Now that same-gender couples can legally marry in all 50 states, more Americans than ever before are enjoying the rights and benefits that come with marriage. Estate planning is one arena where these new rights and benefits are readily apparent.

While the planning vehicles available to same-gender and opposite-gender married couples are generally the same, there are a few unique considerations those in same-gender marriages should be aware of. Here are three of the most important things to keep in mind.

Relying solely on a will is risky: For several reasons, putting a trust in place—rather than relying solely on will—is a good planning strategy for nearly everyone. Upon the death of one spouse, a will is required to go through the often long, costly, and conflict-ridden court process known as probate. However, assets passed through a trust go directly to the named beneficiaries without the need for probate.

What’s more, a trust works in cases of both your death and incapacity, while a will only goes into effect upon death. Given this, it’s usually best for those in any marriage to create trust based plans.

Don’t neglect to plan for incapacity: Estate planning is not just about planning for your death; it’s also about planning for your potential incapacity. Should you be incapacitated by illness or injury, it’s not guaranteed that your spouse would have the ultimate legal authority to make key decisions about your medical treatment and finances.

Absent a plan for incapacity, it’s left to the court to appoint the person who will make these decisions for you. Though spouses are typically given priority, this isn’t always the case, especially if unsupportive family members challenge the issue in court. To ensure your spouse has the authority to make decisions for you, you must grant him or her medical power of attorney and financial power of attorney.

Medical power of attorney gives your spouse the authority to make health-care decisions for you if you’re incapacitated and unable to do so yourself. By the same token, financial power of attorney gives your spouse the authority to manage your financial affairs. And be sure to also create a living will, so that your spouse will know exactly how you want your medical care managed in the event of your incapacity.

Ensure parental rights are protected: While the biological parent of a child in a same-gender marriage is of course automatically granted parental rights, the non-biological spouse/parent still faces a number of legal complications. Because the Supreme Court has yet to rule on the parental rights of non-biological spouses/parents in a same-gender marriage, there is a tangled, often-contradictory, web of state laws governing such rights.

To ensure the full rights of a non-biological parent, you may want to consider second-parent adoption. But, by using a variety of unique planning strategies, your Personal Family Lawyer can provide non-biological, same-gender parents with nearly all parental rights without going through adoption. Using our Kids Protection Plan®, couples can name the non-biological parent as the child’s legal guardian, both for the short-term and the long-term, while confidentially excluding anyone the biological parent thinks may challenge their wishes.

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

For lots of people, their pets are thought of as members of the family. Indeed, pets are some people’s closest companions. If you’re one of those people and you want to make sure your furry friend is provided for in your estate plan, here’s how to make that happen.

Be aware, unlike your human family members, pets are considered your personal property under the law, so you can’t just name them as a beneficiary in your will or trust. If you do name your pet as a beneficiary in your plan, whatever money you tried to leave to it would go to your residuary beneficiary (the individual who gets everything not specifically left to your other named beneficiaries), who would have no obligation to care for your pet.

Wills aren’t a good option
Since you can’t name your pet as a beneficiary, your first thought might be to leave your pet (and money for its care) in your will to someone you trust to be your pet’s new caregiver. While it’s possible to leave your pet in this manner, it definitely isn’t the best option.

That’s because the person you name as beneficiary (the new caregiver) in your will would have no legal obligation to use the funds properly, even if you leave them detailed instructions for your pet’s care. In fact, your pet’s new owner could legally keep all the money for themselves and drop off your beloved friend at the local shelter.

Even if you completely trust someone to take care of your pet if you leave him or her money in your will, it’s simply impossible to predict what circumstances might arise in the future that could make that arrangement impossible.

For example, when you die, the new caregiver might be living in an apartment or condo that doesn’t allow pets, or the individual could be suffering from an unforeseen illness that leaves them no longer able to care for the animal. Or, when faced with the reality of the situation, the person could simply change his or her mind about wanting to look after your pet for the rest of its life.

