Author Archives: Marc Garlett

How to Fix Errors in Your Credit Report

From late payments that were actually made on time to paid debts that are still listed in collections to fake accounts opened in your name by identity thieves, there are all kinds of errors that can end up in your credit report. What’s more, even if the mistakes were made by the banks, lenders, and/or credit bureaus, they have no obligation to fix them—unless you report them.

Given this, it’s vital to monitor your credit score regularly and take immediate action to have any errors corrected. Here, we’ll discuss a few of the most common mistakes found in credit reports and how to fix them.

Finding and fixing errors
The first step to ensure your credit report stays error-free is to obtain a copy of your report from each of the three major credit-reporting agencies: Experian, TransUnion and Equifax. You can get free access to your reports and even helpful credit monitoring services from companies like CreditKarma.com.

Check each of the reports closely for errors. Some of the most common mistakes include:

  • Misspellings and other errors in your name, address, and/or Social Security number
  • Accounts that are mistakenly reported more than once
  • Loan inquiries you didn’t authorize
  • Payments inadvertently applied to the wrong account or noted as unpaid, when they were in fact paid
  • Old debts that have been paid off or should’ve been removed from your report after seven years
  • Fake accounts and debts created by identity thieves

Filing a dispute
If anything is inaccurate on your report, file a dispute with the credit bureaus as soon as possible. In fact, notifying these agencies is a prerequisite if you eventually decide to take legal action. Note that if a mistake appears on more than one report, you’ll need to file a dispute with each credit bureau involved.

To ensure your dispute has the best chances of success, follow these steps:

  • Use the appropriate forms: Each credit bureau has different processes for filing a dispute—whether via regular mail or online—so check the particular bureau’s website for instructions and forms. You can find sample letters showing how to dispute credit reports on the FTC and Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) websites.
  • Be absolutely clear: Clearly identify each disputed item in your report, state the facts explaining why the information is incorrect, and request a deletion or correction. If you’ve found multiple errors, include an itemized list of each one.
  • Provide evidence: It’s not enough to just say there’s a mistake; you should substantiate your claim with proof. Collect all documents related to the account, including account statements, letters, emails, and legal correspondence. Include copies (never originals) of this paperwork, and highlight or circle the relevant information.
  • Contact credit providers: In addition to the credit bureaus, the CFPB recommends you also contact the credit providers that supplied the incorrect information to the bureaus. Check with the particular company to learn how to file a dispute, and then send it the same documentation to them that you sent to the bureaus.
  • Review the results of the investigation: Credit bureaus typically get back to you within a month, but their response can take up to 45 days. The response will tell you if the disputed item was deleted, fixed, or remains the same. Disputes basically boil down to whether or not the creditor agrees with your claim or not, and what they say typically goes.

If you’re not happy with the result of the dispute or how the dispute was handled, you can file a complaint with the CFPB, which regulates the credit bureaus. They’ll forward your complaint to the credit provider and update you on the response they receive.

If the credit provider insists the information is accurate, you can provide the bureaus with a statement summarizing your dispute and request they include it in your file, in future reports, and to anyone who received a copy of the old report in the recent past.

Legal action
Finally, if the investigation isn’t resolved to your satisfaction and the inaccurate information in your credit report is causing you harm, contact a trusted attorney to determine if taking legal action would be worthwhile. Your attorney can review the information, and if necessary, help you develop and litigate your case.

Dedicated to empowering your family, building your wealth and defining your legacy,

Use Estate Planning to Enrich Your Family With More Than Just Material Wealth

In the weeks before her death from ovarian cancer, author Amy Krouse Rosenthal gave her husband Jason one of the most treasured gifts a person could receive.

She penned the touching essay “You May Want to Marry My Husband” in the New York Times as a final love letter to him. The essay took the form of a heart-wrenching yet-humorous dating profile that encouraged him to begin dating again once she was gone. In her opening description of Jason, she writes:

“He is an easy man to fall in love with. I did it in one day.”

