Time To Do Your Homework!

Summer is winding down, kids are heading back to school, and sports, clubs, and other activities are starting up again.  As the new school year begins, now is the perfect time to think about your estate plan.  Respected personal finance publication Kiplinger recently shared five important reasons to establish an estate plan:

1. Maintain control over what happens to your assets after you pass away.

2. Minimize the negative impact your death could have on a business you own.

3. Prevent information about your assets from becoming public after you die.

4. Prepare in advance for an unforeseen disability.

5. Take inventory of your finances to plan for the future both during your lifetime and after your death.

Click here to read further.


Add Your Estate Plan to Your Summer Vacation Checklist!

School is out and summer is finally here!  For many, that means it's time for a long-awaited vacation away from home.  Whether you are heading to Disney World, taking a cruise, or relaxing at a nearby lake this summer, make time to review your estate plan before you take off.  Below is a quick and easy checklist to make sure your plan is ready to go:

1. Review Beneficiary Designations - If you have a will, you have probably designated beneficiaries to receive your probate assets (meaning assets that will pass through the probate process instead of automatically) if you pass away.  Keep in mind that non-probate assets such as retirement accounts, life insurance policies, and other financial assets may include beneficiary designations as well.  Transfers to these beneficiaries will occur almost automatically and outside of the probate process upon your death.  Take a quick look at your probate and non-probate beneficiary designations to make sure your assets will transfer according to your current wishes if something happens to you.

2. Update Powers of Attorney - It is important to make sure you have powers of attorney established in the event that you are in an accident and need someone to make medical or financial decisions on your behalf.  If you have not established powers of attorney and something happens to you, a court will intervene to appoint someone to handle these decisions on your behalf.  This process can be expensive and time consuming for your loved ones.  Planning ahead will save time, money, and headaches for everyone involved.

3. Designate a Guardian - If you have young children, you will want to make sure you have made a guardianship appointment in your will.  If you do not select an individual to take over guardianship of your children in the event of your death, a court will make a selection instead.  Additionally, you will want to select a trustee to manage any assets you plan to pass to young children should something happen to you.  This includes assets passed by will, or through life insurance polices, retirement accounts, and other non-probate assets.

4. Make Documents Accessible - Before you leave for vacation, store your estate planning documents in a safe place, and let your loved ones know where they can be found and how they can be accessed if necessary.  A lost or hidden estate plan will be of no use to anyone.

5. Don't Wait! - You have spent months or even years planning and saving for your vacation, so why put off updating your estate plan until minutes before you leave?  Updating your estate plan doesn't have to be arduous - get started today!

Have a safe and happy 4th of July weekend!

How Failure to Plan Could Impact Prince's Legacy

After the shocking news of Prince's death and subsequent reports that he appears to have died without a will or other estate plan in place, you might be wondering what this all means.  Reuters recently published a comprehensive piece on the impact Prince's inaction could have not only on the distribution of his assets, but on his legacy for years to come. 

Avoiding Probate: Utilizing a TOD Deed to Transfer Property

For many Americans, the largest asset possessed at time of death is real estate.  When it comes to your estate plan, one way to transfer real estate, whether land, a house, or both, is through a bequest by will.  Real estate can also be transfer through use of a trust.  Indiana and Ohio offer an alternative option for those who wish to gift their real estate to specific individuals at the time of their death.  This alternative option utilizes a Transfer on Death Deed and allows owners of real estate to transfer their property outside of the probate process.

The real estate transfer on death option works much like the transfer on death or payable on death designations that banks and financial institutions utilize for the transfer of financial assets after death.  By executing and recording a Transfer on Death Deed, the owner of real estate, called the "grantor," can seamlessly transfer his or her real estate to a named beneficiary or multiple beneficiaries at the time of the grantor's death.  During his or her lifetime, the grantor retains ownership of the real estate.  Upon the death of the grantor, ownership of the property can be transferred quickly by simply recording an Affidavit of Death with the recorder of the county in which the real estate is located. 

