Friday, January 29, 2016

The Two Lists

“Make two lists: your assets and the people you would like to own these assets one day,” advise the authors of The Beneficiary Book. That may not be as easy as it sounds, they caution. “In many cases, the hardest part about estate planning is taking inventory of your possessions and wealth. It will take time. Many don’t realize how much they have until it is all written down.”

Your estate is a compilation of all your property, and includes everything you own that is of value. But don’t consider only your real estate, cars, and investments, because personal items are a major part of the estate planning process, says Bill Taylor of the University of Wyoming. That’s because, he explains, “these personal items create complex emotional and family relationships which impact decision making”. Personal items may include:

  • Guns, sports equipment
  • Tools
  •  Furniture
  • Books, papers
  • Dishes
  • Collections
  • Hobby or handmade items
  • Linens, needlework, quilts
  • Clothes
  • Jewelry
  • Art
  • Antiques

An inventory list could be on paper, digital (using a computer program), or it could take the form of a labeled photo scrapbook or even a video tape. Whichever form your list takes, “let your family and fiduciaries know where to find the information at the time of your death,” the disinheritirs.com website states.

Investopedia calls a physical items inventory “Must Do No. 1”, telling readers to start things out by “going through the inside and outside of your home and making a list of all items worth $100 or more.” The authors add several items to the list shown above:

  • Laptops and tablets
  • Lawn mowers
  • Power tools
  • Television sets
As we often tell our clients at Geyer & Associates, the lists are elements in your part of the estate planning process. Only you can provide your attorney with the complete picture of everything you own. And, since most of us are constantly discarding some possessions and acquiring others, the inventory list is probably the part of your estate plan in need of the most frequent updating.

While estate planning is serious business, with “one wrong word or one missing signature capable of changing the entire intent of a will or trust,” as Julie Garber writes in aboutmoney.com, your to lists are definitely DIY projects!


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

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Where There's a Will, It's a Crime to Conceal It

What can be done if someone in possession of a will refuses to file it with probate court? A named executor or an heir may ask the court to order the individual in possession of the will to produce it for the court.

There are at least three very bad things that can happen to you if you intentionally hide a will:
  1. You can go to jail
  2. You can be sued for damages by anyone who has been injured because of the concealment
  3. You can lose all property rights conveyed in the will
What if you’re not trying to hide anything, but you simply can’t find the will? Typical wills are labeled with a title such as “Last Will and Testament” or “Will of John T. Smith.” If a lawyer prepared it, it might be stapled to a stiff piece of colored paper or in a thick envelope with the printed label “Will,” explains nolo.com. Whoever takes possession of the will, of course, has a legal responsibility to promptly turn it over to the local probate court.

It’s almost impossible to prove that a person has concealed or destroyed a will unless someone actually saw him or her doing it, remarks Alexander A Bove, Jr., author of The Complete Book of Wills, Estates, & Trusts.

Obviously our clients at Rebecca W. Geyer & Associates want to make sure their affairs can be settled with none of the mystery or additional stress on the executor that can result from missing documents.  Many request that we keep their documents in order to avoid both disputes among heirs and additional stress on the executor. We retain the originals in a fireproof area, and we keep electronic copies backed up at fifteen minute intervals.

Where there’s a will, it’s a crime to conceal it. And, where there are any estate planning documents, it’s an enormous kindness to survivors to make sure they can be easily located.


- by Rebecca W. Geyer

Monday, January 25, 2016

Wills Gone Awry

According to Alexander A Bove, Jr., author of The Complete Book of Wills, Estates, & Trusts, “Wills are almost universally regarded as a sort of permanent memorial, a person’s final statement to the world…” Bove reminds us, though, that creating a will that is legally valid may not be as simple a matter as it seems.
Bove uses two examples of wills gone awry to illustrate his point:

Alfred Nobel
Just one year before his death in 1896, Alfred Nobel handwrote his will in Swedish, explaining that he wished his assets to be invested in safe securities, with the interest earned going to prizes to be distributed annually to “those, who during the preceding year, shall have conferred the greatest benefit to mankind.” Nobel had chosen a “DIY” (do it yourself) will because he disliked lawyers. Ironically, the will was so poorly drafted, many legal issues arose and more than half a million dollars of Nobel’s legacy went towards paying legal and court fees!

