Wills, trusts, health care directives, powers of attorney, and legal guardian nominations are on many of our hearts and minds as COVID-19 compels us to face our own fragility and mortality.

It’s not as if we didn’t already know we are all mortal, but within our current reality, that mortality becomes all the more real. And one way to feel some control over what’s happening out there is to make sure we all have our legal affairs in order at home. That way, if something does happen to us, our families aren’t left with a big legal mess to clean up while they are grieving.

If you are trying to get your financial house in order right now, you may be just getting some basic documents in place. You may even be doing it yourself.

If that’s the case, it’s very important for you to know that the cost of a failed plan can be very high for the people you love. Plus, if your documents are not properly signed, they will not work—period. End of story. And if your documents don’t work, your family could be stuck in court or conflict, which is probably the exact thing you want to avoid by handling your estate planning now.

There are many ways plans fail, but one of the worst ways we see is when someone starts a plan and doesn’t get it signed properly. You do not want this to happen to your family, trust me. If you care enough about estate planning, you will want to make sure your plan will work when your family needs it.

That means you need to make sure your legal documents are actually signed and signed in the right way. Some legal documents require two witnesses, and some require notarization; however, in today’s social-distancing reality, these signatures could be difficult to come by. Some states have allowed remote notarization, California for some reason, has not.

While we understand you likely have a desire to get documents in place now, we also believe there is going to be a significant increase in conflict and litigation because of DIY estate planning documents for the future. Don’t let that happen to the people you love.

Dedicated to empowering your family, building your wealth and defining your legacy,

With all the media about “digital wills” and “online estate planning” it could be tempting to think you can do your estate planning yourself, online. And, maybe you can. But, if you do, you need to know the potential pitfalls. Online estate planning could be a big trap for the unwary and end up leaving your family worse off than if you had done nothing at all.

First and foremost, before you do any of your own online estate planning, it’s critical to understand your family dynamics, the nature of your assets, and what the state of California would say should happen to your assets if something happens to you. You see, if you don’t do estate planning, the state does have a plan for your assets if you become incapacitated or when you die. You need to know what that plan is, so you know whether you want to change it.

But Don’t I Need a Will and Can’t I Just Do It Online?
Here’s the funny thing about estate planning: the one legal document that everyone thinks they need most actually does the least.

Every adult does need SOME estate planning. A will is always a good idea because it says who gets, and who oversees distributing, what you have. However, if the default law would have given your assets to the same people you would choose and authority to the person you would name anyway, then an online will would probably do nothing valuable for you at all.

Even a properly drafted will does not keep your family out of court (a will must always be adjudicated by a judge). And if drafted improperly, it could require the person you’ve named to handle things for you to get a bond, which is like an insurance policy. These are expensive and can be hard to get for an executor who has less than a stellar credit score. If your named executor cannot get a bond, it would then mean the court would appoint a court ordered executor, and that can be costly for your estate. This is just one of the examples of how having a will prepared online, can create more expense for the people you love. Unfortunately, all the online will preparation solutions I’ve reviewed don’t even mention this risk.

So, yes, you can do your own will online, but at what potential cost for the people you love?

The Problem with Online Wills
DIY online estate plans (and even many estate plans created by lawyers) usually include three or four basic documents: a will, a financial power of attorney, an advance health care directive, and possibly a trust.

But, honestly, completing these documents without counsel is simply not enough to guarantee your estate will be executed as simply, affordably, and effectively as you would wish.

For instance—are you sure there isn’t some missing consideration that could lead to turmoil as your family tries to figure it out? Did you know that most family fights don’t even happen over money, but over lack of clarity? Have you considered all your extended family, including stepchildren and ex-spouses? What will be done with all the personal, sentimental items you want to pass on to your children?

And there have been far too many scenarios where seniors, even those who had some estate planning done, get caught in the court system or even declared incompetent, and then have court-appointed guardians named, who then drain their accounts. In many cases, their assets are gutted before they can go to their kids. You don’t want that to happen to you or your family and a do-it-yourself will makes that outcome more likely, not less.