What followed was an intimate list of attributes and anecdotes, highlighting what she loved most about Jason. It reads like a love story, encompassing 26 years of marriage, three grown children, and a bond that will last forever. She finished the essay on Valentine’s Day, concluding with:

“The most genuine, non-vase-oriented gift I can hope for is that the right person reads this, finds Jason, and another love story begins.”

Just 10 days after the essay was published in March 2017, Amy died at age 51.

Finding meaning again
Amy’s essay immediately went viral, and Jason received countless letters from women across the globe. Although he has yet to begin a new relationship, Jason said the outpouring of letters gave him “solace and even laughter” in the darkest days following his wife’s death.

Just over a year later, Jason wrote his own essay for the Times, “My Wife Said You May Want to Marry Me,” in which he expressed how grateful he was for Amy’s words and recounted the lessons he’d learned about loss and grief since her passing.

He said his wife’s parting gift “continues to open doors for me, to affect my choices, to send me off into the world to make the most of it.” Jason has since given a TED Talk on his grieving process in hopes of helping others deal with loss, something he said he never would’ve done without Amy’s motivation.

Toward the end of his essay, Jason gave readers a bit of advice for how they can provide their loved ones with a similar gift:

“Talk with your mate, your children, and other loved ones about what you want for them when you are gone,” he wrote. “By doing this, you give them liberty to live a full life and eventually find meaning again.”

Preserving your intangible assets
This moving story highlights what could be the most valuable, yet often-overlooked aspect of estate planning. Planning isn’t just about preserving and passing on your financial wealth and property in the event of your death or incapacity. When done right, it equates to sharing your family’s stories, values, life lessons, and experiences, so your legacy carries on long after you (and your money) are gone.

Indeed, as the Rosenthals demonstrate, these intangible assets can be among the most profound gifts you can give. Of course, not everyone has the talent or time to write a similarly moving essay or have it published in the New York Times, nor is that necessary.

Priceless conversations
Our Family Legacy Interview (included in all of our estate plans) guides you to create a customized video in which you share your most insightful memories and life lessons with those you love most.

We’ve developed a series of helpful questions and prompts to make the process of sharing your life experiences not only easy, but enjoyable. And this isn’t something you have to do on your own—which you know you wouldn’t get around to—as we do it with you as an integral part of your planning services.

In the end, your family’s most precious wealth is not money, but the memories you make, the values you instill, and the lessons you hand down. And left to chance, these assets are likely to be lost forever.

If you want to pass down a truly meaningful legacy, one that can provide the kind of inspiration Amy’s letter did for Jason, contact us. Our customized estate planning services will preserve and pass on not only your financial wealth, but your most treasured family values as well. Start by scheduling a Family Estate Planning Session, where we’ll discuss what kind of assets you have, what matters most to you, and what you want to leave behind.

Dedicated to empowering your family, building your wealth and defining your legacy,

 

3 Deadly Sins of Retirement Planning

Retirement planning is one of life’s most important financial goals. Indeed, funding retirement is one of the primary reasons many people put money aside in the first place. Yet many of us put more effort into planning for our vacations than we do to prepare for a time when we may no longer earn an income.

Whether you’ve put off planning for retirement altogether or failed to create a truly comprehensive plan, you’re putting yourself at risk for a future of poverty, penny pinching, and dependence. The stakes could hardly be higher.

When preparing for your final years, it’s not enough to simply hope for the best. You should treat retirement planning as if your life depended on it—because it does. To this end, even well-thought-out plans can contain fatal flaws you might not be aware of until it’s too late.

Have you committed any of the following three deadly sins of retirement planning?

1. Not having an actual plan
Even if you’ve been diligent about saving for retirement, without a detailed, goal-oriented plan, you’ll have no clear idea whether your savings strategies are working adequately or not. And such plans aren’t just about calculating a retirement savings number, funding your 401(k), and then setting things on auto-pilot.

