Do Right By Your Pet. Be careful with your Will.

Are you a pet parent? Many people consider their pets as members of their family. So it’s only natural you’d want to make sure your pet is provided for in your estate plan, so when you die or if you become incapacitated, your beloved companion won’t end up in an animal shelter or worse.

However, under the law, pets are considered personal property. So you can’t just name them as a beneficiary in your will or trust. If you do name your pet as a beneficiary in your plan, whatever money you tried to leave to it would go to your residuary beneficiary (the individual who gets everything not specifically left to your other named beneficiaries), who would have no obligation to care for your pet.

Be careful when relying on a Will

Since you can’t name your pet as a beneficiary, you might consider leaving your pet and money for its care in your will to a trusted person who would be your pet’s new caregiver. But note that your pet’s new caregiver would not be legally obligated to use the funds properly,  even if you leave them detailed instructions for your pet’s care. In fact, your pet’s new owner could legally keep all of the money for themselves and drop off your beloved friend at the local shelter.

You’d like to think that you could trust someone to take care of your pet if you leave him or her money in your will to do so. But it’s impossible to predict what circumstances might arise in the future that could make adopting your pet impossible.

Also, a will is required to go through the court process known as probate, which can last for months, leaving your pet in limbo until probate is finalized. And remember that a will only goes into effect upon your death, so if you’re incapacitated by accident or illness, it would do nothing to protect your companion.

Pet trusts offer the ideal option

Consider a pet trust in a revocable living trust in order to be completely confident that your pet is properly taken care of and the money you leave for its care is used exactly as intended.

By creating a pet trust, in a revocable living trust, you can lay out detailed, legally binding rules for how your pet’s chosen caregiver can use the funds in the trust. And unlike a will, a pet trust does not go through probate, so it goes into effect immediately and works in cases of both your incapacity and death.

Also, a  pet trust allows you to name a trustee, who is legally bound to manage the trust’s funds and ensure your wishes for the animal’s care are carried out in the manner the trust spells out. And to provide a system of checks and balances to ensure your pet’s care, you might want to name someone other than the person you name as caregiver as trustee.

In this way, you’d have two people invested in the care of your pet and seeing that the money you leave for its care is used wisely.

Do right by your pet

To ensure your pet trust is properly created and contains all of the necessary elements, meet with Myrna Serrano Setty. With Myrna’s guidance and support, you’ll have peace of mind knowing that your beloved pet will receive the kind of love and care it deserves when you’re no longer around to offer it. Contact us today to get started.

This article is a service of attorney Myrna Serrano Setty. Myrna doesn’t just draft documents, she  ensures you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why Myrna offers a Planning Session, during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love.

Call us today at (813) 514-2946 to schedule a Planning Session. Mention this article to learn how to get this valuable session at no charge.

Case Update: Jeffrey Epstein’s Estate

When the wealthy financier, Jeffrey Epstein, died under mysterious circumstances (the Medical Examiner determined that is a suicide, but many people are skeptical), he left behind a huge fortune close to $600 million, along with creditors and lawsuits. Just two days before his death, he signed his Will, which left his estate to his trust, the 1953 Trust. Because that Trust is not filed with the Court, its contents should remain private, barring litigation involving the Trust’s beneficiaries or trustee’s duties.

In the Will, Epstein is listed as a resident of the U.S. Virgin Islands. After his death, his Will was filed in the U.S. Virgin Islands, probably because his attorneys thought the probate process would be more private.

For regular people who are not rich or famous, privacy is still a huge deal. That is why many people opt for using trusts in their estate planning, instead of just relying on a Will.

Here are some important differences between a Will and a Trust:

Will characteristics:

  • A will goes into effect only after you die
  • A will only covers property that is in your name at your death
  • A will passes through a court process called Probate. In Probate, the court oversees the will’s administration and ensures the will is valid and the property gets distributed the way the deceased wanted.
  • Because a will passes through Probate, it’s a public record.
  • A will allows you to name a guardian for children (Note: Our firm recommends that in addition to this, you use a stand alone guardian nomination.)

Trust characteristics:

  • A trust can be used to begin distributing property before death, at death or afterwards.
  • A trust covers only property that has been transferred to the trust. In order for property to be included in a trust, it must be put in the name of the trust.
  • A trust passes property outside of probate, so a court does not need to oversee the process, which can save time and money.
  • A trust remains private Unlike a will, which becomes part of the public record, a trust can remain private.

