Buyer Beware: The Hidden Dangers of DIY Estate Planning- Part 2

Buyer Beware: The Hidden Dangers of DIY Estate Planning—Part 2 

 Last week, we shared Part One of this series on the dangers of do-it-yourself estate planning. Here, we’ll look at how online legal documents can even put your minor children at risk.

Given how far web-based technology has evolved, you might think online legal document services like LegalZoom® and WillsandTrusts.com have advanced to the point where they’re a suitable alternative to having your estate plan prepared by a lawyer.

After all, you’ve been able to prepare and file your taxes online for years, so what makes estate planning so much different? Aren’t lawyers using the very same forms you find on these document websites?

This kind of reasoning is exactly what do-it-yourself (DIY) planning services would like you to believe—but it’s far from true. But relying on generic, fill-in-blank planning documents can be one of the MOST EXPENSIVE planning mistakes you can make for your loved ones.

Online planning documents may appear to save you time and money, but keep in mind, just because you created “legal” documents doesn’t mean they will actually work when you (or most importantly, the people you love) need them. Without a thorough understanding of how the legal process works and impacts family dynamics upon your death or incapacity, you’ll likely make serious mistakes when creating a DIY plan.

Even worse, these mistakes won’t be discovered until it’s too late—and the loved ones you were trying to protect will be the very ones forced to clean up your mess or get stuck with a huge nightmare. In Part One, we discussed the numerous ways DIY estate planning can go wrong, and here we’ll explain how these generic documents can put the people you love most of all—your children—at risk.

Putting your children at risk

Knowing that your DIY plan could fail and force your family into court and conflict is distressing enough. But imagine how you’d feel if you knew that your attempt to save money on your estate plan caused your children to be taken into the care of strangers, even temporarily.

Yet this is exactly what could happen if you rely on a generic will and/or other legal documents you find online to name legal guardians for your kids. In fact, this could happen even if you create a plan with a lawyer who isn’t trained to plan for the unique needs of parents with minor children.

Naming and legally documenting guardians for your kids might seem like a fairly straightforward process, but it entails a number of complexities most people aren’t aware of. Even lawyers with decades of experience typically make at least one of six mistakes when naming long-term legal guardians.

If estate plans created with the assistance of an attorney are likely to leave your children at risk, do you really think that you’re going to get things right on your own?

What’s so complicated about naming guardians?

Some DIY wills allow you to name legal guardians for your kids in the event of your death, and that’s a good start. But does it allow you to name back-up candidates in case your first choice is unable to serve?

If you named a married couple to serve and one of them is unavailable due to injury, death, or divorce, what happens then? Would it still be okay if only one of them can serve as your child’s guardian? And does it matter which one it is?

What would happen if you become incapacitated by illness or injury and are unable to care for your kids? You might assume the guardians named in your DIY will would automatically get custody. But did you know that a will only goes into effect upon your death and does nothing to protect your kids in the event of your incapacity?

Do the guardians you named live far away from you?  If so, how long would it take them to make it to your house to pick up your kids: a few days, a few weeks? Who would care for your kids until those guardians arrive? Did you know that without legally binding arrangements for the immediate care of your children, they are likely to be placed with child protective services until those guardians arrive?

Even if you name family who live nearby as guardians, what happens if they are out of town or otherwise can’t get to your kids right away?

And assuming the guardians you named can immediately get to your home to pick up your kids, do they even know where your will is located? How will they prove they’re your children’s legal guardians if they can’t find your planning documents?

These are just a few of the potential complications that could arise if you try to create your own plan naming legal guardians for your kids. And if just one of these contingencies were to occur, your children would more than likely be placed into the care of strangers, even if it’s only for a short period of time.

The Kids Protection Plan®

Seeing all of the things that could go wrong, you should never trust the safety and care of your children to a DIY plan—or for that matter, a plan created by a lawyer unfamiliar with the unique needs of planning for parents of minor children.  To ensure your children are never raised by someone you don’t trust or taken into the custody of strangers, even temporarily, consider creating a Kids Protection Plan®.

The Kids Protection Plan® is a comprehensive system designed specifically to address the inherent gaps in the way most estate plans document legal guardians. And Personal Family Lawyers® like us, licensed by the Family Wealth Planning Institute, creator of the Kids Protection Plan®, are the only ones thoroughly trained to prepare and counsel you through this crucial process.

