Planning for Death Can Be a Celebration of Life
October 31, 2011
Halloween is the one day of the year when not only is it ok to think about death, it’s expected! So it seems like the perfect time to bring up the subject of funerals—specifically your own funeral.
It has been said that funerals and memorial services are for those who are left behind after the death of a loved one, not the one who has passed away; and while this is true, it is also true that most meaningful service is one which accurately reflects the personality and wishes of the loved one it is memorializing. For this reason, some people are choosing to plan their own funerals or memorial services before they pass away.
A recent article in the Wall Street Journal describes how funerals and “last rites” seem to be going through a change. “While religion and family tradition have dictated last rites for hundreds of years, funerals today are changing dramatically. Baby boomers, in particular, are shifting to more personalized—and less religious—memorial services, often calling them ‘A Celebration of Life.’”
The article goes on to describe a new website (MyWonderfulLife.com) which helps people make plans for their own funerals. While we’re glad more people are aware that they have this option, none of this is news to estate planners, who have been helping their clients plan, share, and pay for their own funerals, memorials, and disposition of remains for years.
Thinking about your own death and funeral may sound morbid, but many people are pleasantly surprised at how much of a celebration of life it can be. Please contact our office to get started on your own plans, or for more information.
Good News for Retirement Savings in 2012
October 28, 2011
The past few years have been very hard on retirement savings. As if the devastating impact of the economic crash on retirement assets wasn’t enough, many people weren’t able to sock away nearly as much as they’d like during the lean years that followed the crash. But a new article in U.S. News and World Report announces that things are looking up for retirement accounts in 2012!
According to the article, savers can look forward to 4 beneficial changes in the new year:
Higher income limits for contributions to your Roth IRA. “The income limits for making contributions to a Roth IRA will be between $110,000 and $125,000 for singles and heads of household in 2012, up $3,000 from 2011.” Married couples will reap the benefits as well, as their income limits will increase from $173,000 to $183,000 in 2012.
The ability to contribute more to your 401(k). “The contribution limit for 401(k), 403(b), and the federal government’s Thrift Savings Plan will increase to $17,000 in 2012, up from $16,500 in 2011.” This is great news for anyone who lost money when the economy crashed and is trying to slowly build up their savings again.
Tax breaks for more households who contribute to a traditional IRA. While IRA contribution limits will remain the same in 2012, and while there will be no change to the fact that “only workers who earn below certain income levels get a tax break for contributing to a traditional IRA.” The good news is that “those income limits will relax slightly next year.”
The tax-saver’s credit is expected to be expanded in 2012 as well, with “income limits [increased] by $1,000 to $57,500 for married couples filing jointly and by $750 to $43,125 for heads of households.”
While these may be baby steps as far as many savers and tax-payers are concerned, even small steps are good news for those trying to recoup their losses and get back on track for retirement. For more information about how these changes (or others) may benefit you or your loved ones please contact our office.
Entrepreneurs, Family Business, and Estate Planning
October 26, 2011
If you’re an entrepreneur, or a small or family business owner, you have more to lose if you don’t have an estate plan. An estate plan help you protect not only your family and your assets, but also the business you’ve spent years (or decades) building. A recent article at Entrepreneur.com, entitled What Entrepreneurs Should Know About Estate Planning, describes some of the main components of an estate plan and how they can be useful to a business owner.
That article covers eight estate planning components, beginning with a will and a living trust and ending with long term care insurance and disability insurance. All of these components are extremely useful (and in some cases absolutely necessary) and we highly recommend reading through the entire article. We would also suggest that there are three more documents that an entrepreneur should consider to help preserve business and wealth for future generations.
Family Limited Partnership (FLP): A Family Limited Partnership is an asset protection tool which allows parents to take business assets out of their taxable estate and transfer the value of that asset to their children while still remaining in control of the business.
