Where Is Your Will?

So, you have gone through the motions, you have made the decisions, you have finalized your will, living will, powers of attorney, and other estate planning documents.....but do you remember where you put them?  A lost estate plan is as effective as no estate plan at all.  Unfortunately, lost estate plans are all too common and can lead to big headaches for your loved ones down the road. 

A vital part of the estate planning process is storing your documents in a safe place and making sure your friends or loved ones know where to find them.  Where should you store your estate planning documents?  While any safe place will do, below are a few good options:


  • A fireproof safe in your home.  Make sure your family or executor know how to access the documents.
  • A safe deposit box.  Again, make sure family members or appointed agents have full access to the safe deposit box.
  • Your lawyer's office.  Some attorneys will store wills on behalf of their clients.  Make sure your loved ones know how to get in touch with your lawyer to access your documents.
  • Your local probate court.  By filing your will with your local probate court prior to your death, you can eliminate the risk of losing your will.
  • Your doctor's office.  By keeping copies of your health care power of attorney and living will on file with your doctor's office, you save your loved ones time and energy needed to search for these documents when they become necessary.

The most important part of storing your estate plan is letting your friends and loved ones know where these documents can be found for ease of access when the need arises.  It is also a good idea to store a list of your bank accounts, contact information for your financial planner and attorney, email and social media accounts, and all passwords in a safe place that can be accessed by your loved ones in the event of your incapacity or death.  As always, the best way to ensure proper execution of your estate plan is to plan ahead.


New Year, New Tax Law

You have surely heard about the new tax legislation signed into law by President Trump at the end of 2017, but what does it mean for your estate plan?  Below are a few key changes to the tax law that can impact estate planning:

  • The annual federal gift tax exemption increases to $15,000 this year, to be adjusted for inflation each year thereafter.  This means that each individual can give up to $15,000 in gifts to as many individuals as they would like in 2018 without touching their lifetime exclusion amount.
  • The lifetime gift and estate tax exclusion amount increases to $11,200,000 for each individual as of January 1, 2018, and will increase with inflation each year through 2025.  This means that each individual can pass assets worth up to $11,200,000 during life and/or at death without incurring federal gift or estate taxes.
  • The lifetime exclusion amount is still portable, meaning a deceased individual's unused portion can be utilized by a spouse.  As such, the exclusion amount for a married couple for 2018 is effectively $22,400,000.
  • On January 1, 2026, the lifetime exclusion amount will drop back to the 2017 level ($5,490,000 adjusted for inflation) per individual.
  • The federal estate tax rate remains 40% for those who exceed the lifetime exclusion amount.


Wishing you all the best for a happy and healthy 2018!

Celebrating 4 Years in Business!

This week marks my fourth year in business, and I could not be more grateful for my friends, family, and clients who have made this endeavor so fun and rewarding!  Over the past four years, I have had the opportunity to assist over 280 individuals with their estate planning needs.  Thank you to everyone for your support and referrals along the way.  I am looking forward to year five!

Estate Planning Tips For Parents Of Young Children

For new parents, developing an estate plan can seem like a daunting task.  Where do you even begin to make sure that your little ones are taken care of if the unthinkable happens?  The four special considerations below provide a good starting point for parents of young children who are ready to get their estate plan in order:

1. Appoint a guardian in your will to take over parenting responsibilities in the event that you and your children's other parent pass away.  Although this is typically the hardest decision for parents to make, a court will choose an individual to take over if you fail to name a guardian on your own.

2. Select a trusted individual or financial institution (a trustee) to handle your assets on behalf of your children if you pass away while they are still young.  This could be the guardian you have appointed, or you may choose another individual to act as trustee if you prefer to keep powers separate.

3. Choose an age or life event or achievement at which time you would like your children to receive your assets outright without the involvement of a trustee.  Many parents prefer to withhold outright distribution of assets until children exceed college age, but distribution could also be contingent upon milestones such as graduation, marriage, or purchase of a home.