Almost never a good idea

The inherent risks of DIY estate plans make them a totally unsuitable option for nearly everyone. Perhaps the only scenario where they might make sense is if you are single and have no—or extremely limited—assets, and you’re just looking to name someone to make your medical and/or financial decisions if ever become incapacitated and are unable to do so for yourself.

Creating those documents is a relatively simple process that should be easy enough to do on your own. However, that’s really the only instance where online legal documents would be sufficient. In practically every other situation, the fill-in-blank forms offered by these companies are so unreliable, they’re often not worth the paper they’re printed on.

Consider what’s at stake


The DIY approach might be a good idea if you’re looking to build a new deck for your backyard, but when it comes to estate planning, it’s one of the worst choices you can make. Are you really willing to put your family’s well-being and wealth at risk just to save a few bucks?

If you’ve yet to do any planning, contact us to schedule a  Planning Session. This evaluation will allow us to determine if a simple will or some other strategy, such as a living trust, is your best option.

If you’ve already created a plan—whether it’s a DIY job or one created with another lawyer’s help—contact us to schedule an Estate Plan Review and Check-Up. We’ll ensure your plan is not only properly drafted and updated, but that it has all of the protections in place to prevent your children from ever being placed in the care of strangers or anyone you’d never want raising them.

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 our office today to schedule a  Planning Session. Ask how to get this valuable session at no charge.

 

Buyer Beware: The Hidden Dangers of DIY Estate Planning – Part 1

Buyer Beware: The Hidden Dangers of DIY Estate Planning—Part 1 

Do a Google search for “online estate planning documents,” and you’ll find dozens of different websites. From LegalZoom® and Willing.com to Rocket Lawyer® and Willandtrust.com, these do-it-yourself (DIY) planning services might seem like an enticing bargain.

The sites let you complete and print out just about any kind of planning document you can think of—wills, trusts, healthcare directives, and/or power of attorney—in just a matter of minutes. And the documents are typically quite inexpensive, with many sites offering “simple” wills for $50 or less.

At first glance, such DIY planning documents might appear to be a quick and inexpensive way to finally cross estate planning off your life’s lengthy to-do list. You know planning for your death and potential incapacity is important, but you just never seem to have time to take care of it.

And even if you realize your DIY plan won’t be as good as those prepared by a lawyer, at least it can serve as a temporary solution, until you can find time to meet with an attorney to upgrade. These forms may not be perfect, you reason, but at least they’re better than having no plan at all.

However, relying on DIY planning documents can actually be worse than having no plan at all—and here’s why:

An inconvenient truth

Creating a plan using online documents, can give you a false sense of security—you think you’ve got planning covered, when you most certainly do not. DIY plans may even lead you to believe that you no longer need to worry about estate planning, causing you to put it off until it’s too late.

In this way, relying on DIY planning documents is one of the most dangerous choices you can make. In the end, such generic forms could end up costing your family even more money and heartache than if you’d never gotten around to doing any planning at all.

At least with no plan at all, planning would likely remain at the front of your mind, where it rightfully belongs until it’s handled properly.

Planning to fail

Many people don’t realize that estate planning involves much more than just filling out legal forms. Without a thorough understanding of how the legal process works upon your death or incapacity, you’ll likely make serious mistakes when creating a DIY plan. Even worse, these mistakes won’t be discovered until it’s too late—and the loved ones you were trying to protect will be the very ones forced to clean up your mess.

The whole purpose of estate planning is to keep your family out of court and out of conflict in the event of your death or incapacity. Yet, as cheap online estate planning services become more and more popular, millions of people are learning—or will soon learn—that taking the DIY route can not only fail to achieve this purpose, it can make the court cases and family conflicts far worse and more expensive.

One size does not fit all

Online planning documents may appear to save you time and money, but keep in mind, just because you created “legal” documents doesn’t mean they will actually work when you need them. Indeed, if you read the fine print of most DIY planning websites, you’ll find numerous disclaimers pointing out that their documents are “no substitute” for the advice of a lawyer.

Some disclaimers warn that these documents are not even guaranteed to be “correct, complete, or up to date.” These facts should be a huge red flag, but it’s just one part of the problem.

