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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 Avoid Adult Guardianship and Elder Abuse

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.

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.

Avoiding Disputes Over Your Estate Plan – Part 1

Avoiding Disputes Over Your Estate Plan – Part 1  

No matter how well you think you know your family, it’s impossible to predict their behavior when you die or become incapacitated. Nobody wants to believe their family would ever end up fighting in Court over inheritance issues or  life-saving medical treatment. But sadly, we see this happen all the time.

When tragedy strikes, even minor tensions and disagreements can explode into bitter conflict. And when money is at stake, there’s even a greater risk for conflict.

The good news is you can drastically reduce the odds of such conflict through estate planning. You can do this with the support of a lawyer who understands and can anticipate these dynamics. This is why it’s so important to work with an experienced law firm like ours when creating your estate plan. Never rely on generic, do-it-yourself planning documents found online.

By learning about some of the leading causes of such disputes, you’re in a better position to prevent those situations.

#1 Reason for Conflict: Putting the Wrong Person in Charge

Many estate planning disputes happen  the person you chose to handle your affairs after your death or incapacity fails to carry out his or her responsibilities properly. Whether it’s as your power of attorney agent, executor, or trustee, these roles can entail a variety of different duties, some of which can last for years.

The individual you select, known as a fiduciary, is legally required to carry out those duties and act in the best interests of the beneficiaries named in your plan. The failure to do either of those things, is referred to as a breach of fiduciary duty.

The breach can be the result of the person’s deliberate action, or it could be something he or she does unintentionally, by mistake. Either way, a breach—or even the perception of one—can cause serious conflict among your loved ones. This is especially true if the fiduciary attempts to use the position for personal gain, or if the improper actions negatively impact the beneficiaries.

Common breaches include failing to provide required accounting and tax information to beneficiaries, improperly using estate or trust assets for the fiduciary’s personal benefit, making improper distributions, and failing to pay taxes, debts, and/or expenses owed by the estate or trust.

If a suspected breach occurs, beneficiaries can sue to have the fiduciary removed, recover any damages they incurred, and even recover punitive damages if the breach was committed out of malice or fraud.

Solution

Carefully choose your fiduciaries and make sure everyone in your family knows why you chose the fiduciary you did. You should only choose the most honest, trustworthy, and diligent individuals. Be careful not to select those who might have potential conflicts of interest with beneficiaries.

Moreover, it’s vital that your planning documents contain clear terms spelling out a fiduciary’s responsibilities and duties, so the individual understands exactly what’s expected of him or her. And should things go wrong, you can add terms to your plan that allow beneficiaries to remove and replace a fiduciary without going to court.

We can help you choose most qualified fiduciaries and draft the precise, explicit, and understandable terms in all of your planning documents. We can also help your family understands your choices, so they do not end up in conflict when it’s too late. That way, the individuals you choose to carry out your wishes will have the best chances of doing so successfully—and with as little conflict as possible.

Next week, we’ll continue with part two in this series discussing common causes for dispute over estate planning. 

Myrna can guide you to make informed, educated, and empowered choices to protect yourself and the ones you love most. Contact us today to get started with a Planning Session. 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.

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.

When a Will Isn’t Enough to Avoid Conflict: Remember Your Personal Property

“When the parents are gone, there’s all kinds of unforeseen stuff they leave us with, stuff they never intended.” – Ira Glass, in This American Life, Episode 763: “Left Behind”

If you grew up with siblings, you probably remember some sibling rivalry. That rivalry can continue well into adulthood, especially after the parents are gone. In many families, parents are like the glue that keeps the family together. Once their gone, old issues can resurface, especially when it comes to dividing the parents’ personal property.  That’s why it’s important to have a plan for how you want your personal, sentimental property distributed to the people that you love. If you don’t, that can make an already tough situation so much worse.

This American Life, a popular podcast, recently featured a family with such a story. Eleven adult siblings needed to divide their dead parents’ stuff. But they didn’t all get along. Although their parents (who were both attorneys) had wills, they didn’t list in their will which child would get which items. They left all that to the kids, saying simply, everyone should get an equal amount. So the siblings invented a remarkably elaborate cheat-proof system to divide up the remains of their childhood. In the end, it was a system that played off the siblings’ natural suspicions towards each other and did nothing to bring them closer together after losing their parents.

Here’s a quote from the narrator:

“What they have left to them is just these things, right? And this mandate– to get along well enough one last time to split it up amongst themselves. And they don’t want to screw it up. They want to honor their parents’ last request. But they know it’s going to be tough for them, given how they are sometimes with each other.”

This is an example of incomplete planning that can lead to conflict after you’re gone. If the parents in this story had left a personal property memorandum that referred back to their Wills, that could have reduced the strain on their children, especially the estate’s executor. It would have also saved a lot of time and conflict….and their relationships with each other.

You can listen to this story (16 minute run time) here.

Or you can read the transcript here. 

 

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 us at (813) 514-2946.

Check out another blog post about embracing the emotional side of estate planning. Here

Four Critical Estate Planning Tasks to Complete Before Your Vacation

Four Critical Estate Planning Tasks to Complete Before Your Vacation

Going on vacation involves lots of planning: packing luggage, buying plane tickets, making hotel reservations, and confirming rental vehicles. But one thing many people forget to do is plan for the worst. Traveling, especially in foreign destinations, means you’ll likely be at greater risk than usual for illness, injury, and even death. So you need a solid and updated estate plan in place before taking your next trip.

