Monday, November 30, 2015

Leaving Room for Charity in Your Estate Plan

Building charitable giving into your estate plan is a wonderful way to extend your generosity and leave a meaningful legacy.  And it’s not just for the very wealthy, says Carrie Schwab-Pomerantz, President of the Charles Schwab Foundation.

Do you want to benefit a charitable organization or cause?  Your estate plan can provide for such organizations in a variety of ways, not only upon death, but even during your lifetime. At Geyer & Associates, we find that many of our clients are interested in doing just that, particularly once they learn that planned giving programs can be a win-win.  Not only can they benefit causes meaningful to them, our clients find, they can:
  •  receive a stream of income during their own lives
  • earn higher investment yields
  • reduce capital gains taxes
  • reduce estate taxes.
There are several different categories of charitable planning, each carrying its own special combination of “selfish” and “selfless” benefits:

1. Making an outright gift to a charity or to several charities through a will or trust can benefit the charity and possibly reduce the size of a taxable estate, potentially increasing the amount heirs receive.

2. Donating retirement plan assets to charity. When a charity is the beneficiary of an IRA or other retirement account, the money goes 100% to that charity, because charities are exempt from income and estate taxes. “Less is more”, with fewer actual dollars packing more of a charitable giving “punch”.  Meanwhile, non-qualified (non-retirement account) assets, which don’t carry such a heavy tax burden, can be left to family members.

3. Making a split-interest or “combo” gift. You want to donate assets to a charity, but you need to retain some benefits for yourself. Benefits to you might reducing capital gains tax on the assets you transfer into a charitable trust, plus an income during your retirement years.

Accomplishing practical estate planning solutions is the goal for the attorneys of Rebecca W. Geyer & Associates.  When a well-constructed estate plan leaves room for worthy causes to benefit while still protecting family members, we consider that an estate planning success story!


- by Ronnie of the Rebecca W. Geyer & Associates blog team

Friday, November 27, 2015

Celebrity Estate Planning Mistakes to Avoid - Being Disorganized

This month’s Hoosier Estate Planning blog posts are focused on celebrities who made estate planning mistakes. (Since these stories have been covered in the media – in contrast to the strict confidentiality in which Geyer & Associates’ clients’ estate planning conversations are held – they make good “textbooks” on mistakes to avoid. Interestingly enough, Michael Jackson is an example of someone who “did it right” when it came to organizing his affairs….
“People often have multiple bank accounts, investment accounts, insurance policies, and assets, and U.S.News. “For someone who runs a business, that task gets even more complicated,” she adds. Michael Jackson WAS his own family business, Palmer says. He had memorabilia, rights to Beatles’ songs, and royalties to albums, in addition to all his own financial and personal assets.

Yet, despite all this complexity, (and despite being a man who lived so controversial a life), says Jane Bennet Clark in Kiplinger’s, Michael Jackson did something surprisingly sensible before his death – he set up a smart estate plan:
that can complicate matters for those trying to make sense of an estate,” says Kimberly Palmer, writing in
  •  He transferred his property, including cars, bank accounts, and real estate it the Michael Jackson Family Trust, maintaining control as trustee. 
  • He set up his will to “pour over”, so that any property remaining outside the trust at his death would be added to the trust. 
  • He created a legal framework for naming a guardian for his children, along with a backup guardian.
  • He named an attorney and a business executive as co-executors of his well and co-trustees of the trust (Despite a challenge by a family member, Jackson’s wishes were upheld by the court).
The attorneys of Rebecca W. Geyer & Associates, PC are dedicated to providing in-depth counseling to individuals and families to accomplish practical estate planning solutions in a timely and cost-effective manner. We work to understand your particular goals and concerns so that we can design an estate plan that accomplishes your objectives. Our focus is on helping you get organized!


- by Ronnie of the Rebecca W. Geyer & Associates blog team

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Celebrity Estate Planning Mistakes to Avoid - Choosing the Wrong Guardian

Continuing our November Hoosier Estate Planning focus on celebrity estate planning mistakes, today we talk about providing guardianship provisions for minor children...

Anna Nicole Smith’s heirs argued over the care of her daughter. Failure to choose the correct guardians for minor children as part of an estate plan turns out to be one of the most common sources of tension in families, Kimberly Palmer, writing in U.S. News, points out.

At Geyer & Associates, we know that appointing guardians for minor children is a deeply personal decision.  At the same time, while this task is one of the most important things to accomplish, it is also one of the most challenging.