Once you know how much you’ll need for retirement, you must plan for exactly how you’ll accumulate that money and monitor your success. The plan should include clear-cut methods for increasing income, reducing spending, maximizing tax savings, and managing investments when and where needed.

What’s more, you should regularly review and update your asset allocation, investment performance, and savings goals to ensure you’re still on track to hit your target figure. With each new decade of your life (at least), you should adjust your savings strategies to match the specific needs of your new income level and age.

Failing to plan, as they say, is planning to fail.

2. Not maximizing the use of tax-saving retirement accounts
One way or another, the money you put aside for retirement is going to be taxed. However, by investing in tax-saving retirement accounts, you can significantly reduce the amount of taxes you’ll pay.

Depending on your employment and financial situation, there are numerous different plans available. From traditional IRAs and 401(k)s to Roth IRAs and SEP Plans, you should consider using one or more of these investment vehicles to ensure you achieve the most tax savings possible.

What’s more, many employers will match your contributions to these accounts, which is basically free money. If your employer offers matching funds, you should not only use these accounts, but contribute the maximum amount allowed—and begin doing so as early as possible.

Since figuring out which of these plans will offer the most tax savings can be tricky—and because tax laws are constantly changing—you should consult with a professional financial advisor to find the one(s) best suited for your particular situation. Paying taxes is unavoidable, but there’s no reason you should pay any more than you absolutely must.

3. Underestimating health-care costs
It’s an inescapable fact that our health naturally declines with age, so one of the riskiest things you can do is not plan for increased health-care expenses.

With many employers eliminating retiree health-care coverage, Medicare premiums rising, and the extremely volatile nature of health insurance law, planning for your future health-care expenses is critical. And it’s even more important seeing that we’re now living longer than ever before.

Plus, these considerations are assuming that you don’t fall victim to a catastrophic illness or accident. The natural aging process is expensive enough to manage, but a serious health-care emergency can wipe out even the most financially well off.

Start preparing for retirement now
The best way to maximize your retirement funding is to start planning (and saving) as soon as possible. In fact, your retirement savings can be exponentially increased simply by starting to plan at an early age.

Let us know if we can help. We’ll be glad to review what you have in place now, advise you about what you need, introduce you to advisors you can trust, and ensure you and your family are well-protected and planned for, no matter what.

Dedicated to empowering your family, building your wealth and defining your legacy,

Why Naming Legal Guardians for Children in a Will Isn’t Good Enough

Template wills and other cheap legal documents are among the most dangerous choices you can make for the people you love. These plans can fail to keep your family out of court and out of conflict, and can leave the people you love most of all—your children—at risk.

The people you love most
It’s probably distressing to think that by using a cut-rate estate plan you could force your loved ones into court or conflict in the event of your incapacity or death. And if you’re like most parents, it’s probably downright unimaginable to contemplate your children’s care falling into the wrong hands.

Yet that’s exactly what could happen if you rely on free or low-cost fill-in-the-blank wills found online, or even if you hire a lawyer who isn’t equipped or trained to plan for the needs of parents with minor children.

Naming and legally documenting guardians entails a number of complexities that most people aren’t aware of. Even lawyers with decades of experience frequently make at least one of six common errors when naming long-term legal guardians.

If wills drafted with the help of a professional are likely to leave your children at risk, the chances that you’ll get things right on your own are much worse.

What could go wrong?
If your DIY will names legal guardians for your kids in the event of your death, that’s great. But does it include back-ups? And if you named a couple to serve, how is that handled? Do you still want one of them if the other is unavailable due to illness, injury, death, or divorce?

And what happens if you become incapacitated and are unable to care for your children? You might assume the guardians named in the DIY will would automatically get custody, but your will isn’t even operative in the event of your incapacity.