This is an excerpt from LegalZoom’s disclaimer:

 LegalZoom’s document service also includes a review of your answers for completeness, spelling and grammar, as well as internal consistency of names, addresses and the like. At no time do we review your answers for legal sufficiency, draw legal conclusions, provide legal advice or apply the law to the facts of your particular situation. LegalZoom and its services are not a substitute for the advice of an attorney. Although LegalZoom takes every reasonable effort to ensure that the information on our website and documents are up-to-date and legally sufficient, the legal information on this site is not legal advice and is not guaranteed to be correct, complete or up-to-date. Because the law changes rapidly, is different from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, and is also subject to varying interpretations by different courts and certain government and administrative bodies, LegalZoom cannot guarantee that all the information on the site is completely current. The law is a personal matter, and no general information or legal tool like the kind LegalZoom provides can fit every circumstance.

Even if the forms are 100% correct and up-to-date, there are still many potential pitfalls that can cause the documents to not work as intended—or fail all together. And without an attorney to advise you, you won’t have any idea of what you should watch out for.

Estate planning is definitely not a one-size-fits-all kind of deal. Even if you think your particular planning situation is simple, that turns out to almost never be the case. To demonstrate just how complicated the planning process can be, here are 4 common complications you’re likely to encounter with DIY plans.

1. Improper execution

To be considered legally valid, some planning documents must be executed (i.e. signed and witnessed or notarized) following very strict legal procedures. For example, many states require that you and every witness to your will must sign it in the presence of one another. If your DIY will doesn’t mention that (or you don’t read the fine print) and you fail to follow this procedure, the document can be worthless.

2. Not adhering to state law

State laws are also very specific about who can serve in certain roles like trustee, executor, or financial power of attorney. In some states, for instance, the executor of your will must either be a family member or an in-law, and if not, the person must live in your state. If your chosen executor doesn’t meet those requirements, he or she cannot serve.

3. Unforeseen conflict

Family dynamics can be complex. That is especially true for blended families, where spouses have children from previous relationships. A DIY service cannot help you consider all the potential areas where conflict might arise among your family members and help you plan ahead of time to avoid it. When done right, the estate planning process is actually a huge opportunity to build new connections within your family, and we’re specifically trained to help you with that. In fact, that’s our special sauce.

We’ve all seen the impact of families ripped apart due to poor planning. Yet, every day we see families brought closer together as a result of handling these matters the right way. We want that for your family.

4. Thinking a will is enough

Lots of people believe that creating a will is sufficient to handle all of their planning needs. But this is rarely the case. A will, for example, does nothing in the event of your incapacity, for which you would also need a healthcare directive and/or a living will, plus a durable financial power of attorney.

Furthermore, because a will requires probate, it does nothing to keep your loved ones out of court upon your death. And if you have minor children, relying on a will alone could leave your kids vulnerable to being taken out of your home and into the care of strangers.

Don’t do it yourself

 

Given all of these potential dangers, DIY estate plans are a disaster waiting to happen. And as we’ll see next week, perhaps the worst consequence of trying to handle estate planning on your own is the potentially tragic impact it can have on the people you love most of all—your children.

 

Next week, we’ll continue with part two in this series on the hidden dangers of DIY estate planning.

If you’ve yet to create a plan, have DIY documents you aren’t sure about, or have a plan created with another lawyer’s help that hasn’t been reviewed in more than a year, meet with us so that we can review your documents. Contact us today to learn more.

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 our law firm 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 to schedule a Planning Session. Mention this article to find out how to get this $500 session at no charge.

 

Use Estate Planning to Ensure Your Legacy Doesn’t Get Erased

When you think about those loved ones who’ve passed away, you probably don’t think very much—or even at all—about the “things” they’ve left you. And when they do leave something behind, what you likely cherish most about the object are the memories and feelings it evokes, not the thing itself.

For the founder and CEO of New Law Business Model, Alexis Katz, the most treasured memento her late father left her wasn’t even something he intended to be special—it was just a random voicemail on her cellphone. And the message wasn’t meant to be anything sentimental.

His message simply said, “Lex, it’s your dad. Call me back.”

Following his death, Alexis loved listening to that message to hear her father’s voice. Of all the assets he left behind, that voicemail was what she cherished most.

Until one day, she went to listen to the message and discovered it had been erased—and her father’s voice was lost to her forever. She still recalls that day as one of her worst ever, yet like most painful events, it taught her an important lesson.

Losing that voicemail ultimately inspired Alexis to build a new feature into her family-centered model of estate planning, known as Family Wealth Legacy Passages. This feature, which is included in every plan we create, allows you to preserve and pass on something that’s inherently more valuable than any tangible asset you might leave your loved ones.

