Holding a Family Caregiving Meeting

A family caregiving meeting is an essential tool when dealing with the care of an aging loved one. These meetings are beneficial for helping to keep all family members abreast of decisions that need to be made, changes in diagnosis or prognosis, and helps to ensure that all family members feel that they have a voice. Family meetings can also help to keep caregiving responsibilities from falling solely on the shoulders of one family member. In addition, family caregiving meetings can foster cooperation among family members and lessen the stress associated with caring for an aging loved one.

Who should attend a family caregiving meeting?

There are a number of people who should be included in a family caregiving meeting. First and foremost, it is important to include the aging loved one in the meeting whenever possible. This helps the aging loved one to feel that they are being heard and that their opinions and thoughts are being considered. If a spouse is living, the spouse should be included, as well as any children and possibly siblings of the aging person. Some families may choose to include other family members, but this really varies from one family to another. Anyone else involved in care for the person should also be there. This could include paid caregivers, family friends, or neighbors. Depending on family dynamics, a facilitator can be helpful in running the meeting.

When should a family have a caregiving meeting?

First it is important to note that family caregiving meetings are not a one and done event. They must occur on a regular basis. The first family meeting can occur before an aging loved one actually needs care. This can give the person who may eventually need care more say in their future care, but often times this does not occur. Most families find that the initial meeting needs to occur when an aging loved when begins to show signs of needing care or when a diagnosis is given that determines care will soon be needed. In addition, meetings should be scheduled regularly to discuss changes in diagnosis, prognosis, or general needs of the loved one or the caregivers.

How can a family hold a successful caregiving meeting?

The key to having a successful caregiving meeting is cooperation. This doesn’t mean that family members will agree on everything, but it is important that all family members are respectfully heard and considered. Families must be willing to compromise and seek the best plan for their aging loved one. Additionally, a smoothly run meeting should have an agenda and families should try to stay focused on the items included on the agenda. When holding a meeting, always put things in writing and be sure that all those involved get a copy of the important information and everyone’s responsibilities.

What challenges do families face in caregiving meetings?

One of the biggest challenges to family caregiving meetings is the family’s history. All families have their own dynamics that can cause problems in a caregiving meeting. There may be members of the family who are at odds with one another. This can become an obstacle to having a successful caregiving meeting. The role that each family member plays can be a challenge. Some members may be overbearing and demand control, while others are peacemakers and do not feel free to share their thoughts. Another challenge is that some family members may be in denial of the severity of an aging loved one’s needs. This may make it difficult to get a consensus for care.

Family caregiving meetings are beneficial and necessary when an aging loved one can no longer care for themselves. These meetings can help to divide the responsibilities of caregiving and reduce stress placed on the family members. It is important that families remember that the meetings are for the care of their loved one and cooperate with one another to help the process to run more smoothly and successfully.

If you have any questions about something you have read or would like additional information, please feel free to contact me.

Avoiding Common Estate Planning Mistakes

Are Any of These 11 Mistakes Lurking in Your Estate Plan?

1) Lack of Healthcare and Disability Planning. The majority of deaths occur in hospitals or other institutions. Patients may be incapacitated to the point where they can no longer communicate their healthcare wishes. Advance Directives and a Healthcare Power of Attorney can identify healthcare proxy decision-makers, specify wishes for end-of-life care, and provide a formal plan to control financial and property matters.

2) No will or estate plan. Without proper planning, your estate may be tied up in probate court for months or years after your death, at a great emotional and financial cost to your family.

3) Lack of attention to digital assets. Without a plan for digital assets and social media, you may lose critical documents, photos, memories, and family records.

4) Lack of attention to your children’s possible future divorces or lawsuits. It’s not fun to think about, but if your children divorce or are sued at some point in the future, their inheritance may be decimated and end up in the hands of those you never intended. A trust can help protect your legacy and your children’s inheritance.

5) Lack of attention to the conscious transfer of family values. Comprehensive estate planning can include family meetings, a family mission statement, and custom planning for children.

