Estate Planning Pitfalls - 3 Mistakes That Could Make Your Estate Plan Worthless

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Entrusted Legacy Law

For more information about the author, click to view their website: Sharek Law LLC

Posted on

Jul 18, 2023

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Pennsylvania - Greater Pittsburgh Area

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Including a Trust as part of your estate plan is a smart decision. It allows you to avoid probate, maintain privacy, and distribute your assets to your loved ones while also providing them with a lifetime of asset protection, if you choose it for them. But, here’s the thing you might not know, and is critically important to remember: simply creating a Trust is not enough. For your Trust to work, it has to be funded properly and may need to be updated over time.

Funding your Trust means transferring ownership of your assets from your own name into the name of your Trust. This can include bank accounts, investments, real estate, and other valuable possessions.

By funding your trust properly, you ensure your assets are managed according to the terms of your Trust and will be distributed according to your wishes when you die or if you become incapacitated.


But, if you fail to fund your Trust, it becomes nothing more than an empty vessel. Your assets will not be protected or distributed as intended, at least partially defeating the purpose of creating a Trust in the first place! While your assets can still get into your trust and be governed by your Trust after your death, that means that your family still goes to court to get your assets there, and that is a costly endeavor.


To make sure your Trust works for you, avoid these funding fiascos and work with an attorney who will ensure that everything that needs to get into your Trust does.


Forgetting to Update Your Account Beneficiaries

Many people mistakenly believe that a Will or Trust alone is enough to dictate how their financial accounts should be distributed after they die. However, this isn’t the case. Without proper beneficiary designations on your accounts, your wishes may not be honored and your assets could end up in the wrong hands.


Remember, the beneficiaries you designate on your accounts supersede any instructions in your Will or Trust, so this step is vitally important.

Take a moment to review your various accounts, such as bank accounts, retirement plans, and life insurance policies. Ensure that each account has your Trust named as your designated beneficiary, unless you’ve made different plans for that specific account.

When you are working with a lawyer, make sure your lawyer has a plan for each one of your beneficiary-designated assets, communicates that plan to you, and that the two of you decide who will handle updating your beneficiary designations. Then, make sure you review your beneficiary designations annually. In our office, we support our clients to do all of this with well-documented asset inventories, and a regular review process built into all of our plans.


Your Attorney Didn’t Move Your Home Into Your Trust

For many of us, our home is our most important and valuable asset. But if your attorney doesn’t deed your home into your Trust, your home won’t be included under the terms of your Trust if you become incapacitated or pass away.

That means your home could end up going through the long and expensive probate court process in order to be managed during an illness or passed on to your loved ones after you die. If you own a $300,000 home, that means your family could lose up to $15,000 or more just to transfer your home to your trust and then distribute your home pursuant to the terms of the trust - and that’s not including any other assets that would have to go through probate.


A knowledgeable estate planning attorney shouldn’t miss this step, but it happens. And if you’re using a DIY service online to create a Trust without the help of any attorney at all, it’s bound to happen!

That’s why it’s so important to work with a lawyer who takes the time to make sure every asset you own is in your Trust before they say their farewells.


Not Reviewing Your Plan and Accounts Every Three Years

You might wonder how not reviewing your estate plan every few years could really make your plan worthless. Well, the good news is that failing to review your plan is unlikely to completely eliminate the benefits it provides you because an estate plan is made up of a number of moving parts, not just a Will or a Trust.


But, failing to keep your financial assets up to date and aligned with your estate plan can result in huge issues for you and your family and can even make the Trust you invested in worth little more than the paper it’s printed on!


That’s because your Trust can’t control any assets that don’t have the Trust listed as the owner or beneficiary. By reviewing your accounts every 3 years, you can help catch any accounts that don’t have your Trust listed in this way.

For example, it’s very common for clients to open a new bank account and forget to open the account in the name of their Trust or add their Trust as a beneficiary.

Thankfully, by comparing my clients' financial accounts to their estate plan at least every 3 years, I’m able to catch simple oversights like this that could cause their assets to be completely left out of their Trust.


Make Sure All of Your Assets Are Included In Your Plan with Help From Your Personal Family Lawyer®

Getting your legal documents in place is an important step, but it's equally important to know that the documents themselves are not magic solutions (as magical as they may seem!). Merely creating a Trust or naming beneficiaries on your accounts does not guarantee that your wishes will be carried out unless all of the pieces of your plan are coordinated to work together.

If you aren’t experienced in the area of estate planning, trying to coordinate all these pieces yourself can be a recipe for disaster.