Preserving your intangible assets

We recognize that estate planning isn’t just about preserving and passing on your financial wealth and property when you die. When done right, planning allows you to share your family’s stories, values, and life lessons, so your legacy carries on long after you—and your money—are gone.

Family Wealth Legacy Passages is a process that’s designed to not only ensure these intangible assets never get lost, but also to make the process of documenting them as easy and convenient as possible. In this process, we guide you to create a customized recording in which you share your most insightful memories and life lessons, not just for your children and grandchildren, but for generations to come. My favorite part about this process is that most of our clients tell us that going through it helps them surface things they would have never thought about regarding how they want to parent differently or things they want to share now, during life, not just leave behind a lasting legacy of love.

To help inspire you, we’ve developed a series of helpful questions and prompts, which makes the process not only easy, but enjoyable. And this isn’t something you have to do on your own, which you’d probably never get around to doing, despite your best intentions. Instead, Family Wealth Legacy Passages is something we include as an integral part of our planning services—and it’s included at no extra charge with each plan we create.

In the end, your family’s most precious wealth is not money, but the memories you make, the values you instill, and the lessons you hand down. And left to chance, these assets are likely to be lost forever just like Alexis’s voicemail from her father.

Leave a lasting legacy

As your Personal Family Lawyer®, our customized estate planning services will preserve and pass on not just your financial wealth, but your most treasured family values as well. Schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session today, so we can discuss what kind of assets you have, what matters most to you, and what you want to leave behind.

 

This article is a service of Myrna Serrano Setty, Personal Family Lawyer®. We don’t just draft documents. We help you 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.

 

 

Part 2: Use Estate Planning to Avoid Adult Guardianship and Elder Abuse

Part 2: Use Estate Planning to Avoid Adult Guardianship and Elder Abuse

In  Part 1 of this series, we discussed how some professional adult guardians have used their powers to abuse the seniors placed under their care. Here, we’ll discuss how seniors can use estate planning to avoid the potential abuse and other negative consequences of court-ordered guardianship.

As our senior population continues to expand, an increasing number of elder abuse cases involving professional guardians have made headlines. The New Yorker exposed one of the most shocking accounts of elder abuse by professional guardians, which took place in Nevada and saw more than 150 seniors swindled out of their life savings by a corrupt Las Vegas guardianship agency.

The Las Vegas case and others like it have shed light on a disturbing new phenomenon—individuals who seek guardianship to take control of the lives of vulnerable seniors and use their money and other assets for personal gain. Perhaps the scariest aspect of such abuse is that many seniors who fall prey to these unscrupulous guardians have loving and caring family members who are unable to protect them.

In Part 1 this series, we detailed how criminally minded individuals can take advantage of an overloaded court system and seize total control of seniors’ lives and financial assets by gaining court-ordered guardianship. Here we’ll discuss how seniors and their adult children can use proactive estate planning to prevent this from happening.

It’s important to note that any adult could face court-ordered guardianship if they become incapacitated by illness or injury, so it’s critical that every person over age 18—not just seniors—put these planning vehicles in place to prepare for a potential incapacity.

Keep your family out of court and out of conflict

Outside of the potential for abuse by professional guardians, if you become incapacitated and your family is forced into court seeking guardianship, your family is likely to endure a costly, drawn out, and emotionally taxing ordeal. Not only will the legal fees and court costs drain your estate and possibly delay your medical treatment, but if your loved ones disagree over who’s best suited to serve as your guardian, it could cause bitter conflict that could unnecessarily tear your family apart.

Furthermore, if your loved ones disagree over who should be your guardian, the court could decide that naming one of your relatives would be too disruptive to your family’s relationships and appoint a professional guardian instead—and as we’ve seen, this could open the door to potential abuse.

Planning for incapacity

The potential turmoil and expense, or even risk of abuse, from a court-ordered guardianship can be easily avoided through proactive estate planning. Upon your incapacity, an effective plan would give the individual, or individuals, of your choice immediate authority to make your medical, financial, and legal decisions, without the need for court intervention. What’s more, the plan can provide clear guidance about your wishes, so there’s no mistake about how these crucial decisions should be made during your incapacity.