Additionally, a will is required to go through the court process known as probate, which can last for years, leaving your pet in limbo until probate is finalized. Not to mention, a will only goes into effect upon your death, so if you’re incapacitated by accident or illness, it would do nothing to protect your companion.

Pet trusts offer the ideal option
In order to be completely confident that your pet is properly taken care of and the money you leave for its care is used exactly as intended, consider a pet trust.

By creating a pet trust, you can lay out detailed, legally binding rules for how your pet’s chosen caregiver can use the funds in the trust. And unlike a will, a pet trust does not go through probate, so it goes into effect immediately and works in cases of both your incapacity and death.

What’s more, a pet trust allows you to name a trustee, who is legally bound to manage the trust’s funds and ensure your wishes for the animal’s care are carried out in the manner the trust spells out.

With a properly drafted and funded pet trust, you’ll have peace of mind knowing that your beloved pet will receive the kind of love and care it deserves when you’re no longer around to offer it.

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,

What if you could leave your wealth to your children knowing it would be protected, for the rest of their lives, from their own bad decisions as well as any malicious intent by outsiders? Well, you can.

There are proactive estate planning solutions designed to safeguard your adult children’s inheritance. And these planning protections aren’t just for the extraordinarily rich—even relatively modest amounts of wealth can be squandered or taken if not adequately protected.

Indeed, the planning strategies we describe here can safeguard your child’s inheritance from being depleted by events such as a divorce, a catastrophic medical expense, an at-fault accident, or even a simple mistake. You just never know what life has in store for your heirs, and our planning protections can ensure their inheritance is protected from practically all potential threats—even those you could never possibly imagine.
 
Big money can cause big problems
“Big” money is relative.  What might be a modest inheritance to a 50-year old could be an enormous windfall to an 18-year old.  And there are stories upon stories of heirs being negatively impacted by inheriting too much money at a young age. These cases occur quite often, and no matter how well adjusted your children or grandchildren may seem, there’s just no way to accurately predict how their inheritance will affect them.

One unique planning vehicle designed to prevent the potential perils of outright distributions is a Lifetime Asset Protection Trust (LAPT). These trusts last for the lifetime of their respective beneficiaries and provide them with a unique and priceless gift. With an LAPT, for instance, the beneficiary can use and invest the trust assets, yet at the same time, the trust offers airtight asset protection from unexpected life events, such as a lawsuit or serious debt, which have the potential to wipe out their inheritance.

Help your heirs handle their inheritance

When drafted properly, an LAPT can be used to educate your beneficiary on how to handle their inheritance. This is done by allowing the beneficiary to become a co-trustee with someone you’ve named at a specific age or stage of life, and then the beneficiary can become the sole trustee later in life, once he or she has been properly educated and is ready to take over.

The LAPT is discretionary, which means that the trust would not only protect your heir from outside threats, like creditors and ex-spouses, but also from their own mistakes. The trustee you name holds the trust’s assets upon your death. This gives the person you choose the power to distribute its assets to the beneficiary at their discretion, rather than requiring him or her to release the assets in more structured ways, such as in staggered distributions at certain ages.

Your direction and guidance are paramount
Many of our clients choose to provide guidelines directing the trustee on how the client would choose to make distributions in many different scenarios, such as for the purchase of a home, a wedding, the start of a business, and/or travel. Some clients choose to provide guidelines around how their successor trustees should make investment decisions, as well.

Meet with your Personal Family Attorney to see if a Lifetime Asset Protection Trust is the right option for protecting your family wealth and loved ones from situations and circumstances (no matter what they may be), which are simply impossible to foresee. Don’t have a Personal Family Attorney? Contact us today to get your questions answered.

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,

No matter how well you think you know your loved ones, it’s impossible to predict exactly how they’ll behave when you die or if you become incapacitated. Of course, no one wants to believe their family would ever end up battling one another in court over inheritance issues or a loved one’s life-saving medical treatment, but the fact is, we see it all the time.

