Wednesday, May 15, 2013
Making your home senior-proof
Making your home senior-proof
Let’s face it – it’s tough getting old. The aches, pains, and pills often associated with aging are things that many members of the baby-boomer generation know all too well by now. Though you might not be able to turn back time, you can help an aging loved one enjoy their golden years by giving them a safe, affordable place to call home. If an aging parent is moving in with you and your family, there are many quick fixes for the home that will create a safe environment for seniors.
Start by taking a good look at your floor plan. Are all the bedrooms upstairs? You may want to think about turning a living area on the main floor into a bedroom. Stairs grow difficult with age, especially for seniors with canes or walkers. Try to have everything they need accessible on one floor, including a bed, full bathroom, and kitchen. If the one-floor plan isn’t possible, make sure you have railings installed on both sides of staircases for support. A chair lift is another option for seniors who require walkers or wheelchairs.
Be sure to remove all hazards in hallways and on floors. Get rid of throw rugs – they can pose a serious tripping hazard. Make sure all child or pet toys are kept off the floor. Add nightlights to dark hallways for easy movement during the night when necessary. Also install handrails for support near doorframes and most importantly, in bathrooms.
Handlebars next to toilets and in showers are essential for senior safety. Use traction strips in the shower, which should also be equipped with a seat and removable showerhead. To avoid accidental scalding, set your hot water heater so that temperatures can’t reach boiling. You may also want to consider a raised seat with armrests to place over your toilet, to make sitting and standing easier.
This applies to all other chairs in the house as well. Big, puffy chairs and couches can make it very difficult for seniors to sit and stand. Have living and dining room chairs with stable armrests, and consider an electronic recliner for easy relaxation.
To keep everyone comfortable and help avoid accidents, store all frequently used items in easily accessible places. Keep heavy kitchen items between waist and chest height.
Even with appropriate precautions, not all accidents can be avoided. Purchasing a personal alarm system like Life Alert can be the most important preparation you make for a senior family member. If they are ever left alone, Life Alert provides instant medical attention with the push of a button that they wear at all times.
Amidst all the safety preparations, remember that it’s important to keep the brain healthy, too. Have puzzles, cards, large-print books and magazines, computer games, and simple exercises available to keep seniors of healthy body and mind.
These simple preparations can not only help extend the life of your loved one, but help to make sure their remaining years are happy and healthy.
Monday, May 06, 2013
Taking Care of Your Kids While Taking Care of Your Parents
The ‘Sandwich Generation’ – Taking Care of Your Kids While Taking Care of Your Parents
“The sandwich generation” is the term given to adults who are raising children and simultaneously caring for elderly or infirm parents. Your children are one piece of “bread,” your parents are the other piece of “bread,” and you are “sandwiched” into the middle.
Caring for parents at the same time as you care for your children, your spouse and your job is exhausting and will stretch every resource you have. And what about caring for yourself? Not surprisingly, most sandwich generation caregivers let self-care fall to the bottom of the priorities list which may impair your ability to care for others.
Following are several tips for sandwich generation caregivers.
Hold an all-family meeting regarding your parents. Involve your parents, your parents’ siblings, and your own siblings in a detailed conversation about the present and future. If you can, make joint decisions about issues like who can physically care for your parents, who can contribute financially and how much, and who should have legal authority over your parents’ finances and health care decisions if they become unable to make decisions for themselves. Your parents need to share all their financial and health care information with you in order for the family to make informed decisions. Once you have that information, you can make a long-term financial plan.
Hold another all-family meeting with your children and your parents. If you are physically or financially taking care of your parents, talk about this honestly with your children. Involve your parents in the conversation as well. Talk – in an age-appropriate way – about the changes that your children will experience, both positive and challenging.
Prioritize privacy. With multiple family members living under one roof, privacy – for children, parents, and grandparents – is a must. If it is not be feasible for every family member to have his or her own room, then find other ways to give everyone some guaranteed privacy. “The living room is just for Grandma and Grandpa after dinner.” “Our teenage daughter gets the downstairs bathroom for as long as she needs in the mornings.”
