What You Don’t Know About Estate Planning

What You Don’t Know About Estate Planning

Estate planning is the process of arranging for the management and disposal of your estate in the event you become incapacitated and after your death.

Simply put, estate planning is about defining your legacy during your lifetime and leaving an impact on the people and organizations you support after you’re gone.

Myth #1: Estate planning is only for the rich.
If you have anyone that relies on you for care, if you have pets, money (no matter how small), investments, life insurance, house, furniture, a car, or anything of financial or sentimental value, have a plan.

If you are single, married, have blended families, or have a partner that you would like to gift after you’re gone, if you have children, grandchildren that you look after, a solid estate plan can make sure that the distribution of your things goes smoothly and there is less stress while they are grieving your loss.

Myth #2: Estate planning is only about distributing your assets after you are gone.
Your legacy includes so much more than deciding who will inherit your fancy china.
 – Authorize someone to make critical financial and healthcare decisions if you are unable.
 – Specify a church or charity that you want to receive your gifts.
 – Specify a guardian(s) for your children, dependents, and pets.

Myth #3: A Will oversees the distribution of your assets.
Some assets, such as life insurance policies, 401K, and IRAs, may be exempted because a Will does not override all your beneficiary designations (e.g., items left to an ex-spouse may still go to them no matter what your Will says).

Use a Healthcare Directive to designate someone(s) to make legal or financial decisions on your behalf. A Trust can accomplish a lot of things more efficiently than a Will can, even for those with modest estates, so don’t rule it out.

Myth #4: You only need to make an estate plan once.
Your preferences and goals change over time. Laws and tax rates change. Think about it, if you made an estate plan 10 years ago, chances are your decisions would look a little different than if you made one today. Maybe you’ve gotten remarried. Maybe your minor children aren’t so minor anymore. Maybe you have stepchildren now that mean the world to you. Whatever the circumstance, it’s important to revisit your estate plan often.

Myth #5: Taxes eat up the largest part of any estate.
Although it’s true that estate taxes are real and the rates are high, only people with estates worth millions of dollars are affected by federal estate taxes. Although there may be future changes, the general trend has been the federal estate tax affects only the very wealthy. Your estate planning attorney will keep abreast of any state laws that may change and impose a separate estate or inheritance tax.

Myth #6: I’m too young to need a Will.
This is one of the biggest myths of all, and honestly one of the most upsetting. Right now, you should specify how your possessions will be distributed after you are gone. If your situation changes later, you’ll already have a template in place which makes it so much easier to make changes to any beneficiaries. It is inexpensive and a thoughtful gift for those that you leave behind.

As an estate planning attorney with 40+ years of experience, I can help you create an estate plan that’s right for you. Give me a call.

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How to Choose Your Power of Attorney

How to Choose Your Power of Attorney

One of the most important healthcare decisions you will make is choosing your healthcare power of attorney. Your healthcare power of attorney is someone you choose to make health and medical decisions for you in the event you become incapacitated and are unable to make them for yourself.

Having this legal designation brings peace of mind. However, the decision of who to designate as your healthcare power of attorney is not so simple. We provide detail in this article to help guide your decision.

Healthcare Power of Attorney vs. Legal Power of Attorney

Let’s say that you enter a hospital and learn that you need immediate surgery, and surgery always has risks. Under many U.S. jurisdictions, you may designate a “Healthcare Power of Attorney (POA)” to make medical decisions on your behalf when you are unable to do so. Unlike an attorney-drafted “Legal Power of Attorney”, your delegate’s legal authority is limited to medical decision-making (not finances, administration of the will, etc.). Assigning a Healthcare POA may be done in a hospital setting and just needs two witnesses to complete it. You do not need a lawyer.

However, a Legal Power of Attorney is a more formal document that will have medical as well as legal and financial complexity. This requires a lawyer.

Who Should I Pick as my Power of Attorney?

Most people immediately jump to selecting their spouse, a relative, or a close friend to be their power of attorney, but you can choose anyone you want. Remember, selecting a legal power of attorney is not about choosing the person closest to you, but rather the one who can represent your wishes the best, with a clear mind, when it really matters. You should trust this person completely and feel comfortable discussing your long-term wishes with them.

Your power of attorney has to be willing to follow through even if they disagree. If you feel pressured to change your opinions, then that is a sign that this person would not make a good representative for you. The last thing you need is to deal with family peer pressure or to worry that your wishes may not be carried out. Remember, legal power of attorney can be revoked at any time by serving written notice on the POA.