Family dynamics are extremely complicated and prone to conflict during even the best of times. And when tragedy strikes a key member of the household, even minor tensions and disagreements can explode into bitter conflict. When access to money is on the line, the potential for discord is exponentially increased.

The good news is you can drastically reduce the odds of such conflict through estate planning with the support of a lawyer who understands and can anticipate these dynamics. It’s so important to work with an experienced lawyer when creating your estate plan and never rely on generic, do-it-yourself planning documents found online. Unfortunately, even the best set of documents will be unable to anticipate and navigate complex emotional matters like this, but a good lawyer can.

By becoming aware of some of the leading causes of such disputes, you’re in a better position to prevent those situations through effective planning. Though it’s impossible to predict what issues might arise around your plan, the following is one of the most common catalysts for conflict.

Poor fiduciary selection
Many estate planning disputes occur when a person you’ve chosen to handle your affairs following your death or incapacity fails to carry out his or her responsibilities properly. Whether it’s as your power of attorney agent, executor, or trustee, these roles can entail a variety of different duties, some of which can last for years.

The individual you select, known as a fiduciary, is legally required to execute those duties and act in the best interests of the beneficiaries named in your plan. The failure to do either of those things is referred to as a breach of fiduciary duty.

The breach can be the result of the person’s deliberate action, or it could be something he or she does unintentionally, by mistake. Either way, a breach—or even the perception of one—can cause serious conflict among your loved ones. This is especially true if the fiduciary attempts to use the position for personal gain, or if the improper actions negatively impact the beneficiaries.

Common breaches include failing to provide required accounting and tax information to beneficiaries, improperly using estate or trust assets for the fiduciary’s personal benefit, making improper distributions, and failing to pay taxes, debts, and/or expenses owed by the estate or trust.

If a suspected breach occurs, beneficiaries can sue to have the fiduciary removed, recover any damages they incurred, and even recover punitive damages if the breach was committed out of malice or fraud.

Solution: Given the potentially immense responsibilities involved, you need to be extremely careful when selecting your fiduciaries, and make sure everyone in your family knows why you chose the fiduciary you did. You should only choose the most honest, trustworthy, and diligent individuals, and be careful not to select those who might have potential conflicts of interest with beneficiaries.

Moreover, it’s vital that your planning documents contain clear terms spelling out a fiduciary’s responsibilities and duties, so the individual understands exactly what’s expected of him or her. And should things go awry, you can add terms to your plan that allow beneficiaries to remove and replace a fiduciary without going to court.

Find an attorney who’s focus is on assisting you with selecting the most qualified fiduciaries; drafting the most precise, explicit, and understandable terms in all of your planning documents; as well as ensuring that your family understands your choices, so they do not end up in conflict when it’s too late. In this way, the individuals you select to carry out your wishes will have the best chances of doing so successfully—and with as little conflict as possible.

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

Being asked by a family member or close friend to serve as trustee for their trust upon their death can be an incredible honor. At the same time, however, serving as a trustee can be a massive responsibility—and the role is not for everyone.

In fact, depending on the type of trust, the assets held by the trust, the specific terms of the trust, and the beneficiaries named, the job can require you to fulfill a wide range of complex (and potentially unpleasant) duties over the course of many years. What’s more, trustees are legally required to properly execute those duties or face liability.

Given this, agreeing to serve as trustee is a decision that shouldn’t be made lightly. Indeed, sometimes the best thing you can do for everyone involved is to politely decline the job. Remember, you don’t have to take it. On the other hand, you might enjoy the opportunity to be a trustee, so long as you understand what it entails.

It’s best to make your decision about serving as trustee with eyes wide open. Here’s a brief look at what the job will likely entail, along with some situations where you might want to seriously think twice before agreeing.

What trustees do
As mentioned earlier, a trustee’s duties can vary tremendously depending on the size of the estate, the type of trust, and the trust’s specific instructions. That said, every trust comes with a few core requirements, primarily revolving around accounting for, managing, and distributing the trust’s assets to its named beneficiaries.

