Wednesday, March 07, 2018

We Can Learn a lot from Celebrities

The next time one of your relatives tells you they don’t want to talk about estate planning, share these famous celebrities’ stories to get the conversation started. Such cautionary tales offer first-hand evidence of just how critical it is to engage in estate planning, even if it’s uncomfortable.

The Marley Family Battle
You would think that with millions of dollars in assets—including royalties offering revenue for the indefinite future—at stake, more famous musicians would at least have a will in place. But sadly, you’d be wrong. Legendary stars like Bob Marley, Prince, and Jimi Hendrix failed to write down their wishes on paper at all.

Not having an estate plan can be a nightmare for your surviving family. Indeed, Marley’s heirs are still battling one another in court three decades later. If you do nothing else before you die, at least be courteous enough to your loved one’s to document your wishes and keep them out of court and out of conflict.

Paul Walker Died Fast and Furious at Just 40
While Fast and Furious actor Paul Walker was just 40 when he died in a tragic car accident, he had enough forethought to implement some basic estate planning. His will left his $25 million estate to his teenage daughter in a trust and appointed his mother as her legal guardian until 18.

But isn’t 18 far too young for a child to receive an inheritance of any size? Walker would have been far better advised to leave his assets in an ongoing trust, with financial education built in to give his daughter her best shot at a life well lived, even without him in the picture.
Most inheritors, like lottery winners, are not properly educated about what to do after receiving an inheritance, so they often lose their inheritance within just a few years, even when it’s millions.

Indeed, none of us has any clue when we’ll die, only that it will happen, so no matter how young you are or how much money you have—and especially if you have any children—don’t put off estate planning for another day. You truly never know when it’ll be needed.

Heath Ledger Didn’t Update His Estate Planning
Even though actor Heath Ledger created a will shortly after becoming famous, he failed to update it for more than five years. The will left his entire fortune to his parents and sister, so when he died unexpectedly in 2008, his young daughter received nothing, as she hadn’t been added to the will. Fortunately, his parents made sure their granddaughter was provided for, but that might not always be the case.

Creating an estate planning strategy is just the start—be sure to regularly update your documents, especially following births, deaths, divorces, new marriages, acquiring new assets, or retiring. Many estate plans fail because most lawyers don’t have built-in systems for updating your estate plans, but we do—mostly because we don’t want this to happen to your family.
Paul Newman Cut Out His Daughters Too
Though it’s a good idea to regularly update your estate plan, be sure your heirs know exactly what your intentions are when making such updates, or your family might experience significant  shock by not knowing why you did what you did.

The final update to Paul Newman’s will, which was made just a few months before his death in 2008, left his daughters with no ownership or control of Newman’s Own Foundation, his legendary charity associated with the Newman’s Own food brand. Prior versions of Newman’s will— and indeed his own personal assurances to his family—indicated they’d have membership on the foundation’s board following his death.

Instead, the final version of his will left control of the foundation to his business partner Robert Forrester. Some allege that during his final months, when Newman was mentally unstable, he was secretly persuaded to change his estate plan to leave control of the Newman’s Own brand and foundation to Forrester. Newman’s daughters are currently fighting Forrester in court over the rights they believe they’re entitled to receive.
While changes to your estate plan may seem perfectly clear to you, make sure your family is on the same page by clearly communicating your intentions. In fact, if you are making significant changes to your plan, and your children are adults, we often recommend a full family meeting to go over everything with all impacted parties, and we often facilitate such meetings for our clients.
Muhammad Ali Made His Wishes Clear
Boxing great Muhammad Ali wanted multi-day festivities to be held in his honor, including a large festival, an Islamic funeral, and a dazzling public memorial at the KFC headquarters in Louisville, KY. Given such elaborate plans, he worked with his lawyers for years, ensuring his wishes would be properly carried out.

While you probably won’t need a multi-day festivity to celebrate your life, you may have wishes regarding how your life should be memorialized when you pass or how your care should be handled if you’re incapacitated. If you eat a special diet or want certain friends by your side while incapacitated, you have to make these wishes clearly known in writing or they very well might not happen. At the same time, you should spell out exactly how you want your remains cared for and what kind of memorial service, if any, you prefer.

