Spring Clean Your Estate Plan

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Now is a great time to look over your estate plan and make sure everything is up-to-date and current.

Here are 5 things to go over to make sure your Estate Planning is accurate:


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#1 UPDATE YOUR BENEFICIARIES:

Make sure your beneficiaries are current in your Trust. Relationships can change. Divorce, separation and death can impact your beneficiaries. Or maybe a marriage, birth or adoption have added some extra relationships in your life that you have not yet accounted for. 

And if you need to update your beneficiaries in your trust you can read about updates and amendments here or contact us at: service@easylegalplanning.com.


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#2 HAVE YOU MOVED OR BOUGHT A NEW PROPERTY?

Transferring property into the name of your Trust is one of the most important steps in funding your Trust. To transfer property into your Trust, you must record a deed at the county recorder's office where the property is located. This deed includes the legal description of the property and must match the county records exactly. If the deed is not recorded correctly, your property may be subject to probate - and let's be honest - that is what we are trying to avoid!

You can learn more here about transferring existing property, purchasing new property or refinancing property.


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#3 ARE THERE ANY CHANGES TO YOUR FAMILY THAT WOULD AFFECT GUARDIANSHIP DESIGNATIONS?

Have you had any children? Adopted a child? Are your children grown past the age they would require a guardian? Some of these changes are already accounted for in your Revocable Living Trust, but it is important to make sure that your guardianship designations are current. You can learn more about Planning for your Minor Children here.


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#4 HAVE YOU ACQUIRED ANY NEW POLICIES, BANK ACCOUNTS OR OTHER ASSETS?

Funding your Trust (transferring your assets into the name of your Trust) is the MOST IMPORTANT PART of having a Trust. Your Trust must be funded with assets in order for it to operate properly. Schedule A (included in your Trust documents) is used to help you create an inventory of assets to be included in your Trust. Listing your assets in Schedule A is not enough! In order to avoid probate, you must contact each financial institution individually and follow the instructions we provide to move your assets into the name of your Trust. Each type of asset requires a different process so please follow the instructions carefully.  You can learn more here about Funding your Trust.


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#5 ANY CHANGES THAT WOULD AFFECT YOUR FINANCIAL OR MEDICAL POWER OF ATTORNEY?

Is the person you designated as your Financial Power of Attorney or Medical Power of Attorney still willing and able to act on your behalf? Make sure you've talked with them about this responsibility and update it if necessary. You can learn more here about "What Happens if I Become Incapacitated?


We hope these tips help you spring clean your Estate Plan this year!

The importance of estate planning in S-town (and every town)

If you are one of the 40 million people that have downloaded and binge-listened to the S-Town podcast (from the creators of Serial and This American Life) then dying without an estate plan has been on your mind.

WARNING: S-TOWN SPOILERS AHEAD! (If you haven't listened to the buzz-worthy podcast yet and don't want any spoilers then stop reading now and come back later! Please also note that S-Town contains explicit language)

Among the many heartbreaking aspects of S-Town is the fallout of what happens when someone dies without making their wishes legally known. The podcast twists and turns leaving a tangled mess in the wake of the unexpected death of John B McLemore. A mother left behind with dementia and no legal guardianship in place, rumored hidden gold, 13 beloved dogs, acres of property with a complex hedge maze, a specialized shop full of tools and a myriad of other items are all left in the lurch. All the resulting confusion, chaos, legal issues and pending felony charges between family and friends of the deceased could have been avoided with a simple estate plan.

Knowing how easy (and affordable) it is to create a proper estate plan with our company Easy Legal Planning made listening to S-Town painful. The fighting, lies and subsequent finger-pointing that unfortunately often happen are completely avoidable when you take the time to legally make your wishes known. And knowing that John B's wishes were not carried-out made my heartache. A simple text with your wishes is meaningless in probate court. If only John B had actually followed-through with some estate planning the story would certainly have had a less frustrating - although no less heartbreaking - ending.

In the podcast it sounded like John B was close to finalizing some estate planning but never followed-through with creating his will. This would have been a helpful document that would have taken effect after his death. But there is another document that takes effect in an individuals lifetime that would have been very helpful and would have avoided the probate process entirely. A Revocable Living Trust is just what the name implies, a document that is created during an individual or a couple’s life, but that can be changed or terminated at any time. A Trust allows you to decide who will receive your assets, how much they will receive, and when they receive it. A Trust allows you to choose your successor trustees, who your beneficiaries are and appoint guardians for any minor children.

