Pardon our dust….

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By , July 14, 2011

The Estate Planning Ticker will be undergoing some upgrades in the near future.  It’s my hope to give the blog’s style a decent upgrade, then pull the rest of my website into it for a more consistent and interactive client experience.  If you happen to notice a missing heading, oddly shifted pictures or mismatched colors, it’s all part of the process.

I continue to appreciate your readership.

 

Scott

Where Should I Keep My Important Documents?

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By , May 20, 2011

The $45 will storage solution

A common non-legal question estate planning attorneys get is where you should keep the documents we draft for them.  As is so often the case in law, the best answer is “it depends.”  For most people, I feel a lock-box inside the house is usually the best solution, but in some cases, the traditional “valuables in the safe deposit box” approach remains a better choice.  Here are some of the major considerations:

The Merits of the Fireproof Lock-Box

Most of my clients are people with spouses and children who get along well, or even if they bicker or are distant, have some modicum of respect and integrity amongst them.  The kids will know the basics of their parents’ estate plans, and anyone who is asked to be a power of attorney, healthcare representative, or trustee of a trust will get copies of the documents naming them to those positions.  You might even give the named executor a copy of your will.  In any of these cases, I’m a big proponent of fireproof lock-boxes, like the Sentry 1100 or F2300 (also waterproof, pictured above).  These and similar boxes, about the size of two small loaves of bread, can be kept in a bottom file drawer, closet, or under your bed.  They are easy to find, can hold all of your important documents, and offer a modicum of fire and water protection.  The locks are laughable – on the First Alert version it’s a plastic clasp – but this is usually a good thing:  it’s sufficient to keep prying eyes away, but can be accessed in an emergency even without the key.
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My Name’s on Mom’s Checkbook – What Does That Mean?

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By , April 22, 2011

It’s a common situation.  Your dad realizes he’s not getting any younger, so he adds your name to his bank account “just in case.”  Or mom offhandedly tells you she “put you on [her] annuity,” though your name’s not on the statements.  Maybe Mom’s not as sharp as she once was, and after requesting copies of her statements and faxing over your power of attorney as they asked, you find your name added to the account.  Perhaps a decade ago your parents put away some college spending money for your son, and you’re listed as “Custodian under UTMA” on the bank statements.

If you have elderly parents, it’s likely you’ve come across one or more of these scenarios, and they tend to bring with them a bunch of questions, like:

  • Does that mean it’s my money?  Does half this interest go on my taxes now?  Does all of it?
  • Can I take out money if I want to?
  • Does this mean I have to do anything?  Will I get in trouble if I leave things as they are?
  • Is this a gift?  Can I take out money if I want to?
  • What happens when they pass away?  Can I just withdraw the money, or does it have to go through probate, or what?

The answers are fairly easy, yet it is a subject on which even veteran accountants and policy reps get their wires crossed.  However, if you understand which of the three reasons has placed your name within your parent’s records, it’s easy to understand what is actually going on.

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Home Renovation Choices That Will Help Later in Life

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By , January 12, 2011
The Life Alert Lady - she's fallen and she can't get up.

Life Alert is good, but a few tweaks to your home renovation plan can actually prevent falls later in life.

A little over a year into The Estate Planning Ticker, I’ve come to find that articles can be inspired by just about anything. Some are obvious – a new law, a sage or misleading news story, a cautionary tale manifested in a recent client; some less so. In this case, I was inspired by two consecutive life experiences.  First, watching my mother put her insight as a geriatric nurse into practice as she renovated the family home, and second, helping to move her mother out of her home of 40 years because it had become unsafe.

Falls are among the most prominent health risks facing elderly Americans. They can cause serious injury, make you feel defeated and embarrassed, and terrify your adult children.  That last bit explains why it’s one of the most frequently cited reasons for children to pressure their parents out of the home and into some form of managed care facility.  What makes it that much worse is the simple fact that most falls, as well as other physical difficulties around the home, are completely preventable.

If you’re fortunate enough to have a home where you intend to spend your later years, and are planning renovations big or small, there are some simple considerations which, for an extra few hundred dollars, may save you from aggravation, injury, or additional contractors later in life. After the jump, a checklist of the more important considerations of elder-living architecture.

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A Few Words on Disinheritance

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By , August 22, 2010

Fight Over MoneyAn article last week in the local lawyer’s trade paper, The Connnecticut Law Tribune, discussed the increasing prevalence of wills being delayed in the probate process through complaints, objections, and full-out challenging of wills admitted to probate.

It’s not surprising, given that the economy is at the lowest point most of us have ever and will ever see.  There will always be maligned siblings looking for their fair share and suspicious later-in-life will changes, but in these tight times staying silent to keep the peace may not be the option it normally would be for some left-out relatives.  At the same time, there’s likely a surge in opportunists who suspect (accurately, as it happens) that most legit beneficiaries would rather pay a small, quick settlement than see their own inheritances delayed and diminished by a protracted lawsuit.

It’s an unfortunate situation for those looking to plan for when they are no longer around.  It’s also a good example of why it’s so important to have your will done by an attorney, in particular one who handles a great deal of wills and probate work.

