Category Archives: Estate Planning Blog

What You Should Know About Guardianship—In Case A Parent or Loved One Becomes Incapacitated

adult_child_talking_to_mom_on_couch 91024Whether through illness, injury, or other means, anyone can require a guardian if they become mentally incapacitated. In such cases, if there is no estate planning in place (or insufficient planning) to keep family or other loved ones out of court, a guardianship or conservatorship must be established via court process.

Obtaining guardianship can be an extraordinarily challenging and expensive process. It begins with filing a petition in court for guardianship and requesting the court declare the incapacitated person incompetent. In some cases, these types of filings are made “ex parte”, or in secret, and a guardianship can be established before family or close friends even know what’s happening. In other cases, such a filing can result in a heated dispute between family members and/or friends, who may claim they’d be better suited for the role. Given this, things can get quite costly very quickly.

Of course, this assumes these matters haven’t already been decided through proper and up-to-date estate planning, including a valid durable power of attorney and advance health care directives, which are the best methods for ensuring this massive responsibility is handled as effectively as possible. Sadly, most people don’t think of the costly possibility of incapacity and therefore leave their families at risk.

If you do have a loved one who needs a guardian, here are some of the things you’ll need to know:

Who can be appointed as guardian?
Unless specified in a valid legal document, any family member or other interested person can petition for guardianship—even a close friend can do it if they prove they’re best suited for the position. That said, most courts give preference to the ward’s spouse or other close family members. In some cases, the guardian is required to post a bond, which typically requires good credit and some level of deposit to be held in the event of the guardian’s wrongdoing. This bond requirement often disqualifies many friends and family, who either don’t have good credit or the resources to post a bond.

If a relative or friend is not willing—or capable—of serving, the court will appoint a professional guardian or public guardian. This is one of the ways an estate can be drained extremely quickly. If you want to hear more about how this can happen, read this terrifying article about the way public and professional guardians are stealing from our elders.

What are a guardian’s responsibilities?
Depending on the extent of the ward’s mental capacity, a court-appointed guardian can be given near complete control over a person’s life and finances. Some of the most common duties include:

  • Paying the ward’s bills
  • Determining where they live
  • Monitoring their residence and living conditions
  • Providing consent for medical treatments
  • Deciding how their finances are handled, including how their assets are invested and if any assets should be liquidated
  • Managing real estate and other tangible personal property
  • Keeping detailed records of all their expenditures and other financial transactions
  • Making end-of-life and other palliative-care decisions
  • Reporting to the court about the ward’s status at least annually

What’s more, the court often requires detailed status reports, such as financial accounting, at regular intervals or whenever important decisions are made, such as the sale of assets.

Are guardians compensated?
Yes, guardians are entitled to reasonable compensation for their services based on the ward’s financial ability to pay. The appointed guardian is paid directly from the ward’s estate. In most cases, the compensation must be approved by the court ahead of time, and the guardian must carefully account for all of their services, the time spent on tasks on behalf of the ward, and any associated out-of-pocket expenses.

Given the huge level of responsibility and loss of control that comes with guardianship, the best course of action would be to get proper and updated estate planning in place ahead of time to ensure that if you or anyone you love becomes incapacitated, you can stay out of the court process altogether if possible.

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

Marc Garlett 91024

Safeguard Your Cryptocurrency Assets With Estate Planning

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One of the biggest appeals of cryptocurrency, such as Bitcoin, is that it is decentralized, unregulated, and anonymous. There are no financial institutions controlling it, and unless you tell someone you own digital currency, it remains a secret.

When it comes to estate planning, however, that kind of secrecy can be disastrous. In fact, without the appropriate planning protections in place, all your crypto wealth will likely disappear the moment you die or become incapacitated, leaving your family with absolutely no way to recover it.

Indeed, we’re facing a potential crisis whereby millions—perhaps billions—of dollars’ worth of family wealth could potentially vanish into thin air unless cryptocurrency owners take action to protect their digital assets with estate planning. Fortunately, putting the appropriate safeguards in place is a fairly simple process for an attorney experienced with cryptocurrency.

The first step in securing your crypto assets is to let your heirs know you own it. This can be done by including your digital currency in your asset inventory (such as the one we prepare for our clients) listing all your assets and liabilities. Along with the amount of cryptocurrency you own, you should also include detailed instructions about where it’s located and how to find the instructions to access it. But you want those instructions to be kept in a secure location because anyone who has them can take your cryptocurrency.