6) IRA funds wasted. Retirement account beneficiaries often receive these account funds in a lump sum, creating the potential for a huge and unexpected tax bill. A standalone retirement trust (sometimes called an IRA trust) can protect these funds while still providing for your beneficiaries.

7) Chaotic record-keeping. Good planning is essential to make sure your heirs do not spend months or years trying to make sense of what you left behind. A comprehensive estate plan provides you with a framework for maintaining your vital legal and financial records.

8) Surviving spouse creditors and predators. If your surviving spouse remarries and then divorces, your estate could end up in the hands of people you never intended. Likewise, if your surviving spouse is victimized by financial predators – something increasingly common as the population ages – your family may discover too late that your legacy is gone. A trust can ensure family money stays in and benefits the family.

9) Family feuds over sentimental items. This problem can be avoided with a Personal Property Memorandum, which can account for tangible items like artwork, family heirlooms, and jewelry. In addition to the financial assets, your plan should include careful consideration of important family items.

10) HIPAA privacy lockout. If incapacity leaves you unable to communicate, family members—even your spouse—may not be able to access your medical records because of HIPAA privacy rules. Executing a HIPAA authorization ensures access to medical information.

11) Outdated Estate Plan. You may have a will and estate plan already. Does it reflect your current circumstances, goals, and needs? A comprehensive review by an estate planner ensures that your estate plan reflects your current situation, desires, and needs.

Asset Protection for Physicians

3 Liability Planning Tips for Physicians

You probably know that the practice of medicine is a profession fraught with the risk of liability.  It’s not just medical malpractice claims either (although those are certainly scary enough). It’s the entire scope of risk from being in business, including employment-related issues, careless business partners and employees, and contractual obligations, as well as personal liabilities.  Unfortunately, in our litigious society, these liability risks are not unique to physicians, although physicians are a frequent target.

Below are three liability planning tips for physicians to protect their hard-earned money.

Tip #1 – Insurance is Always the First Line of Defense Against Liability

Liability insurance is the first line of defense against a claim.  Liability insurance provides a source of funds to pay legal fees as well as settlements or judgments. Types of insurance you should consider are:

  • Homeowner’s insurance
  • Property and casualty insurance
  • Excess liability insurance (also known as “umbrella” insurance)
  • Automobile and other vehicle (motorcycle, boat, airplane) insurance
  • General business insurance
  • Professional liability insurance
  • Directors and officers insurance

Tip #2 – State Exemptions Protect a Variety of Personal Assets from Lawsuits

Each state has a set of laws and/or constitutional provisions that partially or completely exempt certain types of assets owned by residents from the claims of creditors.  While these laws vary widely from state to state, in general, the following types of assets may be protected from a judgment entered against you under applicable state law:

  • Primary residence (referred to as “homestead” protection in some states)
  • Qualified retirement plans (401Ks, profit sharing plans, money purchase plans, IRAs)
  • Life insurance (cash value)
  • Annuities
  • Property co-owned with a spouse as “tenants by the entirety” (only available to married couples; and may only apply to real estate, not personal property, in some states)
  • Wages
  • Prepaid college plans
  • Section 529 plans
  • Disability insurance payments
  • Social Security benefits

Tip #3 – Business Entities Protect Business and Personal Assets from Lawsuits

Business entities include partnerships, limited liability companies, and corporations.  Physicians who are business owners need to mitigate the risks and liabilities associated with owning a business, and real estate investors need to mitigate the risks and liabilities associated with owning real estate, through the use of one or more entities.  The right structure for your enterprise should take into consideration asset protection, income taxes, estate planning, retirement funding, and business succession goals.

Business entities can also be an effective tool for protecting your personal assets from lawsuits.  In many states, in addition to the protections offered by incorporating, assets held within a limited partnership or a limited liability company are protected from the personal creditors of an owner.  In many cases, the personal creditors of an owner cannot step into the owner’s shoes and take over the business.  Instead, the creditor is limited to a “charging order” which only gives the creditor the rights of an assignee.  In general, this limits the creditor to receiving distributions from the entity if and when they are made.