Or perhaps the guardians you named in the will live far from your home, so it would take them a few days to get there. If you haven’t made legally-binding arrangements for the immediate care of your children, it’s possible they will be placed with child protective services until those guardians arrive.

Even if you name family who live nearby as guardians, your kids are still at risk if those guardians are not immediately available if and when needed.

And do they even know where your will is or how to access it? There are simply far too many potential pitfalls when you go it alone.

Kids Legal Planning
To ensure your children are never raised by someone you don’t trust or taken into the custody of strangers (even temporarily), consider creating a comprehensive Kids Protection Plan®.

Protecting your family and assets in the event of your death or incapacity is such a monumentally important task you should never consider winging it with a DIY plan. No matter how busy you are or how little wealth you own, the potentially disastrous consequences are simply too great—and often they’re not even worth the paper they’re printed on.

Plus, proper estate planning doesn’t have to be a depressing, stressful, or morbid event. In fact, we work hard to ensure our planning process is as stress-free as possible.

What’s more, many of our clients actually find the process highly rewarding. Our proprietary systems provide the type of peace of mind that comes from knowing that you’ve not only checked estate planning off your to-do list, but you’ve done it using the most forethought, experience, and knowledge available.

Act now
If you’ve yet to do any planning, contact us to schedule a Family Estate Planning Session. This evaluation will allow us to determine your best option.

If you’ve already created a plan—whether it’s a DIY job or one created with another lawyer’s help—contact us to schedule an Estate Plan Review and Check-Up. We’ll ensure your plan is not only properly drafted and updated, but that it has all of the protections in place to prevent your children from ever being placed in the care of strangers or anyone you’d never want to raise them.

Dedicated to empowering your family, building your wealth and defining your legacy,

When Something is NOT Better Than Nothing

 

 

 

 

 

 

Go online, and you’ll find tons of websites offering do-it-yourself estate planning documents. Such forms are typically quite inexpensive. Simple wills, for example, are often priced under $50, and you can complete and print them out in a matter of minutes.

In our uber-busy lives and DIY culture, it’s no surprise that this kind of thing might seem like a good – if not great – deal. You know estate planning is important, and even though you may not be getting the highest quality plan, such documents can make you feel better for having checked this item off your life’s lengthy to-do list.

But this is one case in which SOMETHING is not better than nothing, and here’s why:

A false sense of security
Creating a DIY will online can lead you to believe that you no longer must worry about estate planning. You got it done, right?

Except that you didn’t. In fact, you thought you “got it done” because you went online, printed a form, and had it notarized, but you didn’t bother to investigate what would happen with that document in the event of your incapacity or death.

In the end, what seemed like a bargain could end up costing your family more money and heartache than if you’d never gotten around to doing anything at all.

Not just about filling out forms
Unfortunately, because many people don’t understand that estate planning entails much more than just filling out legal documents, they end up making serious mistakes with DIY plans. Worst of all, these mistakes are only discovered when you become incapacitated or die, and it’s too late. The people left to deal with your mistakes are often the very ones you were trying to do right by.

The primary purpose of wills and other estate planning tools is to keep your family out of court and out of conflict in the event of your death or incapacity. With the growing popularity of DIY wills, tens of thousands of families (and millions more to come) have learned the hard way that trying to handle estate planning alone can not only fail to fulfill this purpose, it can make the court cases and conflicts far worse and more expensive.

The hidden dangers of DIY wills
From the specific state you live in and the wording of the document to the required formalities for how it must be signed and witnessed, there are numerous potential dangers involved with DIY wills and other estate planning documents. Estate planning is most definitely not a one-size-fits-all deal. Even if you think you have a simple situation, that’s almost never the case.

