Avoid the Five Common Mistakes of Estate Planning

Posted on

Feb 26, 2018

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When or if people prepare for their death or disability, they often are unaware of the five common mistakes people generally make. A well-written estate plan helps you avoid those five mistakes. What are they?
Mistake 1. Loss of control. Surprisingly, disability is more likely in the short term than death, so you also need to address what happens if you become disabled and cannot make medical or financial decisions. Do not assume that your spouse can make all of those decisions for you; your spouse cannot access your retirement accounts or any assets just in your name. Thus, you need to have appropriate documents in place.

Mistake 2. Loss of access. When you die, at what age will your children get their inheritance, and who will control it? Without a plan, your family must follow the governments rule book, not yours.

Mistake 3. Loss of assets. People often say they were told to give their assets away to family members, for tax reasons or Medicaid reasons. However, that strategy can be a disaster. What if those family members get divorced, go into a nursing home, or are in a car accident? Tax laws are not the only things to consider. Long-term care planning, paying for long-term care, and Medicaid qualification are major threats. It is critical to understand how tax and asset protection laws integrate.

Mistake 4. Unqualified professionals. Just as you would go to a cardiologist for a heart condition, it is important to work with a Certified Elder Law Attorney certified by the National Elder Law Foundation to plan your financial future. Certified Elder Law Attorneys have undertaken hundreds of hours of specialized training in numerous elder law areas, and have passed an extremely difficult exam. Many professionals, while believing that they are acting in your best interest, are often not aware of the intricacies of elder law. Certified Elder Law Attorneys are trained to deal with the complexities of aging and protecting your assets.

Mistake 5. Increased cost without pre-planning. Often people focus on the short-term cost of preparing documents, but ignore the additional cost at death. Understanding the cost of not doing something properly now, and how much it can affect your family, should weigh heavily in your decision-making. The law is complicated, but working with qualified professionals does not have to be.

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Editors Note: This article was submitted by Jeffrey R. Bellomo, Esquire, CELA

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The Three Biggest Estate Planning Myths

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Some of the thoughts that may have crossed your mind are that: Im going to live for a long time and Ill get around to it next year; or Id rather spend my money right now on a new ultra HDTV, and I can wait to do estate planning at another time.  Well in this article, I am going to debunk the THREE BIGGEST MYTHS that may be preventing you from moving forward with your estate plan and why the best time to do it is RIGHT NOW, no matter your age.MYTH #1- PUTTING TOGETHER AN ESTATE PLAN IS TOO TIME CONSUMING AND EXPENSIVE.            Nothing could be further from the truth when it comes to putting together an Estate Plan when working with the Martella Law Firm.  First, when it comes to convenience, I offer an initial consultation via Zoom or phone so you can do the initial meeting to learn about your options in the comfort of your living room, in your shorts and a t-shirt if you like, while sipping a cool beverage.  I also offer a traditional in-person consultation if you prefer to meet face to face.  I will then send you draft documents to review via e-mail so again there is no need to leave the comfort of your home.  Finally, when it comes to the signing of the documents, that is the only time you would have to come to my office.  Even then, if you are in a hospital or other medical facility where you cannot leave, we will come to you.  Therefore, the excuse that its too hard is a fallacy.  As far as expense is concerned, first, the initial consultation is complimentary.  Accordingly, you can get all your questions about putting an estate plan together answered for FREE, at no obligation to you, and learn how a proper plan can not only protect your family, but also save them money if you are sick or after you are gone.  Additionally, an estate plan for an individual starts at only $1,200 at my firm, and I offer payment plans as well, so you can have an estate plan over a few months for probably much less than what you are spending each month on dining out.  Also, with the right plan in place, for a small investment now in a Trust, you could save your heirs $5,000 to $10,000 or more in a costly probate proceeding after your death.MYTH #2- I DONT HAVE ANY ASSETS SO I DONT NEED AN ESTATE PLAN.  The idea that only people with a lot of money and assets need an estate plan is a dangerous misconception that can cause your family a lot of stress and heartache.  While it is true that a Will or a Probate Avoidance Trust can dispose of your assets, there are other documents that everyone needs, no matter their age or health, to protect them and their family when life happens.These documents include the following:         Power of Attorney         Health Care Surrogate         Living Will         HIPAA Consent & WaiverIn a medical crisis, these documents will allow you to take care of the needs of your spouse or parent when they are unable to take care of themselves.  From taking care of banking and real estate, to consenting to medical procedures, these documents make life easier for you and your loved ones.  If you dont have these documents in place, then you may have to go to court to be appointed your family members guardian which can be quite time consuming and expensive.  Believe me, from my personal experience, this is the last thing you want to deal with when your parent or spouse is suffering from a severe medical condition.  I cant tell you how many times I have received a call from a frantic spouse telling me their other half just had a stroke and they need a power of attorney.  Well, if the other spouse is not competent, its too late for the creation of that document and the only option is to apply to be a guardian, even for something as simple as the selling of their house or getting access to a bank account to pay the household bills.  As you can see, your net worth is irrelevant when it comes to deciding whether you need an estate plan.MYTH #3- I DONT NEED A LAST WILL & TESTAMENT BECAUSE EVERYTHING WILL GO TO MY 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all the children of the deceased spouse, less the value of the life estate.  If the children didnt like the stepmom for example, you can image the nightmares for the surviving spouse if she cant afford the monthly carrying costs, and cannot afford a new home with the small net proceeds from the value of the life estate.  If you want your spouse to get the house, you need a Will to provide for that intention or add them to the deed.            Again, a proper Estate Plan consists of so much more than a Last Will and Testament.  That is why I offer a complimentary consultation and free informative videos here so you can educate yourself on the vital importance of having a plan in place, for not only your benefit, but for your familys as well.