Characteristics to Look For in a Legal Power of Attorney

Your legal power of attorney will be handling your legal affairs. So, you’ll want to choose someone who either has some experience in that area or has the needed skills to handle those types of decisions. Look for the following characteristics before making your selection.

1.Choose someone who will respond to a call.
Consider where your potential healthcare power of attorney currently lives. Are they in a home they intend to be in the long term or do they move around a lot? For Healthcare POAs, how close are they to you or your preferred hospital? This is important because a power of attorney might need to get to the hospital quickly in an emergency. Therefore, choosing someone who lives out of state may not be the best choice. With modern cell phones, a better question might be ‘Do they pick up and respond to calls from an unknown number?’

2. They should be trustworthy.
It is important to consider the person’s character and values. Ask yourself if this person can be trusted with such a big responsibility. Will they follow your wishes? After all, you’re trusting this person to speak on your behalf and to make decisions that will impact your life.

3. Can they be assertive?
Being a power of attorney is not an easy task, especially when under stress and emotions are running high. Think about their communication style. Are they assertive or passive? Are they able to stand up to other people and hold their ground when needed? You’ll want someone who will not back down when it comes to supporting your wishes, no matter how much pressure they may get from family or friends. This person should be able to communicate clearly without wavering or second-guessing.

4. They should understand the medical process
Your healthcare power of attorney is charged with making healthcare decisions on your behalf. So you’ll want someone who has some form of understanding of how medical processes work. This doesn’t mean that you have to select a doctor or a nurse in the family, just that you’ll need someone who knows how to ask the right questions, especially about medical tests, prognosis, and the overall value of medical intervention. Ideally, you want someone who is willing to research your condition and learn as much as they can about it.

5. They should be articulate
Is your potential power of attorney naturally a calm person who is able to communicate clearly and effectively, even under pressure, or does this person become easily flustered when things get heated or emotional? Would they be able to communicate your wishes clearly and effectively, not only to your family members but to your medical team as well? Pick someone who has strong communication skills. Does it take them a while to get to the point? If this is the case, you may want to reconsider selecting them. In challenging medical situations, your power of attorney needs to be a decisive and strong communicator.

6. Above all else, choose someone that WANTS this role.
Being a power of attorney can be stressful and demanding, and not everyone is cut out to perform the tasks required. When choosing, talk to the person you are considering. Be sure they feel they could serve in this capacity and encourage them to be honest. The last thing you want is for someone to say yes when in reality the role would end up being too overwhelming.

This is your decision and only your decision. When you’re ready to assign a power of attorney or to begin your estate planning process, give us a call and we’ll start the process for you.

Call Chuck Bendig (614) 878-7777

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Making home safer for elderly loved ones.

Making home safer for elderly loved ones.

With loved ones living longer and needing more care, many families struggle with the best way to help an aging relative. Completing a home modification geared towards accessibility and safety can help your loved one maintain independence and enjoy aging in place in familiar surroundings.

While it may seem like an expensive undertaking, there are a plethora of organizations and grants to help cover what Medicare doesn’t.

Contacting Ohio’s Agency on Aging can be helpful, as well as community development departments or local government programs.

Check out grants from organizations such as Rebuilding Together, which is a national nonprofit organization that helps with home modifications to promote safety and independence.

Here are some remodeling suggestions:

1. LIGHTING

  • Install brighter bulbs everywhere. New LED bulbs also reduce power consumption while making it easier to see.

2. DOORWAYS

  • Expand doorways to accommodate walkers, wheelchairs or mobility scooters, which don’t always fit through standard-sized doorways.
  • Adding a wheelchair ramp should be one of the first things on your list, as it eliminates the need to climb stairs to enter the home.
  • Consider replacing doorknobs with lever handles that are easier to grip and don’t require a twisting motion.
  • If your loved one is restricted by a wheelchair, they can’t reach the peephole to see who is knocking. Consider installing a camera for the door(s). There are many to choose from (Google Nest , Ring, Amazon, etc) and it is not essential to use a smartphone. There are easy to use and easy to see displays for the counter or end table.
  • Make sure there is a sturdy rug to prevent slip/fall from wet shoes.

3. STAIRS

  • Unless you move your loved one’s bedroom downstairs and eliminate any need to access the second floor of the house, you will need a stairway lift or at least, carpeted stairs or non-slip treads.
  • If a chair lift isn’t yet needed, be sure there are strong railings at every staircase.