Secure your wealth, your legacy, and your family’s future

Regardless of how much or how little wealth you plan to pass on—or stand to inherit—it’s vital that you take steps to make sure that wealth is protected and put to the best use possible. As your Personal Family Lawyer®, we have unique processes and systems to help you put the proper planning tools in place to ensure the wealth that’s transferred is not only secure, but that it’s used by your loved ones in the very best way possible.

Moreover, every plan we create has built-in legacy planning services, which can greatly facilitate your ability to communicate your most treasured values, experiences, and stories with the ones you’re leaving behind. By working with us, you can rest assured that the coming wealth transfer offers the maximum benefit for those you love most.

This article is a service of the law firm of Myrna Serrano Setty, P.A. We don’t just draft documents, we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why we offer a  Planning Session, during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love.

Call our office today to schedule a  Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $500 session at no charge.

To read more about Epstein’s estate and to view a copy of the Will, you can visit the article on the NY Post’s website here.

Part 2: The real cost of not planning

This article is part of a series discussing the true costs and consequences of failed estate planning. The series highlights a few of the most common—and costly—planning mistakes we encounter with clients. If the series exposes any potential gaps or weak spots in your plan, meet with us to learn how to do the right thing for the people you love.

If you’re like most people, you probably view estate planning as a burdensome necessity—just one more thing to check off of life’s endless “to-do” list.

You may shop around and find a lawyer to create planning documents for you, or you might try creating your own DIY plan using online documents. Then, you’ll put those documents into a drawer, mentally check estate planning off your to-do list, and forget about them.

The problem is, your estate plan is not a one-and-done type of deal.

In fact, if it’s not regularly updated when your assets, family situation, and/or the laws change,  your plan will be totally worthless when your family needs it.  Moreover, the failure to regularly update your plan can create its own unique set of problems that can leave your family worse off than if you’d never created a plan at all.

The following true story illustrates the consequences of not updating your plan, and it happened to the founder and CEO of New Law Business Model, Alexis Neely. Indeed, this experience was one of the leading catalysts for her to create the new, family-centered model of estate planning we use with all of our clients.

A common practice that hurt her family…. 

When Alexis was in law school, her father-in-law died. He’d done his estate planning—or at least thought he had. He paid a Florida law firm roughly $3000 to prepare an estate plan for him, so his family wouldn’t be stuck dealing with the hassles and expense of probate court or drawn into needless conflict with his ex-wife.

And yet, after his death, that’s exactly what did happen. His family was forced to go to court in order to claim assets that were supposed to pass directly to them. And on top of that, they had to deal with his ex-wife and her attorneys in the process.

Alexis couldn’t understand it. If her father-in-law paid $3,000 for an estate plan, why were his loved ones dealing with the court and his ex-wife? It turned out that not only had his planning documents not been updated, but his assets were not even properly titled.

Alexis’ father-in-law had created a trust so that when he died, his assets would pass directly to his family and they wouldn’t have to endure probate, but some of his assets had never been transferred into the name of his trust from the beginning. And since there was no updated inventory of his assets, there was no way for his family to even confirm everything he had when he died. To this day, one of his accounts is still stuck in the Florida Department of Unclaimed Property.

Alexis thought for sure this must be malpractice. But after working for one of the best law firms in the country and interviewing other top estate-planning lawyers across the country, she confirmed what happened to her father-in-law wasn’t malpractice at all. In fact, it was common practice.

When Alexis started her own law firm, she did so with the intention and commitment that she would ensure her clients’ plans would work when their families needed it and create a service model built around that.

Keep your plan updated!

We hear similar stories from our clients all the time. Indeed, outside of not creating any estate plan at all, one of the most common planning mistakes we encounter is when we get called by the loved ones of someone who has become incapacitated or died with a plan that no longer works. By the time they contact us, however, it’s too late.

We recommend you review your plan annually to make sure it’s up to date, and immediately amend your plan following events like divorce, deaths, births, and inheritances. We have built-in systems and processes to ensure your plan is regularly reviewed and updated, so you don’t need to worry about whether you’ve overlooked anything important as your life changes, the law changes, and your assets change.

You should also create (and regularly update) an inventory of all your assets, including digital assets like cryptocurrency, photos, videos, and social media accounts. This way, your family will know what you have and how to find it when something happens to you, and nothing you’ve worked so hard for will be lost to our state’s Department of Unclaimed Property.