Even if your heirs know you own cryptocurrency, they won’t be able to access it unless they know the encrypted passcodes needed to unlock your account. Indeed, there are numerous stories of crypto owners losing their own passcodes and then being so desperate to recover or remember them that they dug through trash cans and even hired hypnotists.

The best way to secure your passcodes is by storing them in a digital wallet. The safest option is a “cold” wallet, or one that is not connected to the internet and thus cannot be hacked. Cold wallets include USB drives as well as “paper” wallets, which are simply the passcodes printed on paper—and ideally stored in a fireproof safe or safe deposit box.

Since digital currency is such a recent phenomenon, not all estate planning attorneys are familiar with it.  And although I don’t advocate any of my clients invest in it – that is their own personal choice – I have helped many safeguard their digital wealth just as effectively as all their other assets.

Why? Because at my firm we don’t just draft documents; we ensure clients make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for themselves and the people they love. After all, that’s what estate planning should really be all about.

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

Marc Garlett 91024

I Don’t Have Kids, So Why Do I Need Estate Planning? Part 2

as they sit in a meadow looking at the scenery

as they sit in a meadow looking at the scenery

Last week, I shared the first part of a series on the importance of estate planning for those without children. If you haven’t read it yet, you can do so here. In part two, I’ll discuss additional risks involved for those who forego estate planning.

Someone will have power over your health care
Estate planning isn’t just about passing on your assets when you die. In fact, some of the most critical  parts of planning have nothing to do with your money at all, but are aimed at protecting you while you’re still very much alive.

Advance planning allows you to name the person you want to make healthcare decisions for you if you’re incapacitated and unable to make decisions yourself.

For example, if you’re temporarily unconscious following a car accident and unable to give doctors permission to perform a potentially risky medical treatment, it’s not always clear who’ll be asked to make that decision for you.

In that event the courts will be called in to appoint someone to make those critical decisions. And that person may not be whom you would have chosen, and/or they may make decisions contrary to what you would want.

So even if you don’t have kids, you need to do estate planning in order to name health care decisions-makers for yourself and provide instructions on how you want decisions made.

Someone will get power over your finances

As with health-care decisions, if you become incapacitated and haven’t legally named someone to handle your finances while you’re unable to do so, the court will pick someone for you. The way to avoid this is by naming someone you trust to hold power of attorney for you in the event of your incapacity.

Durable power of attorney is an estate planning tool that gives the person you choose immediate authority to manage your financial matters if you’re incapacitated. This agent will have a broad range of powers to handle things like paying your bills and taxes, running your business, collecting your Social Security benefits, selling your home, as well as managing your banking and investment accounts.

Without a signed durable power of attorney, your family and friends will have to go to court to get access to your finances, which not only takes time, but it could lead to mismanagement and even the loss of your assets should the court grant this authority to the wrong person.

Furthermore, the person you name doesn’t have to be a lawyer or financial professional—it can be anybody you choose, including both family and friends. The most important aspect of your choice is selecting someone who’s imminently trustworthy, since they will have nearly complete control over your estate.

Given all of these potential risks, it would be foolhardy – whether you have children or not – to ignore or put off these basic estate-planning strategies. Identifying the right planning tools is easy to do, and begins with a Family Estate Planning Session, where we can consider everything you own and everyone you love, and guide you to make informed, educated, empowered choices for yourself and your loved ones.

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

Marc Garlett 91024

I Don’t Have Kids, So Why Do I Need Estate Planning? Part 1

single-guy 91024It’s a common misconception to think that if you don’t have children, you don’t need to worry about estate planning. But the fact is, it can be even MORE important to do estate planning if you have no children.

Some of the common thoughts behind this mistaken belief may take one of these forms:

“If I die, everything will pass to my spouse anyway, so why bother?”

“I’m single with little wealth, so who cares who gets my few meager assets?”

“Estate planning is an expensive hassle and it doesn’t even benefit me because I’ll be dead, so I’m better off letting a judge sort things out.”

This kind of thinking ignores several basic facts about both estate planning and life in general. Regardless of your marital status, if you don’t have children, you face potential estate-planning complications which those with children do not. And this is true whether you’re wealthy or have very limited assets.

So even if you’re childless, consider these inconvenient truths before you decide to forego estate planning.

Whether you’re rich, poor, or somewhere in between, in the event of your death everything you own will be passed on to someone. Without a will or trust, your assets will go through probate, where a judge and state law will decide who gets everything you own. In the event no family steps forward, your assets will become the property of the state.

