Now Is Your Time, Millennials!

It may come as a surprise to older generations that the millions of young Americans known as “millennials” have now arrived into their adult years. Millennials may be even more surprised to realize that this means estate planning is now something that should be on the radar.

This week, The National Law Review provided a helpful synopsis of the most important estate planning considerations for the millennial population. These include:

  1. Setting up powers of attorney for financial and medical decisions as parents do not carry this responsibility beyond age 18.

  2. Establishing a will or trust to handle distribution of assets, care of children and pets, and social impact goals.

  3. Creating a plan for the management of digital assets such as Facebook, Google, and other online accounts upon incapacity or death.

  4. Accounting for student loans and how outstanding balances may impact an estate plan.

Millennials, it’s your turn to plan!

Until Death Do Us Part: Spousal Planning

The phrase “better together” takes on new meaning when it comes to estate planning for married couples. Spousal coordination and a shared understanding of financial and legal matters are essential to the successful execution of an estate plan.

A recent piece in Forbes provides helpful considerations for spouses working through an estate plan, as well as tips to ease the financial and legal burdens on a surviving spouse once the first spouse passes away. Four key takeaways from this article highlight the biggest mistakes married couples make from an estate planning perspective:

  1. Lack of shared knowledge of financial assets and legal documents. Oftentimes, one spouse manages financial and legal matters, which can leave the other spouse feeling overwhelmed and lost when the managing spouse passes away. Both spouses should know where financial and legal documents are located so they can be easily accessed upon the death of one spouse. It is also important to keep a joint account with funds for emergency expenses and funeral costs that both spouse know how to access.

  2. Individually-held accounts that do not name the spouse as beneficiary. Assets that do not transfer automatically through a beneficiary designation will pass through the probate court. This often means the surviving spouse will incur expenses that could have been avoided by utilizing beneficiary appointments or payable on death designations.

  3. Failure to fund a trust that has been created. While a trust can be a very useful tool, trust language only applies to assets that have been titled in the name of the trust. Unfortunately, many neglect to actually place their assets into the trust, rendering the distributions spelled out in the trust useless.

  4. Improper coordination of assets outside of a trust. Beneficiary designations made on retirement accounts, life insurance policies, and the like, often conflict with distributions laid out in a subsequently-created estate plan. As such, assets that one might intend to pass through a trust or other estate planning tool will instead pass according to the previously-made beneficiary appointments. Whether or not a trust is utilized, it is always important to double check beneficiary designations to ensure proper coordination with an estate plan.

As with most marital matters, communication is the foundation of a solid estate plan.

Estate Planning For Chronic Illness

The diagnosis of a chronic illness is often a major life-altering event. Your estate plan may help ease some of the burdens you and your loved ones will face as you continue living with a chronic condition. Although the effects of a chronic illness can be complicated and overwhelming, a recent article in Forbes provides a helpful list of legal documents that may be beneficial in managing your affairs throughout the course of your condition. These include:

  1. HIPAA Release: With a HIPAA release, you can elect to share your protected health information (PHI) with specific individuals for the purpose of managing your care if necessary.

  2. Living Will: This document clarifies your wishes for end-of-life medical care in the event that you become unable to communicate those wishes.

  3. Health Care Power of Attorney: This type of POA allows you to appoint someone to make medical decisions on your behalf in the event that you become incapable of doing so.

  4. Physician Order for Life-Sustaining Treatment: A POLST can be completed with the help of a health care provider and, much like a living will, is utilized to express your wishes for end-of-life medical care.

  5. Financial Power of Attorney: The financial POA allows you to appoint someone to manage your financial, accounting, and other personal needs on your behalf, and can limit when and how such power can be exercised by that individual.

  6. Revocable Trust: A revocable trust can be utilized to manage your assets throughout the course of your chronic illness, possibly providing protections and oversight in the event that you become incapacitated at any point.

If you have been diagnosed with a chronic condition, it may be a good idea to get ahead of your estate plan so that protections and precautions are in place should they become necessary.

Planning For Unplanned Loss

The sudden and unexpected loss of someone you love can be a crushing and often unbearable experience. While the mental and emotional pain of such a loss can be overwhelming, the financial toll resulting from an incomplete or non-existent estate plan can only serve to compound the issue for those left behind.

Although many are hesitant to establish an estate plan for fear of burdening their loved ones, a lack of planning can actually be more burdensome to those left to jump through financial and legal hoops in an attempt clean up the deceased’s disorganized estate.