4. FLOORS

  • Remove throw rugs, as they can easily become trip hazards.
  • Replacing flooring with a slip-resistant material such as vinyl, linoleum, bamboo or cork can give good traction while being more forgiving than tile or hardwood if they fall.
  • The 3M company makes traction strips with adhesive backing – just peel and stick. They are available for the interior, exterior, and bathtub/shower applications. You can find them in local hardware stores, Home Depot/Lowes, or Amazon.

5. BATHROOM

  • Adjust the temperature of the hot water heater to prevent burns. On the water heater, there is a knob with temperature markings – keep it beneath 120° F.
  • Install grab bars to help prevent falls.
  • Add textured, non-slip strips in the bathtub and shower.
  • A waterproof seat or chair in the shower can also be a big help.
  • High-profile toilets make sitting and standing easier – again install grab bars.
  • If your loved one is in a wheelchair or uses a walker, consider a pedestal or wall-mounted sink that a mobility device can fit beneath.
  • Consider replacing the sink mirror with one that tilts downward.
    ADA Standards for accessible design

6. KITCHEN

  • Adjust kitchen countertops if a wheelchair is needed so they are able to access them to prepare food.
  • Remove obstructions and trip-hazards (e.g., trash cans, bar stools, etc).
  • Move the contents of the top shelves down to lower shelves to reduce the reach.

It’s important to keep in mind, Medicare or private insurance usually covers medical equipment that’s installed in the home and there are home improvement grants to help with expenses, depending on your income and where you live. You can find more information on the Department of Health and Human Services’ ElderCare.gov website.

Encourage your loved one to update or complete their estate plans. There are really 5 basic estate planning documents:

  1. Will
  2. Durable Power of Attorney
  3. Healthcare Power of Attorney
  4. Living Will
  5. Revocable Trust

It is a great gift to have everything in order when they pass. It can keep your family strong and minimize taxes. Their savings and possessions can help the people that they love.

It starts with a conversation. Call estate planning attorney Chuck Bendig @ 614.878.7777 or visit our website for answers to frequently asked questions and details.

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Financial Planning for blended families

Financial Planning for blended families

When it comes to blended families, inheritance can get dicey. Tensions run high. With proper planning, you may be able to avoid conflicts. Let’s go over some basic tips:

1. What are your estate planning goals?

With blended families that include stepchildren, things can quickly get complicated. Especially if your spouse isn’t the parent of your children. You’ll probably want to leave any assets to your children and your spouse, but your children may not be old enough to inherit yet.

If you’re incapacitated and unable to make these decisions, your spouse and any adult children may fight over the right to make decisions for you. However, with an estate plan in place, you can not only choose a party to give power of attorney to but also determine whether their biological parent or your current spouse takes custody of them.

2. Review, review, then review again.

Changes happen throughout life. Some of these changes can seriously change your initial goal. For example, when you married, maybe your only concern was your biological children’s safety, but now you have stepchildren who you care for as your own. In that case, it’s time to go back and change your estate plan.

3. Communication is key.

Make sure your children and stepchildren are informed and that the process of inheriting is transparent. Also, discuss it with your spouse and try to be open to their input, but don’t just bend to whatever your partner wants. This is YOUR estate plan.

4. Be Cautious.

Estate planning for blended families has its own unique problems. For example, if the wealthier partner has children of their own, there could be conflicts over an inheritance. If that sounds like your situation, you need to be cautious in your second-family estate planning.

If you’re not remarried yet, get a prenuptial agreement. Discuss inheritance with your partner and get a guarantee from your spouse that he or she won’t contest your plan. If you and your partner are not married nor do you plan to be married, there is also such a thing as a domestic partnership agreement that serves the same purpose.

If you have any gift for your children or beneficiaries, give it to them while you’re still alive. This allows you to have direct control over your funds, not leaving anything to the whim of your executor or trustee. If they’re large gifts, take into consideration that you’ll probably run into the federal gift tax. Also, keep in mind, if you give $15,000 or less to any one person in a year, you don’t have to report it to the federal government.
You should also be thinking about any heirlooms or personal property. You may love and care for your stepchildren as your own, but want family items that have been passed through the generations to go to a blood relative.

You want to be fair to everyone while still being true to what you really want. Give assets according to your values and what you feel is best. Listen to any advice your family may give, but not if it goes against what you sincerely believe is right. These will not be easy decisions, and it’s crucial that you consult with everyone involved, including your attorney and tax adviser.

Contact Estate Planning Attorney Chuck Bendig today.