We’ll not only help you create a comprehensive asset inventory, we help you update date it throughout your lifetime.

Properly title your trust assets

When you create a trust, it’s not enough to list the assets you want it to cover. You have to transfer the legal title of certain assets—real estate, bank accounts, securities, brokerage accounts—to the trust, known as “funding” the trust, in order for them to be disbursed properly.

While most lawyers will create a trust for you, few will ensure your assets are properly funded. We’ll not only make sure your assets are properly titled when you initially create your trust, we’ll also ensure that any new assets you acquire over the course of your life are inventoried and properly funded to your trust.

This will keep your assets from being lost, as well as prevent your family from being inadvertently forced into court because your plan was never fully completed.

 Keep your family out of court and out of conflict.

As your Personal Family Lawyer®, our planning services go far beyond simply creating documents and then never seeing you again. Indeed, we’ll develop a relationship with your family that lasts not only for your lifetime, but for the lifetime of your children and their children, if that’s your wish.

We’ll support you in not only creating a plan that keeps you family out of court and out of conflict in the event of your death or incapacity, but we’ll ensure your plan is regularly updated to make certain that it works and is there for your family when you cannot be. Contact us today to get started with a  Planning Session.

This article is a service of attorney Myrna Serrano Setty. Myrna doesn’t just draft documents.  She ensures you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why we offer a  Planning Session, ™ during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love.

Call today to schedule a  Planning Session and learn how to get this $500 session at no charge.

More Tips on Creating an Estate Plan That Benefits a Child With Special Needs

Parents want their children to be taken care of after they die. But children with disabilities have increased financial and care needs, so ensuring their long-term welfare can be tricky. Proper planning is necessary to benefit the child with a disability, including an adult child, as well as assist any siblings who may be left with the care taking responsibility.

Special Needs Trusts

The best and most comprehensive option to protect a loved one is to set up a special needs trust (also called a supplemental needs trust). These trusts allow beneficiaries to receive inheritances, gifts, lawsuit settlements, or other funds and yet not lose their eligibility for certain government programs, such as Medicaid and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). The trusts are drafted so that the funds will not be considered to belong to the beneficiaries in determining their eligibility for public benefits.

There are three main types of special needs trusts:

#1 A First-Party Trust

A first-party trust is designed to hold a beneficiary’s own assets. While the beneficiary is living, the funds in the trust are used for the beneficiary’s benefit, and when the beneficiary dies, any assets remaining in the trust are used to reimburse the government for the cost of medical care.

These trusts are especially useful for beneficiaries who are receiving Medicaid, SSI or other needs-based benefits and come into large amounts of money, because the trust allows the beneficiaries to retain their benefits while still being able to use their own funds when necessary.

#2 A Third-Party Trust

The third-party special needs trust is most often used by parents and other family members to assist a person with special needs. These trusts can hold any kind of asset imaginable belonging to the family member or other individual, including a house, stocks and bonds, and other types of investments.

The third-party trust works like a first-party special needs trust in that the assets held in the trust do not affect a beneficiary’s access to benefits and the funds can be used to pay for the beneficiary’s supplemental needs beyond those covered by government benefits. But a third-party special needs trust does not contain the “payback” provision found in first-party trusts. This means that when the beneficiary with special needs dies, any funds remaining in the trust can pass to other family members, or to charity, without having to be used to reimburse the government.

#3 A Pooled Trust

A pooled trust is an alternative to the first-party special needs trust.  Essentially, a charity sets up these trusts that allow beneficiaries to pool their resources with those of other trust beneficiaries for investment purposes, while still maintaining separate accounts for each beneficiary’s needs. When the beneficiary dies, the funds remaining in the account reimburse the government for care, but a portion also goes towards the non-profit organization responsible for managing the trust.

Life Insurance

Not everyone has a large chunk of money that can be left to a special needs trust, so life insurance can be an essential tool. If you’ve established a special needs trust, a life insurance policy can pay directly into it, and it does not have to go through probate or be subject to estate tax. Be sure to review the beneficiary designation to make sure it names the trust, not the child.

You should make sure you have enough insurance to pay for your child’s care long after you are gone. Without proper funding, the burden of care may fall on siblings or other family members. Using a life insurance policy will also guarantee future funding for the trust while keeping the parents’ estate intact for other family members. When looking for life insurance, consider a second-to-die policy. This type of policy only pays out after the second parent dies, and it has the benefit of lower premiums than regular life insurance policies.