If your loved one passed away unexpectedly without an estate plan, below are a few tips provided by CNBC Personal Finance for working through the estate administration process:

  1. Consult with a financial planner and lawyer and organize related documents.

  2. Address both your mental and financial health.

  3. Delay any major decisions for at least a year.

It can be impossible to make sense of devastating life events, but one thing that always makes sense is planning ahead for the sake of your loved ones who will be left to manage your affairs after you pass away whether you have planned or not.

Don't Confuse Me With The Facts: 4 Myths Of Estate Planning

When faced with an uncomfortable situation or decision, it is human nature to make excuses or convince ourselves of untruths rather than deal with the inevitable head-on. This is no different when it comes to estate planning.

Estate planning can certainly seem like a daunting and depressing subject as we face our own mortality. However, creating an estate plan does not mean you are going to die now - it just means that you have prepared for the future. A recent article in Forbes debunks four persistent myths of estate planning that are often used as excuses to avoid the planning process altogether. These myths include:

  1. Estate planning is only for the wealthy. False. Anyone who has assets, owns property, or supports loved ones needs an estate plan.

  2. Estate planning only involves asset distribution after death. False. An estate plan can also be used to protect your assets while you are alive, protect assets for your loved ones after your death, designate a guardian for minor children, express your wishes for financial management and medical care in the event of your incapacity, manage tax exposure, and avoid the probate process.

  3. All assets will be distributed through a will. False. Some assets may transfer through other means such as beneficiary, payable-on-death (POD), and transfer-on-death (TOD) designations.

  4. An estate plan does not need to be updated once in place. False. Estate plans should be revisited over time to account for changes in the law and any major life events such as divorce, death of a family member, or acquisition of property.

The truth of the matter is that estate planning really is for everyone. While individual needs may vary depending on life situation and assets owned, an estate plan is an invaluable tool for protecting yourself, your assets, and your loved ones. As with any of life’s challenges, running away from the estate planning process may seem easier now, but it is a race you will never win.

I Did My Own Taxes, Can I Do My Own Estate Plan?

You conquered your own tax return this year, and if you are lucky, you are anxiously awaiting your refund. Much like online tax preparation services, there are numerous DIY services available to those interested in tackling their own estate plan. If you are mulling over your estate plan, you may be wondering if those DIY websites are worth a shot.

While online estate planning services can sometimes save time and money, the quality, personalization, and clarity of the end product some of these services offer may not always be sufficient to protect your loved ones from headaches after you pass away. The decision to establish an estate plan through an attorney or through an online legal service depends on numerous factors including the type and size of assets you own, familial complexities, and budget. An article recently published in Forbes provides some points of consideration if you are weighing the pros and cons of DIY estate planning.

While there is not necessarily a right or wrong answer as to how you should go about establishing your estate plan, making sure you get an estate plan in place sooner rather than later is always a good idea.

Roses Are Red, Violets Are Blue, Getting Married? Here's What To Do...

If you are newly engaged or married, updating your estate plan is an important part of establishing your new life together with your spouse. Below are a few estate planning considerations for newlyweds:

  1. Beneficiaries: After getting married, you may wish to update your beneficiary designations on retirement accounts, brokerage accounts, and life insurance polices to include your new spouse.

  2. Property Titles: If you own real property or a vehicle prior to your marriage, you may choose to update your title to add your spouse as a joint titleholder.

  3. Wills: You will likely wish to account for your new spouse as a beneficiary in your will. Additionally, if you plan to have children, you can utilize your will to choose a guardian and make a plan for passing assets to your children.

  4. Powers of Attorney: Spouses typically designate each other as primary agents for purposes of making financial and medical decisions in the event of incapacitation.

Show your new spouse some love by planning for the future.

New Year Estate Tax Exemption

For 2019, the IRS has announced that the lifetime estate and gift tax exemption amount has increased to $11.4 per person, or $22.8 million for a married couple. This means that an individual may pass $11.4 million in assets without facing federal estate taxes. Married couples may still pass assets to each other upon the death of one spouse free of federal estate taxes. The surviving spouse may then elect to utilize the deceased spouse’s exemption amount (called “portability”) which would allow the surviving spouse to pass up to $22.8 million in assets free of federal estate taxes.

The annual gift exclusion amount remains at $15,000 for 2019. This means that each individual can gift up to $15,000 to an unlimited number of individual recipients without cutting into their $11.4 million individual lifetime estate and gift tax exemption allowance .

Check out this 2019 estate tax update from Forbes for more information on 2019 estate taxes.