Make family plans. There are joys associated with having three generations under one roof. Make the effort to get everyone together for outings and meals. Perhaps each generation can choose an outing once a month.
Make a financial plan, and don’t forget yourself. Are your children headed to college? Are you hoping to move your parents into an assisted living facility? How does your retirement fund look? If you are caring for your parents, your financial plan will almost certainly have to be revised. Don’t leave yourself and your spouse out of the equation. Make sure to set aside some funds for your own retirement while saving for college and elder health care.
Revise your estate plan documents as necessary. If you had named your parents guardians of your children in case of your death, you may need to find other guardians. You may need to set up trusts for your parents as well as for your children. If your parent was your power of attorney, you may have to designate a different person to act on your behalf.
Seek out and accept help. Help for the elderly is well organized in the United States. Here are a few governmental and nonprofit resources:
www.benefitscheckup.org – Hosted by the National Council on Aging, this website is a one-stop shop for determining which federal, state and local benefits your parents may qualify for
www.eldercare.gov – Sponsored by the U.S. Administration on Aging
www.caremanager.org -- National Association of Professional Geriatric Care Managers
www.nadsa.org – National Adult Day Services Association
Thursday, April 25, 2013
Leaving Assets to a ‘Troubled’ Heir
Estate Planning: Leaving Assets to a ‘Troubled’ Heir
If you have a child who is addicted to drugs or alcohol, or who is financially irresponsible, you already know the heartbreak associated with trying to help that child make healthy decisions. Perhaps your other adult children are living independent lives, but this child still turns to you to bail him out – either figuratively or literally – of trouble.
If these are your circumstances, you are probably already worrying about how to continue to help your child once you are gone. You predict that your child will misuse any lump sum of money left to him or her via your will. You don’t want to completely cut this child out of your estate plan, but at the same time, you don’t want to enable destructive behavior or throw good money after bad.
Trusts are an estate planning tool you can use to provide an inheritance to a worrisome heir while maintaining control over how, when, where, and why the heir accesses the funds. This type of trust is sometimes called a spendthrift trust.
As with all trusts, you designate a trustee who controls the funds that will be left to the heir. This trustee can be an independent third party (there are companies that specialize in this type of work) or a member of the family. It is often wise to opt for a third party as a trustee, to prevent accusations among family members about favoritism.
The trust can specify the exact circumstances under which money will be disbursed to the heir. Or, more simply, the trust can specify that the trustee has complete and sole discretion to disburse funds when the heir applies for money. Most parents in these circumstances discover that they wish to impose their own incentives and restrictions, rather than rely on the judgment of an unknown third party.
The types of conditions or incentives that can be used with a trust include:
- Drug or alcohol testing before funds are released
- Payments directly to landlords, colleges, etc., rather than payment to the heir
- Disbursement of a specified lump sum if the heir graduates from university or keeps the same job for a certain time period
- Payment only to a drug or alcohol rehab center if the child is in an active period of addiction
- Disbursement of a lump sum if the child remains drug free
- Payments that match the child’s earned income
If you are considering writing this type of complex trust, it is advisable to seek assistance from a qualified and experienced estate planning attorney who can help you devise a plan that best accomplishes your wishes with respect to your child.
Monday, April 15, 2013
Think Treasure Hunts are Fun and Games?
Think Treasure Hunts are Fun and Games? Think Again
You’ve had an attorney draft your estate planning documents, including your living trust and will. Probate avoidance and tax saving strategies have been implemented. Your documents are signed, notarized and witnessed in accordance with all applicable laws, and are stored in a location known to your chosen executor or estate administrator. Your work is done, right? Not exactly.
Although treasure hunts may be fun for youngsters, the fiduciaries of your estate will not find inventorying your assets to be nearly as exciting. When it comes time to settle your affairs, your estate representatives will be charged with the responsibility to gather and manage your assets, pay off debts and taxes, and distribute your assets to your named beneficiaries. This can be a tall order for an outsider who is likely unaware of the full scope of your assets.
