Author Archives: Marc Garlett

Avoid Another Common Causes for Dispute Over Your Estate Plan

In the first part of this series, we discussed one of the most frequent causes for dispute over your estate plan. Here, we’ll look at another leading cause for dispute and offer strategies for its prevention.

Contesting the validity of wills and trusts
The validity of your will and/or trust can be contested in court for a few different reasons. If such a contest is successful, the court declares your will or trust invalid, which effectively means the document(s) never existed in the first place. Obviously, this would likely be disastrous for everyone involved, especially your intended beneficiaries.

However, just because someone disagrees with what he or she received in your will or trust doesn’t mean that person can contest it. Whether or not the individual agrees with the terms of your plan is irrelevant; it is your plan after all. Rather, he or she must prove that your plan is invalid (and should be thrown out) based on one or more of the following legal grounds:

  • The document was improperly executed (signed, witnessed, and/or notarized) as required by state law.
  • You did not have the necessary mental capacity at the time you created the document to understand what you were doing.
  • Someone unduly influenced or coerced you into creating or changing the document.
  • The document was procured by fraud.

Furthermore, only those individuals with “legal standing” can contest your will or trust. Just because someone was intimately involved in your life, even if they’re a blood relative, doesn’t automatically mean they can legally contest your plan.

Those with the potential for legal standing generally fall into two categories: 1) Family members who would inherit, or inherit more, under state law if you never created the document. 2) Beneficiaries (family, friends, and charities) named or given a larger bequest in a previous version of the document.

  Solution: There are times when family members might contest your will and/or trust over legitimate concerns, such as if they believe you were tricked or coerced into changing your plan by an unscrupulous caregiver. However, that’s not what I’m addressing here.

Here, we’re looking at—and seeking to prevent—contests which are attempts by disgruntled family members and/or would-be beneficiaries seeking to improve the benefit they received through your plan. We’re also seeking to prevent contests that are a result of disputes between members of blended families, particularly those that arise between spouses and children from a previous marriage. 

First off, working with an experienced lawyer is of paramount importance if you have one or more family members who are unhappy—or who may be unhappy—with how they are treated in your plan. This need is especially critical if you’re seeking to disinherit or favor one part of your family over another. 

Some of the leading reasons for such unhappiness include having a plan that benefits some children more than others, as well as when your plan benefits friends, unmarried domestic partners, and/or other individuals instead of, or in addition to, your family. Conflict is also likely when you name a third-party trustee to manage an adult beneficiary’s inheritance because he or she is likely to be negatively affected by the sudden windfall of money.

In these cases, it’s vital to make sure your plan is properly created and maintained to ensure these individuals will not have any legal ground to contest your will or trust. One way you can do this is to include clear language that you are making the choices laid out in your plan of your own free will, so no one will be able to challenge your wishes by claiming your incapacity or duress.

Beyond having a sound plan in place, it’s also crucial that you clearly communicate your intentions to everyone affected by your will or trust while you’re still alive, rather than having them learn about it when you’re no longer around. Indeed, we often recommend holding a family meeting (which we can help facilitate) to go over everything with all impacted parties.

Outside of contests originated by disgruntled loved ones, the potential for your will or trust to cause dispute is significantly increased if you have a blended family. If you are in a second (or more) marriage, with children from a prior marriage, there’s an inherent risk of dispute because your children and spouse often have conflicting interests. 

To reduce the likelihood of dispute, it’s crucial that your plan contain clear and unambiguous terms spelling out the beneficiaries’ exact rights, along with the rights and responsibilities of executors and/or trustees. Such precise terms help ensure all parties know exactly what you intended.

If you have a blended family, it’s also essential that you meet with all affected parties while you’re still alive (and of sound mind) to clearly explain your wishes in person. Sharing your intentions and hopes for the future with your spouse and children is key to avoiding disagreements over your true wishes for them.

Prevent disputes before they happen
The best way to deal with estate planning disputes is to do everything possible to make sure they never occur in the first place. This means working with a trusted attorney to put planning strategies in place aimed at anticipating and avoiding common sources of conflict. Moreover, it means constantly reviewing and updating your plan to keep pace with your changing circumstances and family dynamics.