Preserve Your Assets for Your Beneficiaries

Anyone who has gone through the gauntlet of law school classes or who has had a lot of dealings with attorneys, knows that the most classic and common answer to what would appear to be a straight forward legal question is: it depends. This response is true when it comes to a discussion as to whether or not life insurance proceeds and 401-K Retirement Plans are exempt from attachment by your creditors.First, lets take a look at life insurance proceeds. Under Fla. Stat. 222.13, if a person is residing in the state of Florida at the time of their death, the proceeds of the policy are deemed exclusively for the benefit of the beneficiaries of the insurance policy as designated in the policy and the insurance proceeds are exempt from the claims of creditors of the insured. Therefore, if someone owes $5,000 to credit card companies at the time of their death, the credit card companies cannot attach or seek to obtain in any way the proceeds of those insurance policies and those proceeds go directly to the beneficiaries.However, that is not the end of the analysis. The statute further provides that if the named beneficiary in the policy is the insured (i.e. the decedent) or the estate of the insured, or his or her executors or administrators, then the insurance proceeds become part of the insureds estate, and would be subject to distribution according to the laws governing the distribution of estates which would include the payment to creditors of the decedent prior to distribution to beneficiaries under the estate. Therefore, for estate planning purposes, if you have significant liabilities, you should consult with an estate planning attorney to review your life insurance policies to make sure that they name a beneficiary outside of your estate, so the proceeds go to the people you wish to receive the funds and not your creditors upon your death.Another exception to the rule of life insurance policies being exempt is with regard to the beneficiarys creditors. While one might assume that since there is an exemption for life insurance proceeds the exemption protects the proceeds are exempt from all creditors. However, the exemption is limited to creditors of the insured, namely the person who took out the policy and is not exempt from creditors of the beneficiary. Therefore, if you have a life insurance policy for your daughter, and she owes a lot of money to credit cards or hospitals, and she were to receive $100,000 worth of life insurance proceeds upon your death, that $100,000 of proceeds could be subject to attachment and levy by her creditors.As difficult as it is, we encourage family members to be frank with their parents if they anticipate receiving an inheritance and are presently in a difficult financial position. If you are a parent looking to leave funds to a child or other relative, and you do not want your funds to go to pay off their creditors, you need to have a direct and honest discussion with them concerning their financial position. Likewise, if you know your parents are going to leave you substantial funds and you are in way over your head and maybe even possibly considering filing bankruptcy, you need to have a frank discussion with them regarding your financial position so that they are not mislead and their hard earned assets go to pay off your creditors.A second issue that comes up is whether or not 401-Ks are exempt from creditors upon a persons death. Under Fla. Stat. 222.21 it provides that a fund or account that meets Internal Revenue Code requirements (which is beyond the scope of this article) is exempt from all claims of creditors of the owner, beneficiary or participant of the fund or account. This is a great advantage and benefit to individuals who may have to face a foreclosure since it allows them to maintain their retirement accounts (if they have not drained them in an effort to avoid bankruptcy) and provide them with a financial basis to get a new start if necessary.The issue that arose over the past couple of years was whether or not a qualified 401-K that was inherited was also exempt. The courts across the country were split on this issue. Some courts limited the exemption to just the owners creditors while others said also the beneficiary of the proceeds receive the same protections from creditors. However, just as with life insurance policies, the issue became whether the beneficiary was also protected from the beneficiaries creditors upon receipt of the 401-K.Fortunately, this question was answered outside of the courts by the legislature amending Fla. Stat. 222.21 last year. Specifically, the Florida legislature added language to paragraph (2)(c) and provided that the fund or account is exempt from claims of creditors of the owner, beneficiary, or participant in that is does not cease to be exempt after the owners death by reason of a direct transfer or eligible rollover.Specifically, the legislature further noted this paragraph is intended to clarify existing law, is remedial in nature, and shall have retroactive application to all inherited individual retirement accounts without regard to the date an account was created. This is example of one of the key roles of a legislature to clarify existing law when courts conflict in their interpretation of an existing statute.In summary, since in the new economy it is not unusual for you to have family members going through difficult situations, it is important to discuss these issues not only with them but with your estate planning attorney to make sure that your hard earned assets go to your intended family members and not their creditors.