Why give the government everything you worked your life to build? And even if you have little financial wealth, you undoubtedly own a few sentimental items (including pets) you’d like to pass to a close friend or favorite charity.

However, it’s rare for someone to die without any family members stepping forward. It’s far more likely that some relative you haven’t spoken with in years will come out of the woodwork to stake a claim. Without a will or trust, state laws establish which family member has the priority inheritance. If you’re unmarried with no children, this hierarchy typically puts parents first, then siblings, then more distant relatives like nieces, nephews, uncles, aunts, and cousins.

Depending on your family, this could have a potentially negative outcome. For instance, what if your closest living relative is your estranged brother with serious addiction issues? Or what if your assets are passed on to a niece who’s still a child and likely to squander the inheritance?

And if your estate does contain significant wealth and assets, this could lead to a costly and contentious court battle, with all your relatives (and their lawyers) fighting over your estate—which is exactly what’s happening with Prince’s family right now.

Finally, if you have a spouse and your assets are passed to him or her, there’s no guarantee they’ll live much longer than you. In the event of their death without a will or a trust, everything goes to his or her family, regardless of whether you like them or not.

Do you really want your spouse’s sister, brother, parents (or the new spouse he or she marries after you die) inheriting what you’ve worked so hard for? Maybe you do. Maybe you don’t. The point is, without any planning, you lose all control of what happens.

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

Marc Garlett 91024

How to Leave Your Life Insurance and Retirement Plan to Your Minor Children

PARENT-CHILD-CUSTODY-91024Your children are your pride and joy. It is no surprise that at some point or another, every parent likely becomes concerned about who will care for a minor child or children if one or both parents die or are incapacitated. From a financial perspective, many parents turn to life insurance in an effort to take care of their family in the event of death. While it is true that life insurance is a particularly helpful financial tool to protect your loved ones, it is just as important to consider how to leave the proceeds to your minor children. Beyond this, you should also consider how to incorporate your retirement money (IRAs and 401(k)s) into your overall estate plan.

Once you decide to purchase life insurance you will name a beneficiary of the death benefits.  You also name a beneficiary on your retirement accounts.  But, if you fail to have a system in place and your children are minors at the time they inherit these assets, the court will appoint a conservator to “watch over” a minor person’s money. This process requires attorneys’ fees, court proceedings, supervision from the court, and will generally limit investment options — all costs and delays that will not help your children, but rather cost them a significant percentage of their inheritance. Another downside? Whatever’s left when the child turns 18 will be handed over, without any guidance or boundaries. This can impact college financial aid opportunities as well as open a ready opportunity for irresponsible spending that most parents would never intend.

How To Leave Assets?

There are several ways in which you can structure your life insurance policies, retirement accounts, and overall estate plan to benefit your minor children in the most streamlined way possible.

First, instead of naming minor children as beneficiaries, use a children’s trust to manage and use the money for the benefit of your children. This lets you designate someone you think will manage the money well, rather than leaving it to the whims of the court.

Second, select and name a guardian to handle the day-to-day care for your children. This person can be different than the person managing in the money, which can sometimes work well depending on the amounts involved and the different skill sets needed to manage money versus raise children.

Third, if you have a living trust, make sure you have properly funded the trust and aligned your retirement assets with the plan. If you do not yet have a trust, consider the benefits of one over will-based planning.  Both types of plans will allow you to designate how much and when your children will receive the money, but a trust-based plan will allow you to do so without court involvement.

Benefits of a Trust

Generally, parents list a minor child as the secondary or contingent beneficiary on life insurance and retirement accounts after first naming the surviving spouse as a primary beneficiary. This may work, as long as everyone dies in the “right” order and at the “right” time. But, it’s a gamble, and providing structure through a trust for these inheritances is a vastly superior option. Unlike guardianship or custodian accounts, where the proceeds must be handed over once the minor(s) turns a certain age, you can specify at which age your child receives the proceeds. This allows you to specifically designate how the money is to be used, so it will be available for important life events, while protecting your children from reckless spending. Ultimately you have more control with a trust, and your customized plan will provide the best protection for your family.

If you have any questions about how to leave assets to your minor children — whether it is a life insurance policy, a retirement account, or any other asset — contact us today so we can help you explore the options available to your family, determine what tax implications will result, and advise you on the best structure that will protect your family’s needs.

