Posts

Trust Attorney Baron Law

Five Reasons Why Having a Family Trust is Better Than a Simple Will

When planning for your loved ones, one common misunderstanding is thinking that you have to be ultra-wealthy to need or benefit from a trust.  While a common misconception, a lack of knowledge in this area can be costly. Even if your estate is fairly small, you still want to avoid the high costs and inefficiency of probate, as well as providing asset protection for your children.  Family trust planning can protect your nest egg while also providing several other advantages over a simple will.

  1. Family Trusts Avoid Probate

Having a simple will is better than having no plan at all; however, a simple last will and testament does not avoid probate.  Probate is a court system designed to administer your will and pay creditors.  Unfortunately, the probate court can be costly and time consuming.  In fact, according to the AARP, the average estate will lose between 5-10 percent of assets when administered through probate. Also, the minimum time to administer a will in probate court is six months, but the average time in most counties is eleven months.

If properly created, a Family Trust can seamlessly transfer assets to your heirs while avoiding probate. There is not a minimum time of administration, and there are no probate fees.  Additionally, there are no court forms to fill out, and probate court has no involvement in the administration.

  1. Asset Protection

If you have minor children, then having a Family Trust becomes a must. A minor child cannot legally inherit your assets.  Even if it were possible, most parents would consider it unwise for their seventeen-year-old child to receive a large sum of money.  Family Trusts provide asset protection by holding assets in trust for your children’s benefit.  Even when your children become adults, the trust still provides asset protection against creditors, litigation, and divorce.  For example, if you passed away leaving a large sum to your forty-five-year-old child who has spending issues, a pending litigation, or a divorce in process, the trust would hold the assets until your child is in a better place in life.

In addition to concerns about children, another common asset protection measure, given divorce rates over fifty percent, occurs when individuals are in their second marriage.  In this scenario, there is nothing preventing the remaining spouse from disinheriting children from a prior marriage.  Consider this example: Husband and Wife are in their second marriage.  The wife has two kids from a prior marriage. The husband has no kids except for step-children of the current marriage.  The wife passes away and leaves everything to her husband, and the contingent beneficiary naming her two kids.  Five years later, the husband remarries and creates a new estate plan naming his new spouse as primary beneficiary of his estate, the contingent naming his two step-children. Then the husband dies. The new spouse inherits everything and the children are accidentally (or in this case intentionally) disinherited.

Famous Last Words, “I would never get remarried!” In reality, this is a very typical example of the need for some level of control and strategy. A Family Trust in this example would solve the wife’s concerns entirely. And if this were not a second marriage, a Family Trust might still make sense for couples wanting to keep the estate within the family and avoid remarriage issues.  Moreover, the Family Trust in all circumstances would provide asset protection for children as mentioned above.

  1. Privacy

In addition to probate being time-consuming and costly, it is also public information.  Today, anyone can troll the probate docket observing how much money is in your estate, who the beneficiaries are, and what step in this long process you are in. This may sound harmless, but public knowledge can lead to scams against your beneficiaries, as well as placing information that you wouldn’t want available in cyberspace.  A Family Trust is a private design where only you and those you want involved will have access to your financial information and bequests.

  1. Control

Family Trusts provide control even after you have passed.  A simple will distributes assets outright as opposed to over time.  Family Trusts allow you implement conditions and asset protection strategies years after you have passed.  For example, you can dictate in your trust that your children will receive payments in thirds after achieving the ages of 30, 35, and 40.  Perhaps you have no children and you are leaving your assets to a sibling. In that case you can dictate that assets will not be distributed if your sibling is in a nursing home or receiving Medicaid.  Without a Family Trust, the assets in this second example would all go to the nursing home and/or would kick your sibling off their federal benefits.

  1. Efficiency

Family trusts are efficient and cost effective.  Although a Family Trust may cost more than a simple will to create, the amount of money saved after you have passed is worth the effort. Additionally, Family Trusts can be administered in a fraction of the time compared to probate. Finally, a Family Trust can be easily administered while creating a legacy for your family.

Helping You And Your Loved Ones Plan For The Future

For more information on Family Trusts or to schedule a free consultation, contact Dan A. Baron at Baron Law LLC at 216-573-3723 or dan@baronlawcleveland.com

About the Author:  Dan A. Baron is the founding member of Baron Law LLC focusing his practice to the areas of estate planning, business law, and elder law.   Dan was recently voted an Ohio Super Lawyer Rising Star, an award nominated by other competing attorneys and one that only five percent or less achieve.   Mr. Baron graduated with honors from Cleveland Marshall College of Law.  He holds a business degree from The University of Akron, cum laude, and is a member of the Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association, West Shore Bar Association, Akron Bar Association, Business Networking Institute, and American Bar Association.  Dan is also a member of the estate planning section at the Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association.

Baron Law Cleveland

Estate Planning – Documents I Should Provide My Attorney

Cleveland, Ohio, estate planning lawyer, Daniel A. Baron, Ohio, offers the following information on what documents are necessary for you to provide your attorney when sitting down to establish your comprehensive estate plan.

“Be prepared.” Boy Scouts of America

A recent survey taken by the AARP found that 3 out of every 5 Americans have no estate-planning documents, not even a simple will. Thus, money and assets they’ve spent a lifetime earning and saving are at risk from creditors, litigation, and state and federal taxation. Further, none of their friends or family know how to handle their affairs or last wishes. Even though the majority of people have not taken the necessary steps to formulate a plan when the inevitable comes, all can agree that leaving friends and family to scramble to pay your debts, settle your accounts, and divide your worldly possessions is not the best way. A time of mourning should be just that, for mourning, not for calling bankers, insurance agents, or accountants.

Hopefully, you’ve decided to take the first step and enter into the minority of Americans who proactively address what is left behind when they pass. However, a familiar question exists, how do I get started? That is, what do I need to start planning my estate?

Most, if not all, lawyers are traditional, they like things they can touch and read. So, before you meet with your attorney to plan your estate, you’re going to want to bring a few things. The following list is by no means exhaustive but will give you a good start. Collecting these documents before your meeting will save everyone time, allow your attorney to better comprehend your personal estate planning needs, and prepare you mentally so you can better communicate what you want and what your family needs out of your estate plan.

A General Accounting of your Estate

The word estate is a term that denotes all of the money, property, and debts owned by person, particularly at death. Naturally in order to plan an estate, it must be known what an estate actually encompasses. Therefore, on a piece of paper or computer spreadsheet, your going to write out your estate.