4. Check your listed beneficiaries on life insurance, retirement, and other types of accounts to make sure your primary and alternate beneficiaries are up to date.  Any such beneficiary designations will occur automatically upon your death and will trump gifts made in your will.

If you take the time to think through these four considerations, you are well on your way to making sure your children are taken care of by your estate plan.

The Biggest Estate Planning Mistake?

What is the biggest mistake people make when putting together an estate plan?  We forget that an estate plan should not only be about writing a will to decide who gets our assets when we die, but it should also be, possibly more importantly, about handling our personal affairs while we are still alive in the event of incapacity.

A recent piece in Forbes outlines a concise list of documents to consider creating in addition to a will when setting up your estate plan.  These include:

  • Medical Power of Attorney
  • Living Will
  • Durable Power of Attorney
  • Revocable Trust
  • HIPAA Release
  • Organ Donation Authorization

Don't forget, your estate plan should not just take care of others - it should also take care of you!

Sun, Sand, And Starting Your Estate Plan: A Summer Checklist

Thinking about an estate plan, but not sure where to start?  If you are in the early stages of establishing your estate plan, below is a checklist of the major decisions you will need to make:

-Beneficiaries: Who will get your assets (house, cars, personal property, money, etc.) when you pass away?  Your spouse, children, siblings, friends, a charity, a combination of these?  Are there any specific items such as jewelry or family heirlooms that you would like a particular individual to receive?  If you are married with children, consider where you would like your assets to go in the unlikely event that your spouse and children predecease you.

-Trustee: If you have young children, it may be beneficial to appoint a trustee to manage and distribute assets on behalf of your children until they reach a certain age.  This trustee will be in charge of a testamentary trust that will be established in your will.  Your trustee will distribute assets for the benefit of your children until your children reach an age or life stage as determined by you.  Once your children reach the threshold you establish, the trust will terminate and your assets will be distributed to your children free of trust.

-Guardian: If you have at least one minor child, you will want to appoint a guardian in the event that you and your spouse or your child's other parent pass away before your child reaches age 18.  Otherwise, you leave this decision up to a court.

-Executor/Personal Representative: Testators typically appoint their spouses or close family members to this role which involves distributing your assets according to your will.  It is always a good idea to list a backup friend or relative just in case your first choice is unable or unwilling to serve.

-Power of Attorney for Medical/Financial Decisions: Typically, spouses serve as agents for each other when it comes to making medical or financial decisions in the event of incapacity; however, this does not have to be the case.  Naming an alternate agent for such decisions is a good idea in the event that your preferred agent is also incapacitated or otherwise unable to serve when needed.  You can select different individuals to make medical and financial decisions on your behalf, these powers do not need to be held by one individual.

Once you start thinking about these major decisions, you will be well on your way to putting together an effective estate plan.

Knowledge Is Power When It Comes To Your Estate Plan

If you are like many Americans who do not have an estate plan in place, your hesitance to move forward with a plan may stem from a lack of understanding of the probate process and from feelings of intimidation related to the gravity of the decisions to be made.  A recent article on financial news website MarketWatch can help to boost your understanding of the probate process and make you feel more confident as you start thinking about your estate plan.  In this piece, estate planning experts provide a comprehensive summary of information to guide individuals through the three common estate planning questions below:

1. How do I avoid probate?

2. Do I need a lawyer to write a will?

3. How do I pick an executor for my will?

While the idea of constructing an estate plan can be overwhelming, developing your understanding of the estate planning and probate processes will make it seem less formidable.


More Money, More Problems

Of all people, it would seem that celebrities and the ultra-wealthy would have access to every resource they might need to establish an elaborate and air-tight estate plan.  Unfortunately, that is not always the case.

Most recently, Alan Thicke of "Growing Pains" fame passed away with a seemingly solid plan to split his assets between his children and his third wife, Tanya Callau Thicke.  However, an ugly battle has erupted between the parties stemming from disagreements related to Thicke's prenuptial agreement with Callau and the trust Thicke had established during his lifetime.  For more on this story, check out this piece from CNN.com.