As your Personal Family Lawyer®, we can help ensure your final wishes are carried out exactly how you want. But more importantly, we’ll help protect your family and keep them out of conflict and out of court in the event of your death or incapacitation. With a Personal Family Lawyer® on your side, you’ll have access to the exact same estate planning strategies and protections that A-List celebrities use, so don’t wait another day—contact us now to get started!

This article is a service of Jennifer Cochran-Green, Personal Family Lawyer®. 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. 

Monday, March 05, 2018

Getting married again?

Common Estate Planning Issues You Must Navigate When Contemplating a Second (or More) Marriage

These days, second and even third marriages are fairly commonplace. And the estate planning issues that arise from multiple marriages can be highly complex and confusing.
Merging two families into one presents unique legal and financial challenges that can cause significant conflict and distress unless effective estate planning has been put into place early on. Here are a few of the most common issues that blended families should keep in mind when it comes to estate planning.

Keeping assets separate
If you get remarried and have children from your previous marriage(s), you need to think about how you want to balance providing for your new spouse and ensuring the children from your previous marriage are taken care of in the event you become incapacitated or when you die. 

If you intend to keep your assets separate, so each spouse can pass an inheritance to his or her own children, you’ll need to create and maintain separate accounts. One account contains the assets you want to pass on to your children, and the other can be either a separate or joint account that contains the assets you want to share with your spouse. 

If you and your spouse commingle your income and assets, then the new spouse will have claim and control of those assets when you die, which can leave your kids with nothing. Moreover, joint accounts can be subject to claims from a former spouse and/or creditors, so unless you want your new spouse to share that risk, keep at least some assets separate.

And, if you’re keeping assets separate, be sure to talk with us about how to do that properly, as it can get tricky, particularly when you start sharing some assets and buying new assets together.

Inheritance timing

If you have children for whom you want to leave an inheritance, you should think about how and when you want those assets passed on. For example, what if you die prematurely or your spouse is significantly younger than you? Do you want your kids to wait until the new spouse dies to claim their inheritance, or do you want them to receive it immediately following your death? 

Establishing a trust can protect assets for each spouse’s children and stipulate when the kids receive their inheritance. You may want to provide your children with some of their inheritance, such as proceeds from a life insurance policy, upon your death and then release the rest at some point in the future. Or if your kids are very young, you may decide to leave that decision up to your spouse or a third-party successor trustee.

Trustee considerations
A common scenario for blended families is for one spouse to set up a living trust that names themselves as the trustee during his or her lifetime, with the surviving spouse named as successor trustee once they die. This is done to ensure the surviving spouse will be provided for for life and the children will receive the remaining assets once the new spouse passes.

But the new spouse and your children may have conflicting interests, especially if the spouse is older. For example, the new spouse may choose to invest the assets conservatively, ensuring he or she has enough money to live comfortably for a few more decades. However, the children—particularly if they are younger—might be better off having the assets placed into higher-risk investments, which can offer better returns in the long run, but leave less income for the surviving spouse.

In this case, it’s best to name a neutral third-party as successor trustee, so both the children and surviving spouse’s interests can be balanced fairly.

That said, we do recommend leaving at least something to your children from a prior marriage immediately upon your death (in trust if your children are minors). By doing so, you can mitigate potential conflicts between your children and surviving spouse. 

Beyond finances, the issues of power of attorney and health-care directives must also be discussed. If one spouse becomes incapacitated, you must decide who you would want to make legal and medical decisions for you. If the children are young, it’s probably best to leave those decisions up to your surviving spouse. However, if your children are older, you may want them included in the discussion of how your health-care decisions will be made.

Comprehensive and effective estate planning is especially important for blended families. Indeed, it’s crucial that these families work with a professional who is trained in counseling blended families on how to properly protect their assets in a manner that’s best for both the spouses and any children involved.
As your Personal Family Lawyer®, we’re specifically trained to work with blended families, ensuring that you and your new spouse can effectively clarify and clearly document your wishes to avoid any confusion or conflict over how the assets and legal agency will be passed on in the event of one spouse’s death or disability. If you have a blended family, or are in the process of merging two families into one, contact us as your Personal Family Lawyer®, so we can discuss all of your options.
This article is a service of Jennifer R. Cochran-Green, Personal Family Lawyer®. 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. 

