Tag Archives: estate planning

Estate Planning under Siege: How to resolve estate issues with family members

You’ve heard the stories, or even worse lived through it. Family members fighting each other for the inheritance of their deceased parents. Fights over homes, cars, jewelry, clothing or even, pets ensue.  

These spats get so nasty that the heirs get ‘lawyered up” and take their siblings to court. Sometimes these legal disputes span decades and end up in the national news. Remember the infamous Anna Nicole Smith/J. Howard Marshall case? Other infamous inheritance cases such as Howard Hughes, James Brown also come to mind. a man's hand with a silver pen writing "My Last Will..."

Granted, these are sensationalized court cases; however, they highlight the necessity of estate planning to “regular people”, like us. If your family doesn’t get its arrangements in order, they may have a messy and regrettable experience, too.

Estate Planning may not be a topic you want to discuss, but it is one that every family needs to have. It doesn’t matter what you may be worth or what possessions you may own. Here are a few steps that you can take to avoid probate (and hopefully hard feelings among your heirs) which could last a lifetime:

  1. Leave a list of personal property: Your cars, home, clothing, jewelry, artwork and any other pieces of property that you own needs to be itemized. Then, next to each item of property, put the name of who you want to have it. You may even want to put a sticker with the name of the person on each item to help keep track of who gets what.
  2. Open a line of communication with all heirs: Ask them if they want anything in particular. Keep a record of the conversations and make a list of specific requests.
  3. List any gifts or loans to family members: Parents may make loans or give gifts to children to help them through difficult times. List the names of the children and the loans and/or gifts that were given them.
  4. Avoid joint ownership: In this case, “joint ownership” is where a child jointly owns assets with their parents. An added beneficiary (such as real estate) exposes the parent donor to the co-owner’s liabilities and limits the donor to change his mind in the future.
  5. List spouse as primary and sole fiduciary: Your husband or wife should be the first and primary fiduciary.
  6. Balance needs of spouse and children: Your family members have different needs. One strategy is to assign most of the life insurance money to your spouse, while other property items (i.e. autos, clothing, etc.) go to your children.Consider your individual family member’s needs upon your death to achieve the best balance possible.
  7. Transition the family business: You can gradually hand over the family business while you and your spouse are still alive. Think about grooming your successors by giving them more responsibility and authority.
  8. Keep estate planning confidential: Your finances are your business only. Avoid discussing your estate plan at a dinner with friends or posting plans on social media. Also, don’t give a copy of your estate plan to your children or grandchildren. Once you share your plan, any changes you make to it may be questioned. Avoid the drama. Life changes and with those changes, your estate planning. Only you, your spouse and your estate lawyer should discuss your estate plans.
  9. Make funeral arrangements: Choose where you and your spouse will be buried, the funeral program, interment plans, and other detailed funeral instructions. If you’re choosing to be cremated, iron out all the details and make a clear plan for your remains. These arrangements will save a lot of headaches and embarrassment for your heirs.

You have seen what happens when estates aren’t planned well: family fights, hard feelings, embarrassment, fraud, and litigation. All of these outcomes can be avoided with a solid estate plan. Estate planning is a difficult task and easier if you don’t procrastinate. Don’t delay any longer!

A.K. Burton, PC, which serves the Washington,D.C. and Bethesda, MD area, has experienced and licensed individual estate planning advisers who can help you create a will that will meet you and your family’s needs. Contact us at (301) 365-1974 for more information or email us at info@cpa-maryland.com.

The First Steps to take in Estate Planning

Death.

Well, your death to be more specific. It’s not something you want to think about and we should not be obsessed with it.

However, not planning for it is a major mistake many people make. We will all die one day. Death is something we can’t plan but we can plan to provide for our family and loved ones once the inevitable happens.

Estate Planning can actually be a relief to many who do it. It eliminates a lot of stress for you and your loved ones. How many stories have you heard of someone’s sudden death and the spouse and family being left with thousands of dollars in debts and no money to cover funeral expenses.

So, now is the time to take the First Steps in Estate Planning. Those all-important first steps should include the following:

  1. Create a Will and sign it: This first step is so simple and yet seems to be the most difficult or most often forgotten. (Only 43% of adults have a will according to a 2011 Harris Interactive Survey.) However, this is the most important and simplest step of all. Your property needs to be identified and the heirs to them named. So, in your will, name an executor who can properly disburse your property according to your wishes and pay off any estate debts. If you fail to execute a will, your property and debts may be passed on equally to your spouse and children according to the Law of Intestacy. That may cause hardship and incur extra legal costs. It’s much better to have a will and also be sure to sign and date it.
  2. Leave a detailed letter: Sometimes, you need to say more than the will allows. In this case, write a detailed letter stating your desires for your funeral arrangements, wording for the obituary, sentimental items you want to give to heirs, funeral program and other items. This letter would be kept and read by your attorney and/or executor. (You may have to amend this letter, along with your will, over the years.)
  3. Create an advanced health care directive: Many people fail to plan for health care emergencies. This unfortunate lack of planning and insight leaves their loved ones having to plan or decide on how to take care of them causing great stress and expense. A stroke, cardiac arrest or other major health crisis occurs and you may be unable to express your end-of-life desires to your family. This is a nightmare scenario. So, plan your “Advance Health Care Directive” giving explicit directions on how you should be treated when that moment occurs. Many people have a “DNR” or “do not resuscitate” orders on their medical and HIPAA release form. Your estate planning attorney can prepare this form for you and they can give your health care agent/case management team the right to get this information under the HIPAA rules. (You can find out more from the ABA’s “Consumer’s Toolkit for Health Care Advance Planning.”)
  4. Hire a Durable Power of Attorney (DPA): Your will and executor are a great start but you will still need an attorney to make sure all your wishes are known and executed should you be too sick to have it done. You may need to choose a trusted family attorney or a financial advisor. It should be someone familiar with the legal and financial issues and also someone who provide professional and compassionate advice to your heirs. (A relative is not recommended in this case as they would not have necessary objectivity needed in making decisions.)

This is only the start of estate planning. We will get into more detail in future blogs. The main point here is this: get that will written and signed. Everything after that can be done in time. Make this sadness less stressful for you loved ones by making sure they are taken care of and your property and assets go to those whom you want to have it. It’s not too late to do it today, in fact.

If you need more advice on estate planning, we have licensed and experienced attorneys at A. K. Burton, PC who can help you plan every step of the way. Contact us at (301) 365-1974 for more information or email us at info@cpa-maryland.com.