For busy couples raising a family, taking time to consider ‘who gets the kids’ is the last thing on the to-do list. In fact, 65% of Americans have nothing in writing regarding the care of their children and distribution of assets upon their passing. Simply put, they do not have a will.
If you have minor children, a will is a must. With this document you can name your children’s legal guardian should you pass before they are of legal age. Without a will, a court will make these decisions on your behalf.
No one is planning to die in the near future, which is why the conversation about naming guardians for your children gets put off. Have that conversation and create a will to ensure that your belongings and most treasured possession, your children, are in good hands.
Imagine your loved ones not being able to locate the documents you had prepared to administer your estate? A stressful time just became more challenging. One of the most important things about your estate plan and associated documents is remembering where they are.
There are three important questions to ask yourself. First, where are your documents? Second, have you told your spouse or family members the location of your documents? Finally, do your documents include the important details such as: account numbers, passwords, names and contact information for advisers and financial institutions.
To Be Clear
An important extra step would be to put together a summary of your estate plan and share it with your family. The summary would outline how your estate plans works and note the location of your documents and how to access them. Here you could include a list of the important details needed to access accounts and financials institutions.
Your Estate Plan
We keep a copy of all estate plans and related documents for our clients. In addition we send reminders to review those documents and make necessary changes. We also provide clients with checklist to help them organize their information into one document to share with family members. Call us if you’d like a copy.
Did you know you own assets, separate from your real estate and personal property known as “digital assets”? A digital asset is digitally stored content or an online account owned by an individual.
Your digital assets have personal value and in some cases significant financial value (think of bitcoin or a domain name). Like other assets, in the event of death or disability, planning for others to access these assets on your behalf, is critically important. Just as accessing a bank account that is not yours without permission, accessing on-line accounts that are not yours is against the law.
In most cases using a power of attorney paired with a consent document specifically for your digital assets is sufficient to give digital permission to others during your lifetime. Such a consent can also be paired with a will or trust to allow access upon death. Technology changes fast and the legalities of digital assets will continue to evolve, but one thing is certain, the safety of your digital assets can easily be secured by planning ahead.
What is probate?
Before the terms of your will can be carried out the court must accept the document. Probate is the name for the acceptance process.
What documents are needed for probate?
The court needs a copy of the will and a death certificate. Once the process is underway, an inventory of all assets and debts owned by the deceased is also required.
Can you avoid the process of probate?
One option is to create a revocable living trust and title your assets in the name of your trust; this is called funding your trust. It is now the record owner of your assets and there is no need for probate. However, any assets outside your trust at the time of death will need to be probated unless they have a beneficiary designation or owned with rights of survivorship with someone who survives you.
The bottom line
When it comes to estate planning, what works for you will depend on your own unique family and financial situation. By using one or more estate planning tools you can create peace of mind for yourself and your loved ones.
In our practice, Elder Law refers to planning for the health and economic well being of older adults or people with disabilities. This includes dealing with issues related to long term nursing care, guardianship, retirement, Social Security, Medicare/Medicaid and more. At the heart of this legal work is asset protection and advanced planning. The aging process is a unique journey for all of us, which makes discussing your options important. Too often we find well intended, but uninformed, decisions have been made which cause undue financial stress or hardship.
For over 150 years, Michigan law held that a ‘married woman’ had a dower interest in any real estate owned by her husband. The law dictated that a husband could not sell any of his real estate without the signature and consent of his spouse.
The justification of these dower rights dates back to when women could not legally own property. Dower rights provide that a man’s wife was automatically entitled to one-third ownership of any of her spouse’s property.
Earlier this year Michigan Governor Snyder signed legislation abolishing these rights. Married couples can now own property individually and sell it individually as well.Michigan was the only state that exclusively applied dower rights to women married to men.
The conflicts and inconsistencies for dower rights that were created by the mandated recognition of same sex marriage ultimately motivated the Michigan legislature to pass the package of bills to abolish dower rights.The elimination of dower rights will simplify the legal process for wives who do not appear on a deed or when a married man wishes to transfer property he sole owns.
It should be noted the elimination of dower rights is NOT retroactive. So any property owned, or couples married prior to April 7th when the bill was passed, will still be grandfathered in under the old Dower Rights.
Michigan recently became the 17th state to allow citizens to form – domestic asset protections trusts –that can shield assets from future creditors and lawsuits.
Candidates for this type of trust are those facing liability concerns, high-risk professionals and those with a large net worth.
It’s best to set up this kind of trust far in advance of any creditor problem. In fact Michigan rules state you must provide an affidavit of solvency before creating this trust. While is may seem like an additional hurdle it actually works for your benefit by confirming;
- You have authority to transfer property to the trust
- Transfers will not make you insolvent
- You do not intend to defraud any creditor
- You are not aware of any pending creditor action against you
The asset protections trust is also useful for a person planning to marry, but wanting to protect premarital wealth in the event of a divorce. In this instance all transfer of assets must be made at least 30 days prior to the marriage.
It’s important to note that when setting up an asset protection trust you become the beneficiary and must name someone else to be a trustee. Yet as the beneficiary you can:
- Direct trust investment decisions;
- Remove and replace trustees;
- Veto distributions from the trust;
- Receive discretionary distributions of income and/or principal;
- Receive the income from the trust;
- Direct how the assets are to be distributed on the transferor’s death
Asset protection trusts are irrevocable and there is two year waiting period that must be completed before assets in the trust are legally shielded from creditors.
While not for everyone the domestic asset protection trust becomes another important tool for tailoring estate planning to your individual needs.
Yes, your power of attorney may go stale.
Banks and other financial institutions are reluctant to accept a power of attorney over five years old. This reluctance has a valid basis, as powers of attorney can be used to commit fraud. An up-to-date document reassures those granting access to financial information the intentions of the person creating the document.
Refreshing your documents with us is easy. Our clients can call or stop by anytime to update us on life events that require changes to their documents. If our clients forget to call us, as a courtesy, we reach out to them by sending timely reminders for document review sessions. We enjoy these sessions with our clients and feel lucky to be a helpful part of their life.
You’re at the rental car center wondering should I purchase rental car insurance? What happens if I say no and have an accident?
Here’s what to do
Before you leave on vacation find out if you have rental car coverage through your personal auto insurance company. Many polices include this but it’s worth a call to your agent to confirm. Also check with your credit card company many offer this as a perk. If you are not covered for rental cars buy the insurance.
More tips for the road
Should you run out of gas or get a flat tire on your vacation and need roadside assistance you can save a lot of money by using your own service such as AAA. Finally take a moment to inspect your rental car at the time of pickup. Take pictures of any damage and discuss it with the agents in order to avoid false charges when you return the car.
Do you keep your documents in one spot and is everything up-to-date?
These documents need updating; passports, estate planning papers, insurance policies, financial records, property deeds, and passwords, to name a few. Choose a day to review your documents. Do you have a new address or beneficiary to add to a life insurance policy? Want to change the executor of your estate or name new guardians for your children?
When you’re satisfied everything is in order, tell someone you trust where you’ve put these important papers. All too often when clients (or their heirs) need to find these documents and can’t. This is aggravating and can even create legal headaches. Our office provides clients a Letter of Final Instruction at no charge to help with this important paper organization. Give us a call if you need one.