List out: your taxable accounts, your retirement accounts, any life insurance policies, any annuities, your personal residence, other real estate, any highly significant personal property (cars, furniture, artwork, jewelry, etc.), business interests, and any outstanding debts, liabilities, or obligations. For each category, split them up between those owned solely by you, those owned solely by your spouse (if married or part of a civil union), and those owned jointly.

This information is critical for tax projections and allows your attorney to take the necessary steps now, or at death, to ensure that the most property and money goes to where you want and not lost via government taxation, creditors, or litigation. There is a multitude of ways your attorney ensures estate preservation, however, knowing exactly what you have and what you want to do with it is critical. Note that this list only serves as an estimate of your estate, not an exact accounting. Your attorney will be able to advise and guide you on obtaining an accurate picture of your entire estate but this list will be the foundation for future calculations.

Life Insurance Policies

Life insurance is a common tool people use to guarantee their surviving family won’t be left in an untenable financial position in the event of death. The lump sum that life insurance proceeds guarantee can fill critical gaps in an estate plan and ensure that your loved ones are taken care of and your affairs are handled in a respectable manner. This is only possible, however, if the proper beneficiaries are designated. If not, who knows how your proceeds are spent. Therefore, ensuring the proper beneficiaries are denoted and/or updated on your insurance policies is of utmost importance. Make sure to have your attorney review your beneficiaries and file any change of beneficiary forms you desire.

Of further note for seniors, some life insurance policies, such as whole life or universal, accrue cash value which may affect Medicaid eligibility. The accumulation of cash value under particular life insurance policies counts as an asset, which if exceeds $2,000 may disqualify a person from Medicaid. Again, this is something to bring to your attorney’s attention so your estate plan can be more personalized to your needs.

Additionally, life insurance policies are often part of your taxable estate. As such, proper steps during estate planning must be undertaken to lower or avoid the tax burden on the estate. Named beneficiaries of life insurance proceeds may also face significant tax consequences from a sudden influx of cash. As such, bringing your life insurance policies to your estate attorney allows him to understand the type of insurance you possess and avoid issues with regard to beneficiary designations, Medicaid eligibility, and estate tax consequences.

Investment Portfolio

You’re also going to bring your investment portfolio to your attorney. That is, anything evidencing your 401k, owned annuities, stocks, bonds, or mutual funds, and other retirement accounts such as IRAs and Roth IRAs, regardless of whether the IRS classifies them as qualified or unqualified plans. Your investment portfolio is likely a major asset that is a significant part of your taxable estate and whose constituent parts each often have their own special rules regarding contributions, distributions, transfers, and inheritance. Bringing your investment documents to your attorney will allow him to plan your estate accordingly and inform you of the special rules, privileges, and schedules applicable to the particular investment instruments you’ve chosen.

A List of Important Property with Bequests

Generally, this is what most people think of when talking estate planning, who gets the house and who gets grandma’s heirloom necklace. In order to avoid any conflict and confusion between surviving family members over who gets what when you pass, write out a list of the biggest and most important bequests of personal and real property.

Most people list out vehicles, real estate, business interests, family heirlooms, expensive electronics, art work, etc. Pretty much anything that has high sentimental or financial value. Obviously for each item on the list write who gets what and in what way. For simple property, like jewelry, usually an individual gets a direct bequest and the item is theirs when you pass. For other property, such as real estate or business interests, usually these are split up in particular ways. For example, a business being split equally between surviving children or a house passing only to children of a first marriage. Your attorney will inform you of the multitude of ways bequests may be structured in order to satisfy your particular estate planning needs.

Thinking about and writing out your property bequests ensures your final wishes are followed and avoids familial infighting. On top of bringing this list to your attorney, bring any deeds, titles, or other ownership documents. This will expedite an estate accounting after your death for your executor and makes sure you actually own what you think you do. Far too many times families are taken by surprise by a faulty title or hidden lien or claimant on a deed. Your attorney can easily check a chain of title or confirm the validity of a deed and avoid any question of ownership down the line.

A “Managed Care Plan”

This is not to be confused with the private insurance plan you sign up for, or Ohio picks for you, when you apply and are approved for Medicaid. Managed care plans within the context of Medicaid private insurance isn’t the subject here, however, it is an important subject that should be discussed and planned for with your attorney.

Within this context, your managed care plan means a coherent idea of where and how you want to spend the last years of your life, especially in the event of deteriorating health or debilitating disease. That is, the logistics, finances, and questions surrounding issues of hospice care, managed care facilities, nursing homes, and general living as one advances in age.

For example, planning out your senior living situation will likely enable you to stay with your primary care physician and specialists longer. Often the accessibility of physicians and medical specialists are subject to geographic restriction, insurance coverage, or out-of-pocket cost. A proper estate plan can guarantee the funds exist to support continued care in the manner you’ve grown accustomed to and communicate to friends and family your medical wishes far in advance of when those questions arise. Never underestimate the value of spending the autumn of your years in clean and comfortable healthcare facilities with treatment from doctors that have an established relationship. As such, bring any contracts, agreements, or marketing materials of any health or senior living facilities you wish to go to. Every piece of information allows further personalization of your estate plan and more clearly communicates what you want to your family many years down the road.

Further, bring important legal documents such as designations for durable, health, or financial powers of attorney, any do not resuscitate orders (DNRs), and executor and administrator elections. If you don’t have any of these documents prepared, these can easily be drafted by your attorney during your estate planning.

Americans are living longer than ever before and having a plan to confront advancing age is important to ensure comfortable living and piece of mind for the family. Granted this is not an enjoyable or fun aspect of life to think about and plan out, but it is something you and your family will never regret.

Conclusion:

Bringing the listed documents and gathering up your thoughts according to the issues highlighted will give you a good head start in preparation to planning your estate with your attorney. Again, this list is not exhaustive and only touches on a fraction of the issues that addressed during estate planning. Major issues such as surviving spousal support and guardianship of minor children, among many others, must be handled too, so think about these issues as well. Estate planning is a complex process but taking a little time to gather documents and think about the future will pay big dividends to you while you’re here and make life much easier for your family when you’re not.