There are a variety of planning tools available to grant this decision-making authority, but a will is not one of them. A will only goes into effect upon your death, and even then, it simply governs how your assets should be divided. To this end, a will does nothing to keep your family out of court and out of conflict in the event of your incapacity—nor does it help you avoid the potential for abuse by professional guardians.
Your incapacity plan shouldn’t be just a single document. It should include a variety of planning tools, including some, or all, of the following:

  • Healthcare power of attorney: An advanced directive that grants an individual of your choice the immediate legal authority to make decisions about your medical treatment in the event of your incapacity.
  • Living will: An advanced directive that provides specific guidance about how your medical decisions should be made during your incapacity.
  • Durable financial power of attorney: A planning document that grants an individual of your choice the immediate authority to make decisions related to the management of your financial and legal interests.
  • Revocable living trust: A planning document that immediately transfers control of all assets held by the trust to a person of your choosing to be used for your benefit in the event of your incapacity. The trust can include legally binding instructions for how your care should be managed and even spell out specific conditions that must be met for you to be deemed incapacitated.
  • Family/friends meeting: Even more important than all of the documents we’ve listed here, the very best protection for you and the people you love is to ensure everyone is on the same page. As part of our planning process, we’ll walk the people impacted by your plan through a meeting that explains to them the plans you’ve made, why you’ve made them, and what to do when something happens to you. With a team of people who love you, watching out for you and what matters most, the risk of abuse from a professional guardian is low.

It could be a good idea (though it’s not mandatory) to name different people for each of the roles in your planning documents. In this way, not only will you spread out the responsibility among multiple individuals, but you’ll ensure you have more than just one person invested in your care and supervision. In that case, it’s even more critical that everyone you’ve named understands the choices you’ve made, and why you have made them.

Don’t wait to put your plan in place

It’s vital to understand that these planning documents must be created well before you become incapacitated. You must be able to clearly express your wishes and consent in order for these planning strategies to be valid, as even slight levels of dementia or confusion could get them thrown out of court.

Not to mention, an unforeseen illness or injury could strike at any time, at any age, so don’t wait—contact us right away to get your incapacity plan taken care of.

It’s crucial that you regularly review and update these planning tools to keep pace with life changes, including changes in your assets or the nature of your relationships. If any of the individuals you’ve named becomes unable or unwilling to serve for whatever reason, you’ll need to revise your plan. We can help with that, too.

Retain control even if you lose control

To avoid the total loss of autonomy, family conflict, and potential for abuse that comes with a court-ordered adult guardianship, meet with us. While you can’t prevent your potential incapacity, you can use estate planning to ensure that you at least have some control over your how your life and assets will be managed if it ever does occur.

If you haven’t planned for your incapacity, schedule a Planning Session right away, so we can advise you about the proper planning vehicles to put in place. And if you already have an incapacity plan, we can review it to make sure it’s been properly set up, maintained, and updated.

This article is a service of Myrna Serrano Setty, Esq. 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. Call our office today to schedule a Planning Session. Mention this article and learn how to get this $500 session at no charge.

Use Estate Planning to Avoid Adult Guardianship and Elder Abuse

Why You Need To Add a ‘When I Die’ File to Your Estate Plan

If you were to suddenly die today, would your loved ones know how to quickly find your estate planning documents? Would they know how to access all of your financial accounts? How about your insurance policies? What about your login and password info to all of your digital assets?

One crucial part of estate planning that frequently gets overlooked is ensuring your loved ones can easily locate all of your planning documents and other key assets upon your death or incapacity. One simple way to handle this important task is to create a “When I Die” file. According to A Beginner’s Guide to the End: Practical Advice for Living Life and Facing Death, this is a “findable file, binder, cloud-based drive, or even a shoe box where you store estate documents and meaningful personal effects.”

This new book, written by Shoshana Berger and BJ Miller, was recently featured in TIME magazine. It discusses the importance of creating such a file in order to “save your loved ones incalculable time, money, and suffering” upon your death.

Death can be a logistical nightmare

After her father died, Berger learned first-hand how agonizing it can be to not have a “When I Die” file. Though her father made his will and trust easily accessible, Berger and her sister spent nearly two years tracking down his other planning documents, assets, and finalizing his affairs.

Beger recalls “sleuthing through his file cabinet and mail and requesting what seemed like a mountain of duplicate death certificates to prove to various companies that he had actually died.”