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Suze Orman Says This Is The Age You Should Retire--Not a Month or Year Before (and Here's What She Misses)

If you’re middle aged or older, it’s likely that one of your most pressing concerns is not having enough money for retirement. And there’s good reason. According to the National Institute on Retirement Security, a full third of Americans between 55 and 65 have nothing saved for retirement.
And even if you’ve diligently saved, it’s difficult to predict if your savings will be enough. Today, many people are living into their late-80s, 90s, and even 100s. Because most Baby Boomers have lived comparatively healthier lives and had access to better healthcare than their parents, you may live even longer.
In light of these facts, a recent article in Money by renowned financial guru Suze Orman declares that the new retirement age for the majority of us is now 70.
While most plan to retire in their 60s, Orman believes this simply isn’t realistic anymore, not only because of increased lifespan, but also due to rising healthcare costs and the increased need to care for aging parents for longer periods.
Today’s eligibility age for full Social Security benefits is between 65 and 67. Of course, you can retire as early as 62 and receive partial benefits, but Orman says that claiming such partial benefits is “one of the biggest mistakes you’ll ever make.”
By waiting until 70, your annual benefit will be 76% higher, which will be hugely beneficial in the long run. Orman notes that for married couples it might be okay for the spouse earning less to retire at age 67, but the higher earner must wait until 70. The only exception is if one of you has a medical condition that prevents you from working or makes it unlikely you’ll live into your late-80s or 90s.
But delaying retirement doesn’t necessarily mean working full-time until 70. You might be able to work part-time or receive a reduction in your current job responsibilities. Orman says to start talking with employers about the possibility of part-time work or reduced duties at least two years before your planned downshift.
You also might consider switching jobs to something that requires less time and energy. Start looking now for educational and training opportunities to prepare for such a new position. 

Another option (and one Orman misses) is to launch a freelance gig, or “side hustle,” which is probably your best bet for a secure retirement anyway.

Instead of thinking about retirement as a time to retire from life and work, start thinking about it as the time you can finally do what you’ve always wanted to do. Create a service offering around the passion project you didn’t think you could indulge during your working years.
Dreaming into—and even taking steps toward this side hustle—now is the place to start, no matter how close or far you are from retirement.
Your life experiences were given to you so you can give them back. Begin to consider who needs to hear what you’ve learned throughout your life, especially during the hard times, as that’s likely to be the source of your side hustle.
While this all may initially add to your retirement anxiety, rather than reducing it, you don’t have to go it alone. With us as your Personal Family Lawyer®, we’ll be in your corner the whole way, offering guidance and support, while helping with any legal, insurance, financial, and tax issues that might arise. Schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session® today to see where your retirement planning currently stands.
This article is a service of Jennifer Cochran-Green, Personal Family Lawyer®. 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. 

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

The Real Planned Parenthood: Platonic Parenting

Divorce can be one of the most unpleasant—and often traumatic—experiences of your life, especially if you have children. It can be even more distressing for the kids themselves. In many cases, a divorce can severely affect a child’s emotional well-being, and in extreme cases, even tear apart a parent’s personal relationship with their offspring.

In light of these hardships, a new movement is sweeping the country, known as “platonic parenting.” The arrangement typically involves spouses who refrain from divorce—or get divorced but stay closely connected (even cohabitating)—in order to more effectively raise their children and reduce trauma. The couple remains highly amicable and cooperative, but ceases any romantic connection or commitment.

This isn’t about “staying together for the kids,” where couples remain unhappily married solely for the children’s sake—and which is often just as traumatic as divorce.

Platonic parenting was pioneered within the LGBTQ community, since until recently same-sex couples couldn’t legally marry, and thus were forced to create outside-the-box parenting arrangements following a romantic split. Today, many people of all genders and sexual orientation are entering into these relationships, and some believe this style of co-parenting can be just as healthy as those raised in happily married households.