Howard Hughes
Almost one hundred years after Nobel, Nevada billionaire Howard Hughes died. More than forty different wills surfaced, each claiming to be the man’s last will. The most famous of these was “the Mormon will”, which purportedly was found on the desk of an official of the Mormon Church. This will left 1/16th of the Hughes estate to a gas station operator who had picked Howard Hughes up on a deserted road and given him a lift to Las Vegas and a quarter to make a phone call. After a trial lasting almost a year and costing several million dollars in legal fees, it was ruled that Hughes had died without a will.  The legal battles continue to this very day, Bove points out.

The reason both these wills were so important in settling the two estates, Bove notes, is that both these famous estates consisted almost entirely of probate property.  “A person’s will deals only with property or assets that are part of the probate estate.”
Probate property, Gove stresses, means any type of property that stands in your name alone at the time of your death or that would require action on the part of your executor to transfer. Probate property would not include jointly owned property or assets payable to a named beneficiary (such as life insurance, an annuity, or a retirement account). 

At Geyer & Associates, we advise our clients on the need to plan for their entire estate cohesively since not all assets pass in accordance with the client’s will.

Your estate plan may - and probably should -  include several documents in addition to a will, such as trusts, Powers of Attorney, Living Wills, and Health Care Powers of Attorney. You may be far from having a Nobel or a Hughes sized estate, but regardless of your financial status, our goal is to accomplish your objectives and to provide for your family in the best way possible, creating documents that are legally valid. We then explain your documents to you in straightforward language that is easy for you and your family to understand.

No one wants to have their will go awry!

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

Thursday, January 21, 2016

New Trends in Estate Planning


 
Like everything else, estate planning evolves over time, and keeping up with the changes – in both the law and in the way people think about estate planning - is a big part of what we do at Rebecca W. Geyer & Associates.  We were very interested in the article written by California tax attorney Renard J. Kolasa on what he calls “New Trends in Estate Planning”.

Three particular trends Kolasa mentions include:

Planning to avoid probate court involvement during incapacity is on the rise.
“If an individual is incapacitated and does not have proper documentation, Probate Court supervision may be needed before the family can take medical or financial action for the incapacitated individual.  Disputes may arise about who is entitled to supervise finances or to make medical decisions.”
At Geyer & Associates, documents we tailor to our clients’ needs are designed specifically to avoid such disputes and provide families the ability to make medical and financial decisions without court involvement.  These documents include:
  • Living trusts
  • Living wills
  • Health information authorizations
  • Financial powers of attorney
  • Medical powers of attorney
There is increasing concern over the wrong people gaining control of an individual’s assets.
Without properly designed documents and carefully chosen beneficiary designations, the wrong people may inherit or control an individual’s property. “An example of a potential problem would be joint ownership of land or an investment account with an adult child,” Kolasa explains, with unintended results including:
  • Creditors trying to take the property
  • Improper withdrawal of funds by the child to support drug or gambling habits, or marriage difficulties
At Geyer & Associates, we know that estate planning means thinking about all the “what ifs” which might occur, sparing loved ones expense, delay, frustration and conflict.

The amount gifted to charity is increasing steadily.
The vast majority of Americans, Kolasa points out, give something to charity annually during life, with a smaller percentage giving something to charity at the time of death. However, this amount is increasing.
The attorneys at Geyer & Associates are seeing this trend as well, with more and more of our estate planning clients providing for gifts to charitable organizations both during their lifetime and upon death. Not only does charitable planning add a “feel good” element to the estate planning process, it can also accomplish a number of goals:

  • Provide a stream of income for life
  • Earn a higher investment yield on assets
  • Reduce capital gains
  • Reduce estate tax
“Estate planning is a dynamic process,” Kolassa concludes.  “The laws, our family circumstances, our wealth and our wishes change continually….Current trends can be an indication of what others are doing in similar circumstances.”