Beyond burdening your loved ones with needless work and expense, if your planning documents, such as wills, prenuptial agreements, and insurance policies, can’t be located, it will be as if they never existed. The same goes for valuable assets like stocks, bank accounts, and other financial property no one knows about.

Given this, you should make sure your “When I Die” file contains an updated inventory of all your assets and their location. And don’t forget to include your online property in this inventory.

Don’t forget your digital assets

When it comes to digital assets like cryptocurrency, email, photos, video, and social media, your loved ones must not only be able to locate these items, they must also know how to access them. Given this, you should include any related login and password information in your “When I Die” file, along with detailed instructions about how to get into the accounts.

If you store your file online, password management apps like LastPass can greatly simplify this effort. In fact, we highly recommend you scan and upload copies of ALL the items in your “When I Die” file to the cloud and store them online. This not only makes your file much easier to access, it also prevents it from being destroyed in a fire, flood, or other natural disaster.

For detailed instructions about how to properly store and inventory digital assets, read the article  Don’t Forget To Include Your Digital Assets in Your Estate Plan.

What to include in your file

Because the TIME excerpt only includes a partial collection of the items Berger and Miller suggest including in your “When I Die” file (their book has the full list), we’ve added a few items to their list below to provide a more detailed inventory.

  • An updated inventory of all your assets and their location, including password and access info for all digital assets
  • An advance healthcare directive
  • A will and living trust (with certificate of trust)
  • Marriage or divorce certificate(s)
  • Instructions for your funeral and final disposition
  • An ethical will explaining why you made the choices you did in your real will
  • Letters, cards, photos, and other treasured sentimental items
  • If you have minor children, a Kids Protection Plan naming long and short-term guardians, along with detailed care instructions for both

Get your affairs in order—before it’s too late

Each family is unique, so this is just a minimum of what can be included in your “When I Die” file. When you work with us, we have systems in place to help ensure all of your assets are properly inventoried throughout your lifetime for the utmost convenience and care of those you love most.

And because death or incapacity can strike at any moment, don’t wait to get your affairs in order. If you do, your loved ones might experience the same lengthy ordeal Berger did when her dad died. Contact us today to get started with a  Planning Session.

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.

Schedule a Planning Session and mention this article to learn how to get this $500 session at no charge.

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.

The Real Cost to Your Family When You Don’t Have a Plan

When it comes to putting off or refusing to create an estate plan, your mind can concoct all sorts of rationalizations: “I don’t have time” or “What’s there to worry about? I don’t own much.”  or “My family will know what to do.”

But once you understand exactly what planning is designed to prevent and support, you’ll realize there really is no acceptable excuse for not having a plan, provided you are able to plan and truly care about your family’s experience after you die or if you become incapacitated.

The first step in creating a proper plan is to thoroughly understand the potential consequences of going without one. If you become incapacitated or die, not having a plan could be incredibly traumatic and costly for your family, who will be left to deal with the mess you’ve left behind.

While each estate and family are unique, here are some of the things most likely to happen to you and your loved ones if you fail to create any estate plan at all.

Your family will have to go to court

If you don’t have a plan, or only have a will (yes, even with a will), you’re forcing your family to go through probate upon your death. Probate is the legal process for settling your estate, and even if you have a will, it’s notoriously slow, costly, and public. But with no plan at all, probate can be a true nightmare for your loved ones.

Depending on the complexity of your estate, probate can take months or even years to complete. And like most court proceedings, probate can be expensive. In fact, once all of your debts, taxes, and court fees have been paid, there might be nothing left for anyone to inherit. And if there are any assets left, your family will likely have to pay hefty attorney’s fees and court costs in order to claim them.

Yet the most burdensome part of probate is the frustration and anxiety it can cause your loved ones. In addition to grieving your death, planning your funeral, and contacting everyone you’re close with, your family will be stuck dealing with a crowded court system that can be challenging to navigate even in the best of circumstances. Plus, the entire affair is open to the public, which can make things exponentially more arduous for those you leave behind, especially if the wrong people take an interest in your family’s affairs.

The expense and drama of the court system can be almost totally avoided with proper planning. Using a trust, for example, we can ensure that your assets pass directly to your family upon your death, without the need for any court intervention. Instead, so long as you have planned properly, just about everything can happen in the privacy of our office and on your family’s time.

You have no control over who inherits your assets

If you die without a plan, the court will decide who inherits your assets, and this can lead to all sorts of problems. Who is entitled to your property is determined by our state’s intestate succession laws, which hinge largely upon on whether you are married and if you have children.