If a Revocable Living Trust is set up correctly (and all of the property and assets are properly transferred to the trust while you’re alive), it will provide the following benefits: Avoid probate entirely; distribute property and assets to the beneficiaries almost immediately; ensure any minor or disabled children are cared for; handle financial affairs if someone becomes incompetent; and save money in federal estate tax and capital gains taxes.

Many of the injustices I felt in the podcast were completely avoidable. In our business we have heard of many similar situations happening and we love being able to help families avoid situations just like these with proper estate planning. 

For less than the cost of one of John B McLemore's "charity" tattoo sessions you can purchase our Revocable Living Trust Package (Learn the difference between wills and trusts here). Do it for yourself or your loved ones and avoid the fighting and finger-pointing that almost always accompany death with no estate plan in place. You can get started HERE.

John B McLemore's incredible hedge-maze has 64 possible outcomes and one null-set. The maze is currently in disrepair and ruin which could also have been avoided with proper planning.

John B McLemore's incredible hedge-maze has 64 possible outcomes and one null-set. The maze is currently in disrepair and ruin which could also have been avoided with proper planning.

You don't have to leave your estate (or the estate of your loved ones) with as many possible "outcomes" as John B's hedge maze. You can create a simple solution to avoid any estate planning issues by creating a will or trust and make your wishes legally known. The process is actually very simple and affordable...trust us you'll be surprised. By answering the five questions in our video below you can easily get started on your estate plan today: 

If you are interested in learning more about estate planning and find out why a revocable living trust would have been a great option for John B McLemore visit us at Easy Legal Planning. And use the code STOWN at checkout for $100 off a trust package.

When a spouse dies without estate planning (or any planning), what do you do?

"She believes he had a small investment account somewhere and he also may have had a small life insurance policy, but we just don't know. She has no clue what, where or anything."

"She believes he had a small investment account somewhere and he also may have had a small life insurance policy, but we just don't know. She has no clue what, where or anything."

When a spouse dies, many of us comfort and assist the survivor through grief and pain, spending time and ensuring the survivor knows they are loved. We may overlook the financial impact of the death, simply assuming the surviving spouse will boldly continue on and maintain the standard of living that the couple has always enjoyed.  Often this is not the reality for a surviving spouse. Under normal circumstances finances are a stress and without proper planning, this stress can be needlessly heightened.  Recently I received a painful reminder of how difficult this transition can be: 

Got a question if you can help. One of my agents passed away in October. I just spoke to his wife and unfortunately, he had nothing set up to let her know what assets he had and where they were located. I am wondering if you know how does a spouse start to find out where he had money.

She believes he had a small investment account somewhere and he also may have had a small life insurance policy, but we just don't know. She has no clue what, where or anything. 

Any ideas? She went to someone for "legal aid" and the price they quoted was much more than she could afford. It's a pretty bad situation... 

Thus, the power of proper planning... any ideas would be greatly appreciated. I would like to offer her some help as she is just not versed in these matters.

When a spouse passes away without any planning in place, what do you do? How do you find the lost insurance polices or retirement accounts? Unfortunately in your time of grief you will need to play detective and find the financial institutions where your spouse may have placed money. Here are a few tips:

  • Contact any family members or friends the spouse may have confided in and ask if he/she mentioned any financial institutions
  • Contact your attorney, banker, accountant and financial planner
  • Contact your insurance agent - often life insurance is bundled with auto and homeowners policies
  • Look at canceled checks and print monthly bank/credit card statements to see if there are automatic withdrawals/deposits to financial institutions
  • Watch the mail for paper statements
  • Make a list of current and prior employers and contact HR departments to find out about group life insurance and where retirement accounts are held

Financial institutions are not obligated to inform you of accounts or policies, even if you are the spouse. Typically they will not act until someone notifies them of the death and issues a proper claim. It is up to you to track down the companies where your spouse may have had assets. It is a time consuming and difficult process that may take months and even years.

This devastating situation can easily be avoided by simply having proper planning in place. Estate planning is often thought of after the death of BOTH spouses, but a proper plan can help the surviving spouse avoid this messy situation altogether.

What can you do now, to avoid a situation like this in the future?