You don’t have to be rich to protect what you’ve spent a lifetime trying to build. To find out whether a trust is right for your family, take the one-minute questionnaire at www.DoIneedaTrust.com. There are a number of different trusts available and the choices are infinite. With every scenario, careful consideration of every trust planning strategy should be considered for the maximum asset protection and tax savings.

For more information, you can contact Dan A. Baron of Baron Law LLC at 216-573-3723. Baron Law LLC is a Cleveland, Ohio area law firm focusing on estate planning and elder law. Dan can also be reached at dan@baronlawcleveland.com.

Helping You and Your Loved Ones Plan for the Future.

About the author: Mike E. Benjamin, Esq.

Mike is a contracted attorney at Baron Law LLC who specializes in civil litigation, estate planning, and probate law. He is a member of the Westshore Bar Association, the Ohio State Bar Association, the Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association, and the Federal Bar Association for the Northern District of Ohio. He can be reached at mike@baronlawcleveland.com.

Disclaimer:
The information contained herein is general in nature, is provided for informational and educational purposes only, and should not be construed as legal or tax advice. The author nor Baron Law LLC cannot and does not guarantee that such information is accurate, complete, or timely. Laws of a particular state or laws that may be applicable in a given situation may impact the applicability, accuracy, or completeness of the preceding information. Further, federal and state laws and regulations are complex and subject to change. Changes in such laws often have material impact on estate planning and tax forecasts. As such, the author and Baron Law LLC make no warranties regarding the herein information or any results arising from its use. Furthermore, the author and Baron Law LLC disclaim any liability arising out of your use of, or any financial position taken in reliance on, such information. As always consult an attorney regarding your specific legal or tax situation.
“He who is always his own counselor will often have a fool for his client.” Old English Proverb est. circa 1809.
Baron Law Estate Planning Attorney

Probate Is Expensive And Time-Consuming. Here Are Ways To Avoid Probate

Cleveland, Ohio, estate planning law firm, Baron Law LLC, Cleveland, Ohio, offers the following information on you can avoid probate when you are thinking of establishing your comprehensive estate plan.

All too often people draft a last will and testament, shove the document in a safety deposit box at the local bank, and never give it another thought. Granted, a cavalier attitude towards one’s estate plan is a bold strategy but at best it’s costing thousands of dollars down the line, at worst the will isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on and the surviving family is left the deal with a tangled mess of who gets what. A comprehensive estate plan drafted by competent counsel will cost is a little now but save you a lot later.

A last will and testament is primarily meant to memorialize instructions for the distribution of assets, obligations, and wealth when someone dies. The process in which a will is read, followed, and, if necessary, contested is called probate. This process also applies if someone dies intestate, that is, without a will, but state law is followed instead of explicit instructions given in a will. Probate isn’t a necessarily evil process but it is labor intensive and costly. Probate is a legal process undertaken in state court under the watchful gaze of the assigned probate judge. As such, probate often takes many months to complete during which court costs continue to accrue. Even after a moderate probate process, probate costs can reach as much as 10% of the gross estate. Money better spent on more pressing concerns like funeral expenses or lingering medical costs. Further, during probate, beneficiaries don’t have access to the property bequeathed to them until probate is finished, regardless of whether the will is contested or not.

Since everyone prefers to preserve the most amount of assets to leave to surviving friends and family and provide access to such assets quickly, avoiding probate whenever possible is advantageous. Below are the most common ways probate is avoided.

Beneficiary Designations

Some major assets such as life insurance policies and retirement accounts, like IRAs and 401(k)s, are inherently outside of probate due to their mandated beneficiary designations. The owner of these assets at creation is required to denote primary and contingent beneficiaries in the event of death. Thus, these assets transfer directly and immediately to listed beneficiaries without the need of court intervention.

Though not as straight forward as simple beneficiary designations, other assets such as bank accounts and non-retirement investment accounts can utilize payable-on-death or transfer-on-death beneficiary designations. To enable payable-on-death beneficiary designations for bank accounts or transfer-on-death beneficiary designations for non-retirement investment accounts, contact the relevant brokerage firm or bank and request the standardized forms. Such designations are becoming more common, as such, all major financial institutions have standardized forms available upon request. The major hurdle is actually requesting the forms, completing them properly, then returning them to the institution. Retaining a local Cleveland area estate attorney can guarantee these forms are completed timely, properly, and in the correct circumstances.

For real estate, Ohio uses transfer-on-death designation affidavits as an avenue to avoid probate. Since 2009, real estate can transfer outside of probate if an affidavit is drafted with the following:

  • It describes the property and denotes its instrument number.
  • It describes the portion of property subject to transfer.
  • It denotes whether the owner is married. If married, the spouse must sign as well.
  • It names one or more beneficiary.
  • It is signed, notarized, and filed before the death of the owner.

Beneficiary designations serve as explicit instructions regarding transfer of ownership upon death. Probate fundamentally exists to ensure a decedent’s assets go where the decedent wanted them to. So, if a decedent left explicit instructions in the form of beneficiary designations, there is little reason to subject the applicable asset to probate.

Joint Ownership

Joint property by its very nature avoids probate. Joint property, for example, joint and survivor deeds or a joint tenancy with a right of survivorship, passes to the surviving joint owners when one owner dies. The transfer occurs immediately and no probate process is undertaken in regards to the joint asset. This type of ownership is mostly commonly associated with martial homes and assets obtained during marriage. Though marriage is the most common circumstance of joint ownership, it is not exclusive.

Forming a joint ownership relationship is relatively simple in most instances, however, these methods of ownership can present issues regarding trust and control of the property. Namely, there must be mutual trust and confidence between joint owners to upkeep and manage the property. Furthermore, the rights of ownership of joint property depend on the type of joint ownership created. Depending on the type of joint ownership, the use, control, and financial and legal responsibility assigned to each joint owner can vary. Some individuals are uneasy depending upon another to take care of a significant asset. The last thing anyone wants is to get locked into ownership over something expensive with an unstable, lazy, or irresponsible co-owner.

Joint ownership in certain circumstances is practical way to avoid expensive probate costs and lengthy holds on the transfer of ownership in the event of death. There are, however, significant considerations and potential negatives as well. Concerns of concurrent ownership during life may eclipse any probate avoidance benefits down the line. A local Cleveland area estate attorney is in the best position to analyze your estate planning needs and can tell you if joint ownership is advantageous to your situation.