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

When Different Fields of Law Overlap: Tax Law and Estate Planning

“Estate planning overlaps with many other areas of law, making it a field that requires a large breadth of knowledge,” observes Legal Answers Web. Legal Answers names just a few:
  • property law
  • elder law
  • tax law
  • contract law
“Tax law and estate planning are remarkably interesting practice areas due to their ever-changing and highly personal nature,” according to the University of the Pacific McGeorge School of Law.

“Because tax attorneys must regularly take into account their clients' estate planning goals and because estate planning attorneys must think about the tax ramifications of their clients' estate plans, tax law and estate planning often overlap,” the authors add. “Tax and estate planning attorneys may work on cases involving the taxation of:
  • Corporations
  • Partnerships
  • Charitable organizations
  • Pensions and retirement plans
  • Social security benefits
  • Estates
  • Trusts
  • Gifts

Both estate planning and tax attorneys like the fact that they are able to help their clients in concrete ways, the McGeorge authors explain. McGeorge alumnus Mark Drobny, who runs a tax law and estate planning firm remarks, “People walk out of here after they’ve signed their estate plans with the feeling that they’ve done something for themselves and their family that they’ve wanted to do for a long time and have put off. “

Reading the way the McGeorge School of Law describes to students what they can expect from a career focused on estate planning, the lawyers at Rebecca W. Geyer & Associates almost felt they were talking about us:

Many estate planning attorneys work with their clients over a long period of time.  As a result it is not unusual for them to develop close bonds with their clients and to come to know a great deal about the intimate details of their finances and personal lives….
“Estate planning attorneys must be familiar with the laws governing wills, trusts, social security benefits, medical benefits, life insurance, pensions and retirement plans, real property, and probate, as well the laws that relate to taxation,” the McGeorge authors conclude.





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

Thursday, January 14, 2016

When Different Fields of Law Overlap: Indiana Property Division

In our last two articles, we discussed the overlap that can occur between estate planning and family law, talking about two situations that may require us to operate as a team with a family law attorney in order to ensure a successful outcome for our clients:
  • Grandparents planning to leave legacies to their grandchildren might be fighting for greater visitation opportunities with those grandchildren.
  • A divorce settlement might involve a support agreement for a special needs child, and it becomes necessary to navigate through the complex maze of federal and state laws, preserving all possible government benefits for the child.
“One common class of assets that implicates both family and estate law is pension benefits,” Susana Popvic-Montage and Ian M. Hull point out in the Huffington Post article “The Intersection Between Family And Estate Law”. Pension benefits, they explain, have the potential to form a significant part of an estate, and can be the source of conflict. As recently as November 2015, new amendments to the Pension Benefits Act came into force, the authors note.

In Indiana, vested retirement accounts are subject to division by the court. In Indiana, if spouses share in each other’s retirement or pension plan, a Qualified Domestic Relations Order must be completed. A QDRO is a written set of instructions that explains to a plan administrator that two parties are dividing pension benefits.

At Geyer & Associates, we may find ourselves advising clients who are at various stages of the planning process relative to pension assets:
  • A couple was still married when they formulated an estate plan using the help of the lawyers at Rebecca W. Geyer & Associates. Now the two are divorcing and need to formulate a new plan.
  • A new, recently divorced client enlists our help in revising his/her estate plan.
  • A family lawyer calls upon our estate planning attorneys to work as a team in devising a plan for a client in the process of a divorce.
When it comes to retirement benefits in a divorce, matters are rarely simple. Retirement benefits may be contingent upon the working spouse remaining at his or her place of employment for a certain number of years.  Those benefits cannot be divided in the divorce settlement because the employee is not yet vested in them, explains divorcesource.com.

To coordinate all the aspects of the plan from both a divorce settlement and an estate planning point of view, we may need to operate in a team approach to ensure a successful outcome for our clients.  

“To recognize family changes involving marriage, separations, and the beginning or end of common law relationships, it is important to periodically review one's estate plan to determine if changes need to be made,” Popvic-Montage and Hull caution. At Geyer & Associates, we couldn’t agree more. 