What about making sure your family knows what you have and where it is? An online will won’t tell them that. There’s nearly $10 billion being held in the California department of unclaimed property; much of it because someone died and their family lost track of their assets.

So how can you be sure you’ve got everything covered, legally?

With online wills and DIY estate planning docs, you wouldn’t even know what questions to ask to uncover the potential risks to the people you love, who deserve to receive what you’ve created in your life, without a big mess.

Think about this: do you know anyone who has lost family relationships because, after a loved one died, the family ended up in an irrevocable fight? Maybe this has even happened in your own family. I see it all the time and the consequences—both, financial and emotional—can be devastating.

And, it’s all unnecessary.

Yes, even if there are attorneys on staff at these online companies, they don’t get to know you and your family dynamics enough to spot the real issues that could arise. They are, instead, focused on a one-size-fits-all solution and easy answers to complex issues.

The Kind of Help Your Family Deserves
Many lawyers who specialize in estate planning often base their work on template documents. Even if they are well-intentioned, they’re working with an old, traditional system that places the focus solely on providing documents. But the documents are only as good as the understanding a lawyer has about your family dynamics, the nature of your assets, how the law will apply to your situation, and how the documents can be written as simply as possible to achieve your wishes. You need much more than just a set of four or five filled-out template documents to address all those complexities.

Your plan should include an inventory of your assets and guarantee they are all owned in a way that will keep your family out of court and conflict while ensuring everyone named in your plan has what they need and understands your choices. Most importantly, you should understand your plan and ensure that it passes along more than just your money.

Do it yourself estate planning is risky. While it may be better than nothing, it may also be worse. And it won’t be until after you are gone that your loved ones find out that answer.

Dedicated to empowering your family, building your wealth and defining your legacy,

Both wills and trusts are estate planning documents that can be used to pass your wealth and property to your loved ones upon your death. However, trusts come with some distinct advantages over wills that you should consider when creating your plan.

That said, when comparing the two planning tools, you won’t necessarily be choosing between one or the other—most plans include both. Indeed, a will is a foundational part of every person’s estate plan, but you may want to combine your will with a living trust to avoid the blind spots inherent in plans that rely solely on a will.

Here are four reasons you might want to consider adding a trust to your estate plan:

1. Avoidance of probate

One of the primary advantages a living trust has over a will is that a living trust does not have to go through probate. Probate is the court process through which assets left in your will are distributed to your heirs upon your death.

During probate, the court oversees your will’s administration, ensuring your property is distributed according to your wishes, with automatic supervision to handle any disputes. Probate proceedings can drag out for months or even years, and your family will likely have to hire an attorney to represent them, which can result in costly legal fees that can drain your estate.

Bottom line: If your estate plan consists of a will alone, you are guaranteeing your family will have to go to court if you become incapacitated or when you die.

However, if your assets are titled properly in the name of your living trust, your family could avoid court altogether. In fact, assets held in a trust pass directly to your loved ones upon your death, without the need for any court intervention whatsoever. This can save your loved ones major time, money, and stress while dealing with the aftermath of your death.

2. Privacy
Probate is not only costly and time consuming, it’s also public. Once in probate, your will becomes part of the public record. This means anyone who’s interested can see the contents of your estate, who your beneficiaries are, as well as what and how much your loved ones inherit, making them tempting targets for frauds and scammers.

Using a living trust, the distribution of your assets can happen in the privacy of our office, so the contents and terms of your trust will remain completely private. The only instance in which your trust would become open to the public is if someone challenges the document in court.

3. A plan for incapacity
A will only governs the distribution of your assets upon your death. It offers zero protection if you become incapacitated and are unable to make decisions about your own medical, financial, and legal needs. If you become incapacitated with only a will in place, your family will have to petition the court to appoint a guardian to handle your affairs.