Without a solid estate plan, your family could face a legal nightmare if something happens to you while you’re away.

#1 Make sure your beneficiary designations are up-to-date

Some of your most valuable assets, like life insurance policies and retirement accounts, do not transfer via a will or trust. Instead, they have beneficiary designations that allow you to name the person (or persons) you’d like to inherit the asset upon your death. It’s important that you name a primary beneficiary and at least one alternate beneficiary in case the primary dies before you. Moreover, these designations must be regularly reviewed and updated, especially following major life events like marriage, divorce, and having children.

#2 Create financial and health power of attorney documents

Unforeseen illness and injury can leave you incapacitated and unable to make critical decisions about your own well-being. Given this, you must grant someone the legal authority to make those decisions on your behalf through power of attorney. You need two such documents: medical power of attorney (in Florida it’s called a Designation of Health Care Surrogate) and financial durable power of attorney. Medical power of attorney gives the person of your choice the authority to make your healthcare decisions for you, while durable financial power of attorney gives someone the authority to manage your finances. As with beneficiary designations, these decision makers can change over time, so before you leave for vacation, be sure both documents are current.

#3 Legally Name guardians for your minor children

If you’re the parent of minor children, your most important planning task is to legally document guardians to care for your kids in case you die or become incapacitated. These are the people whom you trust to care for your children—and potentially raise them to adulthood—if something should happen to you. Given the monumental importance of this decision, we’ve created 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. Do you need help choosing guardians? We can support you with that.

#4 Organize your digital assets

If you’re like most people, you probably have dozens of digital accounts like email, social media, cloud storage, and cryptocurrency. If these assets aren’t properly inventoried and accounted for, they’ll likely be lost forever if something happens to you. At minimum, you should write down the location and passwords for each account, and ensure someone you trust knows what to do with these digital assets in the event of your death or incapacity. To make this process easier, consider using LastPass or a similar service that stores and organizes your passwords.

Complete your vacation planning now


If you have a vacation planned, be sure to add these  items to your to-do list before leaving. And if you need help completing any of these tasks—or would simply like us to double check the plan you have in place, contact us now.

We recommend you complete these tasks at least 8 weeks before you depart. However, if your trip is sooner than that, call and let us know you need a rush Planning Session, and we’ll do our best to fit you in as soon as possible. Contact us today to get started. 

This article is a service of attorney Myrna Serrano Setty. Myrna does MORE than just draft documents. Myrna 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 us at (813) 514-2946 to schedule a Planning Session.
Ask how to get this valuable session at no charge.

Fear of Losing Home to Medicaid Contributed to Elder Abuse Case

A California daughter and granddaughter’s fear of losing their home to Medicaid may have contributed to a severe case of elder abuse.

If they had consulted with an elder law attorney, they might have figured out a way to get their mother the care she needed and also protect their house.

Amanda Havens was sentenced to 17 years in prison for elder abuse after her grandmother, Dorothy Havens, was found neglected, with bedsores and open wounds, in the home they shared.  The grandmother died the day after being discovered by authorities.  Amanda’s mother, Kathryn Havens, who also lived with Dorothy, is awaiting trial for second-degree murder. According to an article in the Record Searchlight, a local publication, Amanda and Kathryn knew Dorothy needed full-time care, but they did not apply for Medicaid on her behalf due to a fear that Medicaid would “take” the house.

It is a common misconception that the state will immediately take a Medicaid recipient’s home.

Nursing home residents do not automatically have to sell their homes in order to qualify for Medicaid. In some states, the home will not be considered a countable asset for Medicaid eligibility purposes as long as the nursing home resident intends to return home. In other states, the nursing home resident must prove a likelihood of returning home. The state may place a lien on the home, which means that if the home is sold, the Medicaid recipient would have to pay back the state for the amount of the lien.

After a Medicaid recipient dies, the state may attempt to recover Medicaid payments from the recipient’s estate, which means the house would likely need to be sold.

But there are things Medicaid recipients and their families can do to protect the home.

A Medicaid applicant can transfer the house to the following individuals and still be eligible for Medicaid:

  • The applicant’s spouse
  • A child who is under age 21 or who is blind or disabled
  • Into a trust for the sole benefit of a disabled individual under age 65 (even if the trust is for the benefit of the Medicaid applicant, under certain circumstances)
  • A sibling who has lived in the home during the year preceding the applicant’s institutionalization and who already holds an equity interest in the home
  • A  “caretaker child” who is defined as a child of the applicant who lived in the house for at least two years prior to the applicant’s institutionalization and who during that period provided care that allowed the applicant to avoid a nursing home stay.

With advance planning, there are other ways to protect a house.

A life estate can let a Medicaid applicant continue to live in the home, but allows the property to pass outside of probate to the applicant’s beneficiaries. Certain trusts can also protect a house from estate recovery.

Don’t let a fear of Medicaid prevent you from getting your loved one the care they need. While the thought of losing a home is scary, there are things you can do to protect the house.

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.

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