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

Avoid This Common Cause for Disputes Over Your Estate Plan

No matter how well you think you know your loved ones, it’s impossible to predict exactly how they’ll behave when you die or if you become incapacitated. Of course, no one wants to believe their family would ever end up battling one another in court over inheritance issues or a loved one’s life-saving medical treatment, but the fact is, we see it all the time.

Family dynamics are extremely complicated and prone to conflict during even the best of times. And when tragedy strikes a key member of the household, even minor tensions and disagreements can explode into bitter conflict. When access to money is on the line, the potential for discord is exponentially increased.

The good news is you can drastically reduce the odds of such conflict through estate planning with the support of a lawyer who understands and can anticipate these dynamics. It’s so important to work with an experienced lawyer when creating your estate plan and never rely on generic, do-it-yourself planning documents found online. Unfortunately, even the best set of documents will be unable to anticipate and navigate complex emotional matters like this, but a good lawyer can.

By becoming aware of some of the leading causes of such disputes, you’re in a better position to prevent those situations through effective planning. Though it’s impossible to predict what issues might arise around your plan, the following is one of the most common catalysts for conflict.

Poor fiduciary selection
Many estate planning disputes occur when a person you’ve chosen to handle your affairs following your death or incapacity fails to carry out his or her responsibilities properly. Whether it’s as your power of attorney agent, executor, or trustee, these roles can entail a variety of different duties, some of which can last for years.

The individual you select, known as a fiduciary, is legally required to execute those duties and act in the best interests of the beneficiaries named in your plan. The failure to do either of those things is referred to as a breach of fiduciary duty.

The breach can be the result of the person’s deliberate action, or it could be something he or she does unintentionally, by mistake. Either way, a breach—or even the perception of one—can cause serious conflict among your loved ones. This is especially true if the fiduciary attempts to use the position for personal gain, or if the improper actions negatively impact the beneficiaries.

Common breaches include failing to provide required accounting and tax information to beneficiaries, improperly using estate or trust assets for the fiduciary’s personal benefit, making improper distributions, and failing to pay taxes, debts, and/or expenses owed by the estate or trust.

If a suspected breach occurs, beneficiaries can sue to have the fiduciary removed, recover any damages they incurred, and even recover punitive damages if the breach was committed out of malice or fraud.

Solution: Given the potentially immense responsibilities involved, you need to be extremely careful when selecting your fiduciaries, and make sure everyone in your family knows why you chose the fiduciary you did. You should only choose the most honest, trustworthy, and diligent individuals, and be careful not to select those who might have potential conflicts of interest with beneficiaries.

Moreover, it’s vital that your planning documents contain clear terms spelling out a fiduciary’s responsibilities and duties, so the individual understands exactly what’s expected of him or her. And should things go awry, you can add terms to your plan that allow beneficiaries to remove and replace a fiduciary without going to court.

Find an attorney who’s focus is on assisting you with selecting the most qualified fiduciaries; drafting the most precise, explicit, and understandable terms in all of your planning documents; as well as ensuring that your family understands your choices, so they do not end up in conflict when it’s too late. In this way, the individuals you select to carry out your wishes will have the best chances of doing so successfully—and with as little conflict as possible.

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

Got a ‘Blended Family’? Learn From Tom Petty’s Mistakes: His Daughters and Widow Are Now Locked In Battle Over His Estate

This week Tom Petty’s daughters escalated the battle over their late father’s estate by filing a lawsuit against Petty’s second wife that seeks $5 million in damages. In the lawsuit, Adria Petty and Annakim Violette, claim their father’s widow, Dana York Petty, mismanaged their father’s estate, depriving them of their rights to determine how Petty’s music should be released.

Petty died in 2017 of an accidental drug overdose at age 66. He named Dana as sole trustee of his trust, but the terms of the trust give the daughters “equal participation” in decisions about how Petty’s catalog is to be used. The daughters, who are from Petty’s first marriage, claim the terms should be interpreted to mean they get two votes out of three, which would give them majority control.