If your fiduciaries cannot determine exactly what property you own, and its value and location, you are setting up your loved ones for a frustrating treasure hunt that can delay the settlement of your estate and rack up additional estate-related expenses. You may be remembered for the frustration of locating your assets, rather than the gifts made upon your death – not a legacy many wish to leave.
Instead, as you are establishing your estate plan take the extra time to record a comprehensive asset inventory and make sure those who will be responsible for settling your estate know where that inventory is stored. Do not presume that everything is handled once you meet with a lawyer and sign your documents. The legal instruments you have gone to the time, trouble and expense to prepare are practically worthless if your assets cannot be identified, located and transferred to your beneficiaries. However, creating a thoughtful asset inventory will aid your loved ones in closing your estate and honoring your memory.
Nobody knows better what assets you own than you. And who better than you to know an item’s value, age or location? Your fiduciaries may not have the benefit of tax or registration renewal notices for titled assets, and certainly won’t have copies of the titles or deeds – unless you provide them. It’s a good idea to include copies of the following items with your asset inventory:
- Deeds to real property
- Titles to personal property
- Statements for bank, brokerage, credit card and retirement accounts
- Stock certificates
- Life insurance policy
- Tax notices
For each of the above assets you should also list names and contact information for individuals who can assist with each the underlying assets, such as real estate attorneys, brokers, financial planners and accountants.
If your estate includes unique objects or valuable family heirlooms, a professional appraisal can help you plan your estate, and help your representatives settle your estate. If you have any property appraised, include a copy of the report with your asset inventory.
Care should be taken to continually update your asset inventory as things change. There will likely be many years between the time your estate plan is created and the day your fiduciaries must step in and settle your estate. Properties may be bought or sold, and these changes should be reflected in your asset inventory on an ongoing basis.
Friday, April 05, 2013
Things a Will Won’t (or Can’t) Do
Will or Won’t? Things a Will Won’t (or Can’t) Do
Wills offer many benefits and are an important part of any estate plan, regardless of how much property you have. Your will can ensure that after death your property will be given to the loved ones you designate. If you have children, a will is necessary to designate a guardian for them. Without a will, the courts and probate laws will decide who inherits your property and who cares for your children. But there are certain things a will cannot accomplish.
A will has no effect on the distribution of certain types of property after your death. For example, if you own property in joint tenancy with another co-owner, your share of that property will automatically belong to the surviving joint tenant. Any contrary will provision would only be effective if all joint tenants died at the same time.
If you have named a beneficiary on your life insurance policy, those proceeds will not be subject to the terms of a will and will pass directly to your named beneficiary. Similarly, if you have named a beneficiary on your retirement accounts, including pension plans, individual retirement accounts (IRAs), 401(k) or 403(b) retirement plans, the money will be distributed directly to that named beneficiary when you pass on, regardless of any will provisions.
Brokerage accounts, including stocks and bonds, in which you have named a transfer-on-death (TOD) beneficiary will be transferred directly to the named beneficiary. Vehicles may also be titled with a TOD beneficiary, and would therefore transfer to your beneficiary, regardless of any provisions contained in your will. Similar to TODs, bank accounts may have a pay-on-death beneficiary named.
The will’s shortcomings are not limited to matters of inheritance. Generally, wills are not as well suited as trusts for putting conditions on a gift such as requiring someone to get married or divorced, or obtain a certain education level, as a prerequisite to inheriting a portion of your estate. A simple will cannot reduce estate taxes the way some kinds of trust plans can.
A trust, not a will, is also necessary to arrange for care for a beneficiary who has special needs. A will cannot provide for long-term care arrangements for a loved one. However, a special needs trust can provide financial support for a disabled beneficiary, without risking government disability benefits.
If you want to leave your estate to Fido, you’re out of luck in many states. Without a special pet trust, your will may not be able to provide for pets to inherit your assets. You can use your will to leave your pet to someone, and then leave money to that person in trust to help take care of your pet.