Like probate, guardianship proceedings can be extremely costly, time consuming, and emotional for your loved ones. And there’s always the possibility that the court could appoint a family member you’d never want making such critical decisions on your behalf. Or the court might even select a professional guardian, putting a total stranger in control of just about every aspect of your life.

With a living trust, however, you can include provisions that appoint someone of your choosing—not the court’s—to handle your assets if you’re unable to do so. Combined with a well-drafted medical power of attorney and living will, a trust can keep your family out of court and conflict in the event of your incapacity.

4. Enhanced control over asset distribution
Another advantage a trust has over just having a will is the level of control they offer you when it comes to distributing assets to your heirs. By using a trust, you can specify when and how your heirs will receive your assets after your death.

For example, you could stipulate in the trust’s terms that the assets can only be distributed upon certain life events, such as the completion of college or purchase of a home. Or you might spread out distribution of assets over your beneficiary’s lifetime, releasing a percentage of the assets at different ages or life stages.

In this way, you can help prevent your beneficiaries from blowing through their inheritance all at once and offer incentives for them to demonstrate responsible behavior. Plus, if the assets are held in trust, they’re protected from the beneficiaries’ creditors, lawsuits, and divorce, which is something else wills don’t provide.

If, for some reason, you do not want a living trust, you can use a testamentary trust to establish trusts in your will. A testamentary trust will not keep your family out of court, but it can allow you to control how and when your heirs receive your assets after your death.

An informed decision
The best way for you to determine whether your estate plan should include a living trust, a testamentary trust, or no trust at all is to meet with a trusted estate planning attorney. Sitting down with your Personal Family Attorney to discuss your family’s planning needs will empower you to feel 100% confident that you have the right combination of planning solutions in place for your family’s unique circumstances.

Dedicated to empowering your family, building your wealth and defining your legacy,

Last week, I shared the first part of this series on the dangers of do-it-yourself estate planning. Here, we’ll look at how online legal documents can also put your minor children at risk.

Given how far web-based technology has evolved, you might think online legal document services have advanced to the point where they’re a viable alternative to having your estate plan prepared by a lawyer.

After all, you’ve been able to prepare and file your taxes online for years, so what makes estate planning different? Aren’t lawyers using the very same forms you find on these document websites?

This kind of reasoning is exactly what do-it-yourself (DIY) planning services would like you to believe—but it’s far from true. Indeed, relying on generic, fill-in-blank planning documents can be one of the costliest planning mistakes you can make for your loved ones.

Online planning documents may appear to save you time and money, but keep in mind, just because you created “legal” documents doesn’t mean they will actually work when you (or most importantly, the people you love) need them. Without a thorough understanding of how the legal process works and impacts family dynamics upon your death or incapacity, you’ll likely make serious mistakes when creating a DIY plan.

Even worse, these mistakes won’t be discovered until it’s too late—and the loved ones you were trying to protect will be the very ones forced to clean up your mess or get stuck with a huge nightmare.

Putting your children at risk
Knowing that your DIY plan could fail and force your family into court and conflict is distressing enough. But imagine how you’d feel if you knew that your attempt to save money on your estate plan caused your children to be taken into the care of strangers, even temporarily.Yet this is exactly what could happen if you rely on a generic will and/or other legal documents you find online to name legal guardians for your kids. In fact, this could happen even if you create a plan with a lawyer who isn’t trained to plan for the unique needs of parents with minor children.
Naming and legally documenting guardians for your kids might seem like a straightforward process, but it entails a number of complexities most people aren’t aware of. Even lawyers with decades of experience typically make at least one of six mistakes when naming long-term legal guardians.

What’s so complicated about naming guardians?
Some DIY wills allow you to name legal guardians for your kids in the event of your death, and that’s a good start. But does it allow you to name back-up candidates in case your first choice is unable to serve?