Final Advice for Protecting Your Assets

Liability insurance, exemption planning, and business entities should be used together to create a multi-layered liability protection plan.  I am experienced with helping physicians, professionals, business owners, board members, real estate investors, and retirees create and—just as important—maintain a comprehensive liability protection plan.  Please call my office if you’d like to make sure you have the right protection in place.

Want a ‘Simple’ Estate Plan? Think Again

Happy New Year everybody! As the calendar turns to 2019, many people are thinking about their goals for the coming year. One of those goals may be estate planning. At first blush, you might think: “I just need something simple”. After all – trusts are only for the Rockefellers of the world, right? Not so fast, my friends. ‘Simple’ can leave your loved ones in a lurch. Here’s why.

The ‘Simple’ Fix that Can Leave Your Family Broke

There are many ways to own your assets. When you die, it is only natural that you want your family to share in the bounty of your hard work. As a way to simplify the transfer process and avoid probate, you may be tempted to add a child or other relative to the deed or bank account utilizing the ownership type of joint tenancy with right of survivorship (JTwROS).  This type of ownership delivers a lot of potential benefits. However, it may also be masking some dangerous pitfalls.

Under JTwROS, when one owner dies, the other owner(s) inherit the deceased owner’s share of the property proportionately. Its benefits are specific: ownership is transferred automatically without entering probate. Because the property is transferred outside of probate, it is possible to keep this inheritance out of the clutches of creditors of your estate.   On the surface, this seems like a smart way to streamline the inheritance process, sidestep creditor baggage, and bureaucratic charges. But the risks may outweigh the benefits.

You May Pay the Price

One of the main problems with JTwROS is that when you enter into this kind of agreement, you open yourself up to additional liability. When you agree to a JTwROS, you put your assets on the hook for the other owners’ creditors, ex-spouses and flights of fancy.

Another problem with JTwROS, as it relates to real estate, is that there are now multiple owners of the property. You must now get the approval of the other owners if you would like to mortgage, refinance, transfer, or sell the property. It does not matter if you are the only one who is occupying the property or paying the expenses; by adding additional people as owners, you are giving away control.

With respect to any bank accounts, once you add an additional owner, that individual, as an owner, has the right to go to the bank and withdraw whatever money is in the account. The bank is merely going to make sure that the individual is listed on the account and will freely turn over your money to him or her. If a joint owner’s creditor serves the bank with a garnishment order, they can also seize the money in the account. This is true even if the joint owner was only added to help avoid probate.

Disinheriting Loved Ones

While JTwROS can have some impacts on you, it can also disrupt your estate plans. That’s because instead of property getting handed down, it’s handed over. For example, if someone with children remarries and a new spouse is added to the deed as a joint tenant, that new spouse will inherit the property, not the kids or grandkids. Because there’s a new spouse involved, the new spouse’s family will then be the ones to inherit upon his or her death, leaving the whole ‘branch’ of the original family may be disinherited—and not always intentionally!

Questions? Give Us a Call

Although there are some advantages to a JTwROS, don’t let simplicity or speed be your only measures. Give us a call so we can discussing all of your options and tailor a solution that will best fit your needs.

Estate Planning…A Must Whether You Have a Little or a Lot!

Estate Planning…A must whether you have a little or a lot!

While everyone is celebrating during this holiday season, the manner of these celebrations can vary based on differing family traditions, religions, and geographic regions. Estate planning is no different—protecting your family’s future must be customized to fit your and your family’s unique needs. No matter your level of wealth, it is important to understand that the reasons for estate planning are universal.

Estate Planning Basics

There are several reasons why an estate plan is necessary for everyone. Some of these include protecting beneficiaries, sidestepping probate, protecting assets from creditors, and avoiding a mess in the event of incapacity or death. Estate planning gives you the tools to specify what happens to you, your assets, and even your loved ones should you pass away or be unable to handle your own affairs.