Spouses and children are given top priority, followed by your other closest living family members. If you’re single with no children, your assets typically go to your parents and siblings, and then more distant relatives if you have no living parents or siblings. If no living relatives can be located, your assets go to the state.

But you can change all of this with a plan and ensure your assets pass the way you want.

It’s important to note that state intestacy laws only apply to blood relatives, so unmarried partners and/or close friends would get nothing. If you want someone outside of your family to inherit your property, having a plan is an absolute must.

If you’re married with children and die with no plan, it might seem like things would go fairly smoothly, but that’s not always the case. If you’re married but have children from a previous relationship, for example, the court could force your spouse to share with your children. In another instance, you might be estranged from your kids or not trust them with money, but without a plan, state law controls who gets your assets, not you.

Moreover, dying without a plan could also cause your surviving family members to get into an ugly court battle over who has the most right to your property. Or if you become incapacitated, your loved ones could even get into conflict around your medical care. You may think this would never happen to your loved ones, but we see families torn apart by it all the time, even when there’s not significant financial wealth involved.

We can help you create a plan that handles your assets and your care in the exact manner you wish, taking into account all of your family dynamics, so your death or incapacity won’t be any more painful or expensive for your family than it needs to be.

You have no control over your medical, financial, or legal decisions in the event of your incapacity

Most people assume estate planning only comes into play when they die, but that’s dead wrong. Yes, pun intended.

Indeed, though planning for your eventual death is a big part of the process, it’s just as important—if not even more so—to plan for your potential incapacity due to accident or illness.

If you become incapacitated and have no plan in place, your family would have to petition the court to appoint a guardian or conservator to manage your affairs. This process can be extremely costly, time consuming, and traumatic for everyone involved. In fact, incapacity can be a much greater burden for your loved ones than your death.

We can help you put plans in in place that grant the person(s) of your choice the immediate authority to make your medical, financial, and legal decisions for you in the event of your incapacity. We can also implement planning strategies that provide specific guidelines detailing how you want your medical care to be managed, including critical end-of-life decisions.

 

You have no control over who will raise your children

If you’re the parent of minor children, the most devastating consequence of having no estate plan is what could happen to your kids in the event of your death or incapacity. Without a plan in place naming legal guardians for your kids, it will be left for a judge to decide who cares for your children. And this could cause major heartbreak not only for your children, but for your entire family.

You’d like to think that a judge would select the best person to care for your kids, but it doesn’t always work out that way. Indeed, the judge could pick someone from your family you’d never want to raise them to adulthood. And if you don’t have any family, or the family you do have is deemed unfit, your children could be raised by total strangers.

If you have several relatives who want to care for your kids, they could end up fighting one another in court over who gets custody. This can get extremely ugly, as otherwise well-meaning family members fight one another for years, making their lawyers wealthy, while your kids are stuck in the middle.

If you have minor children, your number-one planning priority should be naming legal guardians to care for your children if anything should happen to you. This is so critical, we’ve developed a comprehensive system called the Kids Protection Plan® that guides you step-by-step through the process of creating the legal documents naming these guardians.

Naming legal guardians won’t keep your family out of court, as a judge is always required to finalize the legal naming of guardians in the event of death or incapacity of parents. But if it’s important to you who raises your kids if you can’t, you need to give the judge clear direction.

On top of that, you need to take action to keep your kids out of the care of strangers over the immediate term, while the authorities figure out what to do if something happens to you. We handle that in a Kids Protection Plan® too.

No more excuses

Given the potentially dire consequences for both you and your family, you can’t afford to put off creating your estate plan any longer. As your lawyer, I’ll  guide you step-by-step through the planning process to ensure you’ve taken all the proper precautions to spare your loved ones from needless frustration, conflict, and expense.

But the biggest benefit you stand to gain from putting a plan in place is the peace of mind that comes from knowing that your loved ones will be provided and cared for no matter what happens to you. Don’t wait another day; contact us to schedule a Planning Session right away.

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 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 (813) 514-2946 today to schedule your Planning Session. Mention this article and learn how to get this $500 Planning Session at no charge.

How to Plan Your Funeral

Thinking about your funeral may not be fun, but planning ahead can be exceedingly helpful for your family. It both lets them know your wishes and assists them during a stressful time. The following are steps you can take to plan ahead:

Name who is in charge.