ABLE Account

An Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) account allows people with disabilities who became disabled before they turned 26 to set aside up to $15,000 a year in tax-free savings accounts without affecting their eligibility for government benefits. This money can come from the individual with the disability or anyone else who may wish to give him money.

Created by Congress in 2014 and modeled on 529 savings plans for higher education, these accounts can be used to pay for qualifying expenses of the account beneficiary, such as the costs of treating the disability or for education, housing and health care, among other things. ABLE account programs have been rolling out on a state-by-state basis, but even if your state does not yet have its own program, many state programs allow out-of-state beneficiaries to open accounts.

Although it may be easy to set up an ABLE account, there are many hidden pitfalls associated with spending the funds in the accounts, both for the beneficiary and for her family members. In addition, ABLE accounts cannot hold more than $100,000 without jeopardizing government benefits like Medicaid and SSI. If there are funds remaining in an ABLE account upon the death of the account beneficiary, they must be first used to reimburse the government for Medicaid benefits received by the beneficiary. Then the remaining funds will have to pass through probate in order to be transferred to the beneficiary’s heirs.

However you decide to provide for a child with special needs, proper planning is essential. We can help you determine the best plan for your family.

This article is a service of attorney Myrna Serrano Setty, Personal Family Lawyer®. Myrna doesn’t just draft documents, she ensures you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why she offers a Planning Session, during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love.

Call us at (813) 514-2946 to schedule a Planning Session. Mention this article and ask how to get this $500 session at no charge.

For more info on this topic, visit this blog post.

Learn from this Rock star’s mistakes

Do you have a “blended family”? Learn From Tom Petty’s Mistakes: His Daughters and Widow Are Now Locked In Bitter Battle Over His Estate

Recently, Tom Petty’s daughters escalated the battle over their late father’s estate by suing Petty’s second wife. They’re asking for $5 million in damages. In the lawsuit, Adria Petty and Annakim Violette, claim their father’s widow, Dana York Petty, mismanaged their father’s estate, depriving them of their rights to determine how Petty’s music should be released.

Petty died in 2017 of an accidental drug overdose at age 66. He named Dana as sole trustee of his trust, but the terms of the trust give the daughters “equal participation” in decisions about how Petty’s catalog is to be used. The daughters, who are from Petty’s first marriage, claim the terms should be interpreted to mean they get two votes out of three, which would give them majority control.

Alex Weingarten, an attorney for Petty’s daughters, issued a statement to Rolling Stone magazine, asserting that Perry’s widow is not abiding by Petty’s wishes for his two children.

“Tom Petty wanted his music and his legacy to be controlled equally by his daughters, Adria and Annakim, and his wife, Dana. Dana has refused Tom’s express wishes and insisted instead upon misappropriating Tom’s life’s work for her own selfish interests,” he said.

In April, Dana filed a petition in a Los Angeles court, seeking to put Petty’s catalog under control of a professional manager, who would assist the three women in managing the estate’s assets. Dana alleged that Adria had made it difficult to conduct business by acting abusive and erratic, including sending angry emails to various managers, record label reps, and even members of Petty’s band, the Heartbreakers.

Since Petty’s death, two compilations of his music have been released, including “An American Treasure” in 2018 and “The Best of Everything” in 2019. Both albums reportedly involved intense conflict between Petty’s widow and daughters, over “marketing, promotional, and artistic considerations.”

In reply to the new lawsuit, Dana’s attorney, Adam Streisand, issued a statement claiming the suit is without merit and could potentially harm Petty’s legacy.

“This misguided and meritless lawsuit sadly demonstrates exactly why Tom Petty designated his wife to be the sole trustee with authority to manage his estate,” he said. “Dana will not allow destructive nonsense like this to distract her from protecting her husband’s legacy.”

Destructive disputes, a sad truth

When famous artists leave behind extremely valuable—yet highly complex—assets like music rights, contentious court disputes often erupt among heirs, even with planning in place.

There is a greater chance of such disputes in blended families.  If you’re in a second (or more) marriage, with children from a prior marriage, there is always a risk for conflict, as your children and spouse’s interests often aren’t aligned. In such cases, it’s essential to plan well in advance to reduce the possibility for conflict and confusion.