Lewis Saret, writing in Forbes, lists several factors parents should consider when selecting a guardian:
  •  The age of the child. Older and more mature children should be afforded some input in the process, Saret says.
  • The willingness of guardians to serve - and their ability to meet the physical and economic demands of raising an additional child.
  • Religion/moral values/child-rearing philosophy of the proposed guardians – are these compatible with those of the parents?
  • Guardians’ own family situations – are they single? Married? Do they have children of their own?
  • Economic implications. Guardians are not legally obligated to support wards out of their own pockets. Would the guardians need to move into a larger residence? Employ housekeepers or childcare providers?
The guardianship provisions in your will document your choice for  the guardian(s) and successor guardians of your children, and that choice has precedence under Indiana law.. However, even after those choices are made, Indiana requires court approval of the guardianship to ensure the best interests of the child are being met.
Another mistake is leaving assets to children as soon as they achieve majority.  When Robin Williams died in 2014, leaving an estate valued at $50 million, his trust provided for the children to receive significant assets beginning when each child turned age 21.  It’s important to consider the problems caused when young adults receive big chunks of money.  Not continuing the trust for longer also fails to protect the assets from potential creditors of the children, or could subject the inheritance to division with an ex-spouse if the child later divorces. Actor James Gandolfini made the same mistake, providing for his daughter to receive 20% of his estate (estimated at $70-80 million) at age 21!

As estate planning attorneys, we know careful planning is needed to protect the people most important to you, including your children. Choosing the right guardians for minor children, and determining the best ways to protect them from financial pitfalls, is one of the most important, challenging, and rewarding aspects of estate planning.



- by Corinna A. Smith of Rebecca W. Geyer & Associates

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Celebrity Estate Planning Mistakes to Avoid - Not Anticipating Challenges

This November, many of our Hoosier Estate Planning blog posts are devoted to highlighting estate planning pitfalls to avoid. Some big mistakes made by celebrities help make the point…
Not every plan follows the usual pattern of leaving assets to family members and favorite charities. If your wishes involve arrangements that are somewhat different from the “normal”, it may become important for your heirs to prove you were mentally competent at the time you created this unique estate plan.

Hotel tycoon Leona Helmsley cut two of her grandchildren out of her $5 billion estate, and left $12 million for her dog.  The grandchildren sued, claiming that Helmsley had not been mentally fit at the time she created her will and trust. The lesson, says Forbes contributor Erik Carter, is this:  If you’re planning do anything unusual that might leave family members disgruntled, have an attorney, and perhaps even a physician, conduct an evaluation attesting to your mental capacity to make a will.

A second example Carter cites is blues singer Etta James, whose spouse and son fought over James’ competency to sign a power of attorney. Sign your power of attorney, Carter advises clients, long before you need it.

“Proper execution of a legal instrument requires that the person signing have sufficient mental capacity to understand the implications of the document,” explains ElderLawAnswers.com.
One side of that issue, the authors go on to explain, is that “capacity” isn’t a rigid black line, where either you have it or you don’t. In fact, a client’s abilities can change from day to day, depending on the course of an illness, on fatigue levels, and on the effects of medication.

At Geyer & Associates, we deal with many different situations. If the client’s wishes are ‘typical” (say giving the estate to the spouse, and then to the children equally, should the spouse not survive the client), it may be less important to prove capacity. But what if a client wants to give her estate entirely to one child, with nothing passing to the other children? We suspect a challenge to our client’s mental competence might later arise.

As elderlawanswers points out, “Doctors and psychiatrists cannot themselves make a determination as to whether an individual has capacity to undertake a legal commitment, but they can provide a professional evaluation of the person that will help an attorney make this decision.”

The question that our attorneys must clients answer as we’re working together on estate planning documents, is this: “Is anyone likely to challenge this transaction?”
- by  Rebecca W. Geyer

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Celebrity Estate Planning Mistakes to Avoid - Trying DIY


This month in our Hoosier Estate Planning blog, we’re highlighting pitfalls to avoid by recalling some big mistakes made by celebrities…
Ten years ago, when Chief Justice Warren Burger died, his estate was worth $1.8 million. There’s something to be said for brevity, says Ashlea Ebeling in Forbes magazine, but in the case of Burger, writing his own 176-word will cost the family dearly. $450,000 was paid in estate taxes. To add insult to injury, the executor had to pay to get approved to perform duties such as selling real estate (something a well-drafted document would have allowed for without court approval.)

“Yes, it can be painful to pay for estate planning,” Deborah L Jacobs of the Forbes staff allows.
After all, she says, the benefits of a plan are delayed, and you don’t live to see them anyway!
And, in theory, she adds, you can use books or software and websites that spew out documents for free.

The trouble with do-it-yourself planning, Jacobs points out, is that even if your situation seems simple, there are many oddball things a layman wouldn’t think of that can go wrong, especially with a will, and these mistakes can end up costing your heirs a lot more (including in terms of aggravation) than you save in legal fees on the front end.