The following scenarios are just a few of the most common complications that can result from attempting to go it alone with a DIY will:

  • Improper execution: For a will to be valid, it must be executed (i.e. signed and witnessed or notarized) following strict legal procedures. If your DIY will doesn’t specific guidance or you fail to follow this procedure precisely, your will can be worthless.
  • Court challenges: Creditors, heirs, and other interested parties will have the opportunity to contest your will or make claims against your estate. Though wills created with an attorney’s guidance can also be contested, DIY wills are not only far more likely to be challenged, but the chances of those challenges being successful are much greater than if you have an attorney-drafted will.
  • Thinking a will is enough: A will alone is almost never sufficient to handle all of your legal affairs. In the event of your incapacity, you would also need a health care directive, and/or a living will plus a durable financial power of attorney. In the event of your death, a will does nothing to keep your loved one’s out of court. And if you have minor children, having a will alone could leave your kids’ at risk of being taken out of your home and into the care of strangers, at least temporarily.

In many ways, DIY estate planning is the worst choice you can make for the people you love because you think you’ve got it covered, when you most certainly do not.

Dedicated to empowering your family, building your wealth and defining your legacy,

Who Should Khloé Kardashian Choose as Legal Guardian For Her Child—One Instance Where ‘Keeping Up With the Kardashians’ Might Be A Good Idea

You might not be a big fan of their typical life choices, but the Kardashians recently demonstrated impressive wisdom in protecting their minor children using estate planning.

During a recent episode of Keeping Up With The Kardashians, Khloé Kardashian was preparing to give birth to her first child, daughter True. Khloé was second-guessing her initial choice to name her sister Kourtney as the child’s legal guardian in the event something happened to her or the baby’s father, Tristan Thompson.

During her pregnancy, Khloé spent lots of time with her other sister Kimberly and her family, daughters North, Chicago, son Saint, and husband Kanye West. Watching her interacting with her own kids, Khloé really connected with Kim’s mothering style and pondered if she might be a better choice as guardian.

“I always thought Kourtney would be the godparent of my child, but lately I’ve been watching Kim, and she’s been someone I really gravitate to as a mom,” Khloé said.

To make things more challenging, Kourtney always assumed she’d be named guardian and said as much. Over the years, Khloé had lots of fun times with Kourtney’s family—sons Mason, Reign, and daughter Penelope—and Kourtney thought her own passion for motherhood would make her the natural choice.

For guidance, Khloé asked her mother, Kris Jenner, how she chose her kids’ guardians. Kris’ answer was to compare how her two sisters’ raised their own children.

“You just have to think,” Kris told her. “‘Where would I want my child raised, in which environment? Who would I feel like my baby is going to be most comfortable and most loved?’”

In the end, Khloé chose Kim over Kourtney. She explained her decision had nothing to do with her respect or love of Kourtney; it was merely about which style of parenting she felt most comfortable with.

“Watching Kimberly be a mom, I really respect her parenting skills—not that I don’t respect Kourtney’s, I just relate to how Kim parents more,” said Khloé. “I just have to make the best decision for my daughter.”

 Khloé’s actions are admirable for several reasons. First off, far too many parents never get around to legally naming a guardian to care for their children in the event of their death or incapacity. Khloé not only made her choice, but she did so before the child was even born.

Khloé also took the time to speak and spend time with her sisters beforehand, so the family understood the rationale behind her decision. Khloé was lucky her choices were close family members, so she had ample opportunity to experience both of their parenting styles.

Depending on your life situation, you might not be able to spend that much time vetting your choice. But at the very least, you should sit down with each of your top candidates to openly and intimately discuss what you’d expect of them as your child’s new parents.

Dedicated to empowering your family, building your wealth and defining your legacy,

Questions and Answers About Personal Liability Umbrella Insurance

It’s no secret that we live in a litigious society. And though our right to a fair trial is one of the hallmarks of American democracy, it has also led to a lawsuit-crazy culture.

In this atmosphere, you’re at near-constant risk for costly lawsuits, many times even when you’ve done nothing wrong. This is especially true if you have substantial wealth, but even those with relatively few assets can find themselves in court.