Obviously, Platonic Parenting is no panacea, and the arrangement requires intense levels of trust, communication, and planning. The first step of the new partnership is for both parties to come up with a firm agreement around their financial commitments and living situation.

Other things to work out include how to handle new romantic relationships, if/how to incorporate the platonic partner into family gatherings, along with all manner of other basic ground rules. Then you must plan how you’ll discuss this with your kids and other family members, so everyone clearly understands exactly what this new life will entail.

Platonic parenting isn’t just limited to married or otherwise romantically involved couples: Numerous people of all genders and orientations are entering into such relationships.

For example, a heterosexual woman may partner with a gay man to provide a father (literally and/or figuratively) for her kids. Or maybe it’s two longtime friends of any gender combination, who are interested in starting a family but haven’t found a suitable romantic partner. There are even cases where the arrangement involves three or more platonic parents, who tag team, if you will, the immense responsibility of raising children.

With so many important agreements to be made, all parties involved are advised to seek legal counsel before creating such an arrangement. As your Personal Family Lawyer®, we specialize in helping you navigate these types of non-traditional partnerships. Whether you’re seeking advice on planning such an arrangement, or you need us to draft legally binding contracts, contact us today to make sure your new family is as happy and healthy as possible.

This article is a service of Jennifer Cochran-Green, Personal Family Lawyer®. 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.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Pay For a Loved One’s Education With an Education Trust Fund

Today’s parents are all too familiar with the budget-busting cost of funding a child’s college education. It can be challenging enough to put aside sufficient savings for a single child’s education, but for multiple kids, the price tag can make donating a kidney for extra cash seem downright reasonable!

In fact, a survey by The College Board found that the “moderate” cost for all expenses (tuition, fees, books, room and board) for a year of in-state public college averaged $24,610 in 2016-2017. A similarly moderate budget for a private college averaged $49,320.

But don’t freak out just yet! If you’re savvy about estate planning, you can use an education trust fund to save for your child or grandchild’s education expenses and specify exactly how you want those funds used.

You can create an education trust that is payable during your lifetime (living trust) or upon your death (testamentary trust). The disbursements from the trust are designated for a beneficiary's education, and you can specifically designate how and when the funds are to be distributed—meaning the beneficiary can only receive the funds if they’re compliant with your terms.

Education trusts can be used to fund not only a traditional university education, but any type of  learning institution, such as trade schools, educational workshops, community colleges, and private academies. Or even alternative education, such as travel, workshops, retreats, business building programs, and the like. You get to decide exactly how broad or how limited the use of the funds can be.

Trusts can be created for multiple beneficiaries, whether through separate trusts for each individual or a single trust that funds all beneficiaries. If a single trust is established for multiple beneficiaries, you can require the assets to be distributed in a number of ways: equally, using a set amount, by percentage, or the decision as to how much each beneficiary receives can be left to the trustee’s discretion. 

Education trusts aren’t generally set up as tax-saving vehicles, as would be the case with a traditional 529 Plan (which does provide tax savings, but has much more restrictive use). That said, there could be some tax savings if the income of the trust is taxed at your beneficiary’s tax rate, which could be lower than your personal tax rate on income.

The only part of the trust that will be taxable is income earned by the investments in the trust (interest and dividends). The trust owes yearly income taxes on income above $600; however, if the trust distributes that income, the beneficiary is responsible for paying taxes at their rate.

The trust is only responsible for taxes on income not distributed by year’s end. And that income is taxed at trust tax rates, which could be higher than the beneficiary’s rate—and possibly even higher than your personal tax rate, so make sure you are clear about whether income should be distributed before year’s end for each year the trust earns income.

If the education trust is irrevocable, meaning that the gift cannot be taken back, and the amount contributed is less than the annual gift tax exemption amount ($14,000 in 2017), then no gift-tax return is required. If the gift exceeds that amount, then it would be necessary to file a gift-tax return, reporting the gift and using up part of your lifetime exemption of $5.49 million. A married couple can exempt $10.98 million in their lifetime.