Trusts

Trusts are a commonly recommended estate planning vehicle which affords unparalleled estate planning flexibility. Any quick internet search will illustrate, at length, about the numerous advantages of using trusts during estate planning. Whether looking to avoid probate, control assets pre or post death, or reduce or avoid estate and inheritance taxes, trust utilization is a highly effective option that should always be investigated. Contact a local Cleveland area estate attorney to find out how trusts can benefit you and your family.

A trust, to put it simply, is a private agreement that allows a third party, a trustee, to manage the assets that are placed inside the trust for the benefit of trust beneficiaries. There are innumerable types of trusts, each with own its respective legal conventions and purposes. Within the context of this discussion, however, the critical aspect of trusts is that the assets housed within them usually avoid probate. When the owner of the trust creates the trust and properly funds it, the assets go from the owner’s taxable estate to the trust. Thus, when the owner dies, the assets are not in the owner’s estate and subject to probate. The assets in question pass via the beneficiary designations set down when the trust was created. As mentioned previously, conveyance via beneficiary designation is much simpler, quicker, and cost-effective then the probate process.

The best way to avoid probate and preserve the most amount of money and property for surviving family is situational and based upon individual need and preference. A person may want to avoid probate for Medicaid qualification reasons, privacy concerns, or just to ensure as much money as possible passes to heirs. As such, a visit with a Cleveland area estate planning attorney can the provide proper guidance and evaluation of potential estate planning strategies. An hour with an estate attorney can answer any questions you might have and set you on the path to dealing with some of life’s most critical issues.

For more information, you can contact Mike Benjamin of Baron Law LLC at 216-573-3723. Baron Law LLC is a Cleveland, Ohio area law firm focusing on estate planning and elder law. Mike can also be reached at mike@baronlawcleveland.com.

Helping You and Your Loved Ones Plan for the Future.

About the author: Mike E. Benjamin, Esq.

Mike is a contracted attorney at Baron Law LLC who specializes in civil litigation, estate planning, and probate law. He is a member of the Westshore Bar Association, the Ohio State Bar Association, the Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association, and the Federal Bar Association for the Northern District of Ohio. He can be reached at mike@baronlawcleveland.com.

Disclaimer:
The information contained herein is general in nature, is provided for informational and educational purposes only, and should not be construed as legal or tax advice. The author nor Baron Law LLC cannot and does not guarantee that such information is accurate, complete, or timely. Laws of a particular state or laws that may be applicable in a given situation may impact the applicability, accuracy, or completeness of the preceding information. Further, federal and state laws and regulations are complex and subject to change. Changes in such laws often have material impact on estate planning and tax forecasts. As such, the author and Baron Law LLC make no warranties regarding the herein information or any results arising from its use. Furthermore, the author and Baron Law LLC disclaim any liability arising out of your use of, or any financial position taken in reliance on, such information. As always consult an attorney regarding your specific legal or tax situation.
“He who is always his own counselor will often have a fool for his client.” Old English Proverb est. circa
Baron Law Cleveland LLC

What Is An Estate Plan, Part I – Death Documents?

Baron Law LLC, of Cleveland, Ohio, offers the following information on different components of an Estate Plan.  To see what plan is best suited for your needs, contact Baron Law, LLC, Cleveland, Ohio.

By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” Benjamin Franklin

Estate planning is a concept that many people know about, but few fully understand. To most, planning an estate consists simply of establishing a trust or drafting a will. Granted, these are indispensable aspects but such a limited view only serves to handicap successfully preparing for impending mortality.

Aside from ensuring assets pass to heirs and designated assets are freed from probate, a comprehensive estate plan can address a innumerable issues and provide effective solutions. Estate plans may be tailored to provide consistent income for retirement, guarantee responsible individuals are in place in moments of crisis, and medical wishes are communicated and followed. At the end of the day, however, an estate plan is simply a collection of legal documents. Each legal document has a specific purpose, possesses particular advantages, legal conventions, and applicable situations. Nevertheless, most estate plans do consist of a “core” of legal documents that are often advantageous to have regardless of health or financial situation. An estate attorney will draft the documents critical for a given situation but the following is a list of the “core” legal documents that will likely make up any estate plan.

The following consists of the typical documents within a traditional estate plan and is by no means exhaustive. Estate plans are reflective of their owners and are tailored specifically to that person or couple and the needs of surviving family members and financial interests. Again, an attorney is in the best position to advise and guide you on what the major estate planning concerns are and the best legal methods to take. This part of a two-part series discusses the estate planning documents largely concerned with providing instructions in the event of death.

Last Will and Testament

A last will and testament is the document most people associate with estate planning. The will memorializes the “last wishes” of a decedent and guides surviving friends and family on how to split up an estate according to the beneficiary designations and instructions present in the document. There are many types of wills and each one is drafted uniquely for the individual and their estate.

Though wills are specifically created, all share important uses and common characteristics. Again, wills bequest particular money and assets to chosen friends and family. Further, they provide for the how and when such bequests will take place. Some instruct money only to be given on an 18th birthday or only between children of a first marriage. Of critical importance, wills are also the primary method of election of guardians for minor children or disabled familial charges and executors of the estate. The provision of guardianship, a clear plan for property distribution post death, and executor election are the primary incentives for drafting a will. Addressing all is an utmost necessity for ensuring peace of mind for those left behind.

Wills, with some exceptions, all possess the same legal conventions controlling their creation. The point of these legal rules is to ensure the legitimacy of the will, the authenticity of the last wishes evidenced by the document, and protect estates from predatory practices and opportunists. Generally, a legally operative will must be in writing, signed by testator of sound mind, and witnessed by two competent witnesses.

While most estate assets are covered under a will, some assets are not. The following are an example common asset outside of a will, also sometimes referred to as non-testamentary assets: retirement accounts, life insurance proceeds, and property owned jointly with right of survivorship. Non-testamentary assets are normally bequeathed by independent beneficiary designations within the documents of creation or on associated accounts. As such, these assets normally do not undergo probate and are available to beneficiaries much quicker than assets passed via a will and the longer probate process. Distinguishing between testamentary and non-testamentary assets can have critical tax consequences for an estate, as such, please consult an estate attorney for guidance.