If you named a married couple to serve and one of them is unavailable due to injury, death, or divorce, what happens then? Would it still be okay if only one of them can serve as your child’s guardian? And does it matter which one it is?

What would happen if you become incapacitated by illness or injury and are unable to care for your kids? You might assume the guardians named in your DIY will would automatically get custody, but did you know that a will only goes into effect upon your death and does nothing to protect your kids in the event of your incapacity?

Do the guardians you named live far from your home? If so, how long would it take them to make it to your house to pick up your kids: a few hours, a few days, a few weeks? Who would care for your kids until those guardians arrive? Did you know that without legally binding arrangements for the immediate care of your children, they are likely to be placed with child protective services until those guardians arrive?

Even if you name family who live nearby as guardians, what happens if they are out of town or otherwise can’t get to your kids right away?

And assuming the guardians you named can immediately get to your home to pick up your kids, do they even know where your will is located? How will they prove they’re your children’s legal guardians if they can’t find your planning documents?

These are just a few of the potential complications that could arise if you try to create your own plan naming legal guardians for your kids. And if just one of these contingencies were to occur, your children would more than likely be placed into the care of strangers, even if it’s only for a short period of time.

The Child Protection Plan
Seeing all of the things that could go wrong, you should never trust the safety and care of your children to a DIY plan—or for that matter, a plan created by a lawyer unfamiliar with the unique needs of planning for parents of minor children.  To ensure your children are never raised by someone you don’t trust or taken into the custody of strangers, even temporarily, consider creating a Child Protection Plan™ – a comprehensive system designed specifically to address the inherent gaps in the way most estate plans document legal guardians.

Consider what’s at stake
The DIY approach might be a good idea if you’re looking to build a new deck for your backyard, but when it comes to estate planning, it’s one of the worst choices you can make. Are you really willing to put your family’s well-being and wealth at risk just to save a few bucks?

If you’ve yet to do any planning, stop putting it off and get started today – especially if you have minor children.

If you’ve already created a plan—whether it’s a DIY job or one created with another lawyer’s help—contact us if you’d like to schedule an Estate Plan Review and Check-Up. We’ll ensure your plan is not only properly drafted and updated, but that it has all the protections in place to prevent your children from ever being placed in the care of strangers or anyone you’d never want to raise them. 

Dedicated to empowering your family, building your wealth and defining your legacy,

If you were to suddenly die today, would your loved ones know how to quickly find your estate planning documents? Would they know how to access all your financial accounts? How about your insurance policies? What about your login and password info to all of your digital assets?

One crucial part of estate planning that frequently gets overlooked is ensuring your loved ones can easily locate all your planning documents and other key assets upon your death or incapacity.

Don’t cause a logistical nightmare
Beyond burdening your loved ones with needless work and expense, if your planning documents, such as wills, prenuptial agreements, and insurance policies, can’t be located, it will be as if they never existed. The same goes for valuable assets like stocks, bank accounts, and other financial property no one knows about.

Given this, you should make sure someone you trust knows exactly where to find your planning documents – which should include an updated inventory of all your assets.

What to include in your planning binder or file
A little pre-planning and organization now can make things easier on your loved ones later.  Ensure you have updated copies (or the originals) of the following documents in one, easily accessible location:

  • An inventory of all your assets and their location
  • An advance healthcare directive
  • A will
  • Your living trust (if you have one)
  • Marriage or divorce certificate(s)
  • Instructions for your funeral and final disposition
  • Letters, cards, photos, and other treasured sentimentals
  • If you have minor children, a Child Protection Plan naming long and short-term guardians, along with detailed care instructions

Get your affairs in order—before it’s too late
Each family is unique, so this is just a baseline of what to include in your file. And because death or incapacity can happen to any of us at any time, don’t wait to get your affairs in order. Take steps now to give this gift to your family in the future.

Dedicated to empowering your family, building your wealth and defining your legacy,

If you’re like most people, you probably view estate planning as a burdensome necessity—just one more thing to check off life’s endless “to-do” list.