Regardless of the type of trust or the assets it holds, some of a trustee’s key responsibilities include:

  • Identifying and protecting the trust assets
  • Managing the trust assets for the term specified and distributing them properly
  • Filing income and estate taxes for the trust
  • Communicating regularly with beneficiaries
  • Being scrupulously honest, highly organized, and keeping detailed records
  • Closing the trust when the trust terms specify

Ultimately, trustees have a fiduciary duty to properly manage the trust in the best interest of all the trust beneficiaries. Consult with us for more in-depth details regarding the duties and responsibilities a specific trust will require of you as trustee.

Signs the trustee role might be a bad fit
Given the sense of loyalty and filial responsibility that’s often involved, it might feel difficult to turn the trustee role down. But for several reasons, saying “no thanks” can sometimes be the best decision, not only for you, but for all parties involved.

Of course, this is an entirely personal decision and one you’ll ultimately have to make for yourself after considering all the factors. That said, here are a few red flags that can signal the role might be better fulfilled by someone other than you:

  • Your job, family, and/or health situation is such that you won’t be able to give the job the time and attention it deserves. Some trusts can require far more work than others, and if the role would seriously impede your own life, you might consider declining.
  • You don’t get along with the beneficiaries. If there are underlying conflicts or bad blood with the people you’ll be required to serve, this could make the job incredibly difficult and unpleasant for everyone.
  • The trust’s terms are vague and/or unclear, leaving you in the position to make difficult decisions you don’t feel qualified to make. Such grey areas are especially troublesome when it comes to distributing trust assets to young adult beneficiaries, who might not be the most responsible with their spending and/or lifestyle.
  • It’s not clear exactly what assets the trust creator (grantor) owned, and/or the estate is highly unorganized. Tracking down and managing unorganized and/or poorly funded assets can be a massive undertaking—and a potential liability.
  • Lawsuits are likely or already underway. As trustee, it’s your duty to defend the trust against lawsuits, and just doing this can be a huge expenditure of your time and energy. What’s more, if a lawsuit against the trust is successful, it could seriously reduce the trust’s value, making your job infinitely more challenging.

We can help you decide
Given the serious nature of a trustee’s responsibilities, you can meet with us for help deciding whether to accept the job. We can offer a clear, unbiased assessment of what will be required of you based on the specific trust’s terms, assets, and beneficiaries.

And if you do decide to accept the trustee role, we can guide you step-by-step through the entire process, ensuring you effectively fulfill all of the grantor’s wishes with minimal risk. Serving as trustee can be a lot of work, but if you go into the job with eyes wide open and have the proper guidance, it can be an immensely rewarding experience, too.

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

Upon death, if you have individual retirement accounts (IRAs), they will pass directly to the people you named on your beneficiary designation form. And unless you take extra steps, the named beneficiary can do whatever he or she wants with the account’s funds once you’re gone.

For several reasons, you might not want your heirs to receive your retirement savings all at once. One way to prevent this is to designate your IRA into a trust.

But you can’t just use any trust to hold an IRA; you’ll need to set up a special type of revocable trust specifically designed to act as the beneficiary of your IRA upon your death. Such a trust is referred to by different names but for this article, I’m simply going to call it an IRA Trust.

IRA Trusts offer a number of valuable benefits to both you and your beneficiaries. If you have significant assets invested through one or more IRA accounts, you might want to consider the following advantages of adding an IRA Trust to your estate plan.

1. Protection from creditors, lawsuits, & divorce
Assets passed through an IRA Trust are shielded from your beneficiary’s creditors (which includes lawsuit judgements) if those assets remain in the trust.IRA Trusts are also useful in protecting assets from the possible remarriage and divorce of a surviving spouse as well as potential future divorces of your children.

2. Protection from the beneficiary’s own bad decisions
In addition, an IRA Trust can also help protect the beneficiary from his or her own poor money-management skills and spending habits. When you create an IRA Trust, you can restrict when the money is distributed as well as how it is to be spent. For example, you might stipulate that the beneficiary can only access the funds at a certain age or upon the completion of college. Or you might stipulate that the assets can only be used for healthcare needs or a home purchase. You can get as creative as you want with the trust’s terms.