That’s why I work closely with my clients to not only create documents but to create a comprehensive plan that accounts for all of your assets and how each one needs to be titled to make sure your plan works for you the way you intended. Plus, I offer my clients a free review of their plans and financial accounts every three years to ensure that their plans accurately reflect their lives and their wishes for their assets and loved ones.


If you want to know more about my process for funding your Trust and making sure nothing is ever left out of your plan, contact Sharek Law Office at 412-347-1731 or click here to schedule a complimentary 15-Minute Call.

 

This article is a service of Sharek Law Office, LLC. We don’t just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That's why we offer a Life and Legacy Planning Session, during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a Life and Legacy Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge. Please note this is educational content only and is not intended to act as legal advice.

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The Three Biggest Estate Planning Myths

Its human nature to put off what we IMAGINE will be a difficult experience or if it is something that we just dont want to think about.  In my over 30 years of experience, I have found that MOST PEOPLE, including lawyers, think of estate planning as something that they can do later. Unfortunately for many, later often becomes too late. 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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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. 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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. 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What is a Last Will and Testament?

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Local Services By This Author

Entrusted Legacy Law

Elder Law 100 Pinewood Lane Suite #303, Warrendale, Pennsylvania, 15086

Our Firm Prepares You for Life What makes our firm different is that we were built with the needs of growing families in mind. We understand you are BUSY, you are growing, you are planning for a life of prosperity and you value ease, convenience and efficiency. You are raising children, and caring for elderly parents, while also working hard to build your own nest egg for a lifetime of support. You want to know youve made the best decisions for your family and that your plan will work when your loved ones need it most. You want to make sure your minor children would be raised by the people you choose, and never by anyone you wouldnt want, and that your teens and adult children are properly prepared to care for you and what you leave behind.  You want to feel confident that youve made the right choices, and handled everything so that you arent leaving behind a mess, when something happens. That is our focus as well. Weve developed unique systems to give you the same access to a Personal Family Lawyer as was previously only available to the super-wealthy, so you can have the guidance you need to build and maintain a life of prosperity and wealth. And, to keep your family out of court and out of conflict, which is the greatest risk to the people you love and all you have created, even if youve already worked with a traditional lawyer or created documents online. Our Team Is Here for You We encourage communication with our clients. In fact, weve thrown out the time clocks so you never have to be afraid to call with a quick question. Everything we do is billed on a flat-fee basis, agreed to in advance, so there are never any surprises. We have a whole team to serve you. When you call our office to ask your quick question, you wont have to wait hours or days for a phone call back. Youll get your question answered, right away. And, if you need to schedule a more in-depth legal or strategic call with your Personal Family Lawyer, a call will be scheduled when you're both available and ready for the call so we can make the very best use of your time and not waste your time by leaving voicemail after voicemail back and forth. And, we ensure the most important details of your planning are followed through on and your plan continues to work throughout your lifetime. We have a funding coordinator to ensure your assets are owned the right way throughout your lifetime and none of your assets will end up going through a long, expensive court process or being lost to the state because they were missed after your death. Weve created unique membership programs to keep your plan up to date year in and year out as well as give you access to our Trusted Team of Legal Experts for guidance on ANY legal or financial matter. One day you will need a lawyer. I dont know why and I dont know when, but when you do, you will be grateful you can call on us and well be here to advise you or get you out of a jam. We Help You Transfer Your Life and Legacy Lastly, we believe your financial wealth is only a small part of your overall Life and Legacy Planning which is made up of your far more valuable and most often lost upon incapacity or death intellectual, spiritual and human assets. These assets are what make you who you are, and sum up whats most important to you. And, a survey of inheritors has revealed that what they care about even more than inheriting your money, is inheriting these intangible assets.   Most estate plans only focus on the transfer of your financial wealth to the next generation. Most people have such great intentions of passing on the intangible, but very few ever get around to it. Its just not a priority, until its too late. How much do you know about your grandparents values? Their most prized personal possessions? How they felt about you? What they had learned during their lifetime? If you are like most people, you know very little. Thats why we build the capture and passage of these most valuable assets into every estate plan we create. Not only will we help you pass on your money, but also your values, your insights, your stories and your experience the truly valuable assets your loved ones care about the most.  Weve developed a tool that allows us to capture and pass on your whole family wealth, including your Intellectual, Spiritual and Human assets.  I cant go into all of the details here, but well definitely talk about it when you come in for your Life and Legacy Planning Session.