Designating a transfer on death beneficiary may seem a bit confusing.  Here are a few helpful facts about the transfer on death option for real estate transfers:

1. After executing and recording a Transfer on Death Deed, the grantor retains full ownership of the property.  This means that the grantor is not subject to eviction by the beneficiary, and the grantor maintains his or her homestead exemption during the life of the grantor.

2. The grantor can still mortgage or sell the real estate during his or her lifetime even after making the transfer on death designation.  The sale of real estate cancels a transfer on death designation, but the grantor can certainly make the designation on any new real estate purchased.

3. The transfer on death designation can be changed or removed from the grantor's real estate at any time.

4. Real estate that transfers on death is transferred outside of the probate process upon the death of the grantor, which can save time and money.

If you are looking for ways to avoid the probate process, a Transfer on Death Deed may be an option to consider.

What's New For 2016?

Welcome to 2016!  If getting your estate plan in order is one of your resolutions for the new year, take a look at this quick list of changes to 2016 estate planning law compiled by financial services company The Motley Fool.  Even if you already have an estate plan in place, it is helpful to understand how these changes could impact your estate plan. 

  1. The lifetime exclusion amount, or the amount of assets an individual may pass free of tax during life or after death, increases to $5.45 million in 2016.
  2. Individuals may give gifts of up to $14,000 to any number of individuals this year before the lifetime exclusion amount even comes into play.
  3. The federal tax rate for taxable estate assets is 40% this year.
  4. The lifetime exclusion amount is still portable, meaning spouses can utilize any unused portion of a deceased spouse's lifetime exclusion amount if the proper election is made.  As such, married couples can take advantage of a $10.9 million lifetime exclusion amount this year.
  5. Both Indiana and Ohio have done away with estate taxes, so state level estate taxes are not a concern for Indiana and Ohio residents this year.

Here's to a safe and happy 2016!

A Solid Estate Plan is the Gift that Keeps on Giving

Looking for a last minute gift idea for your family and loved ones this holiday season?  How about putting together an effective estate plan to protect them in the future?  The gift of a solid estate plan can save your family and loved ones time, money, and headaches down the road.  It is important to put in the time now to make sure your affairs are in order as mistakes in your estate plan can have devastating consequences after your death.  A piece on the website Financial Planning highlights ten major celebrity estate planning mistakes to avoid:

  • Appointing an untrustworthy trustee or executor
  • Failing to clarify intent
  • Putting off estate planning until it is too late
  • Making verbal promises outside of the plan
  • Failing to fund a trust
  • Failing to make documents accessible to loved ones
  • Creating unenforceable documents
  • Failing to update estate planning documents after major life events
  • Creating "do it yourself" estate planning documents
  • Failure to establish an estate plan at all

Wishing you a happy and safe holiday season and all the best in the new year!

Celebrating Two Years in Business!

This week marks two years in business!  Thanks to the support and referrals of many friends and family members, year 2 was a great success.  Over the past two years, I have had the opportunity to assist over 120 individuals with their estate planning needs.  Thank you to all of my clients - it has been a pleasure working with you!  I look forward to what lies ahead in year 3 and beyond! 

Make sure to follow me on Facebook and Twitter for estate planning updates.

4 Tips for Creating a Stress-Free Estate Plan

If you or someone you know have lost a loved one, you have probably heard or even experienced the horror stories of feuding families and missing estate plans.  Minimizing stress and maximizing clarity should be of the highest priority when you are creating your estate plan.  Brian Vnak of MartketWatch recently put together four tips to reduce stress for your surviving loved ones and for those who will handle your estate after you pass away.

1. Consider what your beneficiaries want when dividing up your assets.

2. Explain your intentions to your family now to avoid fighting and hurt feelings after you pass away.

3. Gift assets during your lifetime to decrease the size of your estate and to "test" beneficiaries' capacity to handle assets.

4. Consider your beneficiaries' tax brackets when deciding how to distribute your assets.

By putting these four simple tools to use as you create your estate plan, you can assure peace of mind for you and your family.