You may shop around and find a lawyer to create planning documents for you, or you might try creating your own DIY plan using online documents. Then, you’ll put those documents into a drawer, mentally check estate planning off your to-do list, and forget about them.

The problem is, your estate plan is not a one-and-done type of deal.

In fact, if it’s not regularly updated when your assets, family situation, and/or the laws change, your plan may be totally worthless when your family needs it. And believe it or not, failing to regularly update your plan can create its own unique set of problems that can leave your family worse off than if you’d never created a plan at all.

Keep your plan up to date
We recommend you review your plan at least every three years to make sure it’s up to date, and immediately amend your plan following events like divorce, deaths, births, and inheritances. We have built-in systems and processes to ensure your plan is regularly reviewed and updated, so you don’t need to worry about whether you’ve overlooked anything important as your life changes, the law changes, and your assets change.

You should also create (and regularly update) an inventory of all your assets, including digital assets like cryptocurrency, photos, videos, and social media accounts. This way, your family will know what you have and how to find it when something happens to you, and nothing you’ve worked so hard for will be lost to our state’s Department of Unclaimed Property.

We’ll not only help you create a comprehensive asset inventory, but we’ll make sure it stays up to date throughout your lifetime.

Properly title your trust assets
When you create a trust, it’s not enough to list the assets you want it to cover. You have to transfer the legal title of certain assets—real estate, bank accounts, securities, brokerage accounts—to the trust, known as “funding” the trust, in order for them to be disbursed properly.

While most lawyers will create a trust for you, few will ensure your assets are properly funded. We’ll not only make sure your assets are properly titled when you initially create your trust, we’ll also ensure that any new assets you acquire over the course of your life are inventoried and properly funded to your trust.

This will keep your assets from being lost, as well as prevent your family from being inadvertently forced into court because your plan was never fully completed.

Keep your family out of court and out of conflict
As your Personal Family Lawyer®, our planning services go far beyond simply creating documents and then never seeing you again. Indeed, we’ll develop a relationship with your family that lasts not only for your lifetime, but for the lifetime of your children and their children, if that’s your wish.

We’ll support you in not only creating a plan that keeps you family out of court and out of conflict in the event of your death or incapacity, but we’ll ensure your plan is regularly updated to make certain that it works and is there for your family when you cannot be. Contact us today to get started with a Family Estate Planning Session.

Dedicated to empowering your family, building your wealth and defining your legacy,

When it comes to putting off or refusing to create an estate plan, your mind can concoct all sorts of rationalizations: “I won’t care because I’ll be dead,” “I’m too young,” “That won’t happen to me,” or “My family will know what to do.”

But these thoughts all come from a mix of pride, denial, and a lack of real education about estate planning and the consequences to your family. Once you understand exactly what planning is designed to prevent and support, you’ll realize there really is no acceptable excuse for not having a plan, provided you are able to plan and truly care about your family’s experience after you die or become incapacitated.

With that in mind, here are some of the things most likely to happen to you and your loved ones if you fail to create any estate plan at all.

Your family will have to go to court
If you don’t have a plan, or only have a will (yes, even with a will), you’re forcing your family to go through probate upon your death. Probate is the legal process for settling your estate, and even if you have a will, it’s notoriously slow, costly, and public.

Depending on the complexity of your estate, probate can take years to complete. And like most court proceedings, probate is expensive. In fact, once all your debts, taxes, and court fees have been paid, there might be nothing left for anyone to inherit. And if there are any assets left, your family will likely have to pay hefty attorney’s fees and court costs in order to claim them.

The expense and drama of the court system can be almost totally avoided with proper planning. Using a trust, for example, we can ensure that your assets pass directly to your family upon your death, without the need for any court intervention.

You have no control over who inherits your assets
If you die without a plan, the court will decide who inherits your assets, and this can lead to all sorts of problems. Who is entitled to your property is determined by California’s intestate succession laws, which hinge largely upon on whether you are married and if you have children.