Regardless of your motivations for establishing your estate plan, one important need is appointing the right fiduciaries (agent under a power of attorney,  successor trustee, and patient advocate) who will make medical and financial decisions for you when you are unable. The creation of a will or trust can lay out who receives your property and how. They can also be used to appoint a pet caretaker who can ensure that your furry family member is taken care of when you are gone. Likewise, a guardian nomination lets you determine who will care for your minor or special needs children or family members. Finally, determining what values you want to pass along to family members, friends, or other loved ones can be spelled out in a number of ways including an ethical will, an incentive trust, or a charitable plan.

A major benefit of having an estate plan put together—no matter how much wealth you may have—is to minimize costs. Having your estate go through probate—which is the court-supervised process of the distribution of assets—can result in attorneys’ fees, court costs, appraisals, and other expenses. This financial cost is in addition to the length of time it can take to administer an estate—from several months to several years depending on the circumstances.

Do Not Wait

Life can be full of surprises—what you leave behind for your family and loved ones should not be left to chance. For this reason, everyone should have an estate plan in place to ensure the security of their family’s future. Contact us today to learn more about your options.

Alzheimer’s Factors to Be Aware Of

Alzheimer’s Factors to Be Aware Of

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, Alzheimer’s disease is a type of dementia that causes problems with memory, thinking and behavior. Symptoms usually develop slowly and get worse over time, becoming severe enough to interfere with daily tasks. Alzheimer’s affects a growing number of people. There are several factors known to play a role in Alzheimer’s. Let’s look at these factors both positive and negative.

Age

Age is one of the biggest factors to consider when discussing Alzheimer’s disease. Symptoms generally begin for most after the age of 65. However, the proteins that damage the brain can begin taking a toll on the patient well before symptoms appear. The Alzheimer’s Association reports that after the age of 65, the risk of Alzheimer’s disease doubles every five years. Alzheimer’s disease is associated with old age, but early onset Alzheimer’s disease occurs in some people, although it is less common.

Genetics

Another factor associated with Alzheimer’s disease is genetics. Although family history is not necessary for a person to develop Alzheimer’s, a person with a parent or a sibling with Alzheimer’s disease is at greater risk of developing the disease. If more than one first-degree relative (meaning a person’s parent, sibling or child) has Alzheimer’s, the person is at even greater risk.

There are specific genes that can increase the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. If a person receives a gene from one parent they are at risk, and genes from both parents increases that risk. Although these genes can determine risk of developing the disease they do not determine that a person will develop Alzheimer’s disease. In some rare cases, there are deterministic genes that guarantee a person will develop Alzheimer’s disease. There are genetic tests which can identify risk genes and deterministic genes for Alzheimer’s. A person can elect to have these tests to determine their risk for Alzheimer’s disease.

Lifestyle

Lifestyle can be a great factor in helping to prevent Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers have found that aspects of a healthy lifestyle can help to prevent Alzheimer’s disease. Healthy eating, exercise, and sleep are some lifestyle factors that can be preventative medicine for Alzheimer’s. Exercise can help to increase blood and oxygen flow in the brain and eating a heart healthy diet also shows great benefit. In addition, strong social connections have been shown to be a preventative factor for Alzheimer’s disease. Remaining mentally active can also help to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s. Lifestyle is one factor everyone has control over and can go a long way in slowing or preventing Alzheimer’s.

Other Factors

There are other factors that can determine whether or not Alzheimer’s takes hold or not. Socioeconomic factors can determine whether Alzheimer’s takes hold. Recent research suggests that the more higher-level education a person has, the less likely that person is to develop Alzheimer’s. Head trauma earlier in life can put a person at greater risk for developing Alzheimer’s. Race and ethnicity have also been shown to play a role in risk for Alzheimer’s disease. African Americans and Hispanics are at a greater risk for Alzheimer’s disease according to research. Gender also plays a role in Alzheimer’s disease. Research indicates that because women are likely to live longer than men, they are also more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease.

Although we know some of the factors associated with Alzheimer’s disease, there are still many mysteries surrounding it. There is no known cure for the disease and treatments can only slow the progression of Alzheimer’s. With this information, it is important to take control of the risk factors you are able to and be fully aware of early warning signs. Being armed with good information can help to slow or prevent Alzheimer’s from taking hold.

If you have any questions about something you have read or would like additional information, please feel free to contact me.