Wills are a mainstay and common tool for estate planning, however, its drafting can rapidly grow in complexity due to a convoluted family structure or an expansive estate. Again, an attorney should be retained to draft a will thus ensuring last wishes are effectively communicated and legally valid within a probate court. Failure to draft a will or an improperly drafted or implemented one may result in assets going to improper parties, an undesired executor administrating an estate, irresponsible or unknown guardians for minor children, or undue legal fees and court costs.

Guardianship Designations for Minor Children

A critical concern for most people with young children is, who is going to take care of my children if I’m not here? Ensuring that financially stable friends or family willing to raise children exist affords piece of mind to parents in the event of sudden or unexpected death. Also, proactively addressing guardianship lets parents pick like-minded guardians in regards to personal, lifestyle, or religious views so surviving children are still, at least partially, raised in the manner they desire.

The easiest way to designate a guardian is to name that person or persons in the last will and testament. Then upon death, if the children are not yet 18, a probate court in most situations will appoint the named individuals as guardians according to the specified instructions. A simple will guardian designation, however, may not be convenient or appropriate in certain situations. Family compositions often change, such as in divorce or estrangement, or previously nominated guardians pass away thus negating the express wishes within a will. As such, amending or redrafting a will every time a different guardian is preferable can be time consuming and expensive.

Another way, however, exists to appoint a guardian outside of a will. An independent writing, other than a durable power of attorney, signed, witnessed, notarized, and filed with the appropriate probate court, specifying an appropriate guardian, is sufficient to convey such responsibilities. This method is relatively inexpensive and affords more flexibility to concerned parents. This independent writing method is not meant to affect any other issue or provision within a last will and testament other than appointment of guardians in the event of death. Note, an attorney will be able to resolve and watch for any potential issues regarding contradictory guardianship designations in separate estate planning documents.

Unfortunately, not everyone is blessed with a stable home life or responsible extended family. As such, proper guardian designation documentation is important and alleviates stress for parents, especially within the context of debilitating disease or deteriorating health. Further, appropriate designation avoids the involvement of child services and the courts in determining custody, eliminates the prospect of child trauma and stress upon children and concerned family during transition, and ensures surviving children have no opportunity to become wards of the state.

Letter of Intent

The aforementioned documents taken together serve to mostly illustrate and communicate a decedent’s final wishes. Everything, however, is subject to interpretation. Take the phone game most people played as children for example. A message begins at one end of a chain and, through repetitive communication and subtle shifts in language and understanding, comes out at the end completely different than how it started. A letter of intent fills in any gaps in understanding and prevents manipulation, subtle or overt, of estate instructions.

A letter of intent is a simple document that provides comprehensive instructions for what the decedent views is the most critical information and desired outcomes of an estate plan. The letter, however, is an informal document that is not legally binding upon a probate court. That being said, courts generally rely on them during probate proceedings because there is no greater authority than a decedent’s own words. After all, the entire point of probate is to distribute estate assets as close to a decedent’s intent as possible after the fact. Common instructions within a letter of intent include: guardian designations for minor children, if not detailed in a last will and testament, specific methods for bequests, the location of assets, funeral details, and the locations of estranged family members or friends chosen as beneficiaries. A decedent’s letter of intent in an additional effort to eliminate any confusion or room for interpretation within an estate plan.

Further, a letter of intent may serve as an alternative to adding on to an existing will independent of a codicil. Again, the letter itself is not legally binding like a codicil would be but it is relatively inexpensive, quick, and may serve as a viable substitute in a crunch. In Ohio, codicils are governed by strict legal conventions while letters of intent are not. As such, letters may be the document of last resort in situations of impending mortality or incapacity. As most probate judges agree, something is better than nothing. Note, however, a letter of intent is never a substitute for a will. Always consult with an attorney regarding how to best utilize a letter of intent in conjunction with other estate planning documents.

Your last will and testament, guardianship designations, and letter of intent are all critical estate planning documents, however, taken together they only offer partial protection and primarily focus on providing instructions after death. In the next part of the series the estate documents of the living will, HIPPA authorization, and healthcare and durable powers of attorney, which concentrate on providing instructions during life, are explored. Taken together, all the documents explored during this series can provide comprehensive protection for the most critical issues of both life and death.

You don’t have to be rich to protect what you’ve spent a lifetime trying to build. To find out whether a trust is right for your family, take the one-minute questionnaire at www.DoIneedaTrust.com. There are a number of different trusts available and the choices are infinite. With every scenario, careful consideration of every trust planning strategy should be considered for the maximum asset protection and tax savings.

For more information, you can contact Mike Benjamin of Baron Law LLC at 216-573-3723. Baron Law LLC is a Cleveland, Ohio area law firm focusing on estate planning and elder law. Mike can also be reached at mike@baronlawcleveland.com.

 

Helping You and Your Loved Ones Plan for the Future.

 

About the author: Mike E. Benjamin, Esq.

Mike is a contracted attorney at Baron Law LLC who specializes in civil litigation, estate planning, and probate law. He is a member of the Westshore Bar Association, the Ohio State Bar Association, the Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association, and the Federal Bar Association for the Northern District of Ohio. He can be reached at mike@baronlawcleveland.com.

Disclaimer:
The information contained herein is general in nature, is provided for informational and educational purposes only, and should not be construed as legal or tax advice. The author nor Baron Law LLC cannot and does not guarantee that such information is accurate, complete, or timely. Laws of a particular state or laws that may be applicable in a given situation may impact the applicability, accuracy, or completeness of the preceding information. Further, federal and state laws and regulations are complex and subject to change. Changes in such laws often have material impact on estate planning and tax forecasts. As such, the author and Baron Law LLC make no warranties regarding the herein information or any results arising from its use. Furthermore, the author and Baron Law LLC disclaim any liability arising out of your use of, or any financial position taken in reliance on, such information. As always consult an attorney regarding your specific legal or tax situation.

Top Reasons For Needing a Trust

Top Reasons For Having a Trust

When creating an estate plan, the biggest mistake people make is thinking they need to be rich in order to have a trust – that is completely false.  If you’re not Warren Buffet, you may still have other non-monetary reasons for creating a trust like asset protection, control, tax savings, Medicaid planning, and/or litigation and creditor protection.   Even if your estate is worth less than $100,000, you may still be in an ideal situation to protect your nest egg and what you’ve spent a lifetime trying to build.

Although the situations of needing a trust are infinite, here are a few most common scenarios where you might benefit from creating a trust.  You can also take a one-minute trust questionnaire here, to find out more specifically whether a trust is right for you.

