Options Abound With Out-of-State Trusts

If you have a family trust—or are considering creating a family trust—to protect your assets you may want to ask your attorney about creating an out of state trust. It’s a grantor’s market (so to speak) and creating a trust these days doesn’t mean you have to simply accept the tax laws of your state of residence.  Creating a trust in another state—with tax laws that are friendlier to trusts—is a perfectly legal option, “the only real requirement is that [you] choose an in-state trustee.”

As we mention frequently on our blog, there are many reasons for families to create a trust: credit protection, keeping assets in the family, estate planning, educational savings, and many more.  Furthermore, trusts are no longer an exclusive tool for the rich and famous; trusts are useful for just about everybody, and the states recognize this.

“States such as Alaska, Delaware, Nevada, New Hampshire, South Dakota and Wyoming have modified their trust laws in recent years to make them more attractive to individuals and families, including nonresidents, looking to minimize taxes, shield assets from creditors and preserve family assets in the event of a divorce, among other things.”

If you would like to explore your options for out-of-state trusts we recommend working with your local attorney, someone you trust who can meet with you when needed, who can draft the trust documents for you.  Your local attorney can then have a licensed attorney from the state of your choice review the documents for state-specific issues.

Prenups Help With Happily Ever After

A lot of what we as estate planners do is help you protect your assets: We help you protect your assets for your children when you die, we help you protect your assets when you are elderly and need long term or nursing care, we help you protect your business or investment assets from frivolous law suits… but we can also help you protect your assets during marriage.

“During marriage?” you may ask, “Why would I need to protect my assets during marriage?  I would trust my spouse with my life.” This may be true (in fact, we very much hope it is true) but statistics show that more than 50% of marriages end in divorce, yet according to this article by Robin Epstein and Amy Epstein Feldman only 3% of marrying couples bother to create a prenuptial agreement. The low number may speak for the optimism of marrying couples, but not for their common sense.

A prenuptial agreement is not an admission that you don’t really think your marriage is going to work.  On the contrary, prenuptial agreements can be useful in many situations, not just in cases of divorce.  If you are entering into a second marriage and have children from a previous marriage a prenuptial agreement is absolutely essential to ensure that your children are entitled to any assets you bring from your previous marriage. If you or your fiancé comes to the relationship with heavy debts a prenuptial agreement can ensure that your marriage doesn’t begin under the weight of all that debt. And a prenuptial agreement can be a precursor to your eventual estate planning.

If you are planning a wedding in the near future, our firm can help answer any questions you may have about prenuptial agreements without any obligation.  But really, knowing the many ways a prenup can protect you, your spouse, and your children—is there any reason not to have one?

Sensible… Sentimental… Prenuptial Agreements?

Somewhere between Family Law and Estate Planning lie Prenuptial Agreements.  These documents—once avoided at all costs by all but the super-rich as pessimistic or unromantic—are now considered by just about every financial advisor or specialist to be good financial planning, good estate planning, and just good sense.

Prenups are no longer just for the rich and famous, and they’re not for people “who will probably get divorced anyway.”  A prenup is a good idea for the small-business owner, the older bride or groom with children from a previous marriage, the newly-graduated student with a huge amount of credit card debt, and the expectant heir or heiress.  In fact, according to this article in USA Today even “Personal-finance expert Suze Orman encourages every engaged couple to get one to protect their current and future assets as well as to shield themselves in case a mate secretly runs up massive credit card debt (which could damage both partners’ credit scores).”

And we’re not talking about your parent’s prenups anymore.  As with most things, prenuptial agreements have evolved over the years: “Some prenups touch upon more sentimental topics, such as who keeps the heirloom silverware received as a wedding present…” and “Some prenups address issues such as adultery, frequency of intimacy, limitations of weight gain, the scheduling of housekeeping and provisions for pets.”

If there is a wedding somewhere in your near future consider calling our office to talk about whether a prenuptial agreement might benefit you and your fiancé. Prenups may have a reputation as being unromantic, but what could be more romantic or loving than planning your future… together.

Handing Over the Keys to the Kingdom

It goes without saying that nobody wants to give up control of their finances and put themselves at the mercy of someone else’s decisions; which is why most people spend hours and hours considering who to name as their agent when they sign a power of attorney.  But what happens if you pick the wrong person? This article about an elderly mother and the daughter who stole from her is a sad example of just how important it is not only to choose your agents wisely, but also to relinquish control wisely as well.

