Simple Mistakes to Avoid in Estate Planning

There’s so much information available today, good and bad, that it is not always easy to know which is which. Just as we should not perform surgery on ourselves, we are asking for problems if we try to manage our estate planning without professional help. That’s the good advice from the article “Examining three common mistakes of estate planning” from The News-Enterprise.

For one thing, the roles of power of attorney agent and executor are often confused. The power of attorney agent acts in accordance with a document that is used when a person is living. The power of attorney appointment is made by you for someone to act on your behalf, when you cannot do so. The power of attorney expires upon your death.

The executor is a person who you name to handle matters for your estate after your death, as instructed in your last will and testament. The executor is nominated by you but is not in effect, until that person is appointed through a court order. Therefore, the executor cannot act on your behalf, until you have died and a court has reviewed your will and appointed them to handle your estate.

You can also create a living trust. There you name a trustee who can manage your assets while you are alive but unable to act on your own behalf, such as during incapacity. The trustee can also manage your estate after your death, without having to go to court, which is required with a will.

Too many people opt for the easy way out, when it comes to estate planning. We hear that someone wants a “simple will.” This is planning based on a document, rather than planning for someone’s goals. Every estate plan needs to be prepared with the consideration of a person’s health, family relationships, and finances.

Many problems that arise in the probate process could have been prevented, had good estate planning been done.

Another mistake is not addressing change. This can lead to big problems while you are living and after you die. If you are healthy, that’s great—but you may not always enjoy good health. Your health and the health of your loved ones may change.

Family dynamics also change over time. If you only plan for your current circumstances, without planning for change, then you may need to make many updates to your will or trust.

The other thing that will occur, is that your estate plan may fail. Be realistic, and work with your estate planning attorney to plan for the many changes that life brings. Plan for incapacity and for long-term care. Make sure that your documents include secondary beneficiaries, disability provisions, and successor fiduciaries.

Create an estate plan that works with today’s circumstances, but also anticipates what the future may bring.

Reference: The News-Enterprise (Nov. 18, 2019) “Examining three common mistakes of estate planning”

 

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Why is Ashton Kutcher So Stingy with his Kids’ Inheritance?

Ashton Kutcher said, “My kids are living a really privileged life, and they don’t even know it.”

The actor has an estimated net worth of $200 million.

Business Insider’s recent article, “Ashton Kutcher says he’s not setting up a trust fund for his kids, and his parenting approach echoes what billionaires like Warren Buffett and Bill Gates have said,” reports that Kutcher’s parenting approach is similar to other well-known wealthy individuals. Elton John, Sting and Simon Cowell have all revealed they don’t plan to leave their children a lot of money. Instead, they plan to emphasize educating them on the value of hard work.

Likewise, many billionaires aren’t leaving their children much money. For example, Bill Gates has announced that he would leave $10 million to each of his three children. That’s just a fraction of his $108 billion net worth.

In a 2013 Reddit “Ask Me Anything” forum, Gates said: “I definitely think leaving kids massive amounts of money is not a favor to them. Warren Buffett was part of an article in Fortune talking about this in 1986 before I met him, and it made me think about it and decide he was right.”

Mr. Buffett said he has pledged 100% of his estimated $87.3 billion fortune to various charities. Instead of giving each of his three children millions or billions, he’s promised to give about $2.1 billion of Berkshire Hathaway stock to each of his children’s charities.

Buffett’s decision might arise from his views on dynastic wealth, or the pattern of families passing money down from one generation to the next. Buffet has been vocal about his efforts to decrease the vast wealth sitting in the hands of a few influential people.

“Dynastic wealth, the enemy of a meritocracy, is on the rise,” Buffett said in 2007. “Equality of opportunity has been on the decline.”

Older generations might consider restricting their children’s access to family wealth because of highly visible heirs and so-called trust-fund babies, who show off their wealth on social media. Trusts should be structured so that children don’t have total free access to their inheritance. The trust can specify the terms for which distributions can be made. Parents may want to include provisions to ensure that any trust can be modified in the future.

Reference: Business Insider (November 10, 2019) “Ashton Kutcher says he’s not setting up a trust fund for his kids, and his parenting approach echoes what billionaires like Warren Buffett and Bill Gates have said”

 

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What Is an Ethical Will and Should You Consider Making One?

When an estate planning attorney suggests that clients create ethical wills, they aren’t asking the clients to create another last will and testament. Instead, it is to create something that can explain their intentions to their loved ones. According to the article “How to create an ethical will” from Herald Net, a ethical will is also known as a legacy letter.

This can be a kind and loving gift to your family, since it allows you to express your feelings and thoughts. If you’re not accustomed to sharing your feelings, that will make it even more special to your loved ones. It’s an opportunity to say all the things you never felt comfortable saying in person. You may want to express your wishes, regrets and gratitude. You may also want to pass long the life lessons that have been valuable for you.

An ethical will also provides an opportunity for you to explain how you came to the decisions you did about your will or trust and the money and possessions you are passing along. You might want to explain why a certain child is being given a piece of artwork or why another is being left assets in a trust and not an outright gift.

If you are more comfortable with making a video, you can also do that. An audio or video recording often becomes a treasured piece of family history, since it allows generations who may have never met you to see and hear you.

Start by writing down some notes about what matters to you and what you think you might want to share with the family. Take your time. Remember you aren’t writing the Great American Novel but creating a gift of love.

Once you’ve gathered your thoughts, move on to the next draft. Once it’s complete, to keep this document safe and in a secure location. If you have a waterproof and fireproof safe where you keep important papers in the home, the ethical will should also go in there. Remember that safe deposit boxes are sealed at death if not titled in a living trust name, so if you want your loved ones to read this, it should probably not go in the safe deposit box.

One last thought—some people like to share their ethical will with family and friends, while they are still living. This allows them to enjoy their reactions and have a discussion about whatever they have shared in the document. Others prefer to wait until after they have passed. It’s a very personal decision.

Talk with your estate planning attorney about how the ethical will works with your estate plan.  Make sure there’s nothing in the ethical will that contradicts your last will and testament or living trust. That could create problems for the family.

Reference: Herald Net (Nov. 6, 2029) “How to create an ethical will”

 

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