In April, Dana filed a petition in a Los Angeles court, seeking to put Petty’s catalog under control of a professional manager, who would assist the three women in managing the estate’s assets. Dana alleged that Adria had made it difficult to conduct business by acting abusive and erratic.

Since Petty’s death, two compilations of his music have been released, including “An American Treasure” in 2018 and “The Best of Everything” in 2019. Both albums reportedly involved intense conflict between Petty’s widow and daughters, over “marketing, promotional, and artistic considerations.”

In reply to the new lawsuit, Dana’s attorney, Adam Streisand, issued a statement claiming the suit is without merit and could potentially harm Petty’s legacy.

Destructive disputes
The fight over Petty’s music demonstrates a sad but true fact about celebrity estate planning. When famous artists leave behind extremely valuable—yet highly complex—assets like music rights, contentious court disputes often erupt among heirs, even with planning in place.

The potential for such disputes is significantly increased for blended families like Petty’s. If you’re in a second (or more) marriage, with children from a prior marriage, there is always a risk for conflict, as your children and spouse’s interests often aren’t aligned. In such cases, it’s essential to plan well in advance to reduce the possibility for conflict and confusion.

Petty did the right thing by creating a trust to control his music catalog, but the lawsuit centers around the terms of his trust and how those terms divide control of his assets. While it’s unclear exactly what the trust stipulates, it appears the terms giving the daughters “equal participation” with his widow in decisions over Petty’s catalog are somewhat ambiguous. The daughters contend the terms amount to three equal votes, but his widow obviously disagrees.

Reduce conflict with clear terms and communication
It’s critical that your trust contain clear and unambiguous terms that spell out the beneficiaries’ exact rights, along with the exact rights and responsibilities of the trustee. Such precise terms help ensure all parties know exactly what you intended when setting up the trust.

What’s more, you should also communicate your wishes to your loved ones while you’re still alive, rather than relying on a written document that only becomes operative when you die or should you become incapacitated.  Sharing your intentions and hopes for the future can go a long way in preventing disagreements over what you “really” wanted.

For the love of your family
While such conflicts frequently erupt among families of the rich and famous like Petty, they can occur over anyone’s estate, regardless of its value. When planning your estate, make sure to work with an attorney who’s willing and able to make an effort above and beyond simply drafting legal documents for you. That alone can dramatically reduce the chances of conflict over your estate and bring your family closer at the same time. And if you have a blended family (meaning children from a prior marriage), take your time and do things right so your family doesn’t end up bitter and embattled, like Tom Petty’s.

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

3 Wise Planning Tips to Protect Your Family’s Assets

While most people assume only the uber wealthy need to worry about asset protection, those with less wealth and fewer assets may be at even greater risk. For example, if you’re a multi-millionaire, a $50,000 judgment against you might not be that big of a burden. But for a family with a modest income, home, and savings, it could be catastrophic.

Asset protection planning isn’t something you can put off until something happens. Like all planning, to be effective, you must have asset protection strategies in place well before you actually need them. Plus, your asset protection plan isn’t a one-and-done deal: It must be regularly updated to accommodate changes to your family structure and asset profile.

There are numerous planning strategies available for asset protection, but three of the most common include the following:

1. Insurance
Purchasing different forms of insurance—health, auto, watercraft, and homeowner’s—should always be the first line of defense to protect your assets. Whether you’re ultimately found at fault or not, if you’re ever sued, defending yourself in court can be extremely costly.

Insurance is designed not only to help you pay damages if a lawsuit against you is successful, but the insurance company is also responsible for hiring you a lawyer and paying his or her attorney’s fees to defend you in court, whether you lose or win. However, insurance policies come with various amounts of coverage, which can be exceeded by large judgments, so you should also seriously consider buying umbrella insurance.

Should your underlying insurance policy max out, an “umbrella” policy will help cover any remaining damages and legal expenses. We can help evaluate your current policies and ensure you have the right types and amounts of insurance for maximum asset protection.

2. Business entities
Owning a business can be an incredible wealth-generating asset for your family, but it can also be a serious liability. Indeed, without the proper protection, your personal assets are extremely vulnerable if your company ever runs into trouble. For example, if your business is currently a sole proprietorship or general partnership, you are personally liable for any debts or lawsuits incurred by your business.