The value a lawyer adds is in big part related to spotting pitfalls or opportunities unique to your situation, Jacobs adds. If you still want to use do-it-yourself software, advises Jonathan G. Blattmachr of InterActive Legal, consider hiring a lawyer to review your self-prepared documents.

At Geyer & Associates, we think life’s journey is fraught with changes that take place long before a person departs this world leaving an estate to manage. These changes (such as marriage, divorce, children, a new business, retirement, and incapacity) require careful planning to protect the people most important to you and the assets you’ve worked to achieve.

Creating a change-responsive estate plan is hardly a one-time nor a do-it-yourself project!


- by  Ronnie of the Rebecca W. Geyer blog team

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Celebrity Estate Planning Mistakes to Avoid - Conflicting Directions


 We’re devoting several of our Hoosier Estate Planning blogs this month to estate planning mistakes made by celebrities.  We hope our clients learn from these stories and avoid making those same mistakes.
In his will, famous baseball player Ted Williams said he wished to be cremated. But his children from a second marriage produced a note written by Williams saying his wished to be put in biostatis (“frozen”) after his death. Williams’ eldest daughter fought to have the body unfrozen and cremated, but gave up the fight when she ran out of money.

The lesson here:  If you change your mind about your burial wishes, do two things:

1. Change your will, either by adding a codicil to the original will, or having a new will created; or
2. Create a special document with instructions about:
  •  Whether you want a funeral of memorial service and if so, where it should be held
  •  Whether you want to be cremated
  • Where you want to be buried or where you would like your ashes stored, distributed, or disposed of.
As the attorneys at Rebecca W. Geyer & Associates have often seen, by the time a will or trust is located and read, family members may have gone ahead and made decisions about the disposition of remains and about the service.  Even when the directions are not conflicting, too often, they are simply not found in time!

In contrast to the case of Ted Williams, it’s interesting to note that singer Janis Joplin updated her will with instructions for $2,500 to be set aside for a party in her honor.

Where there’s a will – and where there are documents with instructions – there’s a way to make sure your funeral wishes are carried out.


- by Ronnie of the Rebecca W. Geyer & Associates blog team

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Celebrity Estate Planning Mistakes to Avoid - No Updating

As a way of helping our clients learn from other’s mistakes, we’re devoting several of our blog posts this month to describe estate planning pitfalls by recalling some big mistakes made by celebrities.
Unlike music legend Jimi Hendrix, who died at 27 without a will, actor Heath Ledger had prepared a will.  Unfortunately, that will was written three years before Ledger died at age 28, prior to his relationship with Michelle Williams and the birth of their daughter, Matilda Rose. The will left everything to Ledger’s sister and to his parents.

The lesson here: Once you’ve drafted the will, it’s important to keep it up to date to make sure it still meets your needs and that your property will be distributed according to your wishes. When should you consider writing a new will?
  •  You get married or divorced 
  • You are unmarried, but have a new partner
  • The amount of money and property you own significantly changes
  • You move to another state (not all states recognize out-of-state Wills as valid)
  •  Your executor or a significant beneficiary in your will dies
  • There is a birth or adoption of a child in your family
  •  You change your mind about the provisions in your will.
  •  Guardians whom you’ve appointed to care for your children become ill or die

Of course, at Rebecca W. Geyer & Associates, we explain that there are other documents besides the will that are key in creating a comprehensive estate plan, including:
  •  Trusts
  • General Durable Power of Attorney
  • Appointment of Health Care Representative
  •  HIPAA Authorization
  •  Living Will

As changing life circumstances dictate, all of the documents need to be updated. The lesson suggested in our celebrity estate planning stories is simple:

Where there’s a will – one that is updated as circumstances change - there’s a way to avoid unintended estate consequences!

By Corrina of Rebecca W. Geyer & Associates

Monday, November 9, 2015

Celebrity Estate Planning Mistakes to Avoid - Missing Will

We can all learn from our mistakes, but it’s better to learn from others’ mistakes, I think you’ll agree. This month in our Hoosier Estate Planning blog, we’re learning about pitfalls to avoid by recalling some big estate planning mistakes made by celebrities.

When Olympic sprinter Florence Griffith-Joyner died at age 38, her husband couldn’t find her original will, and therefore failed to file it with the probate court within 30 days of her death as required under California law. (In Indiana, the will is probated in the country where the deceased person lived at the time of his or her death and should be filed within three years of an individual’s death). Joyner’s mother got into a dispute with the husband over a promise Flo-Jo had made that her mother could live in their house the rest of her life. Since the original will was never filed, the judge eventually appointed a third party to administer the estate.