Second Marriages

With divorce rates over fifty percent, the most common reason for creating a trust is where an individual is in their second marriage.  In this scenario, there is nothing preventing the remaining spouse from disinheriting children from a prior marriage.  Consider this example: Husband and Wife are in their second marriage.  Wife has two kids from a prior marriage. Husband does not have kids except for step-children of current marriage.  Wife passes away and leaves everything to Husband, remainder to two kids.  Five years later, Husband meets a much younger Pamela Anderson and gets married.  Husband creates a new estate plan naming Pamela Anderson as primary beneficiary of his estate, remainder to two step-children.  Husband dies.   Pamela then creates a new estate plan, disinheriting children.

Famous Last Words, “I would never get remarried!”

As you can see, this is a very typical example of where some level of control and strategy is needed.  A trust in this example would solve the wife’s concerns entirely.  Here, Wife could have created what is known as a QTIP trust.  In a nut shell, the QTIP would give Husband income from Wife’s estate, plus five percent (5 %) of principal each year.  When Husband dies, the estate MUST be passed to children and cannot be passed to anyone else.  In essence, Wife is able to control her estate even after she’s passed.  She has also ensured her children will never be cut out of the estate, even if it were the unintentional result of Husband.  And if this were not a second marriage, a trust might still make sense for couples wanting to keep the estate within the family and avoid remarriage concerns.

Tax Savings for Children

Receiving an estate comes with taxable consequences.  Although federal estate taxes are not normally at issue, gains on an inheritance can be quite high for children resulting in higher taxes.  For example, a child receiving $100,000 in gains might be placed in a larger tax bracket of 39.9% because their inheritance placed them over the threshold.  The simple solution here is for the child to receive their inheritance over time, opposed to a lump sum. The trust itself will pay income taxes on gains and the children can enjoy a stream of payments over time.

Asset Protection

Depending on the type of trust created, a trust can protect both the creator (you) and beneficiary of trust.  The most common asset protection trust is used for children instead of the creator.  This type of trust is known as a “revocable living trust.” This type of trust gets its name because the creator can revoke, change, or modify, the trust at any time during his/her lifetime.   After the creator passes away, the estate is placed in an “irrevocable trust,” where the trust now cannot be changed.   In other words, the terms you’ve created in trust cannot be changed after you pass away.  Usually the trust maker will set forth terms that would pay children and/or beneficiaries payments over their lifetime.  So long as there is discretion given to the trustee (usually a trusted family member or attorney) the money remaining in trust cannot be attacked by creditors or litigation.  In other words, if a child ends up in a lawsuit, the trustee can cease payments to the child so that the money is protected from the lawsuit.  The same outcome would apply if the child ends up in bankruptcy or owes creditors.

Divorce

It’s well known that in a divorce, all assets are split 50/50.  It doesn’t matter whether one spouse cheated or did something horrible to the other.  Ohio courts will divide all assets accumulated during the marriage 50/50, including an inheritance.  So, if your child inherits $1 million dollars from your estate, and then subsequently gets divorced, the ex-spouse will receive $500,000 of your money.  Using the same example above, you can protect your child’s inheritance by creating a revocable living trust.   Here again, the trustee can turn off the income stream to prevent a disgruntled son-in-law from receiving his unearned share.

Control

No matter how they’re raised, it’s not uncommon for children to be irresponsible or need at least some level of guidance.  With a trust you can create payment terms so that children don’t blow their inheritance on impulsive purchases.  For example, many trusts stipulate that children may only use funds for “health, maintenance, education, and support” until they reach the age of X, thereafter payments made over time to protect against divorce, litigation, and creditors.   This method is very common and puts parents at ease even with responsible children.

You don’t have to be rich to protect what you’ve spent a lifetime trying to build.  To find out whether a trust is right for your family, take the one-minute trust questionnaire at www.DoIneedaTrust.com.  There are a number of different trusts available and the choices are infinite.  With every scenario, careful consideration of every trust planning strategy should be considered for the maximum asset protection and tax savings.  For more information, you can contact Dan A. Baron of Baron Law LLC at 216-573-3723.  Baron Law LLC is a Cleveland, Ohio area law firm focusing on estate planning and elder law.  Dan can also be reached at dan@baronlawcleveland.com

lawyer estate planning cleveland, ohio

The Definition and Role of an Executor of an Estate

Cleveland, Ohio estate planning attorney, Daniel A. Baron, offers the following information on the Definition and Role of an Executor of your Estate.

Last Will and Testament Picture

 

Being named and then carrying out the duties of an executor can be one of life’s most frightening tasks however; keep in mind that this is also an honor. Being named an Executor of someone’s estate shows that the person naming you has entrusted you with the great responsibility of making sure their last wishes are granted with respects to the settlement of their property and assets.  Fundamentally, an executor of any will is responsible for making sure that any and all  debts and creditors of the deceased are paid off, and that any remaining money and/or property of the estate is distributed according to the decedent’s wishes.

Bear in mind that the law does not require an executor to be a lawyer or for that matter a financial expert; however, it does require that every executor fulfill their duties with the utmost honesty and attentiveness. In other words, according to law, you have a “fiduciary duty,” that as the executor, you are going to act in good faith with regards to a person’s will.

As the executor, generally you are not entitled to proceeds from the sale of any property of the estate. The executor however, is entitled to a fee as compensation for administering the will. The fees could be mandated that it be reasonable depending on the size or involvedness of the will.

Executor Definition:

To Fulfill Specific Duties; there are many obligations that an executor of a will may have to realize, depending upon the involvedness of the will and the property to be distributed.

These duties normally include but are not limited to:

Finding the assets: The executor is responsible for finding all the decedent’s assets  and for keeping the assets safe until they can be appropriately dispersed to those named in the will and/or to creditors and debtors. This controlling of assets can include upon deciding which types of assets to sell as well as what kinds of assets to keep.

Winding up the deceased’s affairs:   This can cover a multitude of items to be dealt with

  • Canceling any/and all credit cards that may still be open
  • Notifying any bank or other financial institutions about the death of the individual.
  • Notifying brokerage or financial advisors overseeing investments
  • Contacting the Social Security Administration if the decedent was collecting Social Security Benefits
  • Contacting any and all life insurance carriers to claim death benefits to add to the assets of the estate
  • Cancelling home and auto insurance carriers to cancel policies once the estate has settled or property sold
  • Contacting utility companies if services are no longer needed

Locating and communicating the heirs: Locating and contacting those who have been named and who are supposed to inherit money and/or property can be a challenge at times.  If the will has not been updated, people may have moved so you the executor will need to be vigilant in finding all the heirs listed.  There are some cases the deceased has designated certain property/assets go directly to an individual or charity.  So it is imperative that the correct heir be found.