Petty did the right thing by creating a trust to control his music catalog, but the lawsuit centers around the terms of his trust and how those terms divide control of his assets. While it’s unclear exactly what the trust stipulates, it appears the terms giving the daughters “equal participation” with his widow in decisions over Petty’s catalog are somewhat ambiguous. The daughters contend the terms amount to three equal votes, but his widow obviously disagrees.

Reduce conflict with clear terms and communication

It’s critical that your trust contain clear and unambiguous terms that spell out the beneficiaries’ exact rights, along with the exact rights and responsibilities of the trustee. Such precise terms help ensure all parties know exactly what you intended when setting up the trust.

You should also communicate your wishes to your loved ones while you’re still alive, rather than relying on a written document that only becomes operative when you die or should you become incapacitated.  Sharing your intentions and hopes for the future can go a long way in preventing disagreements over what you “really” wanted.

For your family’s sake

While such conflicts frequently erupt among families of the rich and famous like Petty, they can occur over anyone’s estate, regardless of its value. Attorney Myrna Serrano Setty can  help you draft clear terms for all of your planning documents. And because Myrna is a trained family mediator, she can help facilitate family meetings, where you can explain your wishes to your loved ones in person and answer any questions they may have.

Doing both of these things can dramatically reduce the chances of conflict over your estate and bring your family closer at the same time. And if you have a blended family (meaning children from a prior marriage), we have more ideas about how you can head off future conflict at the pass with proper planning now.

This article is a service of attorney Myrna Serrano Setty. Myrna doesn’t just draft documents, she ensures you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why we offer an estate Planning Session, during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love.

Call today to schedule a Planning Session. Mention this article and learn how to get this $500 session at no charge.

A Trust Just for Your Retirement Account. Is it right for you?

Unlike most of your assets, individual retirement accounts (IRAs) do not pass to your family through a will. Instead, upon your death, your IRA will pass directly to the people you named via your IRA beneficiary designation form.

Unless you take extra steps, the named beneficiary can do whatever he or she wants with the account’s funds once you’re gone. The beneficiary could cash out some or all of the IRA and spend it, invest the funds in other securities, or leave the money in the IRA for as long as possible.

So that’s why you might not want your heirs to receive your retirement savings all at once. One way to prevent this is to designate your IRA into a trust.

But you can’t just use any trust to hold an IRA. You’ll need to set up a special type of revocable trust specifically designed to act as the beneficiary of your IRA upon your death. Such a trust is referred to by different names—Standalone Retirement Trust, IRA Living Trust, IRA Inheritor’s Trust, IRA Stretch Trust—but for this article, we’re simply going to call it an IRA Trust.

IRA Trusts offer a number of valuable benefits to both you and your beneficiaries. If you have significant assets invested through one or more IRA accounts, you might want to consider the following advantages of adding an IRA Trust to your estate plan.

Protection from creditors, lawsuits, & divorce

While IRAs are typically protected from creditors while you’re alive, once you die and the funds pass to your beneficiaries, the IRA can lose its protected status when your beneficiary distributes the funds to him or herself. One way to counteract this is to leave your retirement assets through an IRA Trust, in which case your IRA funds will be shielded from creditors as long as they remain in the trust.

IRA Trusts are also useful if you’re in a second (or more) marriage and want your IRA assets to be used for the benefit of your surviving spouse while he or she is living, and then to distributed or be held for the benefit of your children from a prior marriage after your surviving spouse passes. This would ensure that your surviving spouse cannot divert retirement assets to a new spouse, to his or her children from a prior marriage, or lose them to a creditor before the funds ultimately get to your children.

Protection from the beneficiary’s own bad decisions

An IRA Trust can also help protect the beneficiary from his or her own poor money-management skills and spending habits. If the IRA passes to your beneficiary directly, there’s nothing stopping him or her from quickly blowing through the wealth you’ve worked your whole life to build.

When you create an IRA Trust, however, you can add restrictions to the trust’s terms that control when the money is distributed as well as how it is to be spent. For example, you might stipulate that the beneficiary can only access the funds at a certain age or upon the completion of college. Or you might stipulate that the assets can only be used for healthcare needs or a home purchase. With our support,  you can get as creative as you want with the trust’s terms.

Tax savings

One of the primary benefits of traditional IRAs is that they offer a period of tax-deferred growth, or tax-free growth in the case of a Roth IRA. Yet if the IRA passes directly to your beneficiary at your death and is immediately cashed out, the beneficiary can lose out on potentially massive tax savings.