Spouses and children are given top priority, followed by your other closest living family members. If you’re single with no children, your assets typically go to your parents and siblings, and then more distant relatives if you have no living parents or siblings. If no living relatives can be located, your assets go to the state.

Keep in mind, intestacy laws only apply to blood relatives, so unmarried partners and/or close friends would get nothing. If you want someone outside of your family to inherit your property, having a plan is an absolute must.

You have no control over your medical, financial, or legal decisions in the event of your incapacity

Most people assume estate planning only comes into play when they die, but that’s dead wrong. Yes, pun intended.

If you become incapacitated and have no plan in place, your family would have to petition the court to appoint a guardian or conservator to manage your affairs. This process can be extremely costly, time consuming, and traumatic for everyone involved. In fact, incapacity can be a much greater burden for your loved ones than even your death.

You need Powers of Attorney which grant the person(s) of your choice the immediate authority to make your medical, financial, and legal decisions for you in the event of your incapacity. You can also provide specific guidelines detailing how you want your medical care to be managed, including critical end-of-life decisions.

You have no control over who will raise your children
If you’re the parent of minor children, the most devastating consequence of having no estate plan is what could happen to your kids in the event of your death or incapacity. Without a plan in place naming legal guardians for your kids, it will be left for a judge to decide who cares for your children. And this could cause major heartbreak not only for your children, but for your entire family.

You’d like to think that a judge would select the best person to care for your kids, but it doesn’t always work out that way. Indeed, the judge could pick someone from your family you’d never want to raise them to adulthood. And if you don’t have any family, or the family you do have is deemed unfit, your children could be raised by total strangers.

If you have minor children, your number-one planning priority should be naming legal guardians to care for your children if anything should happen to you. This is so critical, we’ve developed a comprehensive system called the Child Protection Plan® to accomplish this goal.

No more excuses
Given the potentially dire consequences for both you and your family, you can’t afford to put off creating your estate plan any longer. And once you have a plan in place, you’ll gain the peace of mind that comes from knowing that your loved ones will be provided and cared for no matter what happens to you. Don’t wait another day.

Dedicated to empowering your family, building your wealth and defining your legacy,

If you’ve watched TV lately, you’ve likely seen ads selling reverse mortgages. A reverse mortgage can be a great tool to help you realize your dreams.  However, it is a very specific type of tool for a very specific type of situation.  If used incorrectly, it can cause a borrower to lose their home.  You owe it to yourself and your loved ones to learn the good, the bad, and the ugly of reverse mortgages.

How they work
A reverse mortgage is a loan which allows homeowners 62 and older to convert some of the equity they have in their primary residence into cash. The amount of equity required to obtain a reverse mortgage depends on your age. Younger borrowers need about 60% equity in their homes to qualify, while those over 80 may need just 45%.

Once approved, you can receive the money in one of three ways: as a lump sum, as monthly installments, or as a line of credit. Because you receive payments from the lender, your home’s equity decreases over time, while the loan balance gets larger, thus the term “reverse” mortgage.

With a reverse mortgage, you no longer have to make monthly mortgage payments, and you can stay in your home as long as you keep up with property taxes, pay insurance premiums, and keep the home in good repair. Lenders make money through origination fees, mortgage insurance, and interest on the loan balance, all of which can exceed $10,000 to $15,000.

Be aware, the reverse mortgage loan (plus interest and fees) becomes due and must be repaid in full when any of the following events occur:

  • Your death
  • You are out of the home for 12 consecutive months or more, such as in the case of needing nursing home care
  • You sell the home or transfer title
  • You default on the loan by failing to keep up with insurance premiums, property taxes, or by letting the home fall into disrepair

A still evolving industry
In 2011, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau cracked down on some of the misleading advertising practices by lenders. All reverse mortgage advertisers are now required to disclose that the loans must be repaid after death or upon move-out. Additionally, advertisers can no longer claim the loans are a “government benefit” or “risk free.” 

