Tuesday, December 8, 2009

What to Do About The Tea Pot Collection

You may have a tea pot collection, or civil war memorabilia or model trains. You have a pretty good idea who would enjoy this collection and want to make sure they get it when you are gone. Should you put it in your Will? How often will you have to re-write your Will as your collections vary and you have new friends. There is a very practical solution I recommend to my clients.

You don't list these physical items in your Will but you do reference a list which you may change from time to time. Then make a list of your special item and the member of your collector group who would so enjoy it. Be sure and date the list. Then as you change you mind or your collection changes you can write a new list. Sign and date the list (no notary or witnesses needed). This way you can keep current without having to change your will or write a codicil.

This list can include anything you want including household items, clothing, or your best cookpot. Whatever you think someone else might treasure. Having this list can avert family disputes later as there will be no question as to who was to receive the button collection.

If you don't have anything special to list, then just direct your personal representative to dispose as she sees fit. Be sure to give latitude to give away as well as sell.

Any other questions?

Friday, December 4, 2009

Minor Children and No Will?

If you have minor children you definitely should have a will. Parents I talk to say they've been meaning to get around to it, they can't afford it, or don't see why they need one because they have no "estate". I have added estate planning to my practice to counter these very arguments. My intention is to make it affordable and easy to take care of this important matter.

If you have life insurance, and you should, your children will have an estate.

Here are the provisions you should have in your will.

Guardian of a minor child

A guardian is the person you designate to take care of your children if both parents are dead. If a parent dies the other parent automatically is the guardian. Even if the parents are divorced the children would go with the other parent unless a court has found something seriously wrong with that parent. While you can state your preference in your will, the other parent has precedence.

The designated guardian should be someone you feel will raise your children with the same values you would. Some parents make a mutual pact with another family to serve as guardians for their children. If you don't have a will, the state will make a determination. You don't want to risk having your children with Child Protective Services until a guardian is selected.

If your chosen guardian lives far away you might want to appoint a temporary or interim guardian. This could be a neighbor or close friend who will step in immediately until the permanent guardian can be reached and is available.

The guardian of the person might not be the person who will manage the children's money. I strongly recomend a different person as the trustee of the children's estate.

Trustee of the Children's Estate

The trustee manages the funds and property you have willed to your children. This can be a large sum if you have life insurance. This is the relative who is good with managing money, a very trusted friend, or a professional trustee. The trustee will disburse funds to the guardian for the care, feeding and education of your children.

By naming a separate trustee and guardian you provide a good check and balance. The nurturing substitute parent you select may not be the best money manager and the best money manager may not be the best nurturing parent. This provides balance and protects the guardian from being questioned as to what happened to the money.

If you are divorced: It is even more important that you name a trustee. If you don't, your ex spouse will be in charge of the children's estate. Probably not what you would prefer.

A Children's Trust

Your will should provide for a trust for the children. Besides naming a trustee, you can designate an age when your children will receive the disbursement. Remember there may be a large sum of money if you have life insurance. Most parents I meet don't want the funds disbursed at age 18, which it will be unless you make other provisions. Some parents designate age 25, some 35 with provisions for partial disbursements at certain ages. The money can be spent on education, and other expenses for the children. Your trustee should have a great deal of discretion but has the power to say no, just as you do.

Get a Will Now

Hopefully I have given you enough reason to get a will. You really should work with a lawyer to make sure your will accomplishes what you intend and that it is effective. I would be happy to discuss options with you.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

What is Estate Planning?

In my family law practice I advise my clients to change their will. I find that many of them do not have a will. I have decided to expand my practice to include Estate Planning.

Estate planning is not financial planning but should be a part of any financial plan. Estate planning is more about "End of Life Issues". Not what most people want to think about right? A basic estate plan should include, at the very least: A will, a Health Care Directive, a Power of Attorney for Health Care and a Durable Springing Power of Attorney. You may also want a Revocable Trust, minors trust, and trusts used to reduce inheritance taxes.

I will discuss the more complex plans later. Here is an explanation of the basic:

Last Will and Testament

A will allows you to direct what will happen to your property upon your demise. Most important function is to name a Personal Representative. This person will be charged with carrying out your wishes. If you have minor children you will want to name a Guardian and a Trustee for your children. The Guardian will take care of your children physically and a Trustee takes care of the children's money or property. I usually recommend that this be two different people. You will also want to name alternates.

Contrary to popular opinion, a will does not avoid probate. Your will means you have control of the process rather than relying on state law to disburse your assets. A will is a thoughtful thing to have for the sake of your loved ones.

Health Care Directive

Also called a "living will", this directive makes your wishes known regarding the extent of life support you desire. A very personal decision, it makes it clear to your relative and doctors what your wishes are.

Power of Attorney for Healthcare

This directive names the individual you would like to make decisions about your care when you are not able. It is important to discuss this sensitive topic with your chosen representative so he/she can make your wishes known.

Durable Springing Power of Attorney

This Power of Attorney allows someone to handle your financial affairs when you are not able. Durable means it remains in effect though you are incapacitated and Springing means it does not go into effect until your are deemed by your physician to be incapacitated. You will also want to add a HIPPA release so health care providers can release information.

These are the basic minimum documents you should have for your estate plan. Yes, you can find them on line but, of course, I recommend you talk to an attorney. State laws differ and you want to make sure your documents comply with your state's laws. Sometimes one word gives a document a different meaning. If you make a mistake, it can't be corrected when your gone. You may be surprised that it isn't as expensive as you may think.

I am always available for a free consultation. (Provided you live in Washington State)