If you’re sued, your traditional homeowner’s and/or auto insurance will likely offer you some liability coverage, but those policies only protect you up to certain limits before they max out. Given this, you should consider adding an extra layer of protection by investing in personal liability umbrella insurance.

What is umbrella insurance?

Umbrella insurance offers a secondary level of protection against lawsuits above and beyond what’s covered by your homeowners, auto, watercraft, and/or other personal insurance policies. For instance, if someone is injured in your home, they might sue you for their medical bills and lost wages.

Once your homeowners insurance maxes out, the umbrella policy will help pay for the resulting damages and legal expenses if you lose the case. If you win, it can help cover your lawyer’s fees.

Who should purchase it?

Umbrella insurance is particularly important for those with a high net worth. But seeing that everyone has the potential to be sued, it’s a good idea even for those without substantial assets.

Indeed, if you’re sued and lose, the judgment against you may exceed the value of your current assets. In such a case, the court can allow the plaintiff to go after your future earnings, potentially garnishing your wages for years. To this end, umbrella insurance not only protects your current assets, but your future ones as well.

How much coverage do I need?

Most people will be adequately covered with a $1 million umbrella policy. If you earn more than $100,00 a year or have more than $1 million in assets, you may want to invest in additional coverage.

A good rule of thumb is to buy an umbrella policy with coverage limits that are at least equal to your net worth.

How much does umbrella insurance cost?

Umbrella insurance is fairly inexpensive. You can buy a $1 million umbrella liability policy for between $150 and $300 per year. An additional million in coverage will run you about $100, and roughly $50 for every million beyond that.

Umbrella policies are inexpensive because they only go into effect after your underlying homeowners or auto policy is exhausted. In light of this, most insurers require you to have at least $250,000 in liability on your auto policy and $300,000 on your homeowners before they’ll sell you a $1 million umbrella policy.

How can I purchase umbrella insurance?

You can buy an umbrella policy from the same insurance company you use for your other policies. In fact, some companies require you to purchase all of your policies from them in order to obtain umbrella coverage.

If your current insurance agent offers umbrella coverage, you may qualify for a discount for bundling all your policies. Of course, you can also purchase a stand-alone umbrella policy, so shop around for the best rates.

Dedicated to empowering your family, building your wealth and defining your legacy,

What Happens to Your Facebook Account When You Die?

If you’re active on social media, Facebook probably plays a prominent role in your life. And now the social media titan can even play a role in your afterlife.

Today, estate planning encompasses not only your tangible assets—bank accounts and real estate—but your digital assets as well, such as cryptocurrency, websites, and social media accounts. Though social media may seem trivial compared to the rest of your personal property, a Facebook account functions as a virtual diary of your daily life, making it a key part of your legacy—and one you’ll likely want to protect.

Because social media is so new, there are very few state laws governing how your Facebook account should be handled upon your death. Considering this, Facebook itself is in nearly total control of what happens to your profile after you die. And since roughly 8,000 Facebook users die every day, the company has created a few options for dealing with your account once you’re gone:

1. Do nothing
Unless Facebook is notified of your death, it assumes you’re still alive, and your profile remains active indefinitely. While this might not seem like a big deal, your profile will continue to be included in Facebook searches, People You May Know suggestions, and birthday reminders.

Your friends and family likely won’t want to be constantly reminded of your absence, and even worse, ex-friends and/or trolls will be able to post potentially hurtful messages on your timeline. To shield your loved ones from this kind of thing, consider going with one of the other options.

2. Have the account deleted
You can notify Facebook that you’d like to have your account permanently removed from its servers upon your passing. Alternatively, a friend, family member, or your executor can make the same request after your death. This will completely delete your profile and all its associated content from Facebook for good.

Additionally, one of these individuals can request that your account’s content be downloaded and saved before the profile is deleted. Content that’s eligible for download includes wall posts, photos, videos, profile info, events, and your friend list. However, Facebook will not allow any third-party to access or download your personal messages or login information.