In 2014, HUD developed new policies to better protect surviving spouses who were often being “left out in the cold” literally under the old rules. Now, if a married couple with one spouse under age 62 wants to take out a reverse mortgage, they may list the underage spouse as a “non-borrowing spouse” with rights to retain the home if the older spouse dies.

Despite these recent changes, however, the number of ads for reverse mortgages hasn’t declined and too many borrowers (and non-borrowing spouses) still end up going through foreclosure.  The industry continues to need to offer better protections for the elderly against unscrupulous reverse mortgage lending practices.

Dedicated to empowering your family, building your wealth and defining your legacy,

Marc

In the first part of this series, we discussed one of the most frequent causes for dispute over your estate plan. Here, we’ll look at another leading cause for dispute and offer strategies for its prevention.

Contesting the validity of wills and trusts
The validity of your will and/or trust can be contested in court for a few different reasons. If such a contest is successful, the court declares your will or trust invalid, which effectively means the document(s) never existed in the first place. Obviously, this would likely be disastrous for everyone involved, especially your intended beneficiaries.

However, just because someone disagrees with what he or she received in your will or trust doesn’t mean that person can contest it. Whether or not the individual agrees with the terms of your plan is irrelevant; it is your plan after all. Rather, he or she must prove that your plan is invalid (and should be thrown out) based on one or more of the following legal grounds:

  • The document was improperly executed (signed, witnessed, and/or notarized) as required by state law.
  • You did not have the necessary mental capacity at the time you created the document to understand what you were doing.
  • Someone unduly influenced or coerced you into creating or changing the document.
  • The document was procured by fraud.

Furthermore, only those individuals with “legal standing” can contest your will or trust. Just because someone was intimately involved in your life, even if they’re a blood relative, doesn’t automatically mean they can legally contest your plan.

Those with the potential for legal standing generally fall into two categories: 1) Family members who would inherit, or inherit more, under state law if you never created the document. 2) Beneficiaries (family, friends, and charities) named or given a larger bequest in a previous version of the document.

  Solution: There are times when family members might contest your will and/or trust over legitimate concerns, such as if they believe you were tricked or coerced into changing your plan by an unscrupulous caregiver. However, that’s not what I’m addressing here.

Here, we’re looking at—and seeking to prevent—contests which are attempts by disgruntled family members and/or would-be beneficiaries seeking to improve the benefit they received through your plan. We’re also seeking to prevent contests that are a result of disputes between members of blended families, particularly those that arise between spouses and children from a previous marriage. 

First off, working with an experienced lawyer is of paramount importance if you have one or more family members who are unhappy—or who may be unhappy—with how they are treated in your plan. This need is especially critical if you’re seeking to disinherit or favor one part of your family over another. 

Some of the leading reasons for such unhappiness include having a plan that benefits some children more than others, as well as when your plan benefits friends, unmarried domestic partners, and/or other individuals instead of, or in addition to, your family. Conflict is also likely when you name a third-party trustee to manage an adult beneficiary’s inheritance because he or she is likely to be negatively affected by the sudden windfall of money.

In these cases, it’s vital to make sure your plan is properly created and maintained to ensure these individuals will not have any legal ground to contest your will or trust. One way you can do this is to include clear language that you are making the choices laid out in your plan of your own free will, so no one will be able to challenge your wishes by claiming your incapacity or duress.

Beyond having a sound plan in place, it’s also crucial that you clearly communicate your intentions to everyone affected by your will or trust while you’re still alive, rather than having them learn about it when you’re no longer around. Indeed, we often recommend holding a family meeting (which we can help facilitate) to go over everything with all impacted parties.

Outside of contests originated by disgruntled loved ones, the potential for your will or trust to cause dispute is significantly increased if you have a blended family. If you are in a second (or more) marriage, with children from a prior marriage, there’s an inherent risk of dispute because your children and spouse often have conflicting interests. 