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

Marc Garlett 91024

Protecting Your Children’s Inheritance After Divorce

divorced parents 91024Consider this story. Beth’s divorce from her husband was recently finalized. Her most valuable assets are her retirement plan at work and her life insurance policy. She updated the beneficiary designations on both to be her two minor children. She did not want her ex-husband to receive the money.

Beth passes away one year after her divorce. Her children are still minors, so the retirement plan and insurance company require an adult to be appointed to receive the inheritance Beth left behind. Who does the court presumptively look to serve as the caretaker of this money? Beth’s ex-husband who is now the only living parent of the children.

Sadly, stories like Beth’s are all too familiar for the loved ones of divorced people who do not make effective use of the estate planning tools. Naming a beneficiary for retirement benefits or life insurance, or having a will can be a good start. However, the complexities of relationships, post-divorce, often render these basic tools inadequate. Luckily, there is a way to protect and control your children’s inheritance fully.

Enter the Trust

A trust allows you to coordinate and control your estate in a way that no other tool can. For those who are not yet familiar, a trust is a legal arrangement for managing your property while you are alive and quickly passing it at your death. There are a few key players in the trust. First, there is the person who created the trust, often called the Trustor, Grantor, or Settlor (this is you). Second, there’s the Trustee who manages the assets owned by the trust (usually you during your life and then anyone you select when you are no longer able to manage the assets yourself). Finally, the Beneficiaries are the people who receive the benefit of the trust (usually you during your life, and then typically children or anyone else you choose).

How a Trust Protects Your Children’s Inheritance after a Divorce

A trust protects your children’s inheritance in a few distinct ways:

  1. Since you select the Trustee, you can choose someone other than your ex-spouse to manage the assets. In fact, you can even state that the ex-spouse can never be a Trustee, if you wish. If Beth had a trust, she could have named her brother to be Trustee after her death. Her brother (rather than her ex-husband) would then oversee the children’s inheritance.
  2. Since you select the Beneficiaries, you can determine how the trust assets can be used for them. You may have long-term goals for your beneficiaries, such as college, purchasing of a first home, or starting a business. When you share your intent, your Trustee can invest the assets appropriately and ensure your legacy is used the way you want, rather than the assets being potentially wasted or used in a thoughtless way. If Beth had a trust, she could have instructed how she wanted the inheritance used, rather than leaving it to the whims of a court and her ex-husband.
  3. A fully funded trust avoids probate, so your children do not have to deal with the cost, publicity, and delay that is all-too-common in probate cases. Although “plain” beneficiary designations, like the one that Beth used, also avoid probate, they may still open the door for a guardianship or conservatorship court case, especially when your children are minors. A fully funded trust avoids these guardianship and conservatorship cases. This means more money for your intended beneficiaries and less for the lawyers and courts.

If you are divorced, it is essential to make sure your plan works precisely the way you want. Every situation is unique, but we are here to help design a plan that achieves your goals and works for your family. Give us a call today if you have any questions.

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

Marc Garlett 91024

Why Not Just Go Online and Create Your Own Estate Planning Documents Cheaply?

woman at computer 91024There are many software programs, as well as websites, that sell do-it-yourself estate planning documents. These websites and form creation tools seem to offer a convenient and cost-effective alternative to consulting with an estate planning attorney. But will they really meet your needs and protect your family? Is online, do-it-yourself estate planning worth the perceived upfront savings?

Penny Wise and Pound Foolish

In all but the simplest scenarios, do-it-yourself estate planning is risky at best and can become a costly substitute for comprehensive in-person planning with a professional legal advisor. Typically, these online programs and services have significant limitations when it comes to gathering the information needed to properly craft an estate plan. This can result in crucial defects that, sadly, won’t become apparent until the situation becomes a legal and financial mess for your loved ones.

Creating your own estate plan without professional advice can also have unintended consequences. Bad or thoughtless documents can be invalid and/or useless when they are needed. For example, you can create a plan that has no instructions for when a beneficiary passes away or when a specific asset left to a loved one no longer exists. You may create a trust on your own but fail to fund it, resulting in your assets being tied up in probate courts, potentially for years. Worse yet, what you leave behind may then pass to those you did not intend.

Your family situation, goals, and assets are unique. Plus, incapacity issues deserve more than the perfunctory attention offered by template documents. There are nuances which simply can’t be adequately addressed in an off-the-shelf document. In addition, non-traditional families, or those with a complicated family arrangement, require more thorough estate planning. The options available in a do-it-yourself system may not provide the solutions that are necessary. A computer program or website cannot replicate the intricate knowledge a qualified local estate planning attorney will have and use to apply to your particular circumstances.