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

Monday, January 11, 2016

When Different Fields of Law Overlap: Support for a Special Needs Child

“There is a great deal of overlap between estate planning and family law,” as California attorney Christina McPherson points out. Last week we discussed just one example of the way different fields of law overlap, talking about the fact that grandparents planning to leave legacies to their grandchildren might be fighting for greater visitation opportunities with those grandchildren. We explained how  estate planning attorneys might need to work together with family law attorneys to address our clients’ concerns and goals.

Yet another example of overlap occurs when a divorce settlement involves a support agreement for a special needs child. “There are few challenges more difficult than going through a divorce and having a child with special needs,” writes Lili A Vasileff on the Special Needs Alliance website. There are issues of child custody, of visitation, and of support.

At our Indianapolis estate planning and elder law firm, we understand how true Vasileff’s cautionary statement is: Care must be given to unique issues that arise in the child’s transition into adulthood, such as guardianship, eligibility for quasi-government or private agency benefits, employment, recreation and social skills, independent living, or custodial care.” 

At Geyer & Associates, we agree with Vasileff when she points out that “Divorce attorneys do not always know how child support payments made directly to the custodial parent interact (negatively) with means tested government benefit programs like SSI and Medicaid.” 

As a law firm which helps families plan for loved ones with special needs, we are uniquely situated to advise clients in the midst of divorce on how to address support obligations and future needs of disabled beneficiaries in a divorce settlement.

We know that if a client has a child or other loved one with a physical or mental disability, a special needs trust may be a critical piece of his or her estate plan.  We help clients navigate through the complex maze of federal and state laws to provide them with clear solutions to their concerns.  The overall solution may require calling upon the expertise of a family law attorney to meet a client’s objectives, and we operate in a team approach to ensure a successful outcome for our clients.   

      
by Rebecca W. Geyer

Saturday, January 9, 2016

When Different Fields of Law Overlap: Grandparents' Visitation Rights

“There is a great deal of overlap between estate planning and family law,” explains California lawyer Christina McPherson.

Why would knowledge of estate planning be important for a divorce lawyer? Once the divorce is done, McPherson point outs, you need to change the beneficiaries on your retirement accounts and life insurance, update your will and estate plan, your powers of attorney, and the guardians for your children.

Why would knowledge of family law be important for an estate planning attorney, McPherson asks? First, she points out, where there is a blended family (one or both spouses had children from a prior relationship), there are issues that will impact the estate planning for each parent. If property had been put into a jointly owned trust, there will be estate planning issues to be dealt with.

At the estate planning and elder law firm of Rebecca W. Geyer & Associates, it’s hardly unusual for us to encounter overlap between estate planning and family law. Just one example arises when grandparents who are planning to leave legacies to grandchildren share their frustration at not having been granted greater visitation opportunities with those grandchildren.
 
An article in the Indiana Lawyer has a title expressing that very frustration: “Indiana grandparents petitioning for visitation face long odds.” “Indiana, like many states, continues to struggle to balance the rights of parents to raise their children with the desire of grandparents to be a part of the children’s lives,” Marilyn Odendahl writes.

Indiana law enables grandparents to seek visitation rights in three circumstances:
  • The child’s parents are deceased
  • The child’s parents are divorced
  • The child was born out of wedlock
Still, if grandparents are allowed some contact with their grandchildren, no matter how limited, the grandparents have no grounds to petition the court, the article points out. The presumption is that the parents have the right to decide what is in the best interests of the child, and, as Indiana Legal Services explains, “The courts will probably not interfere with a parent’s decision on how much visitation to give you.”

At Geyer & Associates, we address these issues with grandparents, and where appropriate, refer our clients to a family law professional for special help fighting for grandparental visitation rights.

 
by Rebecca W. Geyer

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Pre-Nuptial Agreements have Pros and Cons

A premarital or prenuptial agreement is a contract between prospective spouses that is executed in contemplation of marriage; the marriage itself is consideration for the agreement.?”Pre-nups” typically specify how assets and debts will be handled in the event of a separation, a death, or a divorce. At Rebecca W. Geyer & Associates, our attorneys are often called upon to help develop prenuptial agreements to accomplish our clients’ objectives.