  • TALK TO YOUR SPOUSE There is no better way to avoid this situation than by simply having a conversation. Confide in each other and make sure you are both aware of the accounts and policies you own and where they are located. 
  • WRITE IT DOWN If talking isn't your thing and even if it is, make a list and keep it in a place where it can be found. Be comprehensive and specific, detailing accounts, policies, financial institutions and representatives. 
  • UPDATE A list you wrote in 1994 is only as effective as your loyalty. If you change companies, update your list. Rule of thumb, look at the list each year on January 1st, your birthday or anniversary.
  • COMPLETE YOUR ESTATE PLAN Easy Legal Planning offers comprehensive estate planning packages for $595.00 that include a trust, pour-over will, financial and medical powers of attorney and medical directives. In addition, we include a comprehensive section for you to list your assets and financial institutions, instructions for those left behind and we remind you to keep it updated on an annual basis. (How's that for service?!)

Losing a loved one is devastating in itself, but compounding that pain by not having a clear financial picture is a needless waste. Take action today to avoid playing detective while trying to manage grief. Have the conversation, write the details down and complete your estate plan. Your loved ones will thank you now and in the future.

4 Awkward Holiday Dinner Conversations

Holiday dinner: Never discuss religion, politics and... estate planning?

Wrong! While the conversation is difficult, it is extremely important to talk about estate planning. A recent client gathered his family and told them of his estate planning decisions. He was surprised when several children balked at the jobs he assigned them. "I don't want to make the medical decisions - Jane would do a better job!" "Why isn't Bob handling the finances, he is good at that sort of thing?" He reorganized his documents and the family was much more comfortable and supportive. Many people default estate planning assignments to the oldest child, but sometimes that isn't the best fit. A conversation with your loved ones can help clarify the responsibilities and get everyone on the same page. If you need help, here are 4 Holiday Conversation Starters, they are bound to generate interest and a lively debate. When all of you are sufficiently full and concerned for your estate planning, schedule an appointment using our online calendar and get the problems solved! Now... can you please pass the stuffing?

#1 Money, Money, Money

If you are unable to make financial decisions, who will step in and manage your accounts? Are you comfortable with the first person to volunteer as your Durable (Financial) Power of Attorney taking over your checkbook? Will they keep the bills paid and the lights on in your home until you are able to return or will they see a chance to dip into their inheritance early? Further, who will settle your estate as the executor or successor trustee when you die? Be careful with this decision as some people tend to get power (and money) hungry. We have had many phone calls from siblings whose sister/brother have commandeered the home/car/money because they have been designated the point person for distributing the estate. There are laws against that, but the integrity of the person is your first defense. Talk with your loved ones and get a feel for who will do a good job and keep the peace. As a side note, with regards to your personal items, put the post-it notes away and use this awesome book we recommend for divvying out the "stuff" left behind in a home. "Don't let the stuff you leave behind destroy your family" is a game changer! Order a copy today and have family peace tomorrow.

#2 Medical Decisions

To pull the plug or not to pull the plug - that is the question. Who will make that decision? Have you informed that person that they're responsible to make decisions when you are incapacitated and for your end of life care? As your Medical Power of Attorney, do they have any idea what you want and how you feel about the situation? Do yourself (and the responsible party) a favor and TALK about it NOW. Complete your medical directive and then clarify your thoughts. Your family will be much more comfortable making difficult decisions for you, if they know what you truly want.  Having your decisions in a formal, legal document will also avoid family conflict if there are disagreements for your care.

#3 Probate

This is a crucial conversation to have with anyone, but especially your aging parents. Without a revocable living trust, their home will likely go to probate. This is expensive and time consuming. In addition, there are capital gains taxes to consider. By having a trust in place, the home stays out of probate and gets a step-up in basis when the owners die - thus protecting the beneficiaries from the time and expense of probate and a large tax bill. If there is any kind of real estate involved, even if it is mortgaged, a trust is critical... trust us!

#4 Kids

Ever the emotional topic, when things get dull at dinner ask, "Who will take care of the kids if we aren't around?" Do you hear crickets or are your sisters clamoring to be first in line? Is the first volunteer, your first choice? A client recently called and wanted to get his estate planning completed immediately for this very reason. He was at a funeral and his sister came up to him and said, "If anything ever happens to you, I will take care of your kids". She was the last person he wanted his kids to live with, so he quickly completed his estate planning to ensure that would not happen.  So, do you really want your crazy sister stepping in, when your friend is a much better fit? Probably ought to get that guardianship figured out.

These conversations aren't easy, but they are very important. Take a few minutes this holiday season to talk about more than the weather and the dry turkey. You and your loved ones will be glad you did! 

Ready to get started? Schedule an appointment today.