning with No Heirs

Old lady gardeningSome people have a somewhat unique estate planning challenge: they’re childless and not sure what should happen to the assets they leave behind or whom to appoint as their proxy decision-maker.

CNBC’s recent article, “Planning your estate when you've got no children or heirs,” says there may be no close family members, resulting in questions of who they should leave their estate to. These folks also often don't know who to name as executor of their will or who to trust to make decisions for them, in the event that they become incapacitated.

Studies show that most childless people don’t make out a will. The issue with having no will (or “dying intestate”) is that the state will decides who gets your assets. Therefore, it is recommended that for those with no family ties or close friends, to focus on your interests and tie them to charitable giving. You can immediately establish your legacy and enjoy it, while still living.

Another tough decision is choosing someone to have medical power of attorney, which allows that person to make important health-care decisions if you’re unable to do so. Usually married couples will name each other as their health-care proxy, but after the death of one spouse, the other with no children has the challenge of naming someone else. The same is true for childless singles who never married.

Likewise, a living will details your wishes if you’re on life support or suffer from a terminal illness.  It also instructs your proxy's decision making. You also should give someone durable power of attorney to act as your agent, if you’re unable to handle your finances. You can designate different people to handle healthcare and financial decisions.

You also need to designate someone to be the executor for your estate. This can be challenging for those without any family. The executor or “personal representative” has the legal authority to handle your estate. It should be someone you trust and someone who has the bandwidth to take on this responsibility.

If you can’t think of a person to name, your bank's trust division may be willing to serve as executor. You may also consider setting up a trust. Remember that some assets have beneficiaries, like 401(k) plans and life insurance policies. These accounts don’t pass through the will.

Doing something is better than doing nothing. Speak with an experienced estate planning attorney to get help with making these decisions and creating a plan.

Reference: CNBC (May 31. 2017) “Planning your estate when you've got no children or heirs”


Advice for Blended Families and Estate Planning

Biracial familyDid you know that about 1,300 new stepfamilies are created every day? That’s from the Stepfamily Foundation, and the Pew Research Center says 41% of all Americans have at least one step-relative.

The Miami (OK) New-Record’s recent article, “4 tips to resolve financial concerns in stepfamilies,” provides some tips and answers for issues within stepfamilies.

  1. Types of accounts should be defined. A major issue for stepfamilies can be how to split finances into “yours,” “mine” or “ours.” Any combination of accounts can be just fine, but spouses should clarify the rules at the start to avoid confusion. Financial circumstances can change, so couples should review their program regularly to make sure that they have the best approach for their situation.
  2. Keep documents up-to-date. After remarrying, review the beneficiaries of life insurance, pensions, and other financial accounts. It is also important to create or update a durable power of attorney, living will or a healthcare proxy to name a person to make decisions, in case of incapacity.
  3. Modify your will. Inheritance issues can make children and spouses concerned about their financial futures. With that reality, a newly remarried couple should draft wills and revise any existing wills to address important estate planning issues. Wills must state, as specifically as possible, what each beneficiary will inherit. This helps minimize potential squabbles among siblings and also between the surviving spouse and children from an earlier marriage. Step-children aren’t usually considered your legal heirs, so they may not inherit if you pass away without a will containing specific provisions for them.
  4. Speak to professionals. A CPA and an experienced estate planning attorney can show you the best options for your circumstances. This may include life insurance or a trust to ensure that the needs of all beneficiaries are met.

Reference: Miami (OK) New-Record (May 20, 2017) “4 tips to resolve financial concerns in stepfamilies”


Why Does a First Responder Need a Living Will?

TelephoneAlthough first responders experience illness, injuries and death every day, they still can be hesitant to create a living will for themselves. Nonetheless, it’s important.

EMS1.com recently posted a story, “Why EMS providers need living wills.” It explains that a living will—contrary to most other estate planning documents—has no authority after the creator of the document passes away. A living will or advance directive provides instructions about your end-of-life care. It can include as much or as little direction as you want, such as the use of pain-relieving treatments, do not resuscitate (DNR) orders, life support and organ donation.

A living will helps your family members carry out your wishes.  However, it often doesn’t cover everything. For instance, if you don’t specify whether you’d want certain life-saving treatments like emergency surgery in the living will, you should have a trusted agent to act in your best interests and help you to carry out your wishes.

First responders need both a health care power of attorney and a living will. Due to the high risk of serious injury that comes with a first responders’ duties, it is even more imperative to have this advanced planning in place. In many states, the health care power of attorney is part of the living will. The agent or the “health care proxy” has the authority to act on behalf of the incapacitated first responder, if the first responder is incapable of making decisions on his or her own.