Not only will the beneficiary have to pay taxes on the total amount of the IRA in the year it was withdrawn, but he or she will also lose the ability to “stretch out” the required minimum distributions (RMDs) over their life expectancy.

A properly drafted IRA Trust can ensure the IRA funds are not all withdrawn at once and the RMDs are stretched out over the beneficiary’s lifetime. Depending on the age of the beneficiary, this gives the IRA years—potentially even decades—of additional tax-deferred or tax-free growth.

Minors

If you want to name a minor child as the beneficiary of your IRA, they can’t inherit the account until they reach the age of majority. So without a trust, you’ll have to name a guardian or conservator to manage the IRA until the child comes of age.

When the beneficiary reaches the age of majority, he or she can withdraw all of the IRA funds at once—and as we’ve seen, this can have serious disadvantages. With an IRA Trust, however, you name a trustee to handle the IRA management until the child comes of age. At that point, the IRA Trust’s terms can stipulate how and when the funds are distributed. Or the terms can even ensure the funds are held for the lifetime of your beneficiary, to be invested by your beneficiary through the trust.

See if an IRA Trust is right for you.

While IRA Trusts can have major benefits, they’re not the best option for everyone. Laws regarding IRA Trusts vary widely from state to state, so in some places, they’ll be more effective than others. Plus, the value of IRA Trusts also varies greatly depending on your specific family situation, so not everyone will want to put these trusts in place.

Consult with us to find out if an IRA Trust is the most suitable option for passing on your retirement savings to benefit your family. But of course, if what you need is your foundational estate planning documents (like your Will, Power of Attorney, Health Care Directives), we can help you with that first!

Attorney Myrna Serrano Setty doesn’t just draft documents, she helps you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why our firm offers a Planning Session. The Planning Session helps you get more financially organized than ever and helps you make the best choices for the people you love.  Start by calling us today to schedule a Planning Session and mention this article to learn how to get this $500 session for free.

Contact us at (813) 514-2946 or info@www.tampaestateplan.com.

 

Estate Planning Must-Haves for Unmarried Couples – Part 1

Use Estate Planning So Your Family Isn’t Stuck Paying for Your Funeral

With the cost of a funeral averaging $7,000 and steadily increasing each year, every estate plan should include enough money to cover this final expense. Yet it isn’t enough to simply set aside money in your will.

Your family won’t be able to access money left in a will until your estate goes through probate, which can last months or even years. Most  funeral providers require full payment upfront. So this means your family will have to cover your funeral costs out of pocket, unless you take proper action now.

If you want to avoid burdening your family with this hefty bill, you should use planning strategies that do not require probate. Here are a few options:

Insurance

You can purchase a new life insurance policy or add extra coverage to your existing policy to cover funeral expenses. The policy will pay out to the named beneficiary as soon as your death certificate is available. But you’ll likely have to undergo a medical exam and may be disqualified or face costly premiums if you’re older and/or have health issues.

There is also burial insurance specifically designed to cover funeral expenses. Also known “final expense,” “memorial,” and “preneed” insurance, such policies do not require a medical exam. But  you’ll often pay far more in premiums than what the policy actually pays out.

Because of the sky-high premiums and the fact such policies are sold mostly to the poor and uneducated, consumer advocate groups like the Consumer Federation of America consider burial insurance a bad idea and even predatory in some cases.


If you have any type of insurance to cover your funeral, make sure your family knows about it! These policies are often never cashed in because the family didn’t know they existed.

Prepaid funeral plans

Many funeral homes let you pay for your funeral services in advance, either in a single lump sum or through installments. Also known as pre-need plans, the funeral provider typically puts your money in a trust that pays out upon your death, or buys a burial insurance policy, with itself as the beneficiary.

While such prepaid plans may seem like a convenient way to cover your funeral expenses, these plans can have serious drawbacks. As mentioned earlier, if the funeral provider buys burial insurance, you’re likely to see massive premiums compared to what the plan actually pays out. And if they use a trust, the plan might not actually cover the full cost of the funeral, leaving your family on the hook for the difference. These packages can be risky. So choose wisely.

Payable-on-death accounts

Many banks offer payable-on-death (POD) accounts, sometimes called Totten Trusts, that you can set up to fund your funeral expenses. The account’s named beneficiary can only access the money upon your death, but you can deposit or withdraw money at any time.