Wills vs. Trusts

Wills vs. Trusts: A Quick & Simple Reference Guide

Confused about the differences between wills and trusts?  If so, you’re not alone. While it’s always wise to contact experts like me, it’s also important to understand the basics. Here’s a quick and simple reference guide:

What Revocable Living Trusts Can Do – That Wills Can’t

  • Avoid a conservatorship and guardianship. A revocable living trust allows you to authorize your spouse, partner, child, or other trusted person to manage your assets should you become incapacitated and unable to manage your own affairs. Wills only become effective when you die, so they are useless in avoiding conservatorship and guardianship proceedings during your life.
  • Bypass probate. Property in a revocable living trust does not pass through probate. Property that passes using a will guarantees probate. The probate process, designed to wrap up a person’s affairs after satisfying outstanding debts, is public and can be costly and time consuming – sometimes taking years to resolve.
  • Maintain privacy after death. Wills are public documents; trusts are not. Anyone, including nosey neighbors, predators, and unscrupulous “charities” can discover the details of your estate if you have a will. Trusts allow you to maintain your family’s privacy after death.
  • Protect you from court challenges. Although court challenges to wills and trusts occur, attacking a trust is generally much harder than attacking a will because trust provisions are not made public.

What Wills Can Do – That Revocable Living Trusts Can’t                     

  • Name guardians for children. Only a will – not a living trust or any other type of document – can be used to name guardians to care for minor children.
  • Specify an executor or personal representative. Wills allow you to name an executor or personal representative – someone who will take responsibility to wrap up your estate after you die. This typically involves working with the probate court, protecting assets, paying your debts, and distributing what remains to beneficiaries. But, if there are no assets in your probate estate (because you have a fully funded revocable trust), this feature is not necessarily useful.

What Both Wills & Trusts Can Do:

  • Allow revisions to your document. Both wills and trusts can be revised whenever your intentions or circumstances change so long as you have the legal capacity to execute them.

WARNING: There is such as a thing as irrevocable trusts, which can only be changed under certain circumstances, using very specific methods.

  • Name beneficiaries. Both wills and trusts are vehicles which allow you to name beneficiaries for your assets.
  • Wills simply describe assets and proclaim who gets what. Only assets in your individual name will be controlled by a will.
  • While trusts act similarly, you must go one step further and “transfer” the property into the trust – commonly referred to as “funding.” Only assets in the name of your trust will be controlled by your trust.
  • Provide asset protection. Trusts, and less commonly, wills, can be crafted to include protective sub-trusts which allow your beneficiaries access but keep the assets from being seized by their creditors such as divorcing spouses, car accident litigants, bankruptcy trustees, and business failure.

While some of the differences between wills and trusts are subtle; others are not. Together, we’ll take a look at your goals as well as your financial and family situation and design an estate plan tailored to your needs. Call me today and let’s get started.

New Opportunities for Wartime Veterans

New Opportunities for Wartime Veterans

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) recently released new eligibility rules for the VA pension program. VA pension, a tax-free monthly cash benefit, is available to wartime Veterans who served at least 90 days of active duty service with 1 day during a declared period of war. Surviving spouses of wartime Veterans may also qualify for a monthly cash payment. Veterans or surviving spouses who need care on a regular basis are eligible for a higher payment (often referred to as “Aid and Attendance,” payments of which can be over $2,000 per month, depending on marital status and care needs).

Medical Requirements for VA Pension

With any pension claim, there are financial and medical requirements. The medical requirements are straightforward – a Veteran or surviving spouse must be 65 or older or permanently disabled to receive the lowest pension amount. If the Veteran or surviving spouse is blind or nearly so, a patient in a nursing home, or requires assistance with activities of daily living on a regular basis as prescribed by a physician then it is possible to qualify for the highest amount – pension with an aid and attendance allowance. The money paid by the VA goes straight to the Veteran or surviving spouse to help pay for care. The VA doesn’t choose who provides the care – the Veteran or surviving spouse does. And often times, it’s a family member who can be paid.