3. Tax savings
One of the primary benefits of traditional IRAs is that they offer a period of tax-deferred growth, or tax-free growth in the case of a Roth IRA. A properly drafted IRA Trust can ensure the IRA funds are not all withdrawn at once and the required minimum distributions (RMDs) are stretched out over the beneficiary’s lifetime. Depending on the age of the beneficiary, this gives the IRA years—potentially even decades—of additional tax-deferred or tax-free growth.

4. Minors
If you want to name a minor child as the beneficiary of your IRA, they can’t inherit the account until they reach the age of majority. So, without a trust, you’ll have to name a guardian or conservator to manage the IRA until the child comes of age. With an IRA Trust, however, you name a trustee to handle the IRA management until the child comes of age. At that point, the IRA Trust’s terms can stipulate how and when the funds are distributed. Or the terms can even ensure the funds are held for the lifetime of your beneficiary, to be invested by your beneficiary through the trust.

Find out if an IRA Trust is right for you
While IRA Trusts can have major benefits, they’re not the best option for everyone. We can look at your situation and goals to help you determine if an IRA Trust is the most suitable option for passing on your retirement savings to benefit your family.

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

Template wills and other cheap legal documents are among the most dangerous choices you can make for the people you love. These plans can fail to keep your family out of court and out of conflict, and can leave the people you love most of all—your children—at risk.

The people you love most
It’s probably distressing to think that by using a cut-rate estate plan you could force your loved ones into court or conflict in the event of your incapacity or death. And if you’re like most parents, it’s probably downright unimaginable to contemplate your children’s care falling into the wrong hands.

Yet that’s exactly what could happen if you rely on free or low-cost fill-in-the-blank wills found online, or even if you hire a lawyer who isn’t equipped or trained to plan for the needs of parents with minor children.

Naming and legally documenting guardians entails a number of complexities that most people aren’t aware of. Even lawyers with decades of experience frequently make at least one of six common errors when naming long-term legal guardians.

If wills drafted with the help of a professional are likely to leave your children at risk, the chances that you’ll get things right on your own are much worse.

What could go wrong?
If your DIY will names legal guardians for your kids in the event of your death, that’s great. But does it include back-ups? And if you named a couple to serve, how is that handled? Do you still want one of them if the other is unavailable due to illness, injury, death, or divorce?

And what happens if you become incapacitated and are unable to care for your children? You might assume the guardians named in the DIY will would automatically get custody, but your will isn’t even operative in the event of your incapacity.

Or perhaps the guardians you named in the will live far from your home, so it would take them a few days to get there. If you haven’t made legally-binding arrangements for the immediate care of your children, it’s possible they will be placed with child protective services until those guardians arrive.

Even if you name family who live nearby as guardians, your kids are still at risk if those guardians are not immediately available if and when needed.

And do they even know where your will is or how to access it? There are simply far too many potential pitfalls when you go it alone.

Kids Legal Planning
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 comprehensive Kids Protection Plan®.

Protecting your family and assets in the event of your death or incapacity is such a monumentally important task you should never consider winging it with a DIY plan. No matter how busy you are or how little wealth you own, the potentially disastrous consequences are simply too great—and often they’re not even worth the paper they’re printed on.

Plus, proper estate planning doesn’t have to be a depressing, stressful, or morbid event. In fact, we work hard to ensure our planning process is as stress-free as possible.

What’s more, many of our clients actually find the process highly rewarding. Our proprietary systems provide the type of peace of mind that comes from knowing that you’ve not only checked estate planning off your to-do list, but you’ve done it using the most forethought, experience, and knowledge available.

Act now
If you’ve yet to do any planning, contact us to schedule a Family Estate Planning Session. This evaluation will allow us to determine your best option.

If you’ve already created a plan—whether it’s a DIY job or one created with another lawyer’s help—contact us 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 of 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,