When you think of estate planning, a Will is usually the first thing that comes to mind. In fact, most people who contact me tell me they don’t need anything complicated for their estate- just a Will. Indeed, Wills have a reputation as the number one estate planning tool and can be seen all over TV shows and movies, from the dramatic “reading of the Will” (which rarely happens in real life) to characters plotting how best to defraud their billionaire uncle’s Will in order to inherit his lavish estate.
But although Wills are a key part of your estate plan - and a big part of the movies - relying on a Will alone won’t solve your estate planning needs - no matter what Hollywood says. Instead, using just a Will to plan your final wishes is likely to leave your loved ones with an expensive mess that won’t distribute your assets in the way you intended.
What’s more, a Will alone won’t ensure that you’re taken care of in the...
What Happens To Your Debt When You Die?
Maybe you’ve wondered about your own debt or perhaps your parent’s debt—what happens to that debt when you (or they) die? Well, it depends, and that’s part of the reason you want to ensure your estate plan is well prepared. How you handle your debt can greatly impact the people you love.
In some cases, you could inadvertently leave a reality in which your surviving heirs—your kids, parents, or others—are responsible for your debt. Alternatively, if you structure your affairs properly, your debt could die right along with you.
According to the Federal Trade Commission, an individual’s debt does not disappear once that person dies. Rather, the debt must either be paid out of the deceased’s estate or by a co-creditor. And that could be bad news for you or the people you love.
What exactly happens to this debt can vary. One of the purposes of the court process known as probate is to...
When creating an estate plan, people are often most concerned with passing on the “big things” like real estate, bank accounts, and vehicles. Yet these possessions very often aren’t the items that have the most meaning for the loved ones we leave behind.
Smaller items, like family heirlooms and keepsakes, which may not have a high dollar value, frequently have the most sentimental value for our family members. But for a number of reasons, these personal possessions are often not specifically accounted for in wills, trusts, and other estate planning documents.
However, it’s critical that you don’t overlook this type of property in your estate plan, as the distribution of such items can become a source of intense conflict and strife for those you leave behind. In fact, if you don’t properly address family heirlooms and keepsakes in your estate plan, it can lead to long-lasting disagreements that can tear your family apart....
Because estate planning involves actively thinking about and planning for frightening topics like death, old age, and disability, many people put it off or simply ignore it all together until it’s too late. Sadly, this unwillingness to face reality often creates serious hardship, expense, and trauma for those loved ones you leave behind.
To complicate matters, the recent proliferation of online estate planning document services, such as LegalZoom®, Rocket Lawyer®, and Trustandwill.com, may have misled you into thinking that estate planning is a do-it-yourself (DIY) affair, which involves nothing more than filling out the right legal forms. However, proper estate planning entails far more than filling out legal forms.
In fact, without a thorough understanding of how the legal process works upon your death or incapacity, along with knowing how it applies specifically to your family dynamics and the nature of your assets, you’ll likely make serious...
Unless you’ve created an estate plan that works to keep your family out of court, when you die (or become incapacitated) many of your assets must go through probate before those assets can be distributed to your heirs. Like most court proceedings, probate can be time-consuming, costly, and open to the public, and because of this, avoiding probate—and keeping your family out of court—is often a central goal of estate planning.
To spare your loved one’s the time, cost, and stress inherent to probate, last week in part one of this series, we explained how the probate process works and what it would entail for your loved ones. Here in part two, we’ll discuss the major drawbacks of probate for your family, and outline the different ways you can help them avoid probate with wise planning. (See what you missed in Part one!)
What’s At Stake For Your Family
Probate court proceedings can take months, and sometimes even years, to...
Do a Google search for “digital wills” or “online estate planning,” and you’ll find dozens of different websites offering low-cost, do-it-yourself (DIY) and sometimes even free estate planning documents, such as wills, trusts, powers of attorney, and healthcare directives.
From LegalZoom® and Rocket Lawyer® to TrustandWill.com and FreeWill.com, these DIY legal documents may seem like a cheap and easy way to finally cross estate planning off your to-do list—and do so without having to pay a lawyer big bucks to assist you. After all, you’ve been able to prepare and file your taxes online for years, is estate planning really that much different? And aren’t lawyers using the very same forms you find on these DIY document websites?
An Inconvenient Truth
This kind of thinking is exactly what DIY and online estate planning services would like you to believe, but it’s far from true. In fact, relying on DIY or online estate...
Life insurance is a key component of your family’s estate plan, offering those who depend on you for their financial security a safety net in the event of your death. Whether those dependents include your spouse, children, aging parents, business associates, or all of the above, investing in life insurance is a way to say “I love you” and make certain that when you pass away, the people you love will have a reliable source of financial support to count on.
Although purchasing life insurance may seem fairly straightforward, it can actually be quite complex, especially given all of the different types of coverage available. Plus, because insurance agents often earn hefty commissions on the policies they sell, it can be challenging to determine exactly how much coverage (and what type of insurance) you actually need—and who you can trust to give you objective and accurate advice about that coverage.
With this in mind, we’ll break down the...
In the first part of this series, we discussed one of the most frequent causes for dispute over your estate plan. Here, we’ll look at another leading cause for dispute and tell you how to avoid it!
Let's be honest, most families have disagreements, disputes, or just plain drama even in the best of times. When considering what will happen to your estate when you die or if you become incapacitated, why leave it up to chance? This quick read can help you avoid uncomfortable family dynamics even if you're not around to play peacemaker.
No one wants to believe their family would ever end up battling one another in court over inheritance issues or a loved one’s life-saving medical treatment, but we see it all the time. This is especially true for those who rely on do-it-yourself estate planning documents found online. The good news is you can dramatically reduce the odds of such conflict by enlisting my support...
In the weeks before her death from ovarian cancer, author Amy Krouse Rosenthal gave her husband Jason one of the most treasured gifts a person could receive.
She penned the touching essay “You May Want to Marry My Husband” in the New York Times as a final love letter to him. The essay took the form of a heart-wrenching yet-humorous dating profile that encouraged him to begin dating again once she was gone. In her opening description of Jason, she writes:
“He is an easy man to fall in love with. I did it in one day.”
What followed was an intimate list of attributes and anecdotes, highlighting what she loved most about Jason. It reads like a love story, encompassing 26 years of marriage, three grown children, and a bond that will last forever. She finished the essay on Valentine’s Day, concluding with:
“The most genuine, non-vase-oriented gift I can hope for is that the right person reads this, finds Jason, and another love story begins.”
If you are engaged to be married, divorce is probably the last thing you and your fiancé want to be thinking about. Yet you might be rightfully concerned about what would happen to your assets should your marriage end in divorce or in the event of your death. One option you might be considering for protecting your assets from these events is a prenuptial agreement.
However, even bringing up a prenup can be a romance killer that creates friction and distrust before the marriage even begins. And if it’s not properly created and executed, a divorce court can invalidate the asset protections offered by a prenup, so such agreements don’t exactly provide airtight protection.
Plus, a prenup would do nothing to keep your family out of court and out of conflict should you become incapacitated or when you die, which is something everyone who gets married needs to consider.
That said, prenups aren’t your only option. With proactive estate planning, for example, you can...