Much of estate planning has to do with the way a person’s assets will be distributed upon their death. But that’s only the tip of the iceberg. From smart incapacity planning to diligent probate avoidance, there is a lot that goes into crafting a comprehensive estate plan. One important factor to consider is asset protection.
Life Insurance and Estate Planning: Protecting Your Beneficiaries’ Interests
One misconception people have about life insurance is that naming beneficiaries is all you have to do to ensure the benefits of life insurance will be available for a surviving spouse, children, or other intended beneficiary. Life insurance is an important estate planning tool, but without certain protections in place, there’s no guarantee that your spouse or children will receive the benefit of your purchase of life insurance. Consider the following examples:
5 Reasons to Embrace the Emotional Nature of Estate Planning
When you hear the phrase “estate plan,” you might first think about paperwork. Or your mind might land on some of the uncomfortable topics that estate planning confronts head-on: end-of-life decisions, incapacity, and your family’s legacy from generation to generation. Those subjects hit home for everyone.
How to Choose a Trustee
When you establish a trust, you name someone to be the trustee. A trustee does what you do right now with your financial affairs – collect income, pay bills and taxes, save and invest for the future, buy and sell assets, provide for your loved ones, keep accurate records, and generally keep things organized and in good order.
The Key Takeaways
- You can be trustee of your revocable living trust. If you are married, your spouse can be co-trustee.
- Most irrevocable trusts do not allow you to be trustee.
- Even though you may be allowed to be your own trustee, you may not be the best choice.
- You can also choose an adult child, trusted friend or a professional or corporate trustee.
- Naming someone else to be co-trustee with you helps them become familiar with your trust, allows them to learn firsthand how you want the trust to operate, and lets you evaluate the co-trustee’s abilities.
Why Factoring Long-Term Care Into Your Estate Plan Pays Off
For most people, thinking about estate planning means focusing on what will happen to their money after they pass away. But that misses one pretty significant consideration: the need to plan for long-term care.
The last thing any of us want to contend with when a health issue arises later in life is having to throw together a hasty estate planning solution in the face of mounting medical costs. Your best defense is careful planning with the help of a trusted expert.
Today, it is impossible to put together even a simple estate plan without the assistance of an experienced estate planning attorney. Why? Because estate planning laws vary greatly from state to state and these laws are extremely convoluted and constantly changing.
One wrong word, one missing signature, or one procedure not followed to the letter of the law can partially or completely invalidate a Last Will and Testament, Revocable Living Trust, Advance Medical Directive, Living Will, or Durable Power of Attorney.
How to Avoid High Octane Stress and Organize Information for Your Family
Think, for just a few moments, about what would happen if you suddenly became incapacitated or died. Would your spouse or family know what to do? Would they know where to find important records, assets, password, usernames, and insurance documents? Would they be able to access (or even know about) online accounts or files on your computer?
Would they know whom to ask if they need help? Would they miss assets or insurances you’ve paid for? Not knowing what’s out there, where to find it, and how to access it is extremely stressful and burdensome. If you put all of your information in a safe place and let loved ones know where it is, you’re providing for and protecting your family, instead of dumping stress on them at an already stressful time. Putting the effort in now, to establish a formal document inventory, will alleviate unnecessary anxiety and turmoil at one of the hardest times of their lives.
The Real Life Perils of Online and Do-It-Yourself (DIY) Estate Planning
With the number of online and do-it-yourself (DIY) legal providers continuing to grow and advertise heavily, you may be wondering if you could do your estate planning with the help of these forms. The advertising is seductive. Ads say, “attorneys use similar forms,” “the cost is significantly less than hiring an attorney,” and “many of these websites and kits are created by attorneys.” Most folks think their estates are not complicated and many think forms are forms – and – attorneys just charge for forms, right?
Does Your Estate Plan Protect Your Adult Beneficiaries?
If you think you only need to create discretionary lifetime trusts for young beneficiaries, problem beneficiaries, or financially inexperienced beneficiaries, then think again. In this day and age of frivolous lawsuits and high divorce rates, discretionary lifetime trusts should be considered for all of your beneficiaries, minors and adults alike.
What is a Discretionary Lifetime Trust?
A discretionary lifetime trust is a type of irrevocable trust that you can create while you are alive – in which case you will gift your assets into the trust for the benefit of your beneficiaries – or after you die – in which case your assets will be transferred into the trust for the benefit of your beneficiaries after death.
The trust is discretionary because you dictate the limited circumstances when the trustee can reach in and take trust assets out for the use and benefit of the beneficiaries. For example, you can permit the trustee to use trust funds to pay for education expenses, health care costs, a wedding, buying a home, or starting a business. If the trust is funded with sufficient assets that are invested prudently and you choose the right trustee to carry out your wishes, the trust funds could last for the beneficiary’s entire lifetime.
How Does a Discretionary Lifetime Trust Protect an Inheritance?
With a discretionary lifetime trust each of your beneficiaries will have a fighting chance against lawsuits and divorcing spouses because their inheritance will be segregated inside of their trust and away from their own personal assets. By creating this type of “box” around the inherited property, it shows the world that the inheritance is not the beneficiary’s property to do with as they please. Instead, only the trustee can reach inside the box and, based on your specific instructions, pull funds out for the benefit of the beneficiary. Creditors, predators, and divorcing spouses are generally blocked from reaching inside the box and taking property out.
When the beneficiary dies, what is left inside their box will pass to the heirs you choose. You could decide, for example, to have the assets pass to your grandchildren inside their own separate boxes and on down the line, thereby creating a cascading series of discretionary lifetime trusts that will protect the inherited property and keep it in your family for decades to come.
What Should You Do?
Does all of this sound too good to be true? It’s not. Our firm is available to discuss how you can incorporate discretionary lifetime trusts into your estate plan. Your family will certainly be glad you did.
The Value of Having a “Life Plan” in Estate Planning
All too often, estate planning is viewed as a transaction; just sign here, here, and here on a document: will, a living trust, and powers of attorney – then be off. But the best planning happens when an estate planning attorney can get to know the client on a deeper level, to uncover hopes, dreams, and aspirations. It becomes more about family and values, and it becomes a lifelong process instead of a transaction.
This process begins with having a plan for our lives. There is a certain power in planning. When plans are carefully thought through and written out, they tend to come true. A plan can also serve as a guide, helping to align our deepest values, beliefs, and goals with our financial resources so we can realize our dreams. Having a plan allows us to live richer, fuller lives — personally, professionally, financially, and spiritually.