Structuring your business as a limited liability company (LLC) or S corporation is typically the best way to go for many small businesses. When properly set up and maintained, both entities create an impenetrable barrier between your personal assets and your business activities. Creditors, clients, and other potentially litigious individuals can go after assets owned by your company, but not your personal assets.

If you own any kind of business, even just a side gig to earn extra income, you should seriously consider creating a protective entity to ensure any liabilities incurred by your company won’t affect your personal assets. We can help you select, put in place, and maintain the proper entity structure for your business operation.

3. Estate Planning
While each of the asset-protection scenarios shared above are “maybes,” there is one certainty in life—death. It’s going to happen to all of us. And your death, or an incapacity before it, is the biggest risk to your family’s assets. Planning in advance for what is certain to come is a gift to the people you love the most.

So, if you’ve been putting it off, now is the time to get it handled, and we’ve made it easy for you to do that.

You work way too hard to leave your assets at risk. Call us to schedule a Family Estate Planning Session, and let’s get this taken care of now. During your Session, you’ll become educated, informed, and empowered.

We don’t just draft documents; we ensure you make the very best legal decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love.

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

3 Warning Signs of a Financial Scam

Nobody likes to admit they’ve fallen for a financial scam, but the fact is, it’s easier than ever to get caught up in one. This is especially true in today’s all-digital world, where practically every shred of data related to your personal and financial background can be found online.

While no one is forcing you to use the Internet to manage your financial accounts, purchase goods and services, or communicate with the outside world, these days it’s nearly impossible to live your life without the web. This net-based existence can feel somewhat unnerving for those of us who came of age while the tech revolution was already underway, but for the elderly, who lived the vast majority of their lives offline, it can be absolutely overwhelming.

Given their lack of tech experience, coupled with the fact that many of them are undergoing varying levels of cognitive decline and sometimes live lonely, isolated lives, scammers view seniors as easy targets. And many of today’s con artists are so sophisticated, even the most intelligent and educated can be duped.

To protect your aging loved ones (and yourself) from such predators, it’s critical to know the warning signs of financial exploitation. The following are three big red flags to watch for:

1. Unexpected requests
If a family member or friend contacts you out of the blue asking for money, especially via email or text, you should be wary. If the request comes from an unfamiliar email address or phone number, you should be extremely wary. While such requests aren’t totally unheard of, never send money unless you can verify the individual’s identity.

A popular con, known as the Grandparent Scam, involves someone calling and pretending to be your grandchild. The “grandchild” explains he or she is in trouble and needs money immediately. The caller then asks you to wire the money or give it to a third party, usually someone posing as a lawyer or police officer.

No matter how urgent the caller may sound, you should always verify their identity. One of the easiest ways to do this is by having the person call you back on his or her phone. Or if the individual’s phone is dead or lost, you can ask them questions only the actual person would know the answer to, such as the name of their first pet. If they refuse, seem unusually aggressive, or act odd, do not send money.

2. Unsolicited money-making ventures
Whether through a savvy business deal or by winning the lottery, we all fantasize about striking it rich. And if you’re retired on a fixed income, this fantasy can be all-the-more alluring. Scammers know this and will use your dreams of easy money to trick you into investing in a too-good-to-be-true venture that promises big bucks for little or no effort.

There are endless variations on this popular con, from wealthy foreign nationals needing assistance transferring money to more legitimate-sounding business deals offering huge payoffs with no risk. These messages sometimes appear as if they were sent to you accidentally, making it feel like fortune has finally favored you—just like you always dreamed it would.

But in reality, strangers don’t just randomly offer other strangers incredible money-making opportunities. What kind of trustworthy business person would seek to partner with someone they’ve never met? And if it’s such a great investment, why not recruit someone they know or simply do it themselves? Indeed, any unsolicited money-making venture you receive online from a person you don’t know is almost certainly a scam.

3. Requests for personal information
Whenever someone unfamiliar asks you for personal information like a credit card number, Social Security number, or your mother’s maiden name, proceed with extreme caution. Ask them why they need this information. Request they verify their identity. Enquire about alternate methods of proceeding that do not require such private information.