Financial Requirements for VA Pension

The financial requirements are a little more complex. Prior to October 18, 2018, there was no clear rule about how much a wartime Veteran or surviving spouse could have before qualifying for VA pension. That is no longer the case! Now, a wartime Veteran or a surviving spouse can have up to $123,600 (increased annually), a home, car, and other personal effects and still qualify for a monthly cash payment.  Even if you have more than that there are legal ways to reduce total assets in order to qualify. However, if you give money away after October 18, 2018, you may have to wait months or years to qualify, so make sure you have solid legal advice before doing so.

There are also income limitations, however income can be reduced by recurring out-of-pocket medical expenses. There are certain requirements that must be met before a medical expense can be deducted from income, but most expenses directly related to care will qualify.

Call Today for Help

The VA pension program can be a huge financial benefit to wartime Veterans or surviving spouses of wartime Veterans. We help families determine whether a claim is possible, and how to qualify. Give me a call today so we can start helping you or a loved one.

Appropriate Documents For End-of-Life Care Decisions

Introduction

You may think your living will is in order, including instructions regarding resuscitation commonly referred to as a DNR (do not resuscitate). While your wishes in a living will may be appropriately documented, that does not guarantee the instructions will be carried out as you stated. The frightening truth is that mistakes about your end-of-life instructions are made while you are at your most vulnerable. Dr. Monica Williams-Murphy, medical director of advance-care planning and end-of-life education for Huntsville Hospital Health System in Alabama has said, “Unfortunately, misunderstandings involving documents meant to guide end-of-life decision-making are surprisingly common.”

Problems with Interpretation

The underlying problem is that doctors and nurses have little if any training at all in understanding and interpreting living wills, DNR orders, and Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST) forms. Couple the medical professionals’ lack of training with communication breakdowns in high-stress environments like a hospital emergency ward where life and death decisions are often made within minutes, and you have scenarios that can lead to disastrous consequences.

In some instances, mix-ups in end-of-life document interpretation have seen doctors resuscitate patients that do not wish to be. In other cases, medical personnel may not revive a patient when there is the instruction to do so resulting in their death. Still other cases of “near misses” occur where problems were identified and corrected before there was a chance to cause permanent harm.

The Importance of Planning

There are some frightening worst-case scenarios, yet you are still better off with legal end-of-life documents than without them. It is imperative to understand the differences between them and at what point in your life you may change your choices based on your age or overall health. To understand all of the options available it’s important to meet with trusted counsel for document preparation and to review your documented decisions often as you age. In particular, have discussions with your physician and your appointed medical decision-maker about your end-of-life documents and reiterate what your expectations are. These discussions bring about an understanding of your choices before you may have an unforeseen adverse health event, and provides you the best advocates while you are unable to speak for yourself.

Which Documents Should I Have?

There are several documents that may be appropriate as part of your overall plan. Each of those are discussed below, and we are available to answer any questions you may have about them.

A living will is a document that allows you to express your wishes about your end-of-life care. For example, you can document whether you want to be given food and hydration to be kept comfortable, or whether you want to be kept alive by artificial means.

A living will is not a binding medical order and thus will allow medical staff to interpret the document based on the situation at hand. Input from your family and your designated living will appointee are also taken into account in your best decision making strategy while you are incapacitated. A living will becomes activated when a person is terminally ill and unconscious or in a permanent vegetative state. Terminal illness is defined as an illness from which a person is not expected to recover even though they are receiving treatment. If your illness can be treated this would be regarded as a critical but not terminal illness and would not activate the terms of your living will.

Do not resuscitate orders (DNRs) are binding medical orders that are signed by a physician. This order has a specific application to cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and directs medical professionals to either administer chest compression techniques or not in the event you stop breathing or your heart stops beating. While your living will may express a preference regarding CPR it is not the same thing as a DNR order. A DNR order is specifically for a person who has gone into cardiac arrest and has no application to other medical assistance such as mechanical ventilation, defibrillation, intubation, medical testing, intravenous antibiotic or other medical treatments. Unfortunately, many DNR orders are wrongly interpreted by medical professionals to mean not to treat at all.