A will cannot help you avoid probate. Assets left through a will generally must be transferred through a court-supervised probate proceeding, which can take months, or longer, at significant expense to your estate. If it’s probate you want to avoid, consider establishing a living trust to hold your significant assets.
Monday, February 25, 2013
Preventing a Will Contest
Preventing a Will Contest & Preserving Peace in the Family
The purpose of writing a Last Will and Testament is to make sure that you – and not an anonymous probate court judge – have control over the distribution of your property after your death. If one or more family members disputes the instructions in your will, however, then it is possible that a probate court judge may decide how your assets will be distributed.
Protect yourself, your family members and your last wishes by taking steps to prevent a will contest after your death. Will contests (this is the legal term used to describe a family member’s challenge to the contents of a will) can be based on one or more of these claims:
The will was not properly executed
The willmaker was under improper or undue influence from a beneficiary
The willmaker or another person committed fraud
The willmaker lacked the mental capacity to make the will
There are a number of steps that you can take to help prevent will contests based on any of those claims. It is important to remember, though, that different states have different laws regarding wills and probate. What is advisable in one state may be inadvisable in another, which is why the first suggestion for preventing a will contest is:
Obtain qualified legal advice regarding your estate plan. Estate planning has become a popular “do it yourself” legal task, but you should at least consider having your will reviewed – if not written – by a qualified estate planning lawyer. Writing your will with the help of an estate planning attorney will also ensure that your will is a properly executed and valid legal document.
Don’t delay estate planning. Plan your estate while you are in good health – “of sound mind and body.” If you create your will while your physical or mental health is failing, your will becomes vulnerable to claims that it is invalid due to your lack of mental capacity.
Consider a no-contest clause. A no-contest clause (also called an in terroreum clause) in a Last Will and Testament disinherits anyone who contests the will. Keep in mind, though, that no-contest clauses are valid in some states but not in others.
Consider using trusts. Trusts are becoming more widely usedin estate planning , and are useful for various situations. A will is a public document once it is filed in probate court, and the public nature of the document can give rise to disputes and will contests. In contrast, a revocable living trust is a personal and private document that does not have to be filed as a public record. Furthermore, lifetime trusts can be used to provide financially for “troublesome” beneficiaries who might otherwise spend through their inheritance. Lifetime trusts are flexible and can link financial inheritance to the accomplishment of goals that you set forth in the trust documents.
Write your will independently. To avoid claims of undue influence after your death, make sure you write your will in circumstances that are clearly free from interference by family members or other beneficiaries. Avoid having beneficiaries serve as witnesses, for example, and don’t allow beneficiaries to attend your meetings with your estate planning attorney. This is especially important if you are under the care of a family member who is also a beneficiary.
Be of sound mind and body. At the time you write and sign your will, you can ask your physician to perform a physical examination and certify that you are mentally competent to execute your will. Another option is for your attorney to ask you a series of questions before you sign your will and document that the questions were asked and answered. It may also be a good idea to make a video recording of the process of signing your will, as another way to prove mental competency.
Answer your family’s questions. Consider sharing your intentions with your family and other beneficiaries. If you explain the reasons for the decisions you made regarding bequests, you may help prevent will contests after your death. Instead or in addition, you may write a letter to your beneficiaries that will be read at the same time your will is read.
Keep your will dust-free. Once your Last Will and Testament and other estate planning documents are complete, don’t just file and forget them. Review your will with an attorney at least once a year and make any necessary changes in a timely manner.
Friday, February 15, 2013
Meeting With an Estate Planning Attorney?
Preparing to Meet With an Estate Planning Attorney
A thorough and complete estate plan must take into account a significant amount of information about your assets, your family, your property, and your wishes during and after your life. When you make your first appointment with an estate planning attorney, ask the attorney or the paralegal if they can provide a written list of important information and documents that you should bring to the meeting.
Generally speaking, you should gather the following information before your first appointment with your estate planning lawyer.
List the names, birth dates, death dates, and ages of all immediate family members, specifically current and former spouses, all children and stepchildren, and all grandchildren.
If you have any young or adult children with special needs, gather all information you have about their lifetime financial needs.