Buy-Sell Agreement: A buy-sell agreement is a formal plan or contract between business partners establishing what will happen to the business should one of the partners die. This document specifies whether a partner may or may not buy your ownership shares for your heirs and for what price, or if you want to block certain family members or individuals from having any ownership share in the business.
Succession Plan: A succession plan should be a key element in any business plan, but especially for small or family businesses. A succession plan is exactly what it sounds like, a formal plan outlining your wishes for passing your business on to your successors. You may design a succession plan to facilitate your retirement, or to provide a smooth transition in the event of your death. In any case, a succession plan is essential for any business owner.
Don’t leave your business—or your family—out in the cold. Take the necessary steps to protect them both in the event of your death with a well-designed estate plan.
There’s No Excuse for No Nomination of Guardians
October 24, 2011
Children are a blessing… But being a parent is a difficult job! Most parents of young children already feel overwhelmed with the necessary day to day responsibilities, the last thing they want to do in their down time is think about the difficult and emotional subject of guardianship and estate planning. This explains why, as this article from The Huffington Post points out, “over half of the population doesn’t have a will, and the percentage only climbs for those with kids — the group that actually can’t afford to live without one.”
The author of the article goes on to explain that most parents will give the same four reasons for not having nominated guardians for their children—and that ALL of these reasons are bogus. The article does an excellent job explaining why parents shouldn’t let any of these excuses (or “myths”, as the author refers to them) stop them from taking the necessary steps to provide for their children.
These “myths” are no surprise to estate planners, who know all too well how hard it can be to think about your own death, and to what lengths people will go to avoid doing so, but the one that is the most concerning is the one the article lists as #3: “A good number of parents say they’ve stashed a letter somewhere, or have this email on their laptop outlining their last wishes…”
When it comes to your children’s future, there is no substitute for a professionally prepared nomination of guardians. Informal documents such as a letter or e-mail simply may not hold up in court. “No matter how eloquently you’ve voiced your preferences, your letter or email is not legally binding. A judge could take it under advisement, but he could also come to his own ‘better’ assessment. And why risk it? If you’ve taken the time to consider the right person, why not just make it official and seal the deal?”
If you have minor children, executing a nomination of guardians may be the most important way to secure their future if something should happen to you. Contact our office for more information about how to choose (and nominate) guardians for your child.
Senior Citizens to Receive a Raise
October 21, 2011
There is good news today for senior citizens! According to this article in CNN Money, “Social Security recipients will receive a cost of living adjustment of 3.6% starting in January.” This will be the first “raise” recipients have seen in three years, and most welcome the increase. “Many seniors have felt squeezed since banks are paying virtually no interest on savings accounts and stock market declines has eroded their retirement accounts.”
Unfortunately, many seniors may not see a useful increase in their social security income thanks to a hike in Medicare premiums expected to be announced next month. “For the past two years when Social Security benefits stayed the same, many seniors were shielded from the increase in Medicare premiums because of a “hold harmless” provision that protects more than 70% of beneficiaries… However, high-income beneficiaries and new enrollees did see their benefits reduced because they are not covered under the provision.”
Even with the expected increase to Medicare premiums, most seniors are simply glad to see evidence that The-Powers-That-Be recognize the rising cost of living. While most recipients of Social Security do have an alternate form of income, with their SS benefits representing “about 41% of the elderly’s income”; there are some who “rely on the monthly checks for 90% of their income.”
For more complete information about the coming changes in Social Security please read the full article. For help understanding how this change may fit in with your other benefits, or may affect your estate planning, please contact our office.
When is the Best Time to Plan Your Estate?