3. Memorialize the account
In 2009, Facebook began allowing accounts of the deceased to be “memorialized” at the request of a friend or family member. Once an account has been memorialized, only confirmed friends can see the profile or find it in a search. Your memorialized profile will no longer appear in friend suggestions, nor will anyone receive birthday updates or other account notifications.

When your account is memorialized, the word “Remembering” will be added next to your name on your profile. Depending on your privacy settings, friends and family members can post content and share memories on your timeline. A memorialized account is locked, so its original content cannot be altered or removed, even if an individual has your login info.

In 2015, Facebook created a new policy that allows you to designate a family member or friend as a “legacy contact” to manage your memorialized account. This contact will be allowed to pin a final message to the top of your timeline, announcing your death or providing funeral information. The contact can also respond to new friend requests and update your cover and profile photos. The legacy contact will not be able to log in as you or see any of your private messages.

Preserve your legacy
Since social media and other digital property are such an important part of your life, you should ensure these assets are protected by your overall estate plan.

Furthermore, through our Legacy Interviews, we allow you to create a customized video recording, sharing your values, stories, and life lessons with the loved ones you leave behind. Every estate plan we create includes this component, because estate planning should encompass not only your financial assets and material possessions, but your most precious personal wealth—your wisdom, love, and family leadership. Contact us today to learn more.

Dedicated to empowering your family, building your wealth and defining your legacy,

Don’t Transfer Ownership of Your House to Your Kids Before You Read This

With the cost of long-term care (LTC) skyrocketing, you may be concerned about your (or your elderly parents’) ability to pay for lengthy stays in assisted living and/or a nursing home. Such care can be massively expensive, with the potential to overwhelm even the well-off.

Because neither traditional health insurance nor Medicare will pay for LTC, some people are looking to Medicaid to help cover this cost. To become eligible for Medicaid, however, you must first exhaust nearly every penny of your savings.

Given this, you may have heard that if you transfer your house to your adult children, you can avoid selling the home if you need to qualify for Medicaid. You may think transferring ownership of the house will help your eligibility for benefits and that this strategy is easier and less expensive than handling your home (and other assets) through estate planning.

However, this tactic is a big mistake on several levels. It can not only delay—or even disqualify—your Medicaid eligibility, it can also lead to numerous other problems.

Medicaid Changes
In February 2006, Congress passed the Deficit Reduction Act (DRA), which included a number of provisions aimed at reducing Medicaid abuse. One of these was a five-year “look-back” period for eligibility.

This means that before you can qualify for Medicaid, your finances will be reviewed for any “uncompensated transfers” of your assets within the five years preceding your application. If such transfers are discovered, it can result in a penalty period that will delay your eligibility.

If you transfer your house to your children and then need LTC within five years, it may significantly delay your qualification for Medicaid benefits—and possibly prevent you from ever qualifying.

A potentially huge tax burden

Another drawback to transferring ownership of your home is the potential tax liability for your child. If you’re elderly, you’ve probably owned your house for a long time, and its value has dramatically increased, leading you to believe that by transferring your home to your child, he or she can make a windfall by selling it.

Unfortunately, if you do that, she or he will have to pay capital gains tax on the difference between your home’s value when you purchased it and your home’s value at the time she or he received it. Depending on the home’s worth, these taxes can be astronomical.

In contrast, by transferring your home at the time of your death, your child will receive what’s known as a “step-up in basis.” It’s one of the only benefits of death, and it allows your child to pay capital gains taxes based on the value of the home at the time of inheritance, rather than the value at the time you bought it.

Debt, Divorce, Disability, and Death

There are numerous other reasons why transferring ownership of your house to your child is a bad idea. If your child has significant debts, his or her creditors can make claims against the property to recoup what they’re owed, potentially forcing your child to sell the home to pay those debts.