Reputable sources will respect your privacy and be more than willing to provide you with identity verification, or at least offer an alternate way for you to proceed without the need for such personal data. For example, if you receive an email request for your credit card number, look up the organization’s phone number using a source other than what they provide in the email, and ask if you can call and give your information over the phone instead.

Protect your loved ones from all possible threats
By becoming familiar with how such deceptions work and knowing what to look for, you and your loved ones will be far less likely to be conned. At the same time, you should also do everything you can to safeguard your family’s finances from other threats that have nothing to do with fraud.

Without comprehensive estate planning, your family’s wealth and assets are in real danger of being seriously depleted or lost in the event of your death or incapacity. Meet with us to learn about the best planning strategies to put in place to ensure your loved ones will be taken care of no matter what happens.

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

The Real Cost To Your Family: Not Planning For Incapacity

When it comes to estate planning, most people automatically think about taking legal steps to ensure the right people inherit their stuff when they die. And these people aren’t wrong.

Indeed, putting strategies in place to protect and pass on our wealth and other assets is a fundamental part of the planning equation. However, providing for the proper distribution of our assets upon death is just one part of the process.

And it’s not even the most critical part.

Planning that’s focused solely on who gets what when you die is ignoring the fact that death isn’t the only thing to be prepared for. You must also consider that at some point before your eventual death, you could be incapcitated by accident or illness.

Incapacity can be a temporary event from which you eventually recover, or it can be the start of a long and costly event that ultimately ends in your death. Indeed, incapacity can drag out over many years, leaving you and your family in agonizing limbo. This uncertainty is what makes incapacity planning so incredibly important.

In fact, incapacity can be a far greater burden for your loved ones than your death. This is true not only in terms of its potentially ruinous financial costs, but also for the emotional trauma, contentious court battles, and internal conflict your family may endure if you fail to address it in your plan. 

The goal of effective estate planning is to keep your family out of court and out of conflict no matter what happens. So if you only plan for your death, you’re leaving your family—and yourself—extremely vulnerable to potentially tragic consequences.

Where to start
Planning for incapacity requires a different mindset and different tools than planning for death. If you’re incapacitated by illness or injury, you’ll still be alive when these planning strategies take effect. What’s more, the legal authority you grant others to manage your incapacity is only viable while you remain alive and unable to make decisions about your own welfare.

If you regain the cognitive ability to make your own decisions, for instance, the legal power you granted others is revoked. The same goes if you should eventually succumb to your condition—your death renders these powers null and void.

To this end, the first thing you should ask yourself is, “If I’m ever incapacitated and unable to care for myself, who would I want making decisions on my behalf?” Specifically, you’ll be selecting the person, or persons, you want making your healthcare, financial, and legal decisions for you until you either recover or pass away.

You must name someone
The most important thing to remember is that you must choose someone. If you don’t legally name someone to make these decisions during your incapacity, the court will choose someone for you. And this is where things can get extremely difficult – and costly – for your loved ones.

This potential turmoil and expense can be easily avoided through proper estate planning. An effective plan would give the individuals you’ve chosen immediate authority to make your medical, financial, and legal decisions, without the need for court intervention. What’s more, the plan can provide clear guidance about your wishes, so there’s no mistake or conflict about how these vital decisions should be made.

What won’t work
Determining which planning tools you should use to grant and guide this decision-making authority depends entirely on your personal circumstances. There are several options available, but choosing what’s best is something you should ultimately decide after consulting with an experienced lawyer.

That said, we can tell you one planning tool that’s totally worthless when it comes to your incapacity: a will. A will only goes into effect upon your death, and then it merely governs how your assets should be divided, so having a will does nothing to keep your family out of court and out of conflict in the event of your incapacity.

Don’t let a bad situation become much worse
You may be powerless to prevent your potential incapacity, but proper estate planning can at least give you control over how your life and assets will be managed if it does occur. Moreover, such planning can prevent your family from enduring needless trauma, conflict, and expense during this already trying time.

If you’ve yet to plan for incapacity, we can counsel you on the proper planning vehicles to put in place, and help you select the individuals best suited to make such critical decisions on your behalf. If you already have planning strategies in place, we can review your plan to make sure it’s been properly set up, maintained, and updated. Contact us today to get started.