A POD does not go through probate, so the beneficiary can access the money once your death certificate is issued. POD accounts are FDIC-insured, but such accounts are treated as countable assets by Medicaid, and the interest is subject to income tax.

Joint Accounts

Another option is to simply open a joint savings account with the person handling your funeral expenses and give them rights of survivorship. However, this gives the person access to your money while you’re alive too, and it puts the account at risk from their creditors.  But we know of cases where clients lost money in joint accounts they shared with relatives. In those cases, the relative’s creditors went after the money in the joint account.

Living trusts

We can create a customized living trust that allows you to control the funds until your death and name a successor trustee, who is legally bound to use the trust funds to pay for your funeral expenses exactly as the trust terms stipulate.

With a living trust, you can change the terms at any time and even dissolve the trust if you need the money for other purposes. Alternatively, if you need to implement planning strategies to protect your Medicaid eligibility, we can help with that too.

Don’t needlessly burden your family

To help decide which option is best suited for your particular situation, consult with our firm. We can put an estate plan in place that includes adequate funding to ensure your funeral services are handled just as you wish—and your family isn’t forced to foot the bill.

This article is a service of attorney Myrna Serrano Setty. Myrna doesn’t just draft documents, she helps you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why we offer a Planning Session,  during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a  Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $500 session for free.

Robin Williams’ Family Fight Over Personal Property is NOT So Funny

In 2014, the famous actor and comedian Robin Williams died. In 2015, his wife of 3 years, Susan Williams, ended up in a bitter court battle with his children from prior marriages over personal items that belonged to him. Williams’ wife claimed that his children had taken personal items from the couples’ Tiburon, CA home without her permission.

According to the children, these items were part of the inventory of personal property conveyed by certain trusts that their father had established for their benefit. Williams’ trust granted his children his memorabilia and awards from the entertainment industry, along with other items.

Ambiguity? Or Theft?

His widow, Susan Williams, claimed that since they lived together in their own house in Tiburon, and there was a separate residence in Napa, it stands to reason he wanted the children to receive items from the Napa residence and she was to receive the property from the Tiburon home.

Attorneys for the two sides appeared to offer conflicting characterizations of the court case. Susan Williams’ attorney said she was just seeking a clarification from the court. But the attorney for the children said she had accused them of stealing items that belonged to her.

The Robin Williams’ estate underscores the need to specify exactly which personal items you are giving to family members by trust or will so there is no ambiguity once you pass.  It’s this ambiguity that causes family in-fighting and costs excessive amounts of time, money and energy, even (and maybe even especially) when the estate is of small value.

Blended Families Need to be Clear

Especially in a blended family situation, like with Robin Williams’ family, it’s important to be extremely clear about whether children from a prior marriage should receive any money or other assets at the time of your death or if they should wait for all inheritance until the death of your spouse.

This is one of the situations that is most likely to result in strife and complication after death, and it’s so straightforward and easy to deal with ahead of time.

The best way to learn about protecting your family is to talk with us about a Planning Session, where we can identify the best strategies for you to provide for and protect the financial security of your loved ones. Contact us at (813) 514-2946 to learn more about how you can get this valuable session for free.

Know the Difference: Wills vs. Trusts

Do you know the differences between “will” and “trust”? Both are useful estate planning devices that serve different purposes, and both can work together to create a complete estate plan.

Will characteristics:

  • A will goes into effect only after you die
  • A will only covers property that is in your name at your death
  • A will passes through a court process called Probate. In Probate, the court oversees the will’s administration and ensures the will is valid and the property gets distributed the way the deceased wanted.
  • Because a will passes through Probate, it’s a public record.
  • A will allows you to name a guardian for children (Note: Our firm recommends that in addition to this, you use a stand alone guardian nomination.)

Trust characteristics:

  • A trust can be used to begin distributing property before death, at death or afterwards.
  • A trust covers only property that has been transferred to the trust. In order for property to be included in a trust, it must be put in the name of the trust.
  • A trust passes property outside of probate, so a court does not need to oversee the process, which can save time and money.
  • A trust remains private Unlike a will, which becomes part of the public record, a trust can remain private.

Consult with a qualified attorney to advise you on how best to use a will and a trust in your estate plan.

This article is a service of the Law Firm of Myrna Serrano Setty, P.A. We don’t just draft documents, we guide our clients to help make things as easy as possible for themselves and their families in case of death or disability.

Call us at (813) 514-2946 today and learn how to get a valuable Planning Session at no cost to you.