October 19, 2011
The estate tax laws of the past few years have been so inconsistent that many people are still “waiting for things to even out” before they create (or update) an estate plan. This wait-and-see approach seems perfectly reasonable on the surface; after all, nobody wants to spend hard-earned money creating an estate plan only to have it rendered obsolete within a year. Our firm is here to let you know that there’s bad news and there’s good news…
The bad news is that estate tax law doesn’t appear to be settling down any time soon. We all know the estate tax was repealed in 2010, and then reinstated in 2011. And now, as this article from AARP mentions, “federal estate tax rates are slated to change again in 2013, unless Congress decides otherwise.” Furthermore, there are quite a few other mercurial tax laws that have a significant impact on estate planning, including the capital gains tax and the gift tax, to name just two. Both of these factors mean that the future of estate planning is still cloudy.
The good news is that even with all this uncertainty, an estate planner can help you plan for just about any situation. There is much more to an estate plan than just tax planning, including providing for your loved ones, planning a smooth financial transition for your spouse and children, ensuring you’ve nominated the best people to make medical and financial decisions if you become incapacitated, and much more. All of these are foundational elements, and don’t have to change if and when the tax laws do. Making the right plans now means you may have to make only a few small tweaks when 2013 rolls around.
The one thing you can be certain of is that life rarely plays out the way we expect. It’s better to make solid plans now that may change a few years down the line, than to wait unprepared and unprotected for tragedy to strike. Our office can help you build an estate plan that can weather whatever the future may bring.
Plan Ahead to Avoid Court-Ordered Conservatorship
October 12, 2011
Young adults are often urged to plan ahead and take control of their future; whether that means getting good grades and planning for college, searching for internships in their career area of interest, or saving money for the day when they are out on their own. Older adults, on the other hand (aside from being advised to save for retirement) may not know that there is one very important way to plan for their own future: choosing a guardian or conservator.
As the elderly population moves into their 70s, 80s and 90s it is not unusual to lose the ability to drive, manage their own finances, or even care for their own daily physical needs. When this happens, and the ability to care for yourself is lost, the courts will often give care over to a guardian or conservator—someone who will manage your money, medication, household tasks (or all of the above) for you.
If you have not taken steps ahead of time to name the person or people you trust to serve as your guardian or conservator then the courts will name one for you. Often the person named as guardian or conservator is the first person to petition the court for the job—although this may not be the person you would choose to manage your money or your care.
The best way to ensure that you have the right person managing your finances or your health care when the time comes is to plan ahead and execute a Nomination of Conservator, a Healthcare Directive, and a Durable Power of Attorney. Together these three documents let the courts know who you trust with your physical or medical care, and who you feel is qualified to properly manage your money without taking advantage. These three documents will help you take control of your own future, even at a time when losing some of that control may seem inevitable.
Death of Steve Jobs Saddens the World
October 10, 2011
The recent death of creative visionary and Apple co-founder Steve Jobs saddened the world. News of his death traveled like wildfire, and had the online social networks humming with tributes, memorial posts, and sentiments of grief. Mr. Jobs was very private about his personal life, but through his public appearances and his support of various creative enterprises he touched and changed the lives of many individuals; just as his visionary ideas changed the face of technology.
The sad announcement of his death has many people now wondering “what next?” How will this change the company he started? What will happen with his family? As this article from ABC News relates, “The ever-private Steve Jobs was famously secretive when it came to Apple’s new products. As with his personal life, the future of Steve Jobs’ wealth [and family] will also stay under the radar.”
The article mentioned above states that “Given Jobs’ vast wealth and penchant for privacy, he likely set up private trusts for his family and charitable purposes.” Private trusts would certainly have been the logical thing to do, under the circumstances. Trusts are a much more flexible, powerful, and private tool than a simple will when it comes to estate planning. Trusts are useful under any circumstances, but they provide a much greater amount of control and protection of assets, especially when dealing with very large estates.
If Steve Jobs did choose to create trusts to protect his estate then it is possible that we may never truly know how he chose to distribute his wealth. It is probably safe to assume, however, that in addition to providing for his family and loved ones, he may have left a considerable amount to charitable or visionary endeavors. His words and actions during life provide a clue about how he thought about wealth: “Being the richest man in the cemetery doesn’t matter to me…Going to bed at night saying we’ve done something wonderful…that’s what matters to me.”