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

5 Estate Planning Must-Dos if You’re Getting Divorced—Part 2

Because getting divorced can be overwhelming on so many different levels, updating your estate plan often takes a back seat to other seemingly more-pressing priorities. But failing to update your plan for divorce can have potentially tragic consequences, some of which you may have never considered before.

In fact, this is something your divorce attorney probably won’t think to bring up, but it’s literally one of the most critical matters you need to handle if you’re ending your marriage. Last week, I discussed the first two estate planning changes you must make—updating your power of attorney documents and beneficiary designations—and today we’ll share the remaining three.

3. Create a new will

You should create a new will as soon as you decide to get divorced, because once you file, you may not be able to change your will. Rethink how you want your assets divided upon your death. This most likely means naming new beneficiaries for any assets that you’d previously left to your future ex and his or her family. And unless it’s your wish, you’ll probably no longer want your ex—or any of his or her family—listed as your will’s executor or administrator, either.

California has community-property statutes that entitle your surviving spouse to a certain percentage of the marital estate upon your death, regardless of what’s in your will. This means if you die before the divorce is final, you probably won’t be able to entirely disinherit your surviving spouse through the new will.

However, it’s almost certain you wouldn’t want him or her to get everything. Given this, you should update your will as soon as possible once divorce is inevitable to ensure the proper individuals inherit the remaining percentage of your estate should you pass away while your divorce is still ongoing.

4. Amend your existing trust or create a new one
If you have a revocable trust set up, you’ll want to review and update it, too. Like wills, the laws governing if, when, and how you can alter a trust during a divorce are complex. In addition to reconsidering what assets your ex-spouse should receive through the trust, you’ll probably want to replace him or her as a successor trustee if they are so designated.

And if you don’t have a trust in place, you should seriously consider creating one, especially if you have minor children. Trusts provide a wide range of powers and benefits unavailable through a will, and they’re particularly well-suited for blended families. Given the likelihood that both you and your spouse will eventually get remarried—and perhaps have more children—trusts are an invaluable way to protect and manage the assets you want your children to inherit.

By using a trust, for example, should you die or become incapacitated while your kids are minors, you can name someone of your choosing to serve as successor trustee to manage their money until they reach adulthood, making it impossible for your ex to meddle with their inheritance.

Beyond this key benefit, trusts afford you several other levels of enhanced protection and control not possible with a will. So you should at least discuss creating a trust with an experienced lawyer before ruling out the option entirely.

5. Revisit your plan once your divorce is final
During the divorce process, your main planning concern is limiting your soon-to-be ex’s control over your life and assets should you die or become incapacitated before divorce is final. Given this, the individuals to whom you grant power of attorney, name as trustee, designate to receive your 401k, or add to your estate plan in any other way while the divorce is ongoing are often just temporary.

Once the divorce is final and your marital property has been divided up, you should revisit all your estate planning documents and update them accordingly based on your new asset profile and living situation. From there, your plan should continuously evolve along with your life circumstances, particularly following major life events, such as getting remarried, having additional children, and/or when close family members pass away.

Don’t wait; act now!

Even though divorce can be one of life’s most difficult transitions, it’s vital that you make the time to update your estate plan during this trying time. Meet with a trusted estate planning attorney to review your plan immediately upon realizing that divorce is unavoidable.

Putting off updating your plan, even for a few days, during a divorce can make it legally impossible to change certain parts of your plan, so act immediately. And if you’ve yet to create any estate plan at all, an impending divorce is the perfect time to finally take care of this crucial task.

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

5 Estate Planning Must-Dos if You’re Getting Divorced—Part 1

Divorce can be traumatic for the whole family. Even if the process is amicable, it involves many tough decisions, legal hassles, and painful emotions that can drag out over several months, or even years.

That said, while you probably don’t want to add any more items to your to-do list during this trying time, it’s absolutely critical that you review and update your estate plan—not only after the divorce is final, but as soon as possible once you know the split is inevitable.