What is a Last Will and Testament?

A Last Will & Testament, commonly referred to as a Will, is a legal document that expresses a person's wishes regarding the distribution of their assets and the management of their affairs after their death. It serves as a written record of how an individual wants their property and belongings to be handled, including who should inherit their assets, who should be appointed as guardians for minor children, and any other specific instructions they may have regarding their final wishes when they are gone.  Many people confuse a Will with a Living Will which is a much different document that takes effect while you are alive!  Here in Florida, it generally covers three conditions and states that if you have: a terminal condition; end stage condition; or if you are in a persistent vegetative state, where in the opinion of two doctors, there is not reasonable medical hope of recovery, that you do not want to be kept alive by machines.  Again, a very different purpose than your Last Will & Testament. The main purposes of a Last Will & Testament are:Asset Distribution: A Will allows individuals to specify how their property, such as real estate, investments, bank accounts, personal belongings, and other assets, should be distributed among their beneficiaries or heirs. Without a Will, the distribution of assets typically follows the laws of intestacy, which may not align with the deceased person's preferences.Guardianship designation: If the deceased person has minor children, a Will can designate a guardian who will be responsible for their care and upbringing. This allows parents to have a say in who will be responsible for their children's well-being if they pass away and not leave it solely up to a judge with no input from them.Personal Representative Appointment: A Will typically appoints what is referred to in Florida as a personal Representative.  Other states call the persona and Executor.  This person is responsible for ensuring that the deceased person's wishes, as outlined in the Will, are carried out. The Personal Representative manages the administrative tasks, such as paying outstanding debts, filing tax returns, and distributing assets according to the instructions provided in the Will.Avoiding potential conflicts: This is a big issue, especially in situations where there is a second or third marriage involved and there are children from a prior relationship.  A well-drafted Will can help minimize conflicts among family members or other potential beneficiaries, as it provides clear instructions on asset distribution and removes ambiguity. To be legally valid in Florida, a Will requires certain formalities, such as being in writing, signed by the testator (the person making the Will) and witnessed by two witnesses.  Also it is best to have the testators signature and the witnesses signatures acknowledged by a Notary Public.  This makes the Will a self-proving Will which avoids the necessity of having to find the witnesses when the testator passes.Will ContestsContesting a Last Will & Testament means challenging its validity or certain provisions within it. There are a number of grounds on which a Will can be contested in Florida. Some of the typical reasons for contesting a Will include: Lack of testamentary capacity: This refers to the testator's mental ability to understand the nature and significance of creating a Will. If it can be demonstrated that the testator lacked the necessary mental capacity at the time of creating the Will, it may be deemed invalid. Factors that can affect testamentary capacity include mental illness, senility, or undue influence.Undue influence: If it can be proven that the testator was coerced, manipulated, or unduly influenced by another person when creating the Will, it may be contested. Undue influence typically involves someone exerting pressure on the testator to make decisions against their own wishes or best interests.  It is often a caregiver who cuts off outsiders from contact with the testator.  It can be a child, a spouse, a home health aid of trusted advisor.Fraud or forgery: If there is evidence to suggest that the Will was forged or that fraud was involved in its creation, it can be contested. This may include situations where someone impersonates the testator, forges their signature, or makes fraudulent changes to the Will.Improper execution: Wills must generally meet certain formalities to be considered valid. If the Will was not properly executed according to the legal requirements of the jurisdiction, such as lack of witnesses or failure to sign the document correctly, it can be contested.  This often occurs when someone tries to use a do it yourself Will kit.  While DIY may be good for home improvement projects, it is best to consult professionals when planning to disburse your hard-earned assets.Mistake or ambiguity: Another problem with DIY Will kits are mistakes or ambiguities in the Will that make it unclear or open to interpretation.  In such cases it may be contested. This can occur when the language used in the Will is vague, contradictory, or inconsistent, leading to disputes among beneficiaries.Revocation or subsequent Will: If a more recent Will is discovered that explicitly revokes or replaces the previous Will, the newer version may be contested based upon all of the grounds discussed above.It's important to note that contesting a Will can be a complex legal process, and the specific grounds for a challenge must be explored thoroughly as a Will contest is expensive and time-consuming as well as very difficult to win.  That is why your best course of action to avoid this for your family is to work with a team of professionals, including your lawyer, investment advisor and accountant, to develop an estate plan that best fits your intentions, and prepares you and your family for when life happens.