If you’re a person of significant wealth, then concerns about income and estate taxes enter the picture too. An online estate planning website or program that prepares basic wills without taking into account the size of the estate can result in hundreds of thousands of dollars in increased (and usually completely avoidable) tax liability. A qualified estate planning attorney will know how to structure your legal affairs to properly manage – or, in many cases, even avoid – the burden of the death tax as well as minimize the impact of ongoing income taxes.

One important aspect of estate planning is protecting adult children from the negative financial consequences of divorce, bankruptcy, lawsuits, or illness. An online planning tool will not take these additional steps into account when putting together what is usually a basic estate plan. Similarly, parents who have children or adult loved ones with special needs must take extra caution when planning. There are complicated rules regarding government benefits that must be considered, so these valuable benefits are not lost due to an inheritance.

Consult an Estate Planning Attorney

No matter how good a do-it-yourself estate planning document may seem, it is no substitute for personalized advice. Estate planning is more than just document production. In many cases, the right legal solution to your situation will not be adequately addressed by these do-it-yourself products – affecting not just you, but generations to come.

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

Marc Garlett 91024

Estate Planning Mistakes Seniors (Including You or Your Parents) Can’t Afford to Make

 

adult and mother 91024

Estate planning really should become a priority as soon as you acquire your first asset, have a child, or step into adulthood in any other truly meaningful way. And yet many of us put it off for far too long, leaving ourselves and our families at risk of getting stuck in the court system in the event of an unexpected accident, illness, or injury.

I get it, planning for your incapacity and death can be scary. But it’s even more frightening to think of the potential tragedies that can arise if you and your family don’t have the right planning in place.

At the senior stage of life, effective estate planning is urgent, both for you and the people you love. And if you aren’t a senior yet yourself but have senior parents, getting your own planning handled can serve as a model to help get your parents moving on their plan.

Here are a few of the most common errors seniors make when it comes to estate planning and how to fix them:

Relying on a will as your plan
Many people, particularly older folks, believe that a will is the only estate planning tool they need. While wills are one key aspect of estate planning, they come with serious limitations:

  • Wills require your family to go through probate, which is time consuming, open to the public, and expensive.
  • Wills don’t offer any protection if you become incapacitated and unable to make your own legal, health, and financial decisions.
  • Wills don’t shield assets from your creditors or those of your heirs.
  • Wills don’t provide protections or guidance for when and how your heirs take control of their inheritance.

If you’re relying solely on a will for estate planning, you’re missing out on many valuable safeguards for your assets, and you’re guaranteeing your family will have to go to court when you die.

Not funding your plan properly
When it comes to a trust, it’s not enough to simply list the assets you want it to cover. You must transfer the legal title of certain assets—real estate, bank accounts, securities, brokerage accounts—to the trust (known as “funding” the trust) to avoid probate.

While most lawyers will create a trust for you, few will ensure your assets are properly funded. But we’ve got processes in place to keep track of our clients’ assets throughout life, making sure none are lost to the state’s Department of Unclaimed Property, and ensuring their families aren’t inadvertently forced into court at the most inopportune time.

Not keeping your plan current
Far too often people prepare a will or trust, put it into a drawer, and forget about it. But your estate plan will likely be worthless if you don’t regularly update it when your assets, family situation, and/or the laws change.

We recommend you review your plan at least every three years to make sure it’s up to date and immediately amend it following important life events like divorce, deaths, births, and inheritances.

If you aren’t sure what you need, begin by coming in for a Family Estate Planning Session. It will be custom-designed to your assets, your family, your wishes, and to educate you on the best ways to reach your objectives.

We don’t just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. Call us today if you’d like more information (and mention this article to get a complimentary consultation).

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

Marc Garlett 91024

Succession Planning When Not All of Your Kids are in the Family Business

family business father and son 91024Owning your own business can be a great endeavor that takes a lot of passion and drive. Many small business owners focus on the day-to-day management and growth of the business, rather than thinking about a time when he or she may not be in the business. This is a far too common mistake.  Future plans for your enterprise are even more important when one child works in the business but the others do not. Keeping the peace among your children after you are no longer able to participate in the business requires careful balancing of your estate plan.