Physician orders for life-sustaining treatment forms (POLST forms) are specific sets of medical orders for a seriously ill or frail patient who may not survive a year. This form must be signed by a physician, physician assistant or nurse practitioner to be legally binding. The form will vary from state to state and of the three instructive documents the POLST is the most detailed about a patient’s prognosis, goals, and values, as well as the potential benefits and risks various treatment options may bring about.

A power of attorney for health care decision, sometimes referred to as a health care directive, allows you to name an agent to make decisions for you if you are unable to. Unlike a living will which only covers end-of-life decisions, a power of attorney for health care decisions allows the agent to act at any time that you cannot make decisions for yourself.

Let Us Help You

We can help you determine which documents best suit your current needs, and help you clearly state your wishes in those documents. We look forward to hearing from you and helping you with these important planning steps.

Estate Planning: 3 Common Myths

Estate Planning: Why Me, Why Now, and Is a Will Enough?

You have worked hard for years, have family members and friends you care about, and have approached a time in your life when “estate planning” sounds like something you should do, but you are not exactly sure why. You may feel that you are not wealthy enough or old enough to bother or care. Or you may already have a Will and feel that you are all set on that front. Whatever your current position, consider these common misconceptions about estate planning:

  1. Estate planning is for wealthy(ier) people.

False. Anyone who has survived to age eighteen and beyond has likely accumulated a few possessions that are of some monetary or sentimental value. While things like your home, car, and financial accounts are self-evident assets, that collection of superhero figurines or your iTunes library also deserve proper attention. There is no minimum asset value required to justify having a Will, especially since there are many low-cost options, including estate planning attorneys who will not charge an arm and a leg for a basic Will.

  1. Estate planning is for old(er) people.

False. Tragedy can strike at any moment, and it is best to have your affairs in order so as not to put your loved ones in a financial or bureaucratic bind while they are grieving. Young parents should ensure that proper guardians are in place to take care of their children if they are no longer around, lest the children end up with the most irresponsible member of the family or, worse, a complete stranger.

  1. Estate planning means having a Will.

False. Having a Will is smart because it puts you in charge of the disposition of your assets. A Will allows you to pick your executor, designate the guardians for your minor children, and name any individuals and charitable organizations as beneficiaries of your estate. If you were to die without a Will (i.e., intestate), the law of the state where you reside at your death would govern who receives what part of your estate, who administers your estate, and who takes care of your children. There are some situations where state law may override the provisions in your Will (e.g., a spouse’s elective share), but for the most part, you are in the driver’s seat.

However, a Will is only one tool in the estate planning toolbox. There are other vehicles that allow you to remain in control of your possessions and family’s future during life and upon death. Depending on your situation, a Will alone may not be the most efficient or the most cost-effective means to achieve your goals.

Upon your passing, your Will has to go through probate – a process whereby a court reviews your Will and determines its validity. It is a lengthy and often costly process in many states to begin with and can become even lengthier if a Will is contested (e.g., on the grounds that someone coerced or cajoled their way into an inheritance). The delay in the disposition of your assets and the accompanying legal costs may put your family members in financial straits. If your goal is to ensure that your survivors’ cash flow is uninterrupted after your death, it would be wise to incorporate a trust or a life insurance policy into your estate plan. These assets are considered “non-probate” – they pass outside of your Will and the probate process.

There are other non-probate assets that may constitute a part of your estate. For example, a joint tenancy arrangement on your home, IRA, and payable-on-death (POD) or transfer-on-death (TOD) accounts designate specific beneficiaries upon your death, and the assets pass to them without the delay and cost of the probate process. If your Will provides for a different beneficiary of your IRA account or another non-probate asset, it will be superseded by the beneficiary designation form on file with that account’s or asset’s administrator. Therefore, it is wise to review all of your beneficiary designations periodically, but certainly upon life-altering events like marriage, birth of a child, or divorce.

You are neither too young nor too poor to engage in estate planning! Just remember that a Will may be a necessary, but not the only means to plan your estate in an efficient and cost-effective manner. Keep on top of your assets, and your survivors will have another good thing to say about you at your memorial.

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