Even after you file for divorce, your marriage is legally in full effect until your divorce is finalized. That means if you die while the divorce is still ongoing and you haven’t updated your estate plan, your soon-to-be-ex spouse could end up inheriting everything. Maybe even worse, in the event you’re incapacitated before the divorce is final, your ex would be in complete control of your legal, financial, and healthcare decisions.

Given the fact you’re ending the relationship, you probably wouldn’t want him or her having that much control over your life and assets. If that’s the case, you must act, and chances are, your divorce attorney is not thinking about these matters.

While California law limits your ability to completely change your estate plan once your divorce has been filed, the following are a few of the most important updates you should consider making as soon as possible when divorce is on the horizon.

1. Update your power of attorney documents for healthcare, financial, and legal decisions
If you are incapacitated by illness or injury during the divorce, who would you want making life-and-death healthcare decisions on your behalf? In the midst of divorce, chances are you’ll want someone other than your soon-to-be ex making these important decisions for you. If that’s the case, you must act immediately; don’t wait.

Similarly, who would you want managing your finances and making legal decisions for you? Considering the impending split, you’ll most likely want to select another individual, particularly if things are anything less than friendly between the two of you. Again, you must take action if you do not want your spouse making these decisions for you. Don’t wait.

2. Update your beneficiary designations
Failing to update beneficiary designations for assets that do not pass through a will or trust, such as life insurance policies and retirement accounts, is one of the most frequent—and tragic—planning mistakes made by those who get divorced. If you get remarried following your divorce, for example, but haven’t changed your IRA beneficiary designation to name your new spouse, the ex you divorced 10 years ago could end up with your retirement savings upon your death.

That said, once either spouse files divorce papers with the court, neither party can legally amend their beneficiaries without the other’s permission until the divorce is final. Given this, if you’re anticipating a divorce, you may want to consider changing your beneficiaries prior to filing divorce papers. If your divorce is already filed, once the divorce is finalized making these changes should be your number-one planning priority. In fact, put it on your to-do list right now!

Next week, we’ll continue with part two in this series on the critical estate-planning updates you should make when divorce is inevitable.

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

4 Critical Estate Planning Tasks to Complete Before Going on Vacation

Going on vacation entails lots of planning: packing luggage, making travel arrangements, holding mail, etc. But one thing many people forget to do is plan for the worst. Traveling, especially in foreign destinations, means you’ll likely be at greater risk than usual for illness, injury, and even death.

In light of this reality, you must have a legally sound and updated estate plan in place before taking your next trip. If not, your loved ones can face a legal nightmare if something should happen to you while you’re away. The following are 5 critical estate planning tasks to take care of before departing.

1. Make sure your beneficiary designations are up-to-date
Some of your most valuable assets, like life insurance policies and retirement accounts, do not transfer via a will or trust. Instead, they have beneficiary designations that allow you to name the person (or persons) you’d like to inherit the asset upon your death. It’s vital you name a primary beneficiary and at least one alternate beneficiary. Moreover, these designations must be regularly reviewed and updated, especially following major life events like marriage, divorce, and having children.

2. Create power of attorney documents
Unforeseen illness and injury can leave you incapacitated and unable to make critical decisions about your own well-being. Given this, you must grant someone the legal authority to make those decisions on your behalf through powers of attorney. You need two such documents: a medical power of attorney and a durable financial power of attorney. The medical power of attorney gives the person of your choice the authority to make your healthcare decisions for you, while the durable financial power of attorney gives someone the authority to manage your finances. As with beneficiary designations, these decision makers can change over time, so before you leave for vacation, be sure both documents are up to date.

3. Name guardians for your minor children
If you’re the parent of minor children, your most important planning task is to legally document guardians to care for your kids in the event of your death or incapacity. These are the people whom you trust to care for your children—and potentially raise them to adulthood—if something should happen to you. Given the monumental importance of this decision, we’ve created a comprehensive system called the Kids Protection Plan that guides you step-by-step through the process of creating the legal documents naming these guardians. You can get started with this process right now by calling us or attending one of our free Guardian Nomination Workshops (our next one is at the Sierra Madre Public Library on May 4, 2019).