Planning Ahead

Before considering whether or not to pass your business to the next generation — as opposed to selling it to a third party — make sure at least one of your children is capable of (and willing to) running the company. Once that has been established, then early planning is the next step in ensuring the best outcome. Ideally, succession planning should start at least five years before you decide to retire. And because life is unpredictable — you may become incapacitated or pass away without warning — the best time to start planning is now. There are several things to consider when planning for your small business if not all of your children are involved. It is important to keep in mind that treating your children fairly does not necessarily mean you will treat them equally when it comes to your estate planning. For this reason, being proactive will make sure your desires will be followed even after you can no longer run your company.

Factors to Consider

First, minimizing the risk of conflict among your children once you are gone requires a mindful weighing of your estate, your successor trustee, and other aspects of your estate plan to ensure your wishes are recorded and can be easily followed.

Second, you must consider the value of the business as well as control and management issues. This can be done by clearly identifying the roles and responsibilities of your successor in a written plan.

Third, if you have a sizeable estate, there are financial strategies that a knowledgeable estate planning professional can use to equalize distributions. This can also be done with other assets such as IRAs, 401(k)s, investment real estate, life insurance, as well as stocks, bonds, and/or mutual funds.

Finally, an estate planning professional can analyze how the business is capitalized in order to ensure your estate plan is fair when it comes to your children — whatever you consider fair to be in your particular circumstance. Notably, how a person’s business is organized has a direct effect on how it is treated, taxed, and administered upon his or her death.

Don’t Leave It To Chance

Ignoring or delaying estate planning for your small business is not financially prudent. As a successful business owner who already has the next generation involved in the company, you must take charge of the future so that the fruit of your hard work can continue on. More important, clearly writing down your desires will help keep your family from bickering — a likely result if you just leave the business’s future to chance. Give us a call today, so we can craft an estate plan that will allow your business to continue to thrive for generations to come.

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

Marc Garlett 91024

Not Married? You’re not alone – but you still need a plan. Estate Planning for People Living Together, Bachelors, and Bachelorettes

Single Woman Blue - 91024Approximately half of America’s population over the age of 16 is unmarried. While much of the discussion involving estate planning focuses on married couples, this topic is just as important for a single person. In fact, many times it is even more important that a single person have a well-coordinated estate plan. This is because the default laws governing estates often work poorly for people without a spouse and may not adequately provide for a significant other or unmarried partner. Having a cohesive and well-drafted estate plan will ensure that you protect and provide for those you truly care about upon your death.

Evolving Estate Planning

It is important to understand that your estate plan can change over time. You may eventually experience life changes like getting married, having children, or buying your first home that will necessitate changes to your estate plan. Although life is constantly changing, it is best to get in the driver’s seat early when it comes to estate planning.

If you die without a will — referred to as intestate — all of your possessions will be distributed according to the default laws of your state. While most state laws have a married person’s assets go to their surviving spouse and children, the same is not true for unmarried individuals. Generally, state law provides that a single person’s assets are passed on to their next of kin. This includes children, parents, and siblings. Noticeably absent for many unmarried people are provisions providing for a long-term boyfriend or girlfriend. And, if there are no surviving close relatives, the assets will likely go to the state. To avoid the state dictating what happens to your assets, it is vital that you have a properly drafted estate plan put together.

As an Unmarried Person, How You Own Things Is Very Important

There is an increasing number of couples that are not getting married, and other individuals who are deciding to remain single. For this group, estate planning is important because taxes and other financial benefits tend to favor those who have tied the knot. It also brings up the need to be very careful about how assets are titled.

How your assets are titled and how the beneficiary designations are prepared will impact how your assets will be distributed upon your passing. The most common ways to hold title to property is tenants in common (TIC) and joint tenants with rights of survivorship (JTWROS). Property that is held as TIC means that each owner owns an interest in the property.  At the death of one owner, that interest is transferred according to his or her estate plan, or intestate succession if there is no estate planning. This is not an ideal way for unmarried couples to own property because at the death of one of them, the other person will end up as joint owner with the deceased’s next of kin.  JTWROS is one option for unmarried couples because when one owner dies, the property automatically transfers to the surviving owner. There are several other planning strategies that can be beneficial for unmarried individuals — involving tax benefits, retirement plans, wills and trusts, and healthcare powers of attorney — if the right estate plan is carefully crafted.

Speak to an Estate Planning Attorney

If you do not have an estate plan yet, you should contact a knowledgeable estate planning attorney today. Whether you are married, single, or cohabiting with a partner, the right professional can help you craft a comprehensive estate plan that is tailored to your personal situation and assists you in protecting those you care for the most. Give us a call today if you have any questions.

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

Marc Garlett 91024