Deciding whether or not probating the last will and testament in court is necessary: Probating a will is the process of getting a court to approve the legitimacy of the will.

Verifying that the Will has been filed in the proper probate court:  This is commonly required by law even if the will does not need to be probated

Should I set up a Separate Bank Account for the Estate?

Setting up a bank account for the estate: Since it is wise not to co-mingle the Executors funds and the deceased party’s funds, the executor is typically required to keep the estate’s money separate from their own funds. Opening up a bank account in the name of the estate makes paying off creditors and the heirs so much easier and helps prove what went into the estate, came out of the estate until such time it has been completed.

Pay ongoing required payments:  Monies in the estate’s bank account are used for making mortgage, insurance and any additional ongoing payments that need to be paid during the management of the will until the estate is settled with all property being sold.

Do Heirs get paid before debtors and creditors:  First and foremost; all of the decedent’s debts and creditors need to be paid off before any heirs can inherit the remaining assets.  The executor of the will should notify all creditors of the death of the individual and see how they wish to proceed.

Paying final income taxes:  You know that there are two things certain in life – death and taxes.  One of the responsibilities the executor of a will has it that they are in charge of making certain that the decedent’s income taxes are paid for the last year they were alive.

Distributing deceased’s property: If listed in the will that certain property goes to certain heirs, the job of the Executor has it to make sure that it gets to the rightful heirs and recorded that it was given to the appropriate party.  If there is other property that is not named in the will, it should pass according to the laws of the State of Ohio.

If no will is in place, the party in charge is typically called the administrator and will be responsible for reviewing the state law to see who the estate’s property will pass to in “intestate succession.”

Having an Executor of your Estate is only one part to a comprehensive estate plan. For information regarding living wills, Last Will and Testaments, trusts, powers of attorney, or a pour-over will, contact Daniel A. Baron of Baron Law today at 216-573-3723.

Baron Law

The Marital Deduction – What are the benefits?

Cleveland, Ohio estate planning attorney, Daniel A. Baron, offers information on The Marital Deduction as well as other Tax Planning Advice and what to make part of your Estate Planning.

What are the benefits?

The most important deduction a married couple has is the The Marital Deduction.  The amount of assets which can be passed upon death from one spouse to the other is unlimited and is also used to defer ALL estate taxes until the surviving spouse passes.  Current tax laws allow one spouse to give the other spouse assets where there is little to no tax imposed upon the transfer of these assets.  No matter what the value of the assets which are being transferred, whether it is $50,000 or $50,000,000.

What if there is a divorce?

If you happen to be divorced from your spouse, you can still pass assets to the ex-spouse after you pass with little or no tax being imposed if it is stated in the divorce decree.

My spouse is not a U.S. Citizen – Do the same tax laws apply?

The Marital Deduction is unlimited as long as both spouses are U.S. Citizens. So what happens when one of the spouses is not a US Citizen?

Should the first spouse to pass away be a U.S. Citizen and the surviving spouse a noncitizen of the U.S., unfortunately the unlimited marital deduction for Federal Estate Taxes is not available.

However, the taxes can be deferred by setting up a Qualified Domestic Trust (AKA QDOT), and having the assets pass through this specialized trust.

Should you own real property, consider adding this to the trust as the taxes will be deferred until the noncitizen spouse passes away.

For more information on The Marital Deduction and implementing other tax savings ideas as part of your Estate and Tax Planning, contact Daniel A. Baron of Baron Law to maximize tax savings upon your passing.  Contact us today at 216-573-3723.

Estate Planning Attorney

What Recourse Do I Have if My Power of Attorney is Stealing From Me?

Cleveland, Ohio estate planning attorney, Daniel A. Baron, offers the following helpful answers to Powers of Attorney:

Can the Power of Attorney be used by the agent to take my money or property without my permission?

Unfortunately, you can run the risk that the agent you choose to give your Power of Attorney could abuse the power by spending your money or taking your money without your knowledge or worse without your permission. Because the agent can use the Power of Attorney to access your bank account and sell your property, it is prudent  that you not give your Power of Attorney to anyone you do not trust.  If you happen to have an unscrupulous agent, it can be very challenging to get back funds or property taken by the agent, because the agent usually has no money left to return as they have used it all for their benefit.  The person acting as your Power of Attorney has the power to sell your property, or mortgage it.  It cannot be stressed enough that you chose your Power of Attorney very wisely.

 

If I think someone is using my Power of Attorney to steal from me, what can I do?

If you are suspicious that your agent is abusing their powers, revoke the Power of Attorney immediately.

Next, without delay, notify all banks, brokerage firms, or other financial institutions in which you have money that you have revoked the Power of Attorney.

Finally, go to the probate court. You may either by yourself or through an attorney.  Demand that the agent you suspect of absconding with your funds file a detailed account showing how your money was spent. A filing fee will need to be paid by you and you may need to possibly pay the agent for the cost of preparing the accounting documentation. Next, the court will hold a hearing at which time you can challenge the any or all of the information given in the detailed accounting. Ultimately, if the court finds the agent took your money without your authorization, you can sue the agent and/or possibly press criminal charges.

 

Can I revoke my Power of Attorney?

The Power of Attorney cannot be used unless the agent has it or it, or at least a copy and either you or they have given to banks, financial institutions, or others so that they think you want the agent to act on your behalf. If you have not given the Power of Attorney to anyone, you can revoke it by destroying the document.

If the eventuality the Power of Attorney has been given to the agent, an institution, or has already been recorded, you should execute immediately a revocation of the Power of Attorney that is witnessed and acknowledged in the same manner as the first Power of Attorney. Then; just as you distributed the Power of Attorney initially, you will need to furnish a copy of the Revocation to the banks, brokerage firm, or any other financial institution, and anyone else that may have a copy of the original Power of Attorney form that they know the Power of Attorney is no longer valid.

A Power of Attorney is only one of the many parts to a comprehensive estate plan. For information regarding living wills, trusts, power of attorney, or a pour-over will, or further questions on Powers of Attorney, contact Daniel A. Baron of Baron Law today at 216-573-3723.