A will is for making one’s wishes known.  “Writing your will may be one of the most important things you’ll ever do.  A properly drafted will can help ensure that your property is divided the way you intended and benefits the people you intended,” plea.org explains. But what if there is no will to be found? The laws of intestacy (no last will and testament) kick in, which may mean the person’s real wishes are never carried out.

In fact, an original last will and testament is needed, not only a copy.  Before the court can accept a copy, as the Virginia Supreme Court clarified earlier this year, the person representing the deceased “must overcome a presumption that the original was destroyed by the testator with the intent of revoking the last will.”

So, not only is it important to document your wishes in a will, your loved ones must be able to find it! “Tell at least two people you trust where to find your will,” cautions Ashlea Ebeling of Forbes.

Possible places to store documents include bank safety deposit boxes, a cabinet at home, or a fire-resistant lock box. Sometimes clients of Rebecca W. Geyer & Associates request that we keep their documents. We retain the originals in a fireproof area, and we keep electronic copies that are backed up every fifteen minutes.

It’s important to avoid the mistake of the missing will!


By Rebecca W. Geyer

Friday, November 6, 2015

Celebrity Estate Planning Mistakes to Avoid - No Will

Music legend Jimi Hendrix was only 27 when he died.  It’s always tragic when someone loses his life at such a young age; in Hendrix’s case, his death was also a financial tragedy for his close brother, Leon.  Why? Jimi died without a will, and, under California state law, their father, Al, inherited everything.  According to Forbes, Al went on to build his son’s musical legacy into an $80 million venture.  Then, in his own will, Al cut out Leon and Leon’s family, leaving everything to his own adopted daughter from a later marriage.

“While people often think that only the elderly need to have a will, it is advisable for adults of all ages to have one, lawdepot.com points out. “Without a will, your wishes will be irrelevant, and the state will decide how to distribute your estate.”

“A will is a legal document that comes into effect on your death.  By making a will, you are deciding who should look after your affairs after you’ve died. You also decide who should benefit from the estate and who should not,” Lucy Thomas teaches in accesslegal.com.  Yet, according to United Way, more than 60% of people in our country die without a will.

Even young adults without families can benefit from having a Last Will and Testament, continues lawdepot.com. Few young adults are in a position to leave a financial legacy as valuable as Jimi Hendrix’s, you might be thinking. Yet, if there are any special personal possessions or assets you might want to go to particular family members or friends upon your death, with no legal document in place, those heirlooms and mementos might instead be sold at auction with the money going to the government.

Once you’ve drafted the will, it’s important to keep it up to date as your circumstances change.  At Geyer Law, we work with individuals of many different ages, and with people who find themselves in some very different situations.  We know each case demands very personalized attention and estate planning, beginning with a will!

Where there’s a will, there’s a way to avoid unintended estate consequences!`


By Corrina of Rebecca W. Geyer & Associates

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Is It Financially Smart for Older Couples to Marry? Maybe!

“Meet with an elder care attorney to see what your options are,” personal finance author Jane Bryant Quinn recommends, referring to the question of whether marriage is a good financial move for older couples.

Saying “I do”, Quinn points out, is the key to accessing state and federal spousal and survivor benefits. If one of the couple doesn’t qualify for Medicare on his or her own, marriage will allow them to access those benefits.

As spouses filing income taxes jointly, married couples may enjoy some tax savings, and a spouse inheriting an IRA account will get better tax benefits than an unmarried partner under Minimum Required Distribution rules, Quinn mentions.

On the other hand, “I don’t” can preserve widows’ and widowers’ pension benefits or veterans’ benefits that would be lost upon remarriage.

One very important potential disadvantage of tying the knot, Quinn warns, is that spouses can be held responsible for each other’s medical bills, potentially including bills for long-term care.

(The Indiana Supreme Court extended “secondary liability” to both spouses and found medical expenses to be a necessary expense. The debtor spouse retains primary liability for necessary expenses and is responsible for the entire medical debt they incur. If the cost of medical care exceeds the debtor spouse’s separate funds and the debtor spouse is dependent on a financially superior spouse, then secondary liability is imposed on the non-debtor spouse.)
This medical bill responsibility issue, Quinn is careful to point out, trumps any prenuptial agreements. A live-in partner would not be liable for the ill partner’s bills.

The case for marriage isn’t as solid as it often sounds,” concludes Quinn, “especially for older couples of any sex.  Sometimes it pays to live together in unwedded bliss.” Traditional values and romance often rule the decision, Quinn acknowledges.  Still, she cautions, if you decide to get married, “it is best to know how that choices affects your finances.”

At Rebecca W. Geyer & Associates, our lawyers work with couples of many different ages in very different situations.  We know each case demands very personalized estate and elder law planning, and we provide individualized recommendations to meet each client’s particular needs.
 - by Ronnie of the Rebecca W. Geyer blog team