Divorce is another problematic issue. If your child goes through a divorce while the house is in his or her name, the home may be considered marital property. Depending on the outcome of the divorce, this may force your child to sell the home or pay his or her ex a share of its value.

The disability or death of your child can also lead to trouble. If your child becomes disabled and seeks Medicaid or other government benefits, having the home in his or her name could compromise eligibility, just like it would your own. And if your child dies before you and has ownership of the house, the property could be considered part of your child’s estate and be passed on to your child’s heirs, creating a problem for you.

No substitute for proper estate planning
Given these potential problems, transferring ownership of your home to your children as a means of “poor-man’s estate planning” is almost never a good idea. Instead, follow a sound estate planning strategy designed to protect your assets while enabling you to better afford whatever long-term healthcare services you might require.

Dedicated to empowering your family, building your wealth and defining your legacy,

Aretha Franklin Dies Without a Will and Leaves Her Family to Deal With Court and Conflict

Aretha Franklin, heralded as the “Queen of Soul,” died from pancreatic cancer at age 76 on August 16th at her home in Detroit. Like Prince, who died in 2016, Franklin was one of the greatest musicians of our time. Also like Prince, she died without a will or trust to pass on her multimillion-dollar estate.

Franklin’s lack of estate planning was a huge mistake that will undoubtedly lead to lengthy court battles and major expenses for her family. What’s especially unfortunate is that all this trouble could have been easily prevented.

A common mistake
Such lack of estate planning is common. A 2017 poll by the senior-care referral service, Caring.com, revealed that more than 60 percent of U.S. adults currently do not have a will or trust in place. The most common excuse given for not creating these documents was simply “not getting around to it.”

Whether or not Franklin’s case involved similar procrastination is unclear, but what is clear is that her estimated $80-million estate will now have to go through the lengthy and expensive court process known as probate, her assets will be made public, and there could be a big battle brewing for her family.

Probate problems
Because Franklin was unmarried and died without a will, Michigan law stipulates that her assets are to be equally divided among her four adult children, one of whom has special needs and will need financial support for the rest of his life.

It’s also possible that probate proceedings could last for years due to the size of her estate. And all court proceedings will be public, including any disputes that arise along the way.

Such contentious court disputes are common with famous musicians. In Prince’s case, his estate has been subject to numerous family disputes since his death two years ago, even causing the revocation of a multimillion-dollar music contract. The same thing could happen to Franklin’s estate, as high-profile performers often have complex assets, like music rights.

Learn from Franklin’s mistakes
Although Franklin’s situation is unfortunate, you can learn from her mistakes by beginning the estate planning process now. It would’ve been ideal if Franklin had a will, but even with a will, her estate would still be subject to probate and open to the public. To keep everything private and out of court altogether, Franklin could’ve created a will and a trust. And, within a trust, she could have created a Special Needs Trust for her child who has special needs, thereby giving him full access to governmental support, plus supplemental support from her assets.

While trusts used to be available only to the mega wealthy, they’re now used by people of all incomes and asset values. Unlike wills, trusts keep your family out of the probate court, which can save time, money, and a huge amount of heartache. Plus, a properly funded trust (meaning all of your assets are titled in the name of the trust) keeps everything totally private.

Trusts also offer several protections for your assets and family that wills alone don’t. With a trust, for example, it’s possible to shield the inheritance you’re leaving behind from the creditors of your heirs or even a future divorce.

Don’t wait another day
Regardless of your financial status, estate planning is something that you should immediately address, especially if you have children. You never know when tragedy may strike, and by being properly prepared, you can save both yourself and your family massive expense and trauma.

Don’t follow in Franklin’s footsteps; use her death as a learning experience. Proper estate planning can keep your family out of conflict, out of court, and out of the public eye. If you’re ready to create a comprehensive estate plan, or need your plan reviewed, call us today.

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