 

Estate Planning Attorney

What Is a Power of Attorney and Do I Need One?

Cleveland, Ohio estate planning attorney, Daniel A. Baron, offers the following helpful answers to Powers of Attorney:

What is a Power of Attorney?

A Power of Attorney is a legal document you use allowing another designated person, of your choosing, to act on your behalf. It is a legal relationship in which you are the principal and the person you appoint is the agent.  A Power of Attorney outlines specific powers you give to your agent. The powers can be limited or broad. An example would be, you are selling your house, but are not able to attend the closing.  You can at that point give someone the power just to sign the deed in your absence.  Keep in mind that most durable powers of attorney, give your agent the power to do almost anything you could or would do.  In this example you may just limit the function of the Power of Attorney’s duties.

Some financial institutions, brokerage firms, or banks may require you to sign one of their own company specific Power of Attorney for their files.

Why do I need a Power of Attorney?

In the event you become unable to handle your own affairs as a result of illness, accident, or even being absent due to your job, the Power of Attorney gives your agent the power to handle your financial affairs as you would handle them yourself.  Since you might not be able to execute a Power of Attorney at a time when you are disabled due to an accident or become incapacitated, or should you become unable to handle your own affairs and have no Power of Attorney, your spouse or family may have to request the Probate Court to appoint a power of attorney on your behalf.  A Power of Attorney can be very helpful to both you and your family, as by naming your own agent and having a signed Power of Attorney avoids the expense of probate court and avoids naming someone who may not know and carryout your wishes.

Where should I keep my Power of Attorney?

As your Power of Attorney is an important legal document, it is recommended that you keep it in a safe and secure place. You may also want to give a copy to your agent(s) or in a safe and secure place where it can be easily found by your acting agent.  Your agent may also keep a copy in case yours is lost. It is also wise to make sure your family knows where to find your Power of Attorney, or whom to ask when it is needed.  And of course, your attorney will have a copy of the Power of Attorney.

What does “durable” mean?

The legal definition of ‘durable’ means the Power of Attorney will remain in effect even if the principal becomes mentally incapacitated. The powers you give to your agent will remain effective even though you are unable to give your agent updated instructions.  If you have an older power of attorneys or an out of state powers of attorney, many of these still have these words, and remain in effect.

When does the Power of Attorney take effect?

The Power of Attorney becomes effective immediately upon signing the document before two witnesses and having it notarized. The agent is able to use the Power of Attorney as soon as he or she receives it.  However, you may give the Power of Attorney to your agent(s) and tell the person(s) NOT to use it unless you are unconscious or unable to act for yourself.  It is imperative that you know and trust the person you are asking to be your Power of Attorney.

You may opt to use a “springing” Power of Attorney which would not take effect until a specific triggering event happens, such as you become incapacitated. However, there are several issues with springing Powers of Attorney.  The agent first needs an affidavit showing the triggering event has occurred before the Power of Attorney can be put into use.  Then, even though the law says banks and other institutions that accept the document with the affidavit are not liable, banks have been reluctant to recognize the agent’s power under a springing Power of Attorney. Ultimately, it isn’t clear whether such a document would be accepted in other states other than your own.

Does giving someone a Power of Attorney mean I don’t have control over my money any longer?

It does not. Although you still have the right to control your money and property after a Power of Attorney has been put in place, keep in mind, you are giving your agent the ability to access your money.  Although there is a risk that a dishonest or unscrupulous agent might steal your money, your agent is not supposed to use your funds in any manner with your permission.  It is therefore vital to choose an agent you trust. A sound idea would be to go over the agent’s duties before you sign your power of attorney.

Do I need to update my Power of Attorney if nothing has changed?

It is always a good idea to review your Power of Attorney periodically to make sure you still agree with your choices.

There are some banks, brokerage firms, and other financial institutions that will attempt to reject a Power of Attorney that is several years old. This is mainly due to the possibility that the Power of Attorney has been revoked.  This is a good thing, so that an unscrupulous agent that had their Power of Attorney duties revoked, does not gain access to your funds and deplete them.  There are several options to prepare for this. If you remain competent it is very wise to re-execute your Power of Attorney every five years or so.

If unfortunately, you are no longer competent; your agent can sign an affidavit that your power of attorney is in full force and in effect and provide that to the financial institution.

A Power of Attorney is only one of the many parts to a comprehensive estate plan. For information regarding living wills, trusts, power of attorney, or a pour-over will, or further questions on Powers of Attorney, contact Daniel A. Baron of Baron Law today at 216-573-3723.

estate planning attorney

Testamentary Trusts

Cleveland, Ohio Estate Planning Attorney Dan A. Baron offers the following on Testamentary Trusts.

Testamentary trusts are a great way to plan and safeguard your assets for minor children.  In other uses testamentary trusts can be used for beneficiaries with addictions or disabilities.   Unlike most trusts, testamentary trusts are incorporated into your last will and testament and are funded only after the creator’s death.   The biggest reason people use testamentary trusts is because they are able to control their assets after they die.

For example, if Mom and Dad die in a car accident leaving behind two young children, they would not want their $500,000 estate being left in the hands of nine and ten-year old.    Instead, Mom and Dad create a last will and testament and incorporate language that appoints a guardian for the children and trustee of their testamentary trust.   The trust parameters outlined for the Trustee to follow often include broad language like “to provide for the health, education, and well-being of my children.”   The trustee controls the money and then distributes it to the children as they need it.  Most often, the remaining balance left in the trust is distributed to the children once they reach the age of 25.

It’s important to remember that unlike most trusts, testamentary trusts do not avoid probate.  Instead, testamentary trusts are created after the probate process is complete.  Assets left from probate fund the trust and the trustee is then responsible for carrying out the wishes of the deceased.  Once the assets are in trust, they are protected from creditors and litigation.  However, there is no asset protection for the creators before death.

To learn more about testamentary trusts and how they might be beneficial for your estate plan, contact Baron Law LLC today at 216-573-3723.  You will speak directly with an attorney who can assist you.

 

The information contained in this article is provided solely for convenience purposes only and all users thereof should be guided accordingly. This article is not meant to provide legal advice. If you wish to receive a legal opinion or tax advice on the matter(s) in this report please contact our office and we will speak with you directly.