4. Organize your digital assets
If you’re like most people, you probably have dozens of digital accounts like email, social media, cloud storage, and cryptocurrency. If these assets aren’t properly inventoried and accounted for, they’ll likely be lost forever if something happens to you. At minimum, you should write down the location and passwords for each account and ensure someone you trust knows what to do with these digital assets in the event of your death or incapacity. To make this process easier, consider using LastPass or a similar service that stores and organizes your passwords.

Complete your vacation planning now
If you have a vacation planned, be sure to add these 5 items to your to-do list before leaving. And if you need help completing any of these tasks—or would simply like us to double check the plan you have in place—call us and mention this article for a friendly, informative, no-pressure, complimentary consultation.

We recommend you complete these tasks at least 8 weeks before you depart. However, if your trip is sooner than that, call and let us know you need a rush Family Estate Planning Session, and we’ll do our best to fit you in as soon as possible.

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

6 Questions to Consider When Selecting Beneficiaries For Your Life Insurance Policy—Part 2

In the first part of this series, we discussed the first three of six questions you should ask yourself when selecting a life insurance beneficiary. Here we cover the final half.

Selecting a beneficiary for your life insurance policy sounds pretty straightforward. But given all of the options available and the potential for unforeseen problems, it can be a more complicated decision than you might imagine.

For instance, when purchasing a life insurance policy, your primary goal is most likely to make the named beneficiary’s life better or easier in some way in the aftermath of your death. However, unless you consider all the unique circumstances involved with your choice, you might actually end up creating additional problems for your loved ones.

4. Are any of your beneficiaries minors?
While you’re technically allowed to name a minor as the beneficiary of your life insurance policy, it’s a bad idea to do so. Insurance carriers will not allow a minor child to receive the insurance benefits directly until they reach the age of majority.

If you have a minor named as your beneficiary when you die, then the proceeds would be distributed to a court-appointed custodian tasked with managing the funds, often at a financial cost to your beneficiary. And this is true even if the minor has a living parent. This means that even the child’s other living birth parent would have to go to court to be appointed as custodian if he or she wanted to manage the funds. And, in some cases, that parent would not be able to be appointed (for example, if they have poor credit), and the court would appoint a paid fiduciary to hold the funds.

Rather than naming a minor child as beneficiary, it’s better to set up a trust for your child to receive the insurance proceeds. That way, you get to choose who would manage your child’s inheritance, and how and when the insurance proceeds would be used and distributed.

5. Would the money negatively affect a beneficiary?

When considering how your insurance funds might help a beneficiary in your absence, you also need to consider how it might potentially cause harm. This is particularly true in the case of young adults.

For example, think about what could go wrong if an 18-year-old suddenly receives a huge windfall of cash. At best, the 18-year-old might blow through the money in a short period of time. At worst, getting all that money at once could lead to actual physical harm (even death), as could be the case for someone with substance-abuse issues.

If you set up a trust to receive the insurance payment, you would have total control over the conditions that must be met for proceeds to be used or distributed. For example, you could build the trust so that the insurance proceeds would be kept in trust for beneficiary’s use inside the trust, yet still keep the funds totally protected from future creditors, lawsuits, and/or divorce.

6. Is the beneficiary eligible for government benefits?
Considering how your life insurance money might negatively affect a beneficiary is critical when it comes to those with special needs. If you leave the money directly to someone with special needs, an insurance payout could disqualify your beneficiary from receiving government benefits.Under federal law, if someone with special needs receives a gift or inheritance of more than $2,000, they can be disqualified for Supplemental Security Income and Medicaid. Since life insurance proceeds are considered inheritance under the law, an individual with special needs SHOULD NEVER be named as beneficiary.

To avoid disqualifying an individual with special needs from receiving government benefits, you would create a “special needs” trust to receive the proceeds. In this way, the money will not go directly to the beneficiary upon your death, but be managed by the trustee you name and dispersed per the trust’s terms without affecting benefit eligibility.

Make sure you’ve considered all potential circumstances
These are just a few of the questions you should consider when choosing a life insurance beneficiary. Consult with us a trusted advisor to be certain you’ve thought through all possible circumstances and named your beneficiaries in the best way possible.


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