 

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Wills vs. Trusts: Which is the right choice?

Wills vs. Trusts: Which is the right choice?

Most people don’t like to discuss their own demise. Frankly, it’s not the most enjoyable thing to think about. However, drawing up a will or trust allows you to designate exactly where and how you want your assets to be distributed if you pass away. It’s a common misconception that using a trust can save you on estate taxes. In reality, there are other major differences between wills and trusts that could save you time, money, and headaches in other ways. Let’s discuss the advantages and disadvantages of each.

Wills

Advantages: Wills are usually cheaper and easier to create. If you have a smaller estate, the costs of creating a trust could exceed the savings of avoiding probate. Plus, you don’t have to worry about some of the formalities that come with holding your assets in a trust, like retitling any of your assets. Lastly, using a will requires court supervision of your estate, which is helpful if you’re skeptical that your assets would be distributed according to your wishes.

Disadvantages: Wills must be probated. That means a court must supervise the distribution of the assets, making the process more costly as well as time-consuming. In addition, the court documents are public records, so anyone can go to the courthouse to see how your estate was distributed. Also, your will doesn’t take effect until you’re deceased, meaning you can’t use a will to name someone to take care of you if you’re incapacitated. Other documents are needed to do that.

Trusts

Advantages: A living trust allows you to pass your property to your heirs without going through probate, which usually allows for faster distribution than wills. If you have multiple properties in multiple states, a trust can pass the assets without the need for additional proceedings. With a will, you might need to go through subsidiary probate proceedings in the other states as well. Lastly, trust documents are effective immediately, allowing you to include things like end-of-life directives or assign a guardian in the event that you’re incapacitated.

Disadvantages: Generally, trusts have higher preparation costs than wills and they require you to retitle your assets in the name of the trust, taking up time and money. If you don’t retitle your assets, they won’t pass through the trust and instead will go through probate. Also, trusts don’t offer any kind of special asset protection, meaning your creditors can still get assets in your revocable trust.

Estate planning can be murky waters to navigate without the help of an Attorney. When making decisions this important, you need a trusted estate planning attorney to ensure your documents are correct and cover every possible area of your plan. Call Chuck Bendig.

 

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Inheritance: Is challenging a Will worth it?

Inheritance: Is challenging a Will worth it?

After the loss of a loved one, emotions can run high, sometimes bringing resentments to the surface. It’s common to have heirs challenge the deceased final wishes if there was an expectation of inheritance that didn’t exactly pan out. However, they need to do so on the basis of one of four legal grounds:

Undue influence: Although difficult to prove, if the deceased was pressured by someone to change their will, the would-be heirs could have a case.

Fraud: If the will’s author was somehow tricked into signing, the will is invalid. For example, maybe they were told that it was a deed or other legal document but they were unable to read it themselves.

Improper execution: Wills are complex. That is why so many people choose to have a lawyer help them with the specifics. However, if the will was not prepared properly under the state laws, it could be deemed invalid.

Lack of capacity: If the deceased was not mentally capable of thinking out the many issues that are involved in preparing a will, for example, if they had dementia, the will could be thrown out at court.

Is it worth it?

If you’re wondering if it will be worth the effort to contest, look at the amount of money that is involved. If your interests are more about proving wrongdoing and not increasing your bank account, you may decide it’s not worth the pursuit. It costs tens of thousands of dollars to challenge a will in court. Ask yourself if the payoff is worth it to you. If there is a suspicion of elder abuse, however, contesters might be able to pursue criminal charges against any alleged offenders. That may make more sense than bringing a costly case to court.

Also, consider the potential cost to personal relationships. If you’re feeling slighted in some way by a late relative or missing out on a potentially large inheritance, it can be painful. Contesting the will may very likely affect any relationship you have with the adversary, and you should be warned that successful will contests are few. Most end up being settled out of court.

Can I contest a trust?

Has a trust omitted you in favor of a sibling? Similar to wills, these can be deemed invalid for similar reasons as a will, and this result can be difficult to achieve as well. Courts consider accounts of convenience, as well. For example, let’s say you know that the deceased didn’t intend to keep a joint owner on a bank account. Maybe they only added that person as a matter of convenience in order to assist them with bill paying. Courts can order the asset to be turned over to the estate, depending on the intent of the person who added the name at the time it was created.

If you feel there’s a reason to challenge a will or trust, consult Estate Attorney Charles Bendig. The consultation is without obligations and completely confidential.

 

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