If you’re interested in funding your children’s or grandchildren’s education using an education trust, Jennifer Cochran-Green, a Personal Family Lawyer®, can walk you step-by-step through the process.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Ready to Write Your Will? Consider This Before You Go It Alone or Online.

A Last Will and Testament is the most commonly thought of document when it comes to an estate plan. But, really, it’s a very small part of an integrated plan that ensures your family stays out of Court and out of conflict when something happens to you.

Don’t think you can just write your own Will and that will help your family. Instead, consider the reality that trying to do so could actually create far more trouble for them down the road. They need you to get professional support from someone who can help you look at what you own, who you love, what would happen to you, what you own, and everyone you love, if and when something happens to you.

Death is unavoidable. And incapacity may happen before that. Facing these matters head-on leads you (and your loved ones) to having the best life possible. Otherwise, it’s the people you love who get stuck with everything you weren’t willing to take care of now.

Unfortunately, if you go it alone, you may miss important facets of what happens in the event of your incapacity or death. For example, you may think that a Will is sufficient, when what you really need is a trust to keep your family out of Court.

Or, you may think your kids are adequately protected because you have a Will, but you may really need a full Kids Protection Plan® and without it your kids could end up in the care of strangers, even if just temporarily. Before you do anything, get educated and empowered to do what’s right.

The right plan for you begins with knowing what you have. Then, being clear on what is necessary to keep your family out of court and conflict and keep your assets out of the State Department of Unclaimed Property. If you are ready to write your Will, that’s great. And, come see us first.

The biggest mistake you can make is not facing the reality of death, the second biggest mistake is facing it alone. If you need help getting started, consult with a Personal Family Lawyer®. We’ll help you through the process so you can make sure your loved ones are protected and your wishes are honored.

Monday, November 13, 2017

The Downsizing Generation: How to Handle a Surplus of Stuff When a Loved One Ages

As the baby boomer generation ages—and downsizes—more and more adult children will be tasked with going through their loved one’s belongings to decide what to do with everything. As more and more people downsize after retirement, china sets, furniture, heirlooms, and other belongings are often left behind and unwanted.

Traditionally, these items have been passed down to the next generation. But today, the next  generation has different needs, tastes, and wants. As a result, there is a surplus of “stuff” baby boomers don’t need or have room for, and their adult children don’t want. Maybe that includes you.

This is an all too common problem with a few helpful solutions.

The thought of tossing a lifetime of belongings in the trash is more than many can bear, which explains the advent of the senior move management industry. Today, there are a plethora of professionals who can help your loved one go through each item to decide what should be kept, what should be given away, and what should go to charity or donated.

The cost of this professional service can be up to $5,000 for a large estate, but it eases the burden on the adult children and ensures the loved one’s wishes are listened to and honored.

Bear in mind, as the baby boomer generation ages, charities and nonprofits that typically accept used furniture and other belongings are faced with the burden of too much stuff. The dated styles baby boomers preferred during their prime don’t fit the tastes and needs of today’s generation. The current generation views belongings like furniture and dishes as functional and more disposable, better suited to their urban, fast-paced lives where minimalism and portability are more prized than sentimentality and tradition.

Another way to decrease the time and effort it takes to dispose of all your belongings is to be very clear about what you consider to be heirlooms and valuable items by indicating in your will, or in a separate writing ancillary to your will, exactly what’s important to you and what isn’t.
Most importantly, talk to your children or other heirs to see what they want and don’t want. And to make sure they know what’s important to you, and what isn’t. The more you can communicate about this now with your loved one’s, the better.

You may be surprised to discover that most family fights that break up families aren’t over money at all, but over the personal property of mom and dad that the kids fight over because there was not clear instructions.

As more baby boomers age and non-profits turn away dated donations,  the need for thoughtful estate planning is greater than ever. A comprehensive estate plan can ensure your belongings either go to those who will cherish them or to charities that will benefit from them.

This article is a service of Jennifer Cochran-Green, Personal Family Lawyer®. 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.  

We Can Learn a lot from Celebrities