For all real property you own or can reasonably expect to acquire, gather the property description, your ownership interest information, the address, market value, any outstanding mortgage balance, and the most recent tax assessment.
For any personal property of value (such as vehicles, jewelry, coins, antiques, stamps, and art), compile a list that includes a description, the physical location of each item, your ownership interest information, the market value, and any liens against the property.
If you have an ownership interest in a business, make sure you have documents showing your ownership interest in the business, the business location, the names and contact information of other owners, and 2-3 years of past profit and loss statements.
Compile a list of all your financial accounts, including: checking accounts, savings accounts, investment accounts, stocks and bonds, and U.S. Treasury notes. If any of these accounts currently have designated beneficiaries, bring that information as well.
Gather all retirement savings information, including 401(k) plans, 403(b) plans, IRAs, life insurance policies, Social Security statements, and pension information. Make sure you have the account names, account numbers, current balances, outstanding loan balances, and currently named beneficiaries.
If any family members owe you debts, compile that information.
Questions to Think About
The following are some of the first questions your estate planning attorney will ask. You are not required to have answers ready for all these questions, but because some of them are complex, it is a good idea to think through these issues before your appointment.
Who will be beneficiaries of your property?
Do you want to bequeath any specific items of property to specific individuals?
Is there anyone you do not want to be a beneficiary of any of your property?
Do you plan to make any bequests to any nonprofit organizations – university, church, charity, or other organization?
Do you know who you want to act as executor of your will?
Do you know who you want to act as trustee of any trusts you establish?
If you have minor children, who do you want to appoint as guardian?
Do you want to make arrangements for your health and financial well-being in the event you become unable to make decisions for yourself?
Do you have specific wishes for your funeral?
Are you a registered organ donor?
During your initial consultation, your estate planning attorney will review your family and financial situation, discuss your wishes, answer your questions and suggest strategies to protect your family, wealth and legacy.
Tuesday, September 25, 2012
Remarried? Protect Your Children With Proper Planning
If you are married for the first time and are working on your estate plan, the decisions about where the assets go are usually easy. Most parents in that situation want their entire estate to go to the surviving spouse, and upon the death of the surviving spouse, equally to their children. There may be difficult decisions about who will serve as guardians of the children or trustees over the children’s property, but typically it’s easy to decide where the property will go.
However, in today’s society, there are ever-increasing numbers of blended families. There may be children from several marriages involved, making estate planning more complex. Couples may bring an unequal number of children into the marriage, as well as unequal assets. A spouse may want to ensure that his or her spouse is provided for at death, but may be afraid to leave everything to that spouse out of fear that at the death of the second spouse, that spouse will leave everything to his or her biological children.
Planning can also be complicated when a couple gets married and either of them brings very young children into the marriage. The non-biological parent may raise those children, but unless formally adopted, for estate planning purposes, they are not considered the children of the non-biological parent. Therefore, if that parent dies without a will, the children will not inherit from the stepparent.
There are many options for estate planning for blended families that will treat everyone fairly. First, it is imperative that parents of blended families have a will in place. If they do not, it is almost inevitable that someone will be treated unfairly. Also, it is tempting for parents of blended families to create wills in which half of everything is left to the husband’s children and half is left to the wife’s children. However, as explained earlier, this approach can also lead to problems. Moreover, it is not at all uncommon for a surviving spouse to change his or her will at the death of the first spouse and cut the stepchildren out of the estate plan.
There are two options often recommended for blended families when doing estate planning. The first is to use a trust. Under this plan, all family assets are usually held in trust. Upon the death of the first spouse, the surviving spouse has the right to use the assets in the trust for support, with certain limits, such as rights to income or limited use of the trust principal for living expenses. However, the surviving spouse will not be able to change the beneficiaries of the trust, and hence stepchildren could not be disinherited. A second option is for a certain amount of money to be left to children at the death of the first spouse. In that situation, the children will not have to wait for the death of the stepparent in order to inherit. This works well in situations when the children are mature adults and there is sufficient money for the surviving spouse to support herself without relying on the extra funds that are inherited by the children. One way to accomplish this is through a life insurance policy payable to the children.