It is commonly believed that simply adding your “agent” as a joint owner on your bank accounts is the easiest (or cheapest) way to gradually “hand over the reins”; but giving someone else unfettered access to your bank accounts is a dangerous risk in the best of circumstances—all too often it leads to the tragic exploitation and abuse mentioned in the article above.

he good news is that there are safer ways to give your agents the powers and access they need without completely handing over the keys to your kingdom:

  • A Durable Power of Attorney that goes into effect when two doctors have declared you incapacitated
  • Naming more than one person as your agent (This can lead to a slower decision-making process, but it does provide you with checks and balances and oversight.  If you’re worried about disagreements between agents, name a third party to serve as a mediator or tie-breaker.)
  • Naming a financial institution as your financial agent
  • Choose a professional advisor or overseer through whom all decisions must be approved. This has the added benefit of giving your agents someone to whom they can go for advice in a tough situation.

Any of these options may be safer than joint ownership of your bank accounts, but every family and financial situation is unique, so ask your trusted attorney about which options may be best for you.

Living in a Digital World

Do you have an e-mail account?

Do you participate in Facebook or other Social Networking sites?

Do you do any of your banking, bill paying or investing online?

If you answered yes to any of these questions then you might want to think about this next question… what will happen to all of your online assets and accounts when you die?

As we move further into the 21st century more and more of our lives are moving into the digital realm.  This includes friendships, networking, business and banking.  The beauty of this is that it gives us unprecedented freedom and global access; the downside is that huge portions of our lives are locked away behind password protected accounts, many of which our friends and relatives aren’t even aware of. Online accounts are incredibly convenient, but they can create huge problems if your executor or agent has no way to retrieve your online passwords, assets or contacts after you die.

Some large online service providers are developing policies to deal with the transfer of accounts upon the death of the user, as noted in this article by Alejandro Martínez-Cabrera, “but the process is rarely a simple one.” Some companies require a death certificate before they will agree to shut down an account or turn over the contents, but rarely will an online company transfer actual ownership. It could take months or years of headaches and frustration before your heirs have access to any assets or information locked behind these online protections.

What this means for estate planning is that when you talk to your attorney about your will or your trust it’s not just about physical assets anymore; digital and online accounts and assets must be part of the conversation.

More than Just “The Death Lawyer”

Everyone knows that the estate tax is also sometimes known as “the death tax”; similarly, estate planning attorneys are also sometimes known as “those death lawyers.”  This is something most of us have learned to good-naturedly roll our eyes at; but eye-rolling aside, the worst thing about the “death lawyer” assumption is the disservice it does to you—our clients.  You see, as estate planning attorneys our role is to help you protect your family and your assets, both of which exist in the here and now, not in some ethereal “someday”. What follows are only a few of the things we can help you with right now:

Retirement planning: Ask about the recently developed Retirement Trust, which not only extends your retirement fund past its initial payout date, but gives you more options for distributions.

Saving for college: If you have children who will one day be in college, we can help you make sure they will have the wherewithal to follow their (and your) dreams for education in the event that anything happens to you. An education trust is the perfect way to provide for your children’s schooling.

Investing for the future by laying a foundation NOW: The future is the business of an estate planning attorney, whether it be protecting your life insurance policy for your family, saving your property from probate fees, or minimizing your taxes; but neglecting to prepare now means it may be too late when the time comes.

Yes, as estate planning attorneys our specialty is going to be helping you prepare for your inevitable death (which will take place sometime far in the future, of course) but one thing we know for sure is that the best way to prepare for the future is by taking action in the present.  Family, finances, health and education—all of these are within the realm of the “death lawyer’s” expertise, and all of these need your attention today. Let us help you with the things that are important to you and your family right now.

Don’t Take That IRA Withdrawal Yet! New Options for Seniors in 2009

If you are a senior 70 ½ or older who owns an IRA we have good news for you.  Last year Congress approved legislation that waives the minimum withdrawal requirement for seniors in 2009.

This leaves seniors with more options than usual regarding their IRAs.  You can still choose to take the withdrawal, of course; but deferring the withdrawal has the double benefit of allowing your investment to continue to grow within your IRA and lowering your taxable income for 2009.

If you were unaware of this legislation and you’ve already taken your withdrawal for 2009 you’re still in luck—the IRS is allowing seniors who have already taken the withdrawal to change their minds and roll their money back into a retirement account.