To reduce the likelihood of dispute, it’s crucial that your plan contain clear and unambiguous terms spelling out the beneficiaries’ exact rights, along with the rights and responsibilities of executors and/or trustees. Such precise terms help ensure all parties know exactly what you intended.

If you have a blended family, it’s also essential that you meet with all affected parties while you’re still alive (and of sound mind) to clearly explain your wishes in person. Sharing your intentions and hopes for the future with your spouse and children is key to avoiding disagreements over your true wishes for them.

Prevent disputes before they happen
The best way to deal with estate planning disputes is to do everything possible to make sure they never occur in the first place. This means working with a trusted attorney to put planning strategies in place aimed at anticipating and avoiding common sources of conflict. Moreover, it means constantly reviewing and updating your plan to keep pace with your changing circumstances and family dynamics.

Dedicated to empowering your family, building your wealth and defining your legacy,

Going on vacation entails lots of planning: packing luggage, making travel arrangements, holding mail, etc. But one thing many people forget to do is plan for the worst. Traveling, especially in foreign destinations, means you’ll likely be at greater risk than usual for illness, injury, and even death.

In light of this reality, you must have a legally sound and updated estate plan in place before taking your next trip. If not, your loved ones can face a legal nightmare if something should happen to you while you’re away. The following are 5 critical estate planning tasks to take care of before departing.

1. Make sure your beneficiary designations are up-to-date
Some of your most valuable assets, like life insurance policies and retirement accounts, do not transfer via a will or trust. Instead, they have beneficiary designations that allow you to name the person (or persons) you’d like to inherit the asset upon your death. It’s vital you name a primary beneficiary and at least one alternate beneficiary. Moreover, these designations must be regularly reviewed and updated, especially following major life events like marriage, divorce, and having children.

2. Create power of attorney documents
Unforeseen illness and injury can leave you incapacitated and unable to make critical decisions about your own well-being. Given this, you must grant someone the legal authority to make those decisions on your behalf through powers of attorney. You need two such documents: a medical power of attorney and a durable financial power of attorney. The medical power of attorney gives the person of your choice the authority to make your healthcare decisions for you, while the durable financial power of attorney gives someone the authority to manage your finances. As with beneficiary designations, these decision makers can change over time, so before you leave for vacation, be sure both documents are up to date.

3. Name guardians for your minor children
If you’re the parent of minor children, your most important planning task is to legally document guardians to care for your kids in the event of your death or incapacity. These are the people whom you trust to care for your children—and potentially raise them to adulthood—if something should happen to you. Given the monumental importance of this decision, we’ve created a comprehensive system called the Kids Protection Plan that guides you step-by-step through the process of creating the legal documents naming these guardians. You can get started with this process right now by calling us or attending one of our free Guardian Nomination Workshops (our next one is at the Sierra Madre Public Library on May 4, 2019).

4. Organize your digital assets
If you’re like most people, you probably have dozens of digital accounts like email, social media, cloud storage, and cryptocurrency. If these assets aren’t properly inventoried and accounted for, they’ll likely be lost forever if something happens to you. At minimum, you should write down the location and passwords for each account and ensure someone you trust knows what to do with these digital assets in the event of your death or incapacity. To make this process easier, consider using LastPass or a similar service that stores and organizes your passwords.

Complete your vacation planning now
If you have a vacation planned, be sure to add these 5 items to your to-do list before leaving. And if you need help completing any of these tasks—or would simply like us to double check the plan you have in place—call us and mention this article for a friendly, informative, no-pressure, complimentary consultation.

We recommend you complete these tasks at least 8 weeks before you depart. However, if your trip is sooner than that, call and let us know you need a rush Family Estate Planning Session, and we’ll do our best to fit you in as soon as possible.

Dedicated to empowering your family, building your wealth and defining your legacy,