Estate planning with blended families can be complex and each situation is unique. It is important to keep the lines of communication open and to be aware that it can be a sticky situation for many families. However, with proper planning, many issues that could arise on the death of a stepparent can be avoided completely.
Tuesday, September 18, 2012
Planning for Your Final Sendoff
Although most people do not like to think about it, death is inevitable. It is imperative that you have an estate plan in place that outlines your end of life wishes and how you would like your assets distributed upon your passing. As part of your planning, it is important that you consider and make arrangements for your funeral. By planning this event before your passing, you can spare your family difficult decisions and ensure that your send off is exactly as you would like it.
Here are a few things to consider:
Funerals are not limited to churches or temples. If you are not religious or if you want something different, you might ask that your relatives instead hold a memorial service in your honor at the park or even at the family vacation home.
Perhaps you hate the idea of being buried at the local cemetery and would prefer to be cremated. There are many options and having your relatives all agree upon one can be challenging. Be sure to make these wishes known as part of your funeral planning.
You would not want someone picking the song for the first dance at your wedding so why would you want someone else deciding all of the details of an event to celebrate your life? As part of your funeral planning, list songs you might want played or poems which should be recited. If your favorite vacation was to Hawaii, you might want to brighten up the event with tropical flowers from Maui.
It can be difficult to write about your life but for many writing their own obituary can help them reflect on the important things while giving them a chance to highlight their proudest moments. If you aren’t a writer or find this task daunting, consider writing a few bullet points for your loved ones so the information they share is accurate and provide a list of publications where it should be featured. Sure, your children may know that you belong to the church book group but they may have no idea that that same group has a newsletter which should share this information with fellow members.
Traditionally when a person died, his or her children had the task of going through the old phone book and calling contacts to inform them of the news. Today, many of us connect with friends and relatives online. To help your heirs effectively communicate information about your passing, be sure to store your online passwords in a place where your relatives can find them and access the appropriate accounts accordingly.
Paying in Advance
Funerals can be very expensive and a huge burden for many families dealing with the loss of a loved one. Luckily, with the right planning, you can prepay for your funeral and save your family the expense. Generally an attorney or a funeral director can help you to determine how much money will be needed and help you to establish a trust where it will be stored until your passing.
While planning your funeral may seem to be a depressing thought at first, it is actually empowering—allowing you determine how you will say farewell to your loved ones and leaving you with peace of mind knowing that you’ve taken care of every last detail so your family can celebrate your life without the added stress of planning your funeral.
Tuesday, July 24, 2012
Veterans’ Non-Service Connected Pension Benefits
The Veterans’ Administration’s non-service connected pension program can help supplement the income of elderly or disabled veterans. The VA deems any veteran age 65 or older to be permanently and totally disabled. This “disabled” classification entitles senior citizens who are veterans, or their widows, to tax-free pension payments regardless of their actual physical condition, provided they meet the needs-based criteria.
One significant advantage of this program is that, unlike a traditional service-connected pension, there is no requirement that your injury or disability be tied to your time in service. On the other hand, this is a needs-based assistance program, so many veterans may not qualify for benefits.
To qualify for benefits under the program, you must have served on active duty for at least 90 days, and at least one of those days must have been during a time of war. Additionally, you must not have had a dishonorable discharge from the military.
Periods of war time are determined by the U.S. Congress as follows:
Mexican Border Period: May 9, 1916 through April 5, 1917, only if you served in Mexico, on its borders or in adjacent waters
World War I: April 6th, 1917 through November 11, 1918, or through April 1, 1920 if you served in Russia
World War II: December 7, 1941 through December 31, 1946
Korean Conflict: June 27, 1950 through January 31, 1955
Vietnam Era: August 5, 1964 through May 7, 1965, or beginning February 28, 1961 you served in Vietnam
Persian Gulf War: August 2, 1990 through the present
Once qualifying military service is established, you must also pass the income and asset tests. The VA must determine that your net worth is not enough to adequately support you during your lifetime. Your vehicle and primary residence are not counted when determining your net worth. The VA generally caps net worth, exclusive of your car and primary residence, at $80,000 for a married veteran, or $40,000 for a single person.