Of course, all of this good news doesn’t come without restrictions and exceptions, the first of which is that the deadline for the rollover is November 30th, or 60 days after you receive your withdrawal, whichever is later.  Sandra Block explains all of the rules and restrictions—and goes into further detail regarding the benefits to seniors—in her article in USA Today.

The bottom line is that seniors with IRAs have more options this year than usual.  You’ll want to explore those options with a trusted advisor and take advantage in whatever way you can.

The Intersection of Family and Finances

Forget silver, china, or linens; the best gift you can give a newly married couple is an estate plan!  This is especially true if the marriage is a second marriage for either of them.  Marrying a person means marrying their financial issues as well; this may include children or responsibilities from a previous marriage, a family business, or wealthy and suspicious parents who still control the purse strings. As this article in CNN Money illustrates, the best way to deal with financial issues is to meet the challenge head on, and to do it as soon as possible—preferably before you walk down the aisle.

There will always be challenges when two people merge their finances, but in the case of a second (or third, or fourth) marriage the issues can be particularly delicate.  Will it cause hard feelings if part of one spouse’s income goes to pay child or spousal support?  Are college savings for step-children the responsibility of both partners, or only the biological parent?  And what happens to joint property if one of you passes away—does it belong to the surviving spouse or to the children of the previous marriage?

One of the biggest steps along the path to financial marital bliss is the creation of a clear plan to ensure that the needs of both the new spouse and the children or obligations from a previous marriage are met. This includes an estate plan to provide for their needs if the unthinkable should happen.  If you are coming into a relationship with assets and children from a previous marriage, a trust can be written to ensure that your spouse will be cared for financially but that your children remain the ultimate beneficiaries of your estate.

Discussion and planning early on will set clear boundaries and priorities for everybody, and can go a long way toward easing tensions between two merging families.

The IRS Provides One More Reason to Consider Long-Term Care Insurance

In the estate planning business we help people plan for the future, not only for their children and heirs but for themselves as well; which is why we are pleased to share the news that it just got a little bit easier to plan for your own financial future, because according to this article on Emax Health the IRS has just approved higher tax deductions for long-term care insurance.

Advancements in health care and our standard of living mean that Americans are living longer than ever before, but that doesn’t mean they’re living better in their old age. Very few of us get to be healthy and hearty until our dying days; rather, most aging Americans will experience a slow decline in their mental and physical health, and require some kind of nursing care, either at home or in a nursing facility. Unfortunately, the cost of that care is prohibitively expensive, and once a patient’s own financial resources have been exhausted the burden then falls on their family, or they end up relying on government benefits.

Long-term care insurance is one way of planning ahead to pay for the nursing care that most of us will almost assuredly need.  The higher tax deductions approved by the IRS offer one more reason to consider long-term care insurance: by planning for your future you can save on your taxes right now. But do your research and consult with a professional before you jump in, because the deductions are available only on “qualified” policies, and there are limits to how large a premium can be deducted depending on the age of the taxpayer at the end of the year.

Keeping Financial Stability After the Loss of Your Spouse

Losing a spouse is one of the most difficult experiences life has to offer. Even continuing to take one day at a time seems almost impossible when you’ve lost your partner, your mate, the love of your life.  Many people who have lost a spouse describe feeling as though the rug has been pulled out from under their feet; they feel like a child again, having to re-learn how to interact in the world without their other half.

The emotional loss is only part of this confusion, especially if—like most partnerships—you and your spouse ran your household and finances with a division of labor, each partner taking on the responsibilities that they most enjoyed and were most suited to perform… this includes the financial responsibility.  The emotional impact of losing a spouse is hard enough, but in today’s complex financial world what do you do if the spouse you’ve lost was the family CFO?

The first and most important step, according to this article from the Chicago Tribune, is organization.  Knowing what your balance is, what your expenses are, and where important documents are located is absolutely key to getting through the rough patches.  The second step—and this one may be the hardest—is taking stock of your new financial situation and adjusting your lifestyle and spending. Losing a portion of your family’s income is a shock, and people often go through the motions of their previous lives because they simply can’t yet face the reality of their loss.  In addition, death comes with its own set of expenses which can make a substantial dent in your savings. 

If you feel you just don’t have the strength or focus to deal with financial issues immediately following the death of your spouse ask someone to help you temporarily.  Eventually, when the grieving process has run its course, you will surface again; and when that happens you don’t want to find that the life you knew has been buried under debt.