How to Cope After the Death of a Spouse
October 7, 2011
Losing a spouse may be one of the most difficult life events that any of us have to deal with. A spouse is a parenting partner, a co-CFO, a best friend and a beloved soul mate. Losing the person who supports you in so many ways can create an emptiness which can be almost paralyzing.
This is why it’s so important after the death of a loved one to have the support you need to get through the detail-oriented and often emotionally draining probate process, which includes tasks such as sorting through a financial history, submitting legal documents to the probate court, contacting creditors and family members, and more. Some people have family or friends to help with these time-consuming tasks, others enlist the help of an estate planning or probate attorney, but one thing is clear: no one should do it alone.
Every family or couple will have a different experience with the probate process, but our firm would like to offer a basic list of universal “to-do” items to remember after the death of a spouse. We hope this will help give our readers a little bit of security during a very emotional and stressful time.
* Obtain multiple copies of the death certificate
* Gather any and all estate planning documents
* Contact an estate planning attorney. Even if you don’t plan to retain an attorney, a brief initial consultation can help you understand the task ahead and prevent you from skipping important steps
* Notify the person named as executor or trustee
* Notify the necessary institutions or agencies (the deceased’s employer, social security administration, insurance company, creditors, post office, etc.)
* Remove spouse’s name from all joint accounts or ventures, such as bank accounts, utility companies, credit card accounts, etc.
* Pay final bills
* Cancel accounts, subscriptions, etc.
Depending on your situation and location, there may be many more tasks to be done. Additionally, if you are serving as executor or trustee (as many spouse’s do) there will be a great number of administrative tasks to be performed in addition to the ones on this list. Under these circumstances even the strongest and most capable people can feel overwhelmed. Remember that you don’t have to go through the process alone.
Facing the Challenges of Caregiving as a Family
October 5, 2011
As senior issues and caregiver concerns get more media attention, more and more families are making the question of who becomes mom or dad’s primary caregiver a family decision. Although one sibling may still take on the role of “primary caregiver,” families are making the conscious decision to try to share caregiving responsibilities more equally. This is definitely a step in the right direction, but as this article from the Family Caregiver Alliance points out, there are still likely to be challenges.
Choosing a Primary Caregiver. The primary caregiver often ends up being the sibling who lives closest to mom or dad; it may start with a ride to the doctor here and there, but before you know it one sibling is shouldering almost all the responsibilities. Discussing the role of primary caregiver as a family can make everyone feel more involved and result in more support for mom or dad. The local sibling may still choose to care for parents’ daily needs, but out of town siblings may choose to take mom or dad on annual vacations or provide financial support.
Making Financial Decisions. Hopefully your parents have made arrangements for their long-term care expenses; but if not, you and your siblings may feel honor-bound to take care of the expenses yourselves. While the most logical route may seem to be an equal division of expenses between siblings, this may not be feasible or fair for every family. Siblings should take the time (and perhaps consult with an advisor) to discuss the various medical and care expenses, payment options, and financial strategies.
Living Arrangements and Long Term Care. Facing the reality that mom can no longer care for herself is a painful revelation for any family; making the decision to move a parent to a nursing home or long term care facility can be fraught with feelings of anger, guilt, or even denial, and siblings may be tempted to lash out at each other during this emotional time. Consulting with a Geriatric Care Manager or another trusted advisor at this time can help the entire family understand the situation, manage expectations, and keep emotions in check.
Making decisions as a committee can be difficult, especially when some members of the “committee” live far away, but when everyone is involved in the decision-making process then everyone is more likely to support a final outcome. Getting together with your sibling on a regular basis—even if it’s only by phone—to discuss the care of elderly parents can not only keep everyone on the same page and minimize disagreements, it can also provide a rare opportunity to grow closer as a family.