When it comes to property (property brought into the marriage by one party, property owned jointly by the couple creating the agreement, or property either or both might acquire during the marriage), a prenuptial agreement can cover the rights each person will have to:
  • buy
  • sell
  • use
  • exchange
  • abandon
  • lease
  • consume
  • expend
  • assign
  • create a security interest in
  • mortgage
  • encumber
  • dispose of
  • manage and control

No premarital agreement, however, may violate the law or adversely affect the right of a child to support.

But pre-nups show distrust, don’t they?  They’re so unromantic and unloving, aren’t they? “Time for a reality check, my friends,” says financial advisor Suze Orman. “Drawing up a prenuptial agreement together is a sign of incredible trust and financial openness - you're fooling yourself if you think you can achieve complete intimacy without it,” she asserts.

But can prenups ever be bad for marital health? At least one lawyer/mediator, Laurie Israel, thinks so, at least for first time marriages. Prenups, she adds in an interview with the New York Times, don’t take into account a spouse's nonfinancial contributions, like making the house a home, raising children or forgoing a career to help a spouse or the family. All these things benefit the more-moneyed spouse who put the prenup in place to begin with.

On the other side of things, “making a prenup may actually strengthen your relationship”, according to Nolo.com.  That’s because communicating about money matters can actually improve the quality of your relationship and support good communication in your marriage. Talking frankly about money and property can eliminate misunderstandings that might otherwise crop up between you.

At Geyer & Associates, we’ve found that exact thing to be true, particularly in second marriage situations, where couples tend to experience a higher rate of breakups than first marriages. And, while Indiana is one of the few states that does not require financial disclosure in pre-marriage agreements, our attorneys at Rebecca W. Geyer & Associates have found the biggest benefits of prenuptial agreements come about because of the conversations that go into creating them.

by Corrina A. Smith of Rebecca W. Geyer & Associates

Monday, January 4, 2016

Not Every Disabled Parking Space is Created Equal

If you are not disabled, do not have the proper permit, placard or handicap license plates, please do not park in the designated accessible parking spaces, the Vantage Mobility International Company of Phoenix begs. Not only is it frustrating for those that actually need the accommodations these spaces provide – but it is the law. Misusing someone else’s disability parking permit, VMI continues, means taking away a safe, accessible space for somebody that is genuinely disabled.
Businesses are required to provide accessible parking spots for their disabled customers. These spaces must provide the shortest accessible route to the entrance of the building or facility. But not all accessible parking spaces are created equal, VMI explains. There are three different types of disabled parking:
  1. Designated accessible parking spaces are for disabled people in a standard vehicle.
  2. “Van accessible” parking with one-sided entry.
  3. “Van accessible: parking with two-sided entry.
Both #2 and #3 have space to accommodate wheelchair lifts. When there are white stripes next to the space, the lines demarcate an access lane which provides extra space for the wheelchair lifts or other assistive devices.
Nearly a third of the US population are at least part-time caregivers, VMI reminds readers, and, on average, caregivers spend 20.4 hours per week assisting, advocating for, medicating, cooking for, counseling and transporting loved ones. “People don’t often realize how fast a common task can become overwhelming,” VMI says, and quick access to the convenient parking is just one of dozens of little ways to make the life of a disabled person a little bit easier.

The attorneys of Rebecca W. Geyer & Associates, PC understand.  Not only are there challenges, fears, and family dynamics that come into play with legal issues, our clients often deal with daily frustrations of caregiving and transportation. Not only are we committed to being responsive to client needs in a timely manner, responding to all client communications the same day they are received, we recognize that some clients may find it difficult to come to us.

Just as is true of parking spaces, we’ve found, when it comes to accessibility, not all estate planning and elder law firms are created equal. In keeping with our mantra of compassionate care for all generations, we are dedicated to being accessible to the disabled, and Geyer & Associates offers house calls and flexible appointment times to make that happen.