If you’re looking to cut someone off because you question their responsibility or they have significant debts, several different types of trusts can be employed to address those concerns without completely disinheriting the person.  If you just want someone out, the wording must be carefully chosen to meet legal standards.  Depending on the situation, it may be better to employ a “carrot and stick” tactic, where the ousted person is actually given a small legacy under the will, but which is forfeited if he or she challenges the will in court.

Later-in-life will changes are particularly susceptible to challenge in court, as relatives may claim the author was not competent to make the will, or had been subjected to the manipulation and pressure of an overbearing child or confidante.  An experienced estate planning or elder law attorney can take steps to help ensure the will will be upheld in court, such as careful selection of the location and people present at the execution ceremony (will signing), choice of witnesses, and videotaping the ceremony as future evidence.

For more information, feel free to call me at (203) 871-3830 or email scott@scottrosenberglaw.com for a free consultation.

Why the Best Wills are Boring

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By , June 19, 2010

Last WillI recently had the opportunity to attend a lecture by a colleague discussing the benefits of certain will clauses as illustrated by notable wills in the public record. At one point we were discussing spendthrift clauses, a common technique to withhold a benefit from someone whose creditors would just end up with it anyways, using an excerpt from the self-written will of President (and attorney) Thomas Jefferson:

“Considering the insolvent state of affairs of my friend & son in law Thomas Mann Randolph, and that what will remain of my property will be the only resource against the want in which his family would otherwise be left, it must be his wish, as it is my duty, to guard that resource against all liability for his debts, engagements or purposes whatsoever, and to preclude the rights, powers and authorities over it which might result to him by operation of law, and which might, independantly (sic) of his will, bring it within the power of his creditors. . .”

The attorney noted how beautifully written the prose of those days went, how lofty and eloquent it was. I noticed something very different, though, and very disturbing. I saw precatory language.
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Healthcare Planning: Why Not to Wait

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By , June 18, 2010

How a $75 piece of paper can save you a boatload of trouble.

I was recently hired by a gentleman who found himself in a difficult circumstance.  Not all that long after he and his wife had cashed their first Social Security checks, his wife had begun to show signs of forgetfulness, and in the span of just a few months had descended into moderate dementia.  I was consulted to help get her affairs in order while she was still able to participate in the process, and I recommended all of the things I would recommend to any senior: a Durable Power of Attorney, Appointment of Health Care Representative, Living Will, and Last Will, but I made one more suggestion that threw him for a bit of a loop:

I suggested that getting his own health care plans in order was more important.

That’s not to say that this was the more pressing issue, but a healthy spouse’s plan does have broader consequences than a sick one’s, and it’s not hard to see why.  In my client’s case, once the wife becomes unable to manage her finances and care, everyone – the hospitals, the family and the courts – will be looking to him for answers, and he’s more than capable of giving them.  Should the husband have an automobile accident, or a fall, or a serious illness, however, he’s asking for an express ride down the rabbit hole in the healthcare decision process.
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The Mess on Wall Street (or, Five Simple Rules for Finding a Fair Broker)

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By , June 4, 2010

When it's time for a new broker...

With the House and Senate banging out the final version of the financial reform bill, it seems a fair guess that many people are wondering how the new law will affect their own investments, and that trustees are likewise concerned about what major consequences such sweeping legislation might have on the assets they are obligated to carefully manage. While a significant part of the bill is still up in the air, all possibilities seems to point to one answer:

None. Nada. Zilch.
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Debunking Wolf Blitzer: The Reality of 2010-2011 Estate Tax Changes

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By , December 19, 2009
Wolf and Allan Chernoff discuss the changing estate tax landscape.

Wolf and Allan discuss the changing federal estate tax landscape.

In a December 17th segment on CNN’s The Situation Room, Wolf Blitzer and colleague Allan Chernoff began discussing the upcoming changes changes in the federal estate tax landscape.  They point out that in just a few short days the calendar will turn and the reign of EGTRRA (the Bush tax cuts) over the estate tax comes to a close.  No estate taxes will be owed on deaths occurring in the year 2010, but in 2011 the tax comes back at an even lower threshold, resetting to it’s pre-Bush rate of 41%-50% on assets over $1 Million.  While all of this is perfectly accurate and well worth knowing, much of the commentary surrounding it was murky at best, if not just plain wrong.  After the jump, some of the points that could use some tweaking:

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Estate Planning Vocab: A Primer

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By , December 17, 2009

“EYELIDS?  I DON’T SEE WHAT EYELIDS HAVE TO DO WITH IT.”

These exact words were directed at me a few years ago by my Trusts professor in law school.  The professor is a very well-known scholar in the wills/trusts/probate field, but as someone who doesn’t practice he failed to recognize that I was saying “ILIT,” common parlance in the field for an Irrevocable Life Insurance Trust.

My professor’s problem illustrates a potential one for Estate Planning clients.  Most attorneys realize that they are dealing with complex and often obtuse concepts that can make an uninitiated client dizzy, and do their best to explain things carefully and at a reasonable pace.  However, it may still be a challenge to take in, particularly with terms that sound confusing (like ILIT) or are used interchangeably with other terms, so after the jump, a glossary of common terms likely to cause confusion:

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