Articles Posted in Estate Planning

Often, pet owners consider their pets to not just be their most valuable possessions but to be members of their family. Those who own pets want to do all they can to care for their animals, so it is important to consider what may happen if your pet outlives you and to have a plan in place for this possibility. Here are some options for your estate plan to make sure your pet will be well cared for in the event that you pass away:

Animals in the Eyes of Law

Animals are considered personal property – like a car, jewelry, and other material possessions – under the law. If the person who owns a pet does not have an estate plan, their pet will be distributed to their “heirs-at-law” or to the people who are their closest living relatives according to a genealogical chart. If this person does have an estate plan, their pet will still be distributed to the individual set to inherit their personal property unless there is a specific provision regarding their pet in the estate plan. In cases where beneficiaries or heirs of someone’s estate do not wish to take care of the pet, people often end up surrendering the pet to a shelter.

It is unlikely that you need to be reminded of April 15th (or the next business day if the due date falls on a weekend or holiday) being the tax filing deadline date as we are often reminded of this date every year. However, if you are the person serving as executor of your loved one’s estate, do you know the filing date of an estate tax return?

This due date varies. In general, you must file a federal estate tax return within nine months of the date of death. Filing this return in time is one of your responsibilities as executor of the estate.

If you fail to file the return on time, interest and penalties could be added on top of any federal estate tax that is due.

In the last post, I shared about specific things to keep in mind while reviewing your estate plan. Here are 10 more:

11. Charitable Contributions

If you have chosen any charitable organizations for planned donations, make sure these organizations still align with your intentions, goals, and values.

During your life:

When it comes to estate planning to prepare for what may happen while you are still alive, you’ll want to make sure you have documents in place for your spouse or other individual(s) you trust to be able to make medical and financial decisions on your behalf if you become incapacitated or otherwise unable to make these decisions. This can be the same person if you choose, or you may wish for one person to make medical decisions and for another to make financial decisions for you.

After your death:

Estate planning serves to ensure an individual’s assets are distributed as they wish after they pass away. Proper estate planning is even more vital for a single parent to ensure the wellbeing of their children as they are solely responsible for providing for and protecting their children.

One of the most vital aspects of estate planning for a single parent is to designate a guardian for their minor children. If something were to happen to the parent, this ensures that a trusted person will be appointed to raise their children. It’s important to choose a guardian who shares similar values, has a similar parenting style, understands the needs of the children, and who would be willing to take on this responsibility. A parent should have an open discussion with the potential guardian and select an alternate guardian as well.

Establishing a trust or will is foundational to estate planning and can be created to protect and manage assets to provide for their children. A trust can ensure assets are held and distributed according to a parent’s wishes after their passing. A trust that exists until one’s children reach a certain age or milestone can be set up to provide ongoing support for their needs as they grow up, including education, healthcare, and other necessities for their wellbeing. This can also provide protection against potential mismanagement of assets or irresponsible spending.

How you title your real estate holdings is key to making sure your assets are transferred according to your wishes after you have passed away. In making decisions about how to title your assets, you’ll want to consider things such as avoiding probate, minimizing estate taxes, and liability protection.

Avoiding Probate

People often want to avoid probate if at all possible. Here are some common ways to do so:

Much like the process of building a house, the steps to building an estate plan should be well-defined and carefully considered.

Here are some things to keep in mind when creating your estate plan:

· Get the right “builder.” Just like for a house, you will most likely need to hire an estate planning professional to make sure that what is built is done correctly according to your goals and the vision you have in mind. You will make your wishes known, of course, but you will rely on the builder’s expertise.

A trust is a legal document that you can use to give assets to others. A trust can be revocable or irrevocable. As the creator of the trust, you can modify a revocable trust at any point throughout your lifetime. If you decide on an irrevocable trust, though, you generally will be unable to make changes to this type of trust after you have created it.

A lot of people are concerned about the term “irrevocable” since they associate this term with permanency and are afraid that this type of trust could turn out to no longer be compatible with their wishes as their life circumstances change. There is, however, a way to deal with changes in life circumstances after the creation of an irrevocable trust using “trust decanting.”

What Is “Decanting” a Trust in Estate Planning?

A number of couples, including some who have been together for many years, choose not to legally marry for a variety of personal and financial reasons. Sometimes older couples decide against marriage because they don’t want to affect their children’s inheritance. There are others who don’t want to deal with the legalities of marriage. Some people would lose social security benefits or pension if they decide to remarry.

It is extremely important for couples who are not married to make their wishes clear in their estate planning documents when it comes to the rights and responsibilities they want their significant other to have. A non-married partner doesn’t have the same legal rights that a married spouse has. A significant other does not have a statutory priority to serve as a personal representative or executor for the estate of their partner, statutory right to inherit their partner’s property, priority to make disposition of their partner’s last remains, or priority to act as their partner’s guardian or conservator should they become incapacitated or disabled.  There is also no requirement to give notice of withholding of life support for a non-married significant other.  However, anyone may execute estate planning documents so that their significant other will have these legal rights.

An unmarried individual will want to make sure to execute a will, a health care power of attorney, a general durable power of attorney, and a living will to protect their significant other. A Last Will and Testament designates an executor to be in charge of one’s estate, and it also designates who will inherit which assets from this estate. No assets will pass to your significant other (unless they are owned jointly or you have named them as a beneficiary) without a will.

In the wake of the pandemic, the topic of estate planning has suddenly become a lot less taboo, according to Lee Baker, a certified financial planner based in Atlanta. “We get more calls around estate planning,” he says.

Baker is the founder, owner, and president of Apex Financial Services and is a member of CNBC’s Advisor Council.

“The last 36 months shifted the mindset,” explains Baker. “A lot of people have taken this opportunity to reassess.”