The first step is to designate someone to make funeral arrangements for you. State law dictates how that appointment is made. In some states, an informal note is enough. Other states require you to designate someone in a formal document, such as a health care power of attorney. If you do not designate someone, your spouse or children are usually given the task.

Put your preferences in writing.

Write out detailed funeral preferences as well as the requested disposition of your remains. Would you rather be buried or cremated? Do you want a funeral or a memorial service? Where should the funeral or memorial be held? The document can also include information about who should be invited, what you want to wear, who should speak, what music should be played, and who should be pallbearers, among other information. The writing can be a separate document or part of a health care directive. It should not be included in your will because the will may not be opened until long after the funeral.

Shop around.

It is possible to make arrangements with a funeral home ahead of time, so your family does not have to scramble to set things up while they are grieving. Prices among funeral homes can vary greatly, so it is a good idea to check with a few different ones before settling on the one you want. The Federal Trade Commission’s Funeral Rule requires all funeral homes to supply customers with a general price list that details prices for all possible goods or services. The rule also stipulates what kinds of misrepresentations are prohibited and explains what items consumers cannot be required to purchase, among other things.

Inform your family members.

Make sure you tell your family members about your wishes and let them know where you have written them down.

Figure out how to pay for it.

Funerals are expensive, so you need to think about how to pay for the one you want. You can pre-pay, but this is risky because the funds can be mismanaged or the funeral home could go out of business. Instead of paying ahead, you can set up a payable-on-death account with your bank. Make the person who will be handling your funeral arrangements the beneficiary (and make sure they know your plans). You will maintain control of your money while you are alive, but when you die it is available immediately, without having to go through probate. Another option is to purchase a life insurance policy that is specifically for funeral arrangements.

Taking the time to plan ahead will be a big help to your family and give you peace of mind.

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.

Will Your Estate Have a Password Problem?

We live in the digital age. Having online access to investments is a great convenience. But the downside is that they can create a very difficult situation for a surviving spouse or executor trying to find the deceased’s assets.

What is the first thing you are told about any password? Don’t write it down. This can create unintended consequences for an executor who needs access to each account in order to marshal the assets and eventually distribute those assets to the heirs or trustees based on the language contained in the will.

When the founder and CEO of a Canadian cryptocurrency exchange, QuadrigaCX, died unexpectedly, nobody else had the password to the exchange’s cold storage locker. That cut off access to investors’ $190 million in cryptocurrency.  Those investors may never see their funds again. This is a an eye-opening example of how the security system designed to keep hackers out of an account can work against the owners of funds.

Estate administration in the digital age requires having a strategy to share passwords to your computer, email and online accounts. Without that, things quickly get complicated.

Option #1 Give your passwords to a trusted family member.

This is probably the easiest, but least secure way. They will need passwords to access your computer or smartphone. They will also need a password to access your email — which is where electronic financial statements are traditionally sent. This creates a potential security issue and also doesn’t provide the trusted person with access to each individual financial platform, which would require each of those passwords to be written down or somehow saved and communicated to the trusted person. Many computer operating systems now save passwords to frequently visited websites, so it is possible that if a trusted person had access to your computer, they may also be able to gain access to your financial accounts.

Option #2 Write down and place all passwords in a safe deposit box.

Your executor or guardian/attorney-in-fact through a power of attorney can access your safe deposit box and your passwords to access your computer, email and financial platforms. This option is somewhat safer than simply writing down and providing passwords to a trusted friend or spouse. But this means you have to be diligent about updating the password list. People rarely keep such printed out lists updated. But if you’re disciplined enough to do this, this might work.

Option #3 Use a digital wallet.

A digital wallet is the most secure and by far the most recommended way to safely and securely store passwords. Like a real wallet, a digital wallet keeps track of all your passwords across all your devices and does so in an encrypted file in the cloud. With this, the only hurdle is the password with which you access the digital wallet.

This would require that you keep a record of the master password somewhere, or perhaps you can agree with your spouse or trusted friend on a pattern of passwords. That could be anything that the two of you can easily remember, along with perhaps a few other characters. It will need to be something that can be remembered and not written down. Writing down and saving passwords should be avoided if at all possible.

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 our office today to schedule a Planning Session. Mention this article to find out how to get this session at no charge.

Call (813) 514-2946 to schedule your Planning Session.