But why do I need a living will?

Be in control of your end-of-life decisions. Without a living will, the decisions to carry out your last wishes could be made by the court. In this situation, state law takes effect and dictates who will have a say in your well-being. A living will lets you control how decisions are made and who will make them.

Protect your life partner. Without a living will, the law will place the health care power of attorney in the hands of your spouse, and then your family. If you have a long-time partner, but are unmarried, your partner would have no say in any end-of-life decisions.

Select one of your children to assist. With a health care power of attorney, you eliminate confusion as to which of your children will make the decisions to enforce your living will and decisions on end-of-life care.

Peace of mind. A living will gives you and your loved ones comfort and peace of mind. This is a stressful time, and a living will helps smooth out the logistics and questions that will arise.

Organ donation. You can state your instructions for organ donations in a living will.

Without a living will, decisions can become difficult for family when a loved one is in a terminal state. Families are left wondering whether they made the right decision. Your living will lets you approve and announce your health care decisions beforehand, avoiding confusion and fighting.

Reference: EMS1.com (May 6, 2017) “Why EMS providers need living wills”


Here’s What an Estate Plan Can Do for You

Wills-trusts-and-estates-coveredThe need for an estate plan applies to everyone, says Trust Advisor’s recent article, Why An Estate Plan Is Beneficial.”

With a small estate, you should be even more careful to avoid unnecessary expenses and to retain the most resources for fulfilling your personal, financial, and charitable goals. The article cites four key reasons why you should have an estate plan:

  1. Stipulating Care for Yourself. This includes a healthcare proxy, power of attorney and living will that states how you want to be cared for, if you become incapacitated.
  2. Financial Security. Your will lets you specify the way that you want your assets distributed and to whom. Without a will, state probate law will determine who receives your assets.
  3. Designating Guardians. If you have minor children, it’s critical to make written arrangements for their care. A will is the only legal way to do so in most states (e.g., California is an exception). You must designate a person that you want to be entrusted with the care of your children.
  4. Designating Beneficiaries. Your estate plan will include completing beneficiary forms for insurance policies and retirement accounts. It’s a good idea to review your designated beneficiaries after any major life event, like marriage, divorce, a death in the family or the birth or adoption of a child. Remember, you can also name a charity as a primary beneficiary or contingent beneficiary in your plan.

Reference: Trust Advisor (April 29, 2017) Why An Estate Plan Is Beneficial


Don’t Wait until It’s Too Late to Estate Plan

WillSome parents will engage their kids in disability and estate planning, with some viewing it a way to share the work and bring on a younger mind to help navigate the complexities of estate planning.

The Napa Valley Register recently reported in its article, “Estate planning for your parents,” that not all parents are open to this. Some are insecure about their lack of knowledge, and there can be fear of the cost or undue influence. In some instances, parents just don’t want to come to terms with their mortality. Whatever it is, if a parent delays or doesn’t make an estate plan, the children will potentially have stress and conflict—and have to clean up the mess.

Probate is a tiresome, slow moving and bureaucratic headache. There are delays and hard feelings. Probate can also wind up with the wrong people inheriting wealth and family treasures. If you’re not certain if your parents have a proper estate plan designed by a knowledgeable attorney, there are several ways to approach this before a crisis.

The easiest way to see if your parents have a solid estate plan is to ask, “Hey Mom, do you and Dad have a will and a trust?” In addition, see if they have disability planning and other medical documents in place.

If a subtler approach is required, you can try asking for advice from your parents. Tell them you’re trying to get your personal affairs in order and need their help. You can ask them what estate planning they’ve done and what attorney they used. This may get them to open up about their situation, in order to help you with yours.

Another way to ease into this conversation is with an anecdote. You may know a person who had an easier time with proper planning, or maybe you know someone whose life was troubled by avoiding it.

If your parents simply don’t want to talk about this type of planning, you may seek the help of another sibling. They may respond better to your brother or sister.

You can also ask a relative or a trusted friend to broach the subject.

A final option might be to offer to pay for the creation of their estate plan. Tell them that by doing your estate planning, you’ve learned what issues there can be settling an estate that wasn’t in proper order and that you would be willing to pay for them to work with an experienced estate planning attorney. The idea of paying for someone else’s estate plan may not be that appealing, but it will save you time, stress and money in the long run.

Reference: Napa Valley Register (March 26, 2017) “Estate planning for your parents”

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