Additionally, your countable income must be lower than the available pension amount. Fortunately, countable income is offset by your unreimbursed, recurring health care costs, including prescriptions, insurance premiums or assisted living expenses.
Tuesday, July 17, 2012
How Much of Your Estate Will Be Left Out of Your Will? (It is Probably More Than You Think)
You have hired an attorney to draft your will, inventoried all of your assets, and have given copies of important documents to your loved ones. But your estate planning shouldn’t stop there. Regardless of how well your will is drafted, if you do not take certain steps regarding your non-probate assets, you run the risk of unintentionally disinheriting your chosen beneficiaries from a significant portion of your estate.
A will has no effect on the distribution of certain types of property after your death. Such assets, known as “non-probate” assets are typically transferred upon your death either as a beneficiary designation or automatically, by operation of law.
For example, if your 401(k) plan indicates your spouse as a designated beneficiary, he or she automatically inherits the account upon you passing. In fact, by law, your spouse is entitled to inherit the funds in your 401(k) account. If you wish to leave your 401(k) retirement account to someone other than a surviving spouse, you must obtain a signed waiver from your spouse indicating her agreement to waive her rights to the assets in that account.
Other types of retirement accounts also transfer to your beneficiaries outside of a probate proceeding, and therefore are not subject to the provisions of your will. An Individual Retirement Account (IRA) does not automatically transfer to your spouse by operation of law as is the case with 401(k) plans, so you must complete the IRA’s beneficiary designation form, naming the heirs you want to inherit the account upon your death. Your will has no effect on who inherits your IRA; the beneficiary designation on file with the financial institution controls who will receive your property.
Similarly, you must name a beneficiary on your life insurance policy. Upon your death, the insurance proceeds are not subject to the terms of a will and will be paid directly to your named beneficiary.
Probate avoidance is a noble goal, saving your loved ones both time and money as they close your estate. In addition to the assets listed above, which must be handled through beneficiary designations, there are other types of assets that may be disposed of using a similar procedure. These include assets such as bank accounts and brokerage accounts, including stocks and bonds, in which you have named a pay-on-death (POD) or transfer-on-death (TOD) beneficiary; upon your passing, the asset will be transferred directly to the named beneficiary, regardless of what provisions are in your will. Depending on the state, vehicles may also be titled with a TOD beneficiary.
To make these arrangements, submit a beneficiary designation form to the applicable financial institution or motor vehicle department. Be sure to keep the beneficiary designations current, and provide instructions to your executor listing which assets are to be transferred in this manner. Most such designations also allow for listing of alternate beneficiaries in case they predecease you.
Another common non-probate asset is real estate that is co-owned with someone else where the deed has a survivorship provision in it. For example, many deeds to real property owned by married couples are owned jointly by both husband and wife, with right of survivorship. Upon the passing of either spouse, the interest of the passing spouse immediately passes to the surviving spouse by operation of law, irrespective of any conflicting instructions in your will. Keep in mind that you need not be married for such a provision to be in effect; joint ownership of real property with right of survivorship can exist among any group of co-owners. If you want your will to be controlling with regard to disposition of such property, you need to have a new deed prepared (and recorded) that does not have a right of survivorship provision among the co-owners.
You have spent a lifetime of hard work to accumulate your assets and it is important that you take all necessary steps to ensure that your wishes regarding who will get your assets will be honored as you intend. Carve a few hours out of your busy schedule, several times a year, to review all of your deeds and beneficiary designations to make certain that they remain consistent with your objectives.
The Fitzgerald Law Office assists clients with Estate Planning, Advanced Estate Planning, Asset Protection, Business Succession Planning, Planning for Children, Guardianships, Probate and Estate Administration and Pet Trusts in St. Charles, Illinois